The big grandaddy of fantasy fanzines, Amra! Not one, but four issues!
Amra 58-61: 1973-1974
Edited and published by George H. Scithers
Amra may be the longest, or close to the longest running fanzine of all time. The only other major fantasy fanzine to come close to my knowledge was Erb-dom, losing out by just a few years. Both deserve high praise for sticking around that long and maintaining a high level of quality for their runs. Amra ran from 1959 to 1982, and the contributors literally reads like a who’s who of the world of fantasy. The Wiki page states that
Contributors of writing included Dan Adkins, Poul Anderson, Anthony Boucher, John Boardman, John Brunner, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Avram Davidson, Jane Gaskell, Harry Harrison, Frank Herbert, Fritz Leiber, Richard Lupoff, Michael Moorcock, Bjorn Nyberg, Robert Silverberg, Ted White, and Roger Zelazny.
The artists were also some of the best, many either already professionals or soon to be so. The list includes Dan Adkins, George Barr, Larry Ivie, Jeff Jones, Tim Kirk, Roy G. Krenkel, Alex Nino, Biljo Trimble, Alicia Austin, Philip Foglio, Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, and Bernie Wrightson. How is that for an incredible gallery? Speaking of a gallery, see the covers below of the issues covered this time, 58 through 61. Artists on the covers are Roy Krenkel, Jim Cawthorn, Krenkel again, and B. B. Sams, by the way.
I have to confess up front, I don’t think I ever had an issue of Amra when I was collecting fanzines back in the 70s. I am pretty sure I knew it existed, but, for whatever reasons, never had any. I sincerely hope to rectify that, now that I have a tiny bit more spending money! The zine is named after the name that Conan actually called himself when he was a pirate. Amra concentrates on Robert E. Howard’s barbarian hero, but also covers other ground in the sword and sorcery genre (a genre that actually got its name from this very fanzine). Editor and publisher George H. Scithers (who died in 2010) was the helmsman for the fanzine for its entire run, also an amazing achievement. It might also be construed that Amra is the official Roy G. Krenkle fanzine, because he is everywhere! That man was prolific! I remember many covers by the artist on those Ace and DAW paperbacks I pored through back then. However, seeing all of Krenkel’s sketches throughout these issues of Amra, I have to say, I think his sketches are much more livelier (something that happens with a lot of us artists). Here are a few pieces from issue 58 at left and below.
The first issue in this batch, 58, starts out with the expansive wraparound cover you see above, and continues inside with several columns that ran consistently from issue to issue. Before those columns is an article on weaponry by Jerry Pournelle, specifically weaponry relating to the main character in The Mathematics of Magic: The Enchanter Stories by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Following that is Swackles, which functions as a sort of letters page/article feature…one writer is the one and only Frederic Wertham! There are several illustrations by Jim Cawthorn (who you will see more of later, but see one at left) that sort of make me think of an early Barry Smith, if a little scratchier. There is sort of an accompanying article of sorts, Sprague’s Swackles, composed of thoughts by author L. Sprague deCamp.
Issue 59 begins with a Cawthorn cover (seen at top of article), utilizing a lot of negative space. Amra does indeed have fairly good design for a fanzine. Following on a theme from the previous issue, the first article is on weaponry again, this time, japanese swords, written by Mark Walsted. Several cute illustrations by the venerable Tim Kirk accompany the article (see one at right). Tim was a mainstay of fandom and the professional ranks, as his wikipedia entry states: “Tim Kirk is both a professional artist and an American fan artist. He worked as a senior designer at Tokyo DisneySea, as an Imagineer for Walt Disney, and during the mid-1970s, he was an illustrator at Kansas City’s Hallmark Cards.” You can see Tim’s website here. After this, you can read some fan fiction about The Other Cimmerian by John Boardman. Another edition of Swackles follows, then Barbarians I Have Known by L. Sprague deCamp, and the book review column, Scrolls. Following Scrolls is Another Chronology, wherein Kevin Miller attempts to place a timeline to Conan’s adventures. Sprinkled throughout this issue are illustrations by Krenkel (one being a two page centerspread teased in the logo at top), Tim Powers, B. B. Sams (seen at left), and Tim Kirk.
Issue 60 is adorned with the Krenkel cover you see at top, then jumps right into a somewhat regular feature in the fanzine, Limericks. Of note to art historians are the illustrations by Paty Greer, who later became Mrs. Dave Cockrum. Paty (as she signed her work) appeared in many fanzines back around this time, and is a very good artist in her own right. You can see several of her charming illustrations below.
The next article is The Gods of the Copybook Headings, which says it is excerpted from a Rudyard Kipling work, and has illustrations by Tim Powers as the eye candy. Next is an entertaining article on the Swedish fantasy character, Nils Holgersson, by Valdis A. Augustkalns, which also has some nice Tim Kirk work along with it. Poetry by John Myers Myers (lots of interesting names in this issue) follows, then more limericks. Acclaimed fantasy author Lin Carter follows with a review of a book that studies the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. More book reviews (some by L. Sprague deCamp) follow in the regular Scrolls column. The Tolkien article has a few interesting illustrations by one Ray Capella, one of which you can see at left.
Issue 61 has a really eye catching cover seen at the top of the column by B. B. Sams. He might be my favorite artist from these 4 issues of Amra, and someone I have never seen before. He has a very good command of anatomy, a great eye for interesting compositions and a flair for drama. Anyone else hear of him? Inside starts with Thuds (a general update/apology/schedule page), then on to Durdane: Or is it America? by John Boardman examining the work of writer Jack Vance (with illustrations by Tim Powers), more limericks, and a poem by illustrator Roy Krenkel. L. Sprague deCamp fils us in about The Conans of Albion, and talks about some real Conans of history. Illustrations by Harry Douthwaite dot the pages, and is some darn nice work…reminiscent of Howard Nostrand’s work (to me, at least). You can see a few below.
One of the illustrations above also accompany the following article by John Boardman, Conan and the 11,000 Virgins. Charles Hoffman follows with Conan the Existentialist (along with more Krenkel sketches). Lastly, another edition of Swackles follows.
I hope you appreciated the little taste of Amra, a continually entertaining and incredibly long running sword and sorcery fanzine. I will leave you with another elegant Krenkel sketch above. I have to thank Herb Warren for sending me these issues of Amra gratis. If I find out, I will edit him into the column. Since it appears I cannot link directly to the pdfs anymore, please to go my website and scroll down to the entry for this edition. There is a ton of info and illustrations you can see in the pdfs! Feel free to suggest upcoming column subjects and send me zines if you feel so charitable! I remain…
Ken Meyer Jr.