So far this project has focused on the emergence of F5 in the early 1980s and Gunderloy specifically. I’m still working on trying to understand this emergence, especially the ways in which zines in the 70s and 80s were part of a wider, weirder assemblage that included not just punk and sci-fi communities, but counterculture, drug culture, and the occult (faux or not). In his book, Erik Davis dubs this high weirdness, “a mode of culture and consciousness that reached a definite peak in the early seventies, when the writers and psychonauts … pushed hard on the boundaries of reality—and got pushed around in return.” I’ve been slowly making my way through this book, which spends the first several chapters unpacking the uses and histories of “weird,” from the Shakespearian to the more modern manifestations via Phillip K Dick and HP Lovecraft. The title itself comes from yet another book, High Weirdness By Mail, published by Rev. Ivan Stang of the Church of Subgenius. In Davis’s discussion of this book he says:

“Stang’s volume was part of a micro-trend of fringe catalogs that helped map the labyrinth of the eighties underground, and which also included the Loompanics Catalog, Amok Books’ Dispatch series, and Mike Gunderloy’s metazine Factsheet Five. These and other compendia reflected an important mutation in the underground, as the counterculture of the sixties splintered into a proliferation of subcultures driven to announce themselves largely through alternate, DIY media: self-published books, cassettes, videos, comix, and, most importantly, zines. These circuits of marginal media were by no means restricted to post-sixties rebellions, but also included a rainbow array of American alternatives to mass culture, many of them religious, mystical, and occult.”

Davis’s theoretical and historical contributions are useful for understanding said mutation, and my hope is that it will shed some light on a period in zine history that is not well documented, but that has a through line worth tracking via F5, as subcultures continued to splinter, even within themselves. 

Indeed, as chance would have it, I’ve gotten access to the final issues of F5 this week, when the magazine was published by R. Seth Friedman and supported by the likes of Chris Becker, Jared Pore, Larry-bob (who published Holy Titclamps), and several others. 

Becker — who helped curate a wonderful exhibit on zines for Ann Arbor Public Library this year — was then listed as “managing editor” for #62, and “editor” for #63 and #64, the final two issues. In an essay in #64, the final issue, called “What I’ve Really Learned from Zines,” Becker notes that while zines still served as a viable alternative to mass or mainstream media, and predicted that the web would not replace print zines, they also lacked diversity and were tragically entrenched and fragmented, essentially not being weird enough: “Where is the zine about model railroading written by a retired family man who goes to church on Sundays? Or the one by a Mexican immigrant that reflects different cultural ideas?” Instead, Becker seemed to argue that zines were limiting themselves to their own niche obsessions, and at one point implies weirdness is akin to antisocial behavior, chastising “inexplicably weird, mean, and persistent” readers who sent harassing or antagonistic mail to F5 when they got a bad review or F5 didn’t arrive at their mailbox as promised. 

In short, I guess I’m left wondering: what did “weirdness” mean in 1982 versus 1998?

In a 2019 interview with Mark Maynard (who published Crimewave U.S.A.), Becker ponders whether F5 became “antithetical to zine culture” in how it organized, centralized, and arbitrated zines in one definitive space. Yet, at that time in the late 90s such larger philosophical questions weren’t explored because of the endless labor that was required to keep up with the zines that were pouring in every day. Similar to Gunderloy, the success of F5 — and the work required to keep it afloat — led to its demise. As Becker notes to Maynard, Becker’s departure from F5 nudged Friedman to stop publishing as well. Interestingly, many of these former publishers and editors went on to be coders, possibly due to their “drive for organizing data,” as Becker reflects, which again speaks to the ways in which zines were never limited to print. 

A few other interesting notes from perusing these final issues:

  • There’s some weird tension about whether #64 would really be the end of F5. Although the cover includes the provocative question “The End of Factsheet5?” Friedman’s editorial assures readers not to worry, that “the magazine will almost certainly continue,” a sentiment observed in his retrospective on F5 while also exaggerating the debilitating physical effects of reading “50,000 zines” over the course of publishing F5. But continuing F5 required a buyer — or at the very least a willing publisher who would take it over, which obviously never happened.
  • However, in that same editorial Friedman announces his intentions get back into publishing his own zine through The Jeroboam, a new zine “devoted to [his] new passion, wine.” Turning the page, readers encounter a half-page ad for said zine, boasting about its lack of pretense. I can’t be sure, but some quick and basic web searches suggest The Jeroboan never actually materialized. Anyone know?
  • Friedman’s lengthy history of F5 in #64 is interesting and worthy of its own post here.  He discusses growing up in NYC with punk and encountering F5 at See Hear, he shares his knowledge of the Gunderloy years and the transition to Hudson Luce (who is thrown under the bus imho). 
  • Issue 59 came out in September 1995; Issue 64 — the final issue — was published in the summer of 1998. This is noteworthy for me personally as such dates mirror some my own significant activity in zine publishing. When I entered college in fall of 1995 I was deeply invested in making Mud Fanzine; however, I stopped publishing just about the same time when F5 shut down in 1998. When I started this project I guessed that maybe I was once reviewed in F5, but much to my surprise, these back issues show that was reviewed not once but twice. Becker reviewed Mud #6 in F5 #61 for the Music section (because I had interviews with Tortoise, Ui, and GvsB); however, Mud #8 (reviewed in F5 #62) was in the Medley section, reserved for zines that were “A little bit of everything…Personal stories, a little poetry, a page of reviews, some unique art, and of course those patented zine rants. All mixed up in traditional zine style.”  That issue indeed included a rant about menstruating (written by my then-GF) and an interview with Will Oldham of Palace (now Bonnie Prince Billy). Check them out:

