Lenny Bailes recently posted the following via the e-newsgroup, Memoryhole:
(Date: Thursday, 23 Nov. 2000)
"Dave Rike phoned me a little while ago with the unfortunate news that Bill Donaho passed away last night. He didn't have any details. Apparently, Bill had an operation for a brain tumor a few months back at the Veterans Home where he'd been staying, and Dave thinks that a complicating illness might have been the immediate cause of death."
While an unwelcome report, this wasn't unexpected: Donaho had been seriously ill for some months and there was little reason to hope for a recovery. Prior to that bad news, I'd entertained the hope that Bill would resurface as a publisher and continue on yet again with the fanzine that remains one of my all-time favorites. I'd found Bill Donaho an interesting and likable man on the brief three occasions I'd met him but knew him chiefly through his fanac which had contributed greatly to my enthusiasm for fanzines.
A great deal has been written about Bill in the past, not all of it favorable (to put it mildly!); after issuing The Great Breen Boondoggle in 1964, and enlarging on the Pacificon committee's statement on the cancellation of Walter Breen's membership, Donaho really stepped in it, becoming the center of an acrimonious controversy that split friendships and fanzine fandom for years thereafter, a controversy that made him a pariah in some of the circles he once thrived in.
Plenty of his former friends were still bitter with him when HABAKKUK began its second cycle in 1966. Yet his return to the microcosm at ConFrancisco and to fanzine publishing with HABAKKUK in 1993 was generally welcomed and, judging from the appearance of a number of its contributors, at least some old wounds had healed. I'd hope that many in the Loyal Opposition would now agree that we're the poorer for Bill's passing.
HABAKKUK (named after Bill's cat and not the angry prophet) first debuted in February 1960 and was 14 pages. My first issue of the zine was Chapter 1, Verse 5, December,1960, a 117 page giant featuring a Bjo cover of the Ron Ellik squirrel in a Santa suit clutching a foaming mug of A&W root beer. HABAKKUK's ambitious page count would continue to be to be a hallmark of the fanzine throughout its history. I was only 17 at the time and (having recently discovered Jack Kerouac and stories of bohemian artists like Van Gogh and Gauguin) was beginning to chaff at my white bread Eisenhower Republican milieu.
My introduction to HABAKKUK's first incarnation was a window into another, more exciting, world. "Meanderings," Bill's editorial for that issue, was a good look at how the '60s were shaping up, with material covering the Kennedy/Nixon presidential race ("Thank God they both couldn't win!"), Carl Chessman's execution, Bill and Danny Curran's "Save Adolph Eichmann" Committee (which strangely fell flat with death penalty opponents), efforts of the American Legion to haul the ACLU up before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, and a short bio of teenage ace fucker Curran. This was all giddy stuff for me, despite the fact that the actual media hyped beat scene was deader than spam by 1960.
The rest of the issue headed off with Ray Nelson remembering how Joe Stalin had once been idolized as good old "Uncle Joe" in America's national public school magazine "Weekly Reader" (I had found a box of those in the Cold War year 1955 and had been duly amazed), also anticipating XERO by writing about wartime comic book super heroes. Other articles were by