Monday, April 17, 2017


(From Ray X X-Rayer #131.)

Ultra Q – Episode 27: The Disappearance of Flight 206

Watch The Skies

(From Ray X X-Rayer #133. )

By Ray X

Flying saucers and spirit duplicators.

Those were the days.

In the early 1960s Rick Hilberg was an inquisitive teen who wrote about what was popularly called at that time flying saucers.

“I was born and raised in Cleveland,” said Rick in a recent email interview.  “[I] developed an interest in UFOs quite by accident.”

One day in his grade school class someone mentioned “flying saucers.”  Rick’s teacher saw an opportunity for a learning experience.  The teacher asked some students to delve into the subject, choosing either the pro or con side.

At first Rick was skeptical about unidentified flying objects.

Rick: “I chose the anti-UFO side, and in my research in trying to make my case began to develop a more open mind, and after a bit became convinced that something strange was indeed going on in our skies.”

Like other young ufologists Rick got the word out through a do-it-yourself newsletter.  He launched “UFO Magazine” in 1962.  He used a spirit duplicator to produce his newsletter.  No, a spirit duplicator wasn’t a paranormal machine to clone a ghost.  It was a printing press that used stencils and a solvent mixed with alcohol (henceforth the term spirit) to produce copies.

A spirit duplicator – AKA ditto machine – was an affordable option back then for people to produce newsletters that were snail mailed to readers or just personally passed along.

A stencil served as a master.  When someone wrote, typed or drew on it he had to be careful not to make a mistake.  Once an impression was made that was it.  Then the stencil was placed on a drum that spun off copies usually by hand-cranking.  Muscles were put to work.  The duplicator’s “ink” contained materials not exactly salubrious to an operator; breathing its fumes could produce high spirits.

Decades later Rick is still getting the word out via hardcopy but without a ditto machine’s smell.  Among their other benefits computers don’t have to be hand cranked.

As editor of Flying Saucer Digest newsletter Rick has maintain the tradition of paper over photons.  He uses stamps and envelopes, not electricity, to reach his readers.

While Rick the teen saucer fan was publishing his newsletter two other Clevelanders around his age, Al Manak and Ron Pelger, provided their take on strange aerial objects through their own zine.  They launched Flying Saucer Digest in the summer of 1967.  

In 1970 Al Manak convinced Rick to merge UFO Magazine into Flying Saucer Digest.   

Rick: “Since that time I've held several different staff positions with FSD over the years and took over as editor shortly before Al's untimely death in 1999.”

His wife Carol serves as managing editor.  Her duties include production, proofreading, financial aspects, and editorial decisions.  Like Rick she has an open mind regarding the UFO enigma. 

Flying Saucer Digest celebrates its 50th year this summer.   Over the decades Rick has observed the changes in ufology beyond publishing technology.

He has noticed that individual researchers nowadays are less apt to share information with their peers.

Rick: “I don't know, maybe it is the incentive to make a few quick bucks from publishing books and articles, not to mention getting paid to speak at various UFO conventions and gatherings that are held oh so frequently these days. Back in the day most researchers would gladly attend these gatherings at their own expense ( maybe accepting a free table to sell their material in exchange ) to get their ideas and findings across, as well as comparing notes as it were, with other researchers in order to bolster their own work.”

Rick has seen how the internet explosion over the last twenty years or so has impacted ufology.

Rick: “[The net] has made it easy for every Tom, Dick and Harry out there to essentially copycat especially interesting UFO sightings or strange motifs associated with the current ufological world view. Without having to give your name as was necessary in the old days when reporting something strange to the news media, today behind a creative e-mail address you can let your imagination run wild and come up with some really whopping tales to report to gullible UFO organizations and sites already convinced that the UFOs are indeed space ships visiting the Earth with a collection of bizarre life forms on board doing all sorts of nasty things to us Earthlings.”

Rick has problems with researchers who only believe in ETH – the extraterrestrial hypothesis.   This predominant bias, he thinks, invalidates ufology.

Rick: “I believe that ‘ufology’ does not presently deserve ‘validation.’  It is certainly little more than a rather complicated and at times contentious sub culture that deserves study by social scientists rather than those from the hard sciences. At one time, and we are talking about at its very beginnings in the 1950s, it had the potential to become a scientific movement that could have attracted qualified researchers to eventually blossom into something truly scientific in scope, but unfortunately degenerated into a disorganized circle of buffery that still is at the helm.”


Rick: “By ‘buffery’ I refer to those UFO buffs who basically control the field and its thinking. To me, anyway, a buff is a derogatory term for someone trying to oh so scientific, but in reality is a rather clownish seeker of the gee-whiz by playing a role.”

