The OGRe’s Dilemma

or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Fold The Zine

by Geoff Challinger

The fold of Electric Monk has not been without its moments and misconceptions. But such is the way with folding a zine. No one sees it clearly or objectively at the time and that definitely includes the editor doing the folding.

As far as I’m concerned the deranged mental condition here is that of an editor going about his daily business of running a zine. The natural human behaviour pattern would be to avoid such an unnecessary and apparently masochistic business. The fact is, that for editors of games/Diplomacy magazines, the enjoyment that they obtain from running their zines exceeds the suffering which they have to undergo to get them into the public domain. 

Let’s face it the mere typing alone of a zine is a long task let alone the effort that has to be put in to come up with something remotely intelligible. GMing games and the effort of dealing with miscellaneous games and zine admin just add to the hassles. of course these days for most people the work pauses there whilst some kind person prints the zine for them. Work resumes on collation (sometimes), address labels and stamps and physically getting the zine out of the door. 

The easing of the printing burden is one of the things which enables the zine to ever make it out of the door for a lot of editors and it’s certainly one of the things which enable the large number of zines to reach issue 100 and beyond. Nothing is more soul-destroying and hence more fold-inducing than a mis-behaving duplicator. It just adds impotence to injury in that it buggers up your schedule and you are powerless to do anything about it. 

So why do editors do it? For the same reason as train-spotters or aerobics-junkies or stamp-collectors do it. What keeps a person committed to a bizarre and pointless pursuit is that the pleasure they obtain, by, in the case of an editor, (a) being able to pontificate to others and/or (b) providing entertainment for others, outweighs the hassles which they have to go through and the time they have to put in. 

A fold happens when that premise no longer holds, when an editor is simply not getting enough enjoyment out of running their magazine, or is getting enjoyment elsewhere or has an attack of modesty and no longer wishes to preach to the world (as if). Whatever the cause I have to see it as a return to sanity from a psychotic state rather than a going off the rails. Running a zine is just a phase you go through. The perfect solution for an editor on the way out is the controlled one, born of self-knowledge. Realising that it’s never going to work for you again, you simply run off a copy of a recent address list and credit records and send it to the OGRe along with a cheque. 

This flies in the face of human nature as far as I have ever experienced it -that’s not to say there are not controlled folds but that they are not the norm. I guess we are all born feeling guilty. Can you imagine what it’s like to be a Jewish/ Catholic working mother? Fortunately for the hobby, not many such are running zines, but we all have our share. For it’s guilt which comes number 1 on the list of impediments to a decent fold. The outgoing editor wants to: 

a)    get the credit list up to date because he’s been neglecting the admin that has all gone pear-shaped in the last 6 months and no one else will understand it. 

b)    get that Railway Rivals game sorted out because there was an error in turn 2 and it’s now turn 6 and the racing will go wrong if it’s not seen to. 

c)    write notes for all the people who’ve supported him in the past 

d)    ensure that the games go to good homes instead of being parcelled out in a way he would dislike. 

Someone who feels guilty about their apparent inability to achieve these aims, will be finding it harder to achieve these ends because of that very guilt. The only way to purge this is to actually do it and the aim should be get the editor to do that of his own volition. Pressure to do the right thing increases guilt and reduces the chance that this will happen. Plus you have to recognise that editing a zine reinforces any element of cussedness in an editor. You spend your first 50 issues asserting your opinions through the pages of your magazine. When people start to voice criticism (however justified it might be) the knee-jerk reaction is “well, screw you”. 

Then there is the disturbing lack of self-knowledge which there is about. How deep is the malaise which one feels while grinding out a ‘wall’ issue? Is it temporary? If you are finding it hard to get around to sorting out that credit mess from 2 issues ago, is it because your heart is no longer in it? The only person who can know this is the editor himself and usually then only with hindsight. 

What do the rest of us do about it? Well, what are the most important things to bear in mind in a fold? 

a)    Keeping the games in motion with an enthusiastic and reliable GM. 

b)    Keeping the interest of the ex-GM who may one day return to the hobby. 

c)    Finding a compatible home for non-playing subscribers 

d)    Getting credits returned to their rightful owners 

e)    Blaming people. 

I have folded more zines than most people have had vegetarian meals so can claim some expertise here. In most instances, the only one way that a zine can be rescued and at least the first 3 aims achieved is the help and on-hand assistance of a friend of the editor who is still within the hobby. When you’re saddled with the guilt of being in the thick of a fold you don’t want letters suggesting you sort things out. Phone calls are many times better, but you have to be wary of the personalities involved. Some people can cause mortal offence on the phone whilst ordering a Chinese, let alone put the case that the recalcitrant editor should stop being such a dick-head and hand over the reins now. 

Some people can be teased out of their shell by post but your chances are much greater in person, or on the phone, where you can convince, cajole and above all, get the editor to accept self-imposed deadlines, along the lines of ‘can I act unilaterally if the zine isn’t out by the end of the month?’ You can also re-assure the editors of the very important facts that the games are pre-eminent and sorting out money comes a long way down the list. 

This might seem hard to accept, but even at the elevated prices which zines charge these days, any editor who gets into double figures has given good overall service, even if he then folds and nicks the subs. Editors do not make a profit and have to put their time and effort in for free. If at the end of their time as an editor they are unable to fully reimburse the credits, they will usually have given sufficiently of their time for this not to be a problem, overall. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be reimbursing people, but that problems of getting credits repaid should not stand in the way of a smooth hand-over. Of course this is only looking at the generality and some people will be shafted more than others and dearly, a fiver’s credit can mean more to a struggling student than it does to some fat rich git of an accountant or solicitor. 

In the case of 95% of all folds things work out in the end. A new home is found, the money is returned and life goes on. But the pursuit of folding editors, intended to ensure that things don’t go disastrously wrong, ends up delaying things instead of solving problems.