17 July, 2007

Reversed Polarities

While can TSV justifiably claim to be New Zealand's most successful Doctor Who fanzine, its 'South Island cousin' Reverse the Polarity (RTP) could be the next best thing. Produced in Christchurch by the affable Alex Ballingall (himself a longtime TSV reader), RTP has a small but very loyal readership who are the lifeblood of the zine. RTP celebrates its tenth birthday this year. Alex has a blog about RTP here.

I was doing a tidy up of my files yesterday and came across the following article I wrote a year ago for RTP. It appeared in issue 22, dated June 2006, as part of a much longer piece, entitled 'Polarities Reversed!', a 21 issue retrospective featuring contributions from RTP readers.

RTP Comes of Age

Some might say that I’m not the best person to be writing this article. But Alex asked nicely, and he’s up against a very tight deadline. He wants me to write about RTP, looking back at the last 21 issues from the perspective of both a reader and a fellow fanzine editor. I’ve had some fanzine editing experience and I’ve also been reading RTP since the very first issue, so I guess I fit the bill.

I responded to Alex’s eleventh-hour request because I know all too well what it’s like when you’re about to go to print and there’s still pages that remain resolutely blank. There’s only so much you can cajole, wheedle and coax your contributors when they’re only doing it for the fun. If you push them too hard then as a certain brash Aussie once pointed out, once it stops being fun it’s time to give it up. The editor then wakes up one day to find those contributors have gone somewhere else to reclaim that sense of fun. And in TSV’s case, I rather suspect that it’s RTP where some of these fun-seeking contributors ended up.

I fetched the complete run of RTP issues (1997-2006) from my bookshelves tonight and thumbed through them to jog the memory. You know a fanzine has a substantial back catalogue when it’s difficult to hold the set in one hand. RTP’s either reached that point or I need to work on my grip.

Having clocked up 21 issues, RTP can be said to have come of age, and it’s a figure that I believe makes it officially the third longest New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine in terms of issue count; and even though Gallifrey takes second place, its issues were rather slim, it regurgitated content from DWM and it ended a long time ago. RTP can certainly claim the highest issue count of any post-TSV New Zealand Who fanzine.

RTP was the brainchild of Matt Kamstra and Wade Campbell, (though it wasn’t very long before Alex started taking over – in fact there he is writing in the very first issue!). It was seemingly born out of the collective enthusiasm generated by the rebirth of the local fan community, and indeed for many issues RTP was subtitled “The Fanzine of the Christchurch Chapter of the NZDWFC”.

The inaugural RTP reviewed the 50th issue of TSV, and the reviewer described it as ‘dull’ and lacking in variety. Ouch. Fortunately this did not set the tone for the ongoing relationship between the two zines and although from time to time, particularly in the early issues, RTP would take shots at TSV things have remained perfectly amicable, with the occasional bit of fun being poked by RTP at its bigger and older cousin. I can never forget that astonishing cartoon likeness of me (that jaw line!!) from issue 11.

TSV 50 coincidentally saw the conclusion of TARDIS Tales, but Saucer Smith found a new home in the pages of RTP, ending up on the front cover of the first issue. Graham Muir was just the first of several TSV notable TSV contributors to either ‘defect’ to RTP or to divide their writings and drawings between the two publications.

There were a number of items printed in early issues of RTP that had previously passed across the TSV editor’s desk. RTP in its early days sometimes seemed a little like a safe haven for TSV cast-offs. The zine thankfully soon began to find its own identity however with such gems as the epic Pulp Who comic strip originated by Alex, with a little help from Mr Tarantino. The interviews with local fan personalities began in issue 5; this is something I don’t think TSV could get away with doing, but it works perfectly for RTP’s smaller scale and local readership. I find these interviews fascinating as even though they’re mostly with people I feel I’ve known for years, I learn things from the interviews I never knew.

There have been a few times when I’ve gone the same colour as issue 20 with envy at something that’s appeared in RTP and not TSV. If I had to pick just one example it would be that interview with Warwick ‘Scott’ Gray in issues 7-8. Oh how I would have loved to publish that in TSV. Oddly enough a couple of years ago I was having a drink with Warwick in London and sounded him out over doing an interview for TSV. He replied that he’d already been interviewed in TSV. He didn’t realize until I told him that his interview had ended up in RTP!

Other highlights that have jumped out at me during my trawl back through the RTP catalogue include Alex’s quite remarkable Japanese comic in issue 16, David Ronayne’s simply delightful Tintin-inspired covers, and Peter Adamson’s extraordinarily emotive Cydonia strip.

Finally I’d just like to share with you the secret to long-term success for a New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine. It’s quite simple, really. Devise a name that only fans will understand and then reduce it to just three initials. So now you know what all those other fanzines that are no longer around today were doing wrong!

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