Edited by Mike Clark
by Stephen Agar
This is one of the most under-rated zines in the postal hobby. I know that speed and efficiency isn’t everything, but Mike has managed to produce 13 issues in 37 weeks, an average deadline gap of 3.08 weeks per issue (or in other words the zine has kept rigidly to 3 week deadlines apart from one 4 week deadline to accommodate Manorcon). Each issue has plenty of non-games material (though with a marked bias towards popular music) and is generally regarded as quite entertaining. And yet after 13 issues Mike has only 19 paying subscribers and has only started one game of regular Diplomacy. This is a great shame.
Why has Sidewalk not been better supported? I think the main reason is that in order to get people to subscribe you need to print plenty of spare copies and pass them around the hobby. In my experience, very few people indeed will ask for a sample copy on the strength of a mention in another zine. Unfortunately, Mike is on a limited budget being unemployed and hasn’t got them means to spend money just trying to acquire subscribers. Furthermore, although Mike does trade with 10 other zines, that doesn’t give him the exposure that you inevitably get when you have over 40 trades.
Mike does have a distinctive writing style, tending occasionally towards the dogmatism of youth, and like all good zine editors what he says is sometimes irritating. Don’t get me wrong, it is a necessary function of a zine editor to be a little irritating or the editor concerned will get no feedback at all. Zines that feel like comfortable slippers often end up smelling like them as well. Mike has found it very hard to cope with letters from Joy Hibbert, but then it is difficult to think of two people with less in common.
The zine is reasonably well put together, though the appearance is a little let down by the 9 pin dot matrix printer. Mike uses 3 columns for non-games material and double columns for games and absolutely tiny printing (which makes Spring Offensive look like a large-print zine for the partially sighted). There’s a fair amount of clip art (including a buxom wench in the last issue) and the zine does indeed look as though a lot of care has gone into making it look good. It would be nice to have a map for the Diplomacy game, but you can’t have everything. Cover art is usually by Fiona Campbell-Jack, who is probably regretting her promise to do all the covers. One picture every 3 weeks is quite a tall order.
A regular feature in Sidewalk is a piece on the top twenty from some week in years gone by. This issue it’s 1988 (yuk!) and the previous issue it was 1975 (that’s more like it). The letters column is fairly lively and Mike’s coverage of hobby news snippets on other zines is excellent. This zine accomplishes everything it has set out to achieve, with the exception that it should really be running more games. And that is where you come in. A good all round competent zine with lists open for Regular Diplomacy, Fictionary Dictionary and Geophysical Diplomacy. If you want a speedy reliable game then put this zine down, pick that pen up, and write to Mike for a sample copy. What have you got to lose apart from a stamp?
Reprinted from Spring Offensive 9