ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

All Hail Gunderloy —

BoingBoing, as a print magazine, was a part of a universe of small-press publications, hatched in apartments and off-hours and tons of sneaking around being able to afford the next issue. There were lots of names for this sort of creation, but the closest is “the zine movement“, which essentially came into a golden period when the cost of printing or at least photocopying dropped to affordable levels. With this came a massive influx of leaflets, booklets, rants, and other such creations on actual, from-an-unsuspecting-tree paper.

This may sound like it’s not all that related to computer history, but in many ways it is, because the same type of fertile minds that seized the (to them) obvious opportunity of zines did the same with websites, and many of those creative forces blast across the Internet in the present day, using the same excitement and skills they had to make the web a very interesting place indeed.

There were so many figures I remember from that part of my life, the people whose creations I sent money or stamps or my own art to get a copy of, most of which I still have, packed away in actual space here in my home just like I keep so much online history packed on my hard drives. There were so many of them….

And then there was Gunderloy.

Gunderloy is my often-forgotten creative mentor, one forgotten by me because his star shone so brightly and so intensively and then disappeared. My memories of him and others are casualties of my aging and moving on; sometimes I forget how many people contributed to what I am, and it’s efforts like my web projects that help me to bring them back.

Most people who know anything of Mike Gunderloy know his creation even better: Factsheet Five held for a number of years the uncontested crown in keeping track of “small-press” publications, and by small press I mean a guy stealing time on the office copier. This isn’t to say Mike didn’t take non-independent materials; it just worked out that among the hundreds of individual creations and writings that Mike reviewed, it wasn’t the latest bestseller or even the accepted “alternative” book that was sold in the same chain stores as the “mainstream” ones. This was the stuff in the pile next to the magazine section in your small record store, the stuff with the black and white cover with the hand-drawn date and issue number, the one where you opened it up and you could just tell, looking at the lettering, that they didn’t use QuarkXpress or Print Shop, they used some tape and glue and hoped it would all hold together down at the library when they ran it through for 20 copies.

Factsheet Five produced an issue about once every two months, the central repository of reviews about zines, records, and other creations firing out of homes and apartments all over the country. Throughout the issue were neat little cartoons, tons of writing, and about every crank advertisement for every bizarro publication and project you might want to find. I even remember the many ads from Boing-Boing, featuring a little character I thought of as “The Ornament Girl” (Sorry, couldn’t find an image of her online).

I discovered Factsheet Five during my first days of college in Boston. It was on the magazine shelf at Tower Records of all places, with a cover by Gaither, which caught my eye immediately. It was issue #27, so I was definitely a late-comer to the party.
What struck me was how many zines were listed, all of them having come out in just the last couple of months, and only later, after many bathroom and subway reads, did I come to realize that most of these reviews, these quick little paragraphs summarizing the content of these hundreds of zines, were written by one person.

If nothing else comes out of your reading this entry, let it be this: for years, a 100-200 page magazine showed up six times a year featuring hundreds of thoughtful reviews written by a single individual. He had to do 90 hour weeks to do it, and he crashed against the rocks when it ultimately caught up to his life, but he did it. And if someone can accomplish such a thing, you can accomplish anything. The pure herculean aspects of this astounds me, even now; he had to get a zine, indicate what type of printing was used to make it, say how many pages there were, list the subscription information, read it through, and then create a review. And then do it again. Hundreds of times. To produce one issue. And then he’d put that issue to bed and start on the next one.

Now, I rush to clarify that Mike wasn’t the sole individual involved with the magazine and its sole staff member. Many dozens of people assisted, wrote columns, helped get Factsheet Five out, contributed artwork, and wrote many, many reviews themselves. But it can’t be discounted how central to the whole experience and endeavor Mike was, and how, even glancing through the pages of these issues today (I kept them; they’re all treasures) you see how he stands out from nearly every page, a strong influence and voice that doesn’t crush the personality of the people he works with or whose work he reviews, ending the paragraph with a little (MG) to let you know who had read it. There’s so much to learn from him in these pages.
They age wonderfully; and they still inspire.

I only actually met Mike on two occasions. Once during a party held in his home, and the other in New York City, when he spoke at a small political meeting. Both are memorable for entirely different reasons.

I went to the New York City meeting simply because Mike mentioned in Factsheet Five that he would speak there. I had no interest in the politics or anything else. I was happy to be there, although at the time I had a very terrifying phobia of NYC and it says how much I wanted to see him in person, because the entire experience was like someone afraid of heights getting dinner in a revolving restaurant. I bought up some issues of Factsheet Five, got Mike to autograph them, acquired some weird pamphlets and stickers, and quickly ran home to the suburbs, thinking I’d not get to see him again.

However, the second time came to be when Mike announced a small Factsheet Five party being held at his home in Rensselaer, NY, just outside Albany. I immediately resolved to go, although I didn’t know how to drive at the time. I’m sort of fuzzy on who I conned to drive me all the way up there, to drop me off in front of Mike’s house and let me hang out for hours… whoever you are, thanks again.

I remember another attendee looking like I did over Mike’s massive wall of books, pamphlets, stories and volumes along his living room wall, and saying “This… this is the most amazing collection of alternative thinking and revolutionary thought I’ve ever seen.” I felt the same way; Mike didn’t just acquire, he collected and cared about what he was reading. The house had cats, strange mailed-in items, stacks of paper, and was a real amazing collection of the power of the written word overpowering nearly everything else. I had a fantastic time.

Like all things, Mike’s time with Factsheet Five hit a major wall when the amount of himself that he had been pouring years into finally caught up with him, and he took the whole magazine down. He donated his zine collection to a library, closed up shop, and basically disappeared. Myself and other lifetime subscribers got a small, tiny tiny “zine” from Mike that he put out some months later, more like a “get it finally out of my system” project than anything else, and then he was gone.

Factsheet Five went on for a while without him, and it’s more sad to me than anything else, although the people who worked on them sweat just as hard as any normal editor in trying to put together the magazine. But computers were becoming a bigger part of the process and they got to do a ground-up reboot of the production, and so I myself drifted away after a few issues. I don’t diminish their work; they just weren’t the heroic figure I saw in Mike, burning himself to the bone to bring us so many fascinating works.

Imagine my delight when a couple years ago, I discovered Mike Gunderloy’s websites. He runs a number of them from Lark Farm, raising his family, working on his current computer-related projects and living a good life. To be honest, his writings show a guy comfortable with his world, loving his wife and children, and living out where the air is fresh. It’s like a little slice of heaven, and if anyone deserves heaven on earth, it’s Mike Gunderloy.

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