Between late 1970s and the mid 1980s, Gunderloy published several other zines in addition to F5 — and given the haphazard nature of how these zines were tucked into Box 9 of the archive, there were probably a lot more than just eight nine ten (I keep finding more and more in my files), and several of them appear to be one-offs, though it’s admittedly difficult to be sure. They include (and in no particular order):

  • Accumulations (perzine)
  • Egocentricity (apazine)
  • Nugatory Nuisance (apazine)
  • The Dismal Lich (gaming zine)
  • Amanuensis (quillzine?)
  • Beaucéant! (apazine)
  • Incalculable Tedium in the Frozen Land (perzine?)
  • Gunzine (interview zine?)
  • Halt, Passenger (apazine)
  • The Muzak News (apazine)

Since most of these were apazines, surely Gunderloy’s involvement in the sci-fi fanzine community meant there were more. In fact in Issue #1 of Amanuensis, a one-off “quillzine” of his sci-fi fiction that was written concurrently with F5 and when Gunderloy was 25 years old (1984), he reflected on his history as a writer:

“I’ve been writing stuff for just about as long as I can remember. My earliest publications were semi-humorous semi-underground paper in 5th grade. Through junior high and high school I was in various creative writing anthologies and then co-edited a full-blown underground paper. My senior year in high school I discovered fandom and I’ve published something approaching 3000 pages of fanzines since then, mail in APAs. Currently I’m writing for around ten apps and doing xx columns for various fanzines.”

His earliest writings in the archive start in 1978 with Accumulations, a perzine he started in California when he was just 21, just a few years out of high school (although he was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I’m not sure where he went to high school). Accumulations chronicles his daily life from December 1978 to May 1980 (then there’s a gap and an issue or two from 1984).

I haven’t read these very thoroughly, but it’s clear from this zine that Gunderloy wrote every damn day and one can surmise from his early involvement in fandom and the nature of his perzine that there wasn’t much of a distinction between writing and publishing, whether the output was a mimeo, dot matrix printer, or offset press. For him, writing was publishing. And in that sense, an early DIY ethic comes through, one predicated on trial and error, where success meant someone responded. It’s obvious that F5 rendered visible a counterpublic of zines (and in some ways, one could argue it created it), but that came only thanks to Gunderloy’s prolific publishing, even when that meant a project had a very brief lifespan. 

Gunderloy would write and publish about his motives throughout his reign at F5 both within its pages and when he opined for others, such as he did in a 1987 issue of Toronto’s The Blotter, where he distilled his desire into two primary reasons: inertia and fascination. Of the former, Gunderloy described it as the “enormity of the task” — but not so much an inertia to circulate ideas as much as a fear of disappointing his fellow small press publishers if he quit, the enormity of having to explain it to them. He shared this slightly tongue-cheek, lamenting writing refund checks to zines like POND SCUM JOURNAL and wasting his bulk mailing rate renewal; yet the inertia felt palpable as Gunderloy described the state of his house as he prepped yet another magnanimous issue:

“There are letters and rejected illustrations strew across the floor of the living room. In the basement, the photocopier is out of dispersant, having made one too many dummy pages for layout. Upstairs in the study, things are no better, with fanzines spilling out of cardboard boxes, stacked high on the desk, and crammed into filing-cabinet drawers. (There are, of course, never enough drawers for the fanzines received). And of course the mailbox is already spewing forth things to be reviewed for the issue … as if writing 428 fanzine reviews for the current issue wasn’t enough.”

But really it was the second thing that drove Gunderloy to dedicate 90-100 hours per week to putting out F5: his fascination with the small press. After disclosing that he walked away from “a moderately successful career as a science fiction fan,” where he edited zines and printed APAs, his craving to write and publish ultimately led him back to F5. 

