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How I Killed a Fanzine


EFG coverThe debate around EFGs in Australian Doctor Who fandom is a long one. EFG stands for ‘Elite Fan Group’ and has traditionally, though far from exclusively, been attached to prominent Sydney fans. There have been many a vitriolic debate over EFGs in the letter pages of Data Extract, the newsletter of the Doctor Who Club of Australia (DWCA).

Occasionally the EFG debate mutated into a New South Wales versus Victoria slanging match. In 1996, after another flare-up, a number of people at a Doctor Who Club of Victoria meeting decided to have some fun, and create a fanzine called EFG. These included eventual editors Lee Zachariah (then Eternity editor) and Sian O’Neale (editor of Strange Matter, among others), along with Andrew Deans and myself. (The title actually stood for ‘Editors Fuck Goats’, which of course all four of us deny doing — the second part, I mean.)

My Contribution

As it went through production, it became clear that EFG was turning out to be more about bashing Trekkies and Gallifrey (another Melbourne Doctor Who club) than the title would suggest, and thus, at the last moment, Lee Zachariah asked me to write an at least semi-serious piece on the EFG situation. I hastily complied (within two days, if I recall correctly).

Here is the piece itself:

Of EFGs and other Things

What, one might ask, is an EFG? The answer to that, of course, is that there is no real answer. The quick answer is to expand the anagram back out to ‘Elite Fan Group’ (or Groupie or Grouper, if you’re using it to refer to a particular person). But whether such a thing exists, whether it is a good or bad thing, and whether we should actually worry is the matter of much debate.

First, some history. The term EFG was first used in 1991 in the letter column Think Tank in Data Extract #83, and has stuck in the mind of Australian fandom ever since. The author of the letter was a ‘Peter Everingham’, who doesn’t exist (though the name has popped up in Think Tank a number of times). The debate as to the real author is a long and messy story, with a few fans being named incorrectly over the years.

The complicating factor to the formation, and encouragement, of the EFG mythology is the structure of Who fandom up in Sydney. Sydney and EFGism are inextricably mixed. To understand why, we need to look at the structure of the "national" club. Unlike just about every other Who club in Australia (Gallifrey springs to mind as the major exception), the DWCA (or DWFCA, or ADWFC, depending on how far you go back) is far from democratic. Virtually all the other major clubs have their committees elected by members annually. Not so the Sydney club (and yes, that is part of it as well. Most people still think of the Australian club as ‘the Sydney club’. Helps to get in first with the Australian name!).

The few changes in leadership over the years have been mysterious ones. I’m not knocking the individuals, but the changes always came as a pronouncement, and helped to isolate the members, especially the interstate ones who didn’t know the people involved. Combine this with the fact that, currently, just about every prominent Sydney fan (read EFG if you will) is gay. It all, potentially, adds up to an isolation of the national leadership. It is not too far a jump to label the leader of the club, and those shadowy people who are the un-named committee, as an elite group of their own — an (or the) EFG.

What we’ll end up discussing is what we define as an EFG. To give an example, when the argument slipped onto the internet early in 1995, Sydney fan David Patterson defined EFGs as:

Elitist Fan Group (EFG): A group of personal friends, some of whom happen to be high-ranking fans, who take an unfair advantage of their privileges and responsibilities to the detriment of others outside the group.

Do such groups, or people, exist? No doubt they do, and especially back in the days when video copies of stories were rare, no doubt it was even greater. Do such people align with the public opinion of those who may be EFGs? Maybe not. The problem with this debate is that everyone is using the term EFG differently — David as above, with many specific individuals in mind (I should point out that EFGdom is a particular obsession with David, probably mixed in quite thoroughly with a disliking of particular people); some of the accused enjoy the tag and take the mickey out of it; and perhaps the biggest group is the general fans who try to make sense out of the public exclamations, and probably mix up the EFG term with any old clique. And that final judgement can make for quite a mess…

The other confusing acronym is the BNF (Big Name Fan). Are BNFs EFGs? Are EFGs BNFs? Does the average fan make the distinction? To take a few examples, Daniel O’Dwyer is a BNF. He is not an EFG (though I should hasten to add that, no, there’s no list as such!). Or take myself. Having edited Sonic Screwdriver for two years, contributed to half-a-dozen other zines, held various positions on the DWCV committee and been to a few cons (both of the Survival type and the convention type!), I guess I qualify as a BNF and/or EFG (hubris, boy, hubris!). When I went up to Whovention II a few years back, I spent the Friday evening at Kate Orman and David Carroll’s place. Also there, down from Taree up the NSW coast, was Pirate Planet editor and artist extraordinaire Jason Towers, plus any number of BNFs from Sydney (well, not that many — it’s a small flat). Both Jason and I came to be there as friends of Kate (and, for at least myself, David as well), and were largely mystified by the goings on around us. Admittedly, unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar town, but also something more and less tangible, and separate, as well. If that is the impression I got from that, what about the people who never meet the BNFs at all?