Is ufology closer solving the UFO enigma than fifty years ago?  “Hell no.”

Rick does have a theory about what is happening with aerial phenomena.  “What would I bet that the answer is? I truly feel that the phenomenon of that which we call UFOs and related phenomena has been with us since our very beginnings on this place we call Earth. ‘We’ are somehow related and intertwined in some way that we may never really understand. So many theories have been put forth over the years, but I doubt if any time soon we will be prepared to say which one, or ones, actually ‘explains’ this relationship.”

Despite the elusive solution his interest in UFOs hasn’t wavered.

Rick: “After all these years I still possess  that wonderful sense of wonder, dreaming and awe that I've had from the start of my journey in the UFO world, and that has sustained me on my quest to make sense of this most likely unanswerable enigma.”

As before he keeps one eye on the heavens.

*  *  *

To celebrate Flying Saucer Digest’s 50th year Rick has been reprinting covers from past issues, classic flying saucer art, with recent newsletters.   Beside FSD he has been publishing special publications, some of them long out of print.  The more popular titles are being reprinted to mark the five decades milestone. 

If you want to read a traditional UFO zine send $2.00 to R. Hilberg Publications, 377 Race St., Berea, OH 44017 to receive a sample copy.  Also you can request info on Rick’s special publications.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Recycled Godzilla: The Frill Is Gone

(Apologies to B.B. King.)

(From Ray X X-Rayer #131. )

Godzilla, is that you?

For someone unfamiliar with the Ultraman TV episode The Mysterious Dinosaur Base (1966) it's disconcerting to see Godzilla in a modified form with a large cartilaginous frill flaring out the back of his neck.  Actually it's two old Godzilla costumes thrown together to create a "new" monster named Jirass.

With a tight shooting schedule the producers were able to borrow a couple of Godzilla suits for recycling, assembling a new giant monster of the week.

Ultraman is set in the future.  As in every episode the hero shows up at the last minute to battle a colossal menace, using his power to grow to the right fighting size, going eyeball to eyeball with his opponent.  

Ultraman is really a regular human, Shin Hayata, who works for the Science Patrol.  SP agents are nattily dressed in orange suits with a white bib and necktie, all topped off with a goofy crash helmet. These sartorial mutants are armed with oversized but ineffective ray guns.  Of course their weapons have to be useless against giant creatures, necessitating the need to Ultraman to save the day.   When trouble looms large Shin Hayata uses his power rod to encircle himself with a band of light, transforming himself into Ultraman.

Or in this episode Ultrabully.  As the titans engage in fight Ultraman doesn't act like a noble superhero.  He waves his hand in front of his face indicating that Jirass smells bad.  Then Ultraman waves the monster towards him.

Now dealing with a monster doesn't mean a superhero has to fight nice but this time Ultraman takes sadistic glee in trouncing his enemy.  He reaches out and rips off the frill from Jirass's neck, leaving a nasty red wound behind.  Then acting like a proud matador Ultraman waves the frill like a cape, causing Jirass to charge but miss.

Then Ultraman kills off his foe, dropping the detached frill on Jariss as a final petty insult.  Since Ultraman is a marital artist one would think he would have been trained to show more decorum.

Good entertainment for the kids.  They learn a hero doesn't need to be noble, he can act like a egotistical prick.

An Artist’s Life: From Flesh Garden To Hugo Gernsback

(From Ray X X-Rayer #132. )

By Ray X

14 nominations.  14 losses.  Someone with a weak ego would have given up after those results.

Category: Best Fan Artist.  Award: a rocket-shaped trophy named after scientifiction pioneer Hugo Gernsback.  Nominee: artist/cartoonist Steve Stiles.

Despite the repeated losses Steve kept plugging on with his fanzine art.  For him his cartoons were for fun, not a way to win an award.

 “There were times,” Steve explained in an email interview,  “when I wondered why I was being overlooked, or how a particular artist got nominated when I was sooooo much better —I’m an egotist (you have to be if you want to survive in any of the arts), but that wasn’t a source of any major discontentment; life’s too short.”

Steve’s artistic life was inspired by the EC Comics line published in the 1950s, in particular a Mad Magazine satire by Wally Wood called “Flesh Garden” that spoofed a popular space hero.  (“Flesh Garden” should not be confused with a movie called “Flesh Gordon” which took – ahem – a different satirical approach to the same material.)

Steve:  “As a little boy I came down with the flu and my grandmother gave me a stack of comics; among the Andy Pandys, Little Lulus, and Donald Ducks was a copy of MAD #11: I opened it up to Wallace Wood’s terrific splash panel “Flesh Garden!", and I think it was then that I began wanting to become a cartoonist!”