This seems slightly revisionist, because as far as the archives demonstrate, Gunderloy not only read and wrote every single day, he published nearly every single day. In his perzine Accumulations (started in December 1978), for instance, he reflected on everything, from the deep to the mundane; regardless if he was ruminating on a new job in LA, detailing a trip to rendezvous with other sci-fi fans in NYC, or contemplating his relationships with his partner or roommates, whatever he was absorbing, Gunderloy was documenting as much of it as he could.

Introspection aside, he was open-minded, endlessly curious, and dedicated to the free press, and especially to the freedom of the small press. In his essay for The Blotter, Gunderloy describes his role as “part cheerleader, part discussion facilitator, part networker,” ultimately because he believed that:

“…a healthy small press is a sign of a healthy society. Further—and I feel this is a crucial point— even the crackpot ideas must have the opportunity to find their way to the intellectual marketplace. That’s why I give equal time to the journals dealing with the Shaver Mystery, the UFOs, the flat earth, the Discordian society, and anarchy as I do to more respectable things such as literary and music magazines. I don’t think we can or should stifle this segment of society. Not only does self-publishing act as a safety valve for the lunatic fringe, it also serves to keep the mainstream thinkers at least a wee bit honest.”

One “organization” that was mentioned in early issues of F5 was The Church of SubGenius. Perhaps the best introduction to this bizarre pseudo-religion is via the recent documentary,  J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius (2019).

In his “review” of the Church in Issue 1, Gunderloy wrote that the Church would:

“…reveal your true nature, and that of the world about you, for another of your hard-earned dollars. Anyone who gives serious thought to the questions of religion will either be offended or amused by this cheesy fly-by-night scam, but at least they are a scam of good quality. Excromediation, Jehovah-1, SLACK!, they’ve got it all, and most of it is for sale.”

Ad from Church of SubGenius featured at the end of Issue #7 of F5.

In the next issue, Gunderloy focused more on The Stark Fist of Removal, specifically an issue targeted toward new members, which he said would “freak out your co-workers and make you wonder whether you’ve missed the ‘joke’ yourself.”

By Issue 7, F5 was running ads by the group.

In his entry on “Zines” in the Dictionary of Contemporary Esotericism, religious studies scholar J. Christian Greer writes that of the many esoteric zines that circulated in the zine scene of the 1980s and 90s, The Stark Fist of Removal was a popular favorite amongst the underground, even going so far as to say that its “Other Mutants” section, which served as a clearinghouse for publishers, inspired Gunderloy to start F5.

While Gunderloy doesn’t say anything about this in the early issues of F5 (to be corrected if necessary as we comb through its corpus), Greer notes that Gunderloy’s involvement in Discordianism — specifically the zine No Governor (1975-1987) — heavily influenced his approach to F5 and the folks he’d collaborate with through his tenure, including Kerry Thornley, Hakim Bey, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Bob Black.  

The earliest issues of F5 showcased the range of fringe cultures being stitched together through its pages: Flat Earthers and other conspiracy theorists, parody religions, psychics, anarchists, libertarians, sci-fi fans, punk rockers, even newsletters that reviewed laundromats. Twenty-ish issues later — as F5 circulation jumped from 150 copies to 2,000 — the message was the same; in a 1987 an interview with the punk fanzine, Flipside, Gunderloy said:

“I’ll send F5 to whoever will send me $2! One purpose it serves is to get people interested in things… there are natural links between the punks and the anarchists and the Subgenius…”

F5 served as a space for uniting these links, but Gunderloy wasn’t just interested in making these connections through print; from the very beginning he participated in discussions on various BBSes across the U.S. One segment from Issue #1 teased:

“415-821-1714, 415-928-0641, 314-227-4312 were running some ah, interesting computer bulletin boards the last time I checked. Not for the easily offended.”

While these area codes are from San Francisco and Saint Louis, Issue #2 noted a Boston-area BBS called “The System,” for “Strange personal computer owners” and operating late into the night and early morning.  

In the same Flipside interview, Shane Williams noted that:

“Mike is probably the first underground publication to set up and operate their own Electronic Mail Bulletin Board System.”

Although this interview says that the F5 BBS had only been up and running for two months (inspiring Flipside to start their own), Gunderloy had been involved in BBSes for quite some time and his technical abilities, tenacity as a writer and publisher, and his desire to connect with freaks and geeks everywhere led to the fast ascension of F5 between 1982 and 1987. 

The title “Factsheet Five” was inspired from a story by British sci-fi writer John Brunner. Yet, in true zine fashion, Gunderloy didn’t announce this from the get-go. Rather, in a section in Issue #1, he implored his readers to guess the reference through a contest:

“First person to identify the source of the title will win something. I have no idea what and do not guarantee it will be worthwhile or fun.”

By Issue #2 — started just 25 days later — guesses and other correspondence from readers were pouring in. As the project grew in length (from a double-sided single sheet to 6 pages) and circulation (50 to 75, per his report), Gunderloy playfully spliced their comments throughout:

“FACTSHEET Five. Hmmm. I don’t know, but does the title have anything to do with your high school newspaper?”