The EFG debate has been flamed recently by the increasing fame of our very own Kate Orman, and regular visits to our shores by fellow New Adventure writers Paul Cornell and Gary Russell. While they have sometimes been to fan meetings, the impression (or fact, or propoganda, depending on your leaning) is still that they’re being smuggled away to the EFG haunts. In fact, the New and Missing Adventure authors have formed one of the best cliques, or shall we say EFGs, around. Certainly you’ve heard many complaints about why that particular author keeps getting commissioned (I’ll let you fill in the blank — just about all of them have been named at some stage!).

We have also seen the use of the anagram HUV in Data Extract. Coined by Kate Orman, it stands for Hard-Working Unpaid Volunteer (incidentally, and on a total tangent, one definition of volunteer is ‘a plant that grows from seed that has not been deliberately sown’ — dat’s wude!), and marks one of the attempts to place the fans that be "up there" in a better light. However, as most people probably don’t even know what it stands for, it probably doesn’t make them look any more down-to-earth.

I will deviate slightly here to discuss the relatively high percentage of gays in Who fandom. Actual figures are of course unknown, but I think everyone would agree there is a higher proportion than exists in the general public. As mentioned earlier, this percentage is incredibly high within prominent Sydney fans, and the fact that some have the audacity to be actually proud of it probably sparks off a few latent gay-bashers into again grouping the fans into them and us. I think it’s likely that both Whovians and gays being somewhat "out of the mainstream" groups is one of the reasons you see a greater than average overlap. Perhaps (and this will probably create debate!) both groups are more imaginative and creative than the average, too.

As a further sidenote, I was recently informed that a sizeable chunk of Sydney fandom thought (or had thought) I was gay. How they came to this conclusion I’m not sure, and what it says about such decision-making is even vaguer. As I quipped back at the time ‘It takes one to know one?’.

Then there was the time that a number of Sydney EFGs decided to all get T-shirts emblazoned with EFG and a (generally Doctor Who) quote. For example, one lesbian pair (does the name ‘Fitzwegen’ mean anything to you?) used ‘Boys? What are boys?’ and ‘One finger can be a deadly weapon’. Kate Orman just inflamed the debate with ‘It’s difficult to work in a group when you’re omnipotent’. This was just before one of the NovaCons up in Newcastle, and mainly to piss off David Patterson (it worked!) Your humble orator was actually offered one of these shirts, but due to apathy and the inability to decide on a quote, I let it pass (which raises interesting issues as to a possible conflict of interest in writing this piece, actually…).

So having just rambled on for five hundred more words than will fit into this zine, what can I conclude? Well, I could argue that this is all just a diversion, and that the "evil" fans aren’t going to give a cruk what labels are thrown around; that most of the EFGs don’t align with the previous group; that it is possible to become an EFG purely through your own efforts; that few people are on club committees for the sense, or actuality, of power; that the EFG debate has spread wider than intended or defined; and that I like at times to refer to myself as an EFG, and sometimes not.

God, this is fun.

The Fallout

As it turned out, the haste to produce the piece was unwarranted, as once Lee incorporated my piece and finalised the layout, he sent it to Sian, who promptly took a couple of months to print and distribute it.

So there I am, momentarily having forgot about it, when I check my email one night and find a missile from Sarah J Groenewegen, Sydney writer, editor, and all-round fan contributor (she even got her Honours Masters of Arts by writing about Doctor Who fandom). The message was titled ‘I think you know what… but, please read’. Of course, I had no idea what, at that stage!

Anyway, she wrote:

Hi David. It’s been a while since we’ve been in contact. As you may know from various people I didn’t like a certain article that was published in EFG recently. I voiced my dislike at a meeting (in private conversation), and this got back to Sian. He very kindly phoned me about it, and he decided to pull your article and then cease publication of EFG.

I am sending you this email simply to clarify some things. I hardly know you, and I don’t want misunderstandings to (yet again) split Melbourne/Sydney fandom. I want you to hear it from me, rather than other people’s interpretations — something I suspect resulted in part of your article!

I’ll deal with the whole EFG stuff first.

I am sooooo tired of all this. And unfortunately what could have been a very funny dig at a stupid (and old) joke has turned into yet another vitriolic attack on a group of friends.

Yes, there’s that odd little word that some fans have so much difficulty with. Friends. The EFG, as a pseudonym from Newcastle called us, are a group of friends who also happen to be Doctor Who fans. Yes, we get together to have parties. Yes, we talk in an "in" manner that can be incomprehensible to outsiders. Yes, when friends from overseas come to visit we like to show them the sights of the city where we live.

Welcome to the world of humanity. I’m sure that when you are with friends the same thing would happen when, say Kate or David, another would visit you. Paul Cornell and Gary Russell are FRIENDS of ours, so yes, they were ‘smuggled away to EFG haunts’ in much the same way that you may have friends stay over. They aren’t ‘celebrities’ 24 hours a day, and we aren’t about to advertise private dinner parties in DE!!! (as we used to joke when certain Sydney fans virtually suggested that back in 1994/95).

And as for you bizarre ‘Certainly you’ve heard many complaints why that particular author keeps getting commissioned’ — who? Are you suggesting that Paul Cornell slept with Peter Darville Evans to get commissioned? Or Kate sleeps with Rebecca Levene??? What??!? All you’ve done is show your complete ignorance about how books are commissioned, and libelled someone in the process. Or do you think that you have to be an ‘EFG’ to get a book published?

It took me an hour on the phone once to explain to David Patterson as to why the Australian Doctor Who Club ‘is far from democratic’. I’ll summarise it for you in a phrase: The Sydney Star Trek Club, now known as the Official Star Trek Club of Australia. Frankly, the lack of ‘elections’ (and, judging from the evidence the ‘EFG’ would just get voted in anyway. Fact: whenever we appeal for columnists in DE we get a response that could be counted on Davros’s left hand) I think has helped the ADWC become the biggest club in this country. Election campaigns don’t get in the way of negotiating with the ABC, Roadshow, whoever… and publishing a NEWSletter every six weeks or so. And as for the assertion that DE’s run by a ‘shadowy…un-named committee’ — hello! Can you not read the bylines on each column or the thank you bit??? And do you ignore the fact that most of the columns — including ‘Forum Square’ which is the largest — are written by members who send stuff in… Just like Sonic

And now onto the bit that most people seem to think has greatly upset me… and, well, it has, but not exactly the way people think. Yes, the "gay bit". You say that ‘a sizable chunk of Sydney fandom thought (or had thought) I was gay’ — well, this is exactly the bit I was referring to above when I said that hearing things second or third hand can be dangerous. Neither Mel nor I have ever said anything of the sort. We’ve neither even thought about it because — and here’s where you’d better bolster your ego — we don’t know you. I know I’ve met you once, but I don’t remember it. I know that we’ve corresponded, but that’s been purely Sonic business. And I’m afraid that with a fair number of the group called EFG, well some haven’t even heard of your name, let alone speculate about your sexuality. Whoever told you was either trying to cause trouble (and succeeding), or was just being a complete dickhead — I suspect both. Frankly, I might have cared if I’d found out about that slander before reading your article, but I don’t care now. Your sexuality IS your business to sort out for yourself… and so is mine, and my friends.

Yes, I am very out. I didn’t mind being outed in EFG. But others did mind… That’s why we have a policy at Happiness Patrol that articles/stories/whatever be printed either anonymously, under a pseudonym, or whatever name the writer wants. I know the whole question is sensitive — for a whole bunch of reasons — but I REFUSE to allow what was the case a few years ago in Sydney and is now the case in Melbourne (from several sources) happen again. Why? Because I can’t stand the fact that there are people who read articles like yours and are therefore too goddamned frightened to BE THEMSELVES in an arena where they can.

Yes, I do have the ‘audacity’ to be out as a fan. Yes, some people have trouble with that. But, in my experience, I’ve helped far more people by being so out. They know that there’s nothing wrong with being gay; they know that this "new" word for homosexual still holds the same meaning it’s always had. They know that you can have happy, full lives as a gay man or a lesbian. They know that they don’t have to skulk about feeling as though they are committing a crime everytime they are attracted to someone who’s the same sex. They know that doesn’t happen everywhere in their lives — but they know that they can be happy within fandom. They know that fans are cool, accepting, and supportive — whatever their sexual orientation ends up being. They know that because of the example that we set. I know it’s different in Melbourne, but I don’t think that it has to be that way. The fact is, ill-thought slanderous attacks like yours can send someone so fast back into the closet because they think that what you say is true — that they’ll ruin fandom because of something that is so inate in their being.

I hope that you’ve taken the time to both read and think about what I’ve written. I am extremely angry at what you did — and the reason why this has taken so long to get to you is precisely because I didn’t want this to be a cheap, point-scoring flame.

The issue is way too important for that.

At this stage I was wondering if anyone had got the number plate of the truck.

Subsequently a few more e-mails went back and forth, somewhat more conciliatory in nature. My main argument at the time (and indeed now) was that the piece was about perceptions, not trying to create them. More particular comments raised included:

I also thought that the merits of the non-elected status of the DWCA was grossly overrated, but those merits (or lack thereof) were not the point anyway; the article was instead talking about the member’s viewpoint of the leadership (and not about Data Extract at all).

In the end it came down, to an extent, a lot of "beg to differ"ing; sure, a redraft may well have helped clarify the intentions of the piece (structure? what structure?), but I personally think the main determinant in being insulted was an initial defensive attitude (which may well be warranted, but let’s not divert too much).

It may have just been meant to be a commentary on a ‘fascinating sociological situation’, as I called it at the time; but it ended up taking up a decent place in that history instead. There’s a beautiful kind of circular logic there; the impressions and groupings I wrote about were proved by the reaction.

The Wrap-up

Anyway, I did manage to get my copy of EFG in the end, and it’s a real shame all the fuss occured because it is one damn funny zine. I note Sydney fan Matthew Rayner mentions EFG in a piece about his favourite fanzines in Temporal Orbit, calling it ‘a slightly bitchy zine about DW fandom from Sian O’Neale, Leah Zachariah and David Richardson which was suppressed when Sian felt it had overstepped the mark in regards to some of his BNF friends.’

It is mercilessly cruel on Trekkies and Gallifrey/Black Light (the last ten pages of the zine are a sharply accurate parody called Blackish Light), and with Lee Zachariah at his comic best, it really is a classic.

The editorial by Sian O’Neale was also eerily prophetic when he stated that the ‘humourzine is a risky, relatively rare, and vulgar creature that has the extraordinary ability to divide popular opinion and stir up hate’ and that the ‘zine would have come out a lot sooner had I not spotted some errors and mistakes in our piss-taking and some of the rumours and lies originally contained within had to be corrected. I am not generally in favour of censorship but there is a limit to what a zine can say’. Damn, I want to see the original now!

For the record, EFG was ‘edited by (in no particular order) Lee Zachariah, Sian O’Neale and Tristan Nieto, and… [was]… co-edited by (in a very particular order) David J Richardson, Andrew Deans, Andrew McKinna, and Brendan Seery’.

By the way, the next year I moved to Sydney (for a few years, back in Melbourne now), and didn’t get Salman Rushdied; phew!

(Cheers to Sarah for permission to quote her. Comment is, of course, always welcome; here’s some we made earlier!)

End of Article

Here’s the list of the Doctor Who articles available here
A Bit of Adric in All of Us
Ace Timeline
Cursed References
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game FAQ
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game Tips
Doctor Who in America
History of the Daleks
History of Doctor Who
History of the fanzine Sonic Screwdriver
How I Killed a Fanzine (or, What’s an EFG?)
Survival the (Con)vention
The Doctor and I (First Memories)
The Doctor and I (1985 — Move to the USA)
The Doctor and I (Organised Fandom? Huh?)
The Doctor and I (Doctorin’ Ithaca)
The Doctor and I (Back to Melbourne)
The Doctor and I (Whovention)
The Doctor and I (David, Meet the DWCV)
The Doctor and I (Enlightenment)
The Doctor and I (The Blankety Blank Era)
The Doctor and I (Q Who)
The Doctor and I (DWCV Committee, Meet David)
The Doctor and I (Whovention II (Control))
The Doctor and I (Sonic Screwdriver, Meet David (and Marco and Matthew))
The Relative Confusion of The Curse of Fenric
What Makes a Warrior?
What’s in a Name?
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index

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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Tue, 10 Apr 2007.