AFTA / Bill Dale Marcinko
As a writer / publisher I have a number of influences from my youth. Dick Giordano, who just passed away, was an early influence, I loved his DC and Charlton comics letter columns in the late-sixties. Ted White when he was editing the Amazing and Fantastic digest sized magazines, Gary Groth's Fantastic Fanzine, Stan Lee's Marvel comics, the early years of the National Lampoon, along with Boulevards and New Times magazines come immediately to mind. The late-1960s / early-1970s was an amazing time of creative excitement and marketplace upheaval for periodicals.
Not long ago I was going through a box from my mom's attic and I came across a manila envelope that still contained the fat, stapled publications that arrived in the mail one sweltering summer day in 1978.
I'd read a review of a fanzine called AFTA a few weeks earlier and ordered issues one and two, the latter was hot off the press. Both measuring 8 1/2 x 5 1/2, the first issue ran almost 100 pages, the second was split into two 104 page books. This at a time when 60 pages was a huge deal for a fanzine.
Even more of a feat when you consider most of the pages in AFTA are two columns of single-spaced, 6 point type, not much bigger than what you'd see in the fine print of an ad. All of this for a run of 200 xeroxed copies with colored paper for the cover.
This bulbous creation was crammed with articles on everything from comics, music and comedy albums, movies, TV shows, and other pop culture benchmarks mostly written by the editor and publisher Bill Dale Marcinko.
The very first page of that premiere issue tells the story of the 'death' of Bill Marcinko written by his 'brother' Dale. It was all a hoax, a stunt that Marcinko cleverly used to publicize the launch of his magazine. It worked as the death was widely reported before AFTA was published and the news of the hoax garnered ink in the fanzines of the day as well.
That first issue, which cost all of 99 cents, also contained a George Perez interview, movie news, comic book reviews, and an article on Fernwood 2Nite which delighted me because I was a fan of the show and nothing had been written about it anywhere in the mainstream press. (Bill Dale professed a fascination with the Barth Gimble character, host of America 2 Nite and twin brother of the murdered Garth Gimble on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman - a character that returned from the dead in a sense.)
He talked about why he shitcanned promised articles on Butty and Vaginica, a report on the sex lives of the Archie characters, and something about Adolph Hitler's Burger Camp which he said drew pre-publication protests. Who knows if that's true or not.
Issue #2, actually two separate magazines costing $1.49, came with a raisin taped to the center of the second volume, that's how perverse this guy was.
Inside was an episode guide for America 2Nite, more of the George Perez interview, 17 pages of letters, movie reviews (Desperate Living among them), Bill Dale interviewing himself, and much, much more. All under a cover by Jack Kirby - Bill Dale noted he'd get "points for tackiness" for running a very critical piece on Jack Kirby's 1970's Marvel work in that issue under a donated cover from the artist.
After reading those two (three, really) thrilling issues in the blazing Southern sun sitting by the pool that summer, I wrote to Bill Dale Marcinko and expressed my admiration. I was surprised to get a response and find out he was a year younger than myself. His letters to me were thoughtful, informed, filled with energy, and more than a little flirty. I only wish I'd saved them; we corresponded spottily by mail over the next couple of years, he was always genuinely glad to hear from me and vice versa.
Another death hoax came a year or so later with issue #3 (which was professionally printed and standard magazine sized) when Bill Dale earnestly reported that Ziggy creator Tom Wilson had committed suicide and mailed his last submission to the cartoon syndicate that day - an illustration of Ziggy hanging by a noose from a tree. There are people today who swear that actually happened but it sprang from Bill Dale's imagination into urban legend via the last issue of his low circulation publication.
I'll never forget the impact those hand crafted magazines had on me, when I started my first web site (that eventually morphed into this one) I had AFTA and Bill Dale's snarky attitude in the back of my mind.
Some time during the 1990s I even searched for Bill Dale Marcinko to see what he might be up to but, not having the magazines in hand then, I had no idea where to start. I thought surely he would have a web site, his rapid fire style was perfect for the internet.
After pouring over the AFTA magazines the other day I thought to google Bill Dale Marcinko again and discovered the sad news that he had died in a house fire in 2005. His address was the very same as the return address on my package, the house on Crater Avenue in Wharton, NJ where he was raised.
There are some glowing tributes to him on the web, he influenced a lot of people with those 3 self-produced fanzines and later as a raconteur at Rutgers in the early-1980s where he breathed new life into a moribund student newspaper, sparking outrage and apparently running afoul of the administration because of it. I can only imagine.
AFTA stood for Ascension From The Ashes, referring to his faked demise that launched the whole enterprise. Because of his penchant for death hoaxes some of his friends expect to see Bill Dale Marcinko, Elvis, and Jim Morrison having brunch at Denny's one day. I think not, despite the fact that he has a Facebook page - that was clearly created post-mortem.
Bill Dale captured the zeitgeist of his times with a rarified voice that still sings in my head some forty years later; he synthesized what was uniquely wackadoo about the 1970s so perfectly and then walked away, leaving behind only his printed, raisin stained echo.
I don't think I'll read too much more in these magazines, at least not right now. I feel sad for the Bill Dale Marcinko I briefly 'knew,' someone who was eager to share secrets and spark intimacy, who's youthful exuberance pounced from the page and remains there to be rediscovered.
Sunday, April 11, 2010 7:20am
Hello! Read your article and enjoyed it. I met Bill Dale in 1972 at a rehearsal for a drama production we were involved in at Curtis Middle school in Wharton NJ. I had a Checklist for "Robert Bell" comics for sale so Bill gave me a copy of the Buyers Guide for Comic Fandom (Issue 8 or 9 I think) and told me not to order from Bell. Bill was 13 and I was 11 and he took me under his wing and showed me how to take care of my comics and even sold me a bunch for 20 cents @ ! Can you imagine that?
I kept in contact with him till 1983 and lost track. I wish he did come back and it was all a hoax.
Yours, Gary Hackenburg Wharton,NJ 1961-1975
Created by Bill Dale Marcinko
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