Besides Mad EC also published SF and horror comics, the latter creating a parental uproar over its gruesome stories.  A psychiatrist, Dr. Frederick Wertham, proclaimed comic books were causing juvenile delinquency, turning innocent children into switchblade slashing criminals. 

Steve: “When I grew older enough to appreciate to the serious E.C.s (which my parents didn’t allow in the house) most of their titles had folded, thanks to Fredric Wertham’s witch hunt. Luckily, there was a used bookstore a few doors down from our apartment building so I was able to collect back issues for prices that would drive today’s collectors mad with envy.”

The EC SF titles “Weird Fantasy” and “Weird Science” published adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories.  This lead Steve to travel to the library and discover other authors like Robert Heinlein.  He was one step away from discovering SF fandom.

Steve: “[I]n the summer of 1957 I had started a penpal correspondence with a fan named Peter Francis Skeberdis, who I discovered in the lettercol pages of Larry Shaw’s INFINITY magazine. At some point I scribbled a cartoon on one of the pages of a letter I sent him. Peter in turn sent my scribble (which was pretty awful) to F.M. and Elinor Busby, and during my first week of high school (Music & Art, which was the high school that some of my E.C. heroes had gone to) I suddenly had an issue of my first fanzine, CRY OF THE NAMELESS #116, with MY cartoon in PRINT!! Wow!”

In the early 1960s Steve attended meetings of The Fanoclasts club in Manhatten.  The group was hosted by Dick and Pat Lupoff who produced a fanzine called XERO with bhob Stewart.

“At the time my cartooning was pretty lame,” says Steve, “both in execution and in concept, but one evening Dick set up his lighting table, handed me some stencils and styli and ordered me to sit down and DRAW! I was really on the spot; what to do?—and then I thought about fantasy author Lin Carter’s pet rabbit, which he kept in his bathroom. The damned thing was rather vicious, which made it awkward to use the facilities, but it was great humorous material so I did a six vertical panel sequence called ‘LIN CARTER’S BUNNY RABBIT.’ It was crude as hell but something I could build on, the launching point for me as both a fan artist and a pro. I’m grateful to Dick but I don’t know if Lin ever forgave me.”

He had hoped to break into the comic book industry after art school.

Steve: “However, by the time I graduated, it was apparent that comics were a dying industry —apparent back in those days, that is! DC was more or less a closed shop that practically owned the distribution system, effectively limiting Atlas Comics —the future Marvel Comics— to a handful of titles, and then, I think, there was Charlton. As far as I was concerned, those companies published mediocre dreck (Krypto, the Super Dog!), compared to everything Feldstein and Gaines had done. When the first issue of Fantastic Four hit the newsstands I thought it was interesting but that it would never last —so much for my abilities as a prophet!”

As a student Steve realized he had to make a living.  His parents urged him to enter the advertising industry.  

Steve: “I made pretty good money as a pasteup artist  — far more than many beginning comic book artists— and got to see quite a few of the Madison Avenue top agencies; BBD&O, Dancer Fitzgerald, Y&R, Revlon, but didn’t particularly like what I saw, all these people working in those tiny little gray cubicles. I also noticed that those people I liked, the mensch types, never seemed to last very long, while the weasel types, the Eddie Haskells, tended to predominate. Maybe I exaggerate, but at any rate I had no motivation to move up into art director positions and was making a comfortable living where I was.”

He’s proud of one particular claim to fame in the ad field.  A campaign to promote a particular cigarette used the concept of brand loyalty, implying that such loyalty proved the Tareyton was the best.  A man appeared in a print ad with a black eye accompanied by the slogan: “I’d rather fight than switch!”  Steve was the air brusher who added the famous black eye to the model.

His interest in comic books remained.  In the late 1960s an opening appeared to come his way.  

Steve was friends with artist “Dapper Dan” Adkins who was working at Marvel Comics, a good connection in the industry.  Dan penciled the Dr. Strange series but wanted to switch to inking.  Steve’s fan art had been often compared to Dan’s pro work so the two teaming up on Dr. Strange was a natural fit.

In Marvel’s early years “Fabulous Flo” Steinberg served as secretary to editor “Smilin’ Stan” Lee.  (It was the Marvel Age of Alliterative Nicknames.)

Steve: “I put together a bunch of penciled pages and Dan took them in to the Marvel offices. A few weeks passed and then I got a call from Dan: his wife Jeanette had been by the offices and was told by ‘Fabulous Flo’ Steinberg that ‘Dan’s friend’ had been hired.”

Steve quit his regular job, leaving behind a bad-tempered boss.  He sped over to Marvel where he spoke with production manager “Jumbo John” Verpoorten, learning that he didn’t get the gig.  Why?  Fabulous Flo had mixed up Steve’s name with the artist who was really hired, Frank Springer.

Steve: “Gosh, Flo didn’t seem that fabulous just then!”

Steve did land other comic book jobs.  Freelancing provided him with steady work until “Black October,” a crash in the industry in 1995 caused by various factors.  Besides outlets drying up he also struggled with a changing job market for illustrators.

Steve: “I discovered that my commercial art skills were all obsolete, replaced by computer software. I had no computer skills, I had no computer, and at age 55 I had no marketable skills; wow, that was a depressing shock!”

He survived through a series of “shitty” temp jobs until he found full time employment at a book company in 2002.  He learned computer skills along the way, becoming adept at Photoshop.  After retiring from the book company he keeps busy with free lance work and fan cartooning.  As for the latter the Hugo award for Best Fan Artist just stayed out of reach but he kept campaigning even after 14 losses. 

2016 was the magic year for him.  15 was the charm.

The win proved Steve’s point: You have to be an egotist to survive in the arts.

And in life.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

TAFFy Pull: Nominee John Purcell Draws In the Votes

(From Ray X X-Rayer #131. )

Welcome to SF fan alphabet soup.


All three organizations raise funds so that science fiction fans can travel to conventions in other parts of the world.  Three candidates are vying to win TAFF, Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund.*

The TAFF 2017 Ballot explains: "TAFF has regularly brought North American fans to European conventions and European fans to North American conventions. It exists solely through the support of fandom."

This year it's North America to Europe.

Fanzine editor  and 2017 TAFF nominee John Purcell took the time to explain how TAFF works.  John is a Minnesotan transplanted to Texas.  His day job:  His day job: instructor at Blinn Community College.  Hobbies:  Besides SF fandom there's music, playing guitar.  He publishes two fanzines with easily confused titles, Askew and Askance.  (I know after writing a letter of comment to the wrong zine.)

He explained a fan declares the intention to run for TAFF and then needs to line up other fans to nominate that fan.

John: "TAFF requires a total of five nominators (two from the destination continent, three from the sending continent) to send in their nominating statements to the current TAFF Administrators."

"Once the requirements are met," he continued, "the administrators then announce that the race is on and open it for any fan to vote until the deadline [this year March 4.]"

A TAFF nominee can campaign through fanzines.

John: "[T]hat's the way I like to do it: through not only my fanzines, but through other zines by mentioning TAFF in locs I send out. Of course, it's very nice when other fan editors mention the race in their fanzines, and some even have come out in support of my candidacy."

As a sign of changing times he said social media provides another promotional venue.

Part of the winner's duties is to act like a goodwill ambassador, spending time meeting  fans in the host country or continent.  The winner will attend the 2017 WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland.

John: "At the WorldCon the fan fund winners participate on panels and the Hugo award presentation, in addition to being a Goodwill Ambassador, as you put it. These duties sound like a lot of fun to me, and I am really looking forward to it."

He added each TAFF winner becomes the fund administrator for two years.

Next year the Worldcon location flips back to the US.  It will be held in San Jose, California.  If John wins TAFF this year he will assume the duties of the North American administrator, helping fans in Europe to travel here.

I forgot to ask John one question about the other fan funding organizations.  If it gives you GUFF do you CUFF DUFF?

*NOTE: You can learn more about the other two candidates, Sarah Gulde and Alissa McKersie , at .  And don't get this TAFF confused with the Turku Animated Film Festival.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Don’t Think, Keep Marching


(From Ray X X-Rayer #130)

In the last issue I mentioned the term "marching morons."  For those who didn't get the connection I was referring to a short story by Cyril M. Kornbluth first published in the April 1951 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction.*

"The Marching Morons" opens in the future, a world where low IQ citizens greatly outnumber the intelligent class.  The simple-minded people need constant attention and care from their mental superiors.

But a solution to this problem is found when "Honest John Barlow," awakens from suspended animation.  Back in 1988 a dental accident induced a deep sleep in Barlow.  After acclimating himself to the future wheeler dealer Barlow thinks of a scheme to deal with the surfeit of the simple-minded.

Suddenly the public hears that traveling to other worlds has been perfected -- or so it's claimed.  Advertising and "news" articles urge people to travel to the paradise of Venus.  This compels everyone to there, their departure helping to reduce the growing number of the simple-minded.

(When this story was published it was thought that Venus and other planets might be similar to the earth in climate and atmosphere.  That was the conceit of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.) 

People who take the trip write back to friends and relatives with stories of how great Venus is.  Barlow remembers how Hitler had letters from concentration camps faked to hide the real conditions.

One of the simple class, Mrs. Garvy, is caught off guard by references to traveling to Venus.  A TV commercial uses the phrase "easy as a trip to Venus."  Puzzled she tells her husband that she thought no one could go to Venus after "that one rocket thing crashed on the Moon."  From what she remembers they gave up on space flight because it was too dangerous.  Her husband dismisses her, saying that women don't follow the news.

Barlow's scheme uses multi-media to dupe the simple-minded.  For example a new character is introduced on a TV soap opera, a master rocket pilot who handles the Venus run.  

With poor memories and a need for authority to do their thinking the human lemmings willingly march into their space coffins.

In light of recent events there's a key detail I should mention about the master manipulator, John Barlow.  Before he awoke in the future the opportunist was a real estate developer.

*A PDF copy can be found at this link:

F*ck Chromebook and Google Docs

(From Ray X X-Rayer #130)

For the second and last time I’ve tried producing my zine, Ray X X-Rayer, on a Hamstrung Chromebook.  I can’t believe I’ve encountered more glitches using that system compared to Windows 10 and Word.

With the Chromebook I have to be extra careful when selecting text.  I wanted to only change one paragraph into italic and found the highlighting went beyond what I wanted.  So I selected the text I wanted back to normal, supposedly the correction was saved, and then emailed a copy of the file as Word to myself so I could proofread it on my seven inch Android tablet, making sure it looked OK on the smaller screen.

But when I open up the file the correction I made for changing italics to normal remained was missing.  I’m now editing this on my laptop using Word and I still have problems thanX to Google Docs.  Docs has fucked up the page numbering: page 1 is now page 0, page 2 is page 1.  It can’t be changed.  I tried unchecking the different first page option in Word but the glitch remains in the footer. I’m not wasting time in trying to fix that shit so no page numbers this time around.

Previously I emailed a copy to myself and found half of the zine’s contents missing.  So I had to email it a second time.

What I saved as plain text with Chrome is one block of text, no breaks, when I open up a copy in Windows.  Notepad is unable to insert the proper returns.  I have to open up the file in Jarte and save it as RTF to get the returns.  

I don’t want to keep screwing around to make Docs work properly in compatibility mode with Word.  My life is too short for this bullshit.

Another added bonus when using Chromebook offline: if you accidentally delete a file you can’t rescue it from a trashcan, it’s gone forever.

Chrome wordprocessing: word carving with a dull oversized blade.

Computers don’t fucking save time.

Note: I save vulgarities and obscenities for special occasions.

Dead In Winter

(From Ray X X-Rayer #130)

I have the perfect symbol to represent winters in the Plattsburgh, NY area.

Dead means "the middle" in the idiom dead of winter, referring to its long nights and cold killer temps. Lately during the day the mercury is a little above 0 degrees F/ -17 degrees C. At night the temp can take a double digit drop from that point.  Death does rule.

This time of year -- January -- is around the middle of the arctic season around here.  Winter usually drags on for six months.  April showers?  Forget it, you can still trudge through snow on the ground.  In fact the white death can even drop in May. Nothing says spring more than shoveling snow during Mother's Day weekend and suffering a heart attack.

And nothing says stupid more than bottom of the barrel superheroes.  At DC comics there is the Legion of Super Heroes, a top-notch group operating in the future when space travel is commonplace.  A Legion member is super-powered by accident or by the natural ability he was born with on his native planet.

Many apply for LSH membership but few are accepted due to their unimpressive abilities.  Take Dag Wentim -- Stone Boy -- from the planet Zwen.  Evolution has blessed his people with the ability to turn into stone, falling into suspended animation to deal with the long winters.

And how long are those winters?  Six months.  Just like around here.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Technicality Could Block Trump From Swearing In

Technicality Could Block Trump From Swearing In

By Sue Doe, Ersatz News Service

A little known rule pertaining to the swearing-in of a new president might keep President-elect Donald Trump from gaining control of the White House.

The Founding Fathers wanted to prevent any unqualified “boy kings” from assuming the presidency after seeing the ensuing disasters with young rulers in Europe.  As reported Trump has stubby fingers and small hands.  The size of his hands must meet the requirement set forth by the swearing-in rules.  The hand he places on the special ceremonial Bible must at least fit the rough outline of an adult hand imprinted on the cover.

DC insiders claim Trump’s organization is trying to suppress this critical detail from the public.