“‘Factsheet Five’ sounds like 1) A new punkrock group  2) travel itinerary for the Fifth Buddha or 3) 5 employees of a consumer protection agency got arrested and are having the ACLU represent them.”

Perhaps as a result of these misses, Gunderloy sweetened the deal in Issue #2 to include a year’s subscription to F5 “and other valuable considerations” — and provided a clue:

“HINT #1: Look between Time-Jump and Total Eclipse”

The hint must’ve worked because by Issue #3, begun in mid-July 1982, reader and longtime sci-fi fanwriter Arthur D. Hlavaty guessed it. Gunderloy wrote:

“Sorry, but the ‘identify this title’ content is no longer open. The lucky (and I use the term loosely) winner is Arthur D. Hlavaty, who writes:  ‘I seem to recall factsheets in a John Brunner story (with ‘factsheet’ in the title), but do not have my library here to check.’ That’s close enough for me. The title of the story was (strangely enough) ‘Factsheet Five,” and it appears in the collection FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, which was published between the appearances of TIME-JUMP and TOTAL ECLIPSE (two other Brunner books).”

While this story indeed appears in Brunner’s 1972 short story collection, it was actually titled “Factsheet Six” and originally published in 1968 issue of Galaxy (Bruner would go on to win the Hugo award for his novel Stand on Zanzibar the following year). In later glossaries of F5 (and perhaps other issues) Gunderloy would correct himself: 

“FACTSHEET FIVE: Title of a short story by John Brunner. Actually the story is ‘Factsheet Six’, and it originally appeared in GALAXY magazine from 1968. It’s reprinted as part of Brunner’s collection FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (Doubleday, 1972). The FACTSHEET in the story is a sort of psychic consumer magazine whose publisher is ultimately killed by a person who he has negatively reviewed — something which seems close to what I’m doing all the time.”

As for Hlavaty’s reward, Gunderloy noted that:

“Our lucky winner will now find it impossible to get off the mailing list until this rag folds. In addition, he receives a computerized Dobbshead personally autographed by Dr. Armand Gideon, and the cap from a bottle of Moosehead beer. Lucky him.”

Mike Gunderloy published the first issue of F5 via a run of 50 copies, printed on a double-sided single sheet of paper dated May 4, 1982. While Wikipedia notes that he made Issue 1 ”on a spirit duplicator in his bedroom in a slanshack in Alhambra, California” the issue itself says he was “now at” Hyde Park, the southernmost neighborhood in Boston where his then-partner was pursuing a PhD at Harvard. Dubbing it “a collection of notes on current publications and what-not,” subject to “æditorial whim,” and ending with the Discordian phrase “HAIL ERIS!” in the flipside’s footer, Gunderloy set out to use F5 as a way to bring together the disparate interests of his readers. The issue featured nine or so reviews ranging from contemporary fringe groups like The Church of SubGenius to anarchist publications to offensive BBSes with area codes in San Francisco and San Louis. Having already published various zines for some time under his Pretzel Press imprint, including zines like Accumulations (a perzine), Egocentricity (the zine of a sci-fi APA listserv), and Dismal Lich (gaming), F5 carried on Gunderloy’s synthesis of radical politics, the occult, and absurdity, all filtered through a sense of humor and, ironically, a refusal to commit. While the look of F5 #1 is similar to those other zines, it would quickly morph into something else entirely. 

Welcome to the Factsheet Five Archive Project. This site is dedicated to making sense of the magazine’s history and legacy and, in that process, share the work of (and ideally network with) some of the amazing editors, contributors, readers, advertisers, and other associates involved with Factsheet Five (F5) from 1982-1998. In those 16 years, much of it pre-www, F5 exemplified that it was “the paragon of network zines” (55) as Stephen Duncombe described it in his groundbreaking 1992 book, explicating pages upon pages of zine reviews, materializing as readers sent in their own zines. While numerous network zines preceded F5 (specifically APA or sci-fi data zines), and have sprung up since F5 (including Broken Pencil, to name a current one), F5‘s longevity, its proximity to the popularization of the web in the mid 1990s, and specifically Gunderloy’s politics and dedication, led it to be arguably the most influential corpus in zine culture’s history. This project aims to document that history by sharing images from back issues and archived correspondence, and through whatever tidbits of secondary sources encountered along the way, including scholarly work like Duncombe’s, interviews with Gunderloy and other collaborators, and hopefully feedback from anyone who might be reading this. It should be noted that the history of zines can and have been told through many lenses and entry points and while this is just one of them, it’s about time someone attempted to share it. Please send corrections, questions, or comments to curator [at] f5archive.com or connect with us on Instagram or Twitter.