Mike Gunderloy often hosted large parties at his house in Rensselaer, just across the Hudson from downtown Albany, or as his party flier described it, from “the bowels of the [New York] state government.” He would convene dozens of self-publishers from all over the northeast, including the late Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), David Greenberger (Duplex Planet), anarchist Bob Black (who had been thrown out of certain parties), and Pagan Kennedy (Pagan’s Head). Archived ephemera include a single-page mailed invitation, a sign-in sheet, as well as letters of regret and thanks. One letter from this time reports an animated scene, and Gunderloy’s specific ability to offer “zingers of dis-political wit.” However, Gunderloy himself reported that it was also quite nerdy. In a footnote from a personal interview with Gunderloy from Zines: Notes From Underground, Stephen Duncombe says this:

“In describing parties he used to throw for zine publishers at his house in upstate New York, Mike Gunderloy highlighted their odd dynamic: people would come, talk to one another for a bit, then invariably retreat alone to corners, walls, nooks, and crannies and start reading each other’s zines” (201 n3).

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 February 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:

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.