Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Writing and Publishing the 'Rebel Review'

My first really concerted effort at producing my own written works, was called the 'Rebel Review'. Since childhood and to this day, I have been a fan of Star Wars. How much of a fan depends entirely on your perception of such things. Some people would consider me an over-the-top fan with a large collection of Star Wars books, a fair sized collection of the original toys from childhood (ebay tempts, but hasn't won yet!), numerous collectible items and various copies of the movies from different releases over the years. Then again, a real Star Wars fan would probably consider me a mid-level enthusiast. I'm too interested in plenty of other things in general, to be a true fanatic (I think!).

Regardless, I was enough of a Star Wars fan in my teens that when I decided to make my own magazine, I chose to make it predominantly Star Wars related with short stories and various movie and book reviews. I'm not sure, but I think one of my sisters suggested the title. In honour of the Rebel Alliance (The good guys, for those of you who have never lived on this planet), it ended up being called 'The Rebel Review'.

What prompted me to this creation? Well, it was an endeavour that combined many of my favourite things.
  • Star Wars and Science Fiction? Check
  • Movies? Check
  • Books? Check
  • Artwork? Check
  • Story and other writing? Check
  • Excuse to use the computer and photocopier? Check
My father produced the local parish magazine on a monthly basis, using the combination of a rental-purchase photocopier and his new Amstrad PCW8256 computer with 9-pin dot-matrix printer. It was my first true exposure to computers, outside of a friend's ZX Spectrum and the limited BBC micros at school. To this day, there's still something strangely hypnotic and unusual about the PCW. The guts of the machine were inside the same casing as the monitor, which itself was green-screen only. I could easily wax lyrical about the hours spent programming games in BASIC from listings in the magazine, creating primitive graphics in LOGO, the unusual 3” disks, or playing Fairlight and Tomahawk into the early hours, only to come away with square eyes and a strange sense of detachment from reality... but those are for another time. For now, its miracle was the ability to write and save files using the LocoScript word processor, and print them.

So it was, that using word processing software that would be considered less-than-primitive now, I learnt to type and write on a computer. I was fascinated with what my dad was able to do on that machine, and I wanted to produce something of my own.

The first issue was put together in 1990, after the release of 'Gremlins 2'. I would've been about fourteen. I continued producing them until the 7th and final issue was released in 1995. It had huge print runs, of perhaps 10, maybe even 20 copies, sold to friends and relatives with plenty of encouragement and praise from my mother. I wrote short stories, created word-searches, quizzes and games, wrote film and book reviews, and gave my thoughts on the latest movie news. I often drew pictures for the covers and the stories. By the final few issues I was even using an art package and mouse on my Dad's PCW to produce primitive black and white computer graphics.

It was all enormous fun, most of which was had in piecing together the various items for photocopying. For example, the first issue sported an image of Gizmo from 'Gremlins 2' on the front cover along with the magazine title and a couple of small accompanying images (See the start of the article). How did I produce that? I had one piece of paper on which I glued two photocopied images from my favourite movie magazine (the sadly extinct 'Starburst'), and drew a large portrait of Gizmo in pencil. On a second piece of paper, I printed the title and a couple of other bits of text. I would then photocopy the title page, then run the same used pieces of paper through the copier again, this time photocopying the Gizmo images. Voila! A title page combing the two.

Gradually my expertise grew. Numerous tiny bits of Blu-Tack or Pritt Stick glue kept images, titles and lines of text onto pieces of A4 paper, which were then copied to produce inventively laid out pages. Finally, they were all stapled together to create multiple copies of each issue. The sense of accomplishment at picking up and flicking through a 'magazine' created by myself was fantastic. Sure, looking back on them now it's easy to see them as naïve and primitive, but it's all part of the knowledge and experience that has taken me to where I am today (Or at least given me some fun childhood memories).

In retrospect, it also provided an unusual form of bonding between my father and I. It was at once a solitary process, creating the Rebel Review, whilst also being something we could share. I was using all of my Dad's equipment, from the PCW and photocopier, to his stapler and paper guillotine. We enjoyed our mutual fascination and enjoyment at using the computer, and he was able to help me when I required it. For a few days or more while my life was suddenly consumed with this creative project, I was ever-present in his study, taking up space and no doubt getting in the way while I made it. When I think back, he must have been incredibly patient!

What did I learn? Plenty, no doubt, but the most important factor is the memories. Childhood enthusiasm and dreams that came to life and became miraculously real, with the involvement of family and friends.

In a way that even photos cannot manage, I can pick up one of those old issues with their now-yellowing pages, and a host of memories and emotions come flooding back. It conjures up those times when I felt  accomplishment (simple and minor as it was) combined with naïve optimism, and it was all shared with loved ones and friends to create something that never fails to bring a smile.

1 comment:

  1. What a great computer the Amstrad PCW!

    Thanks for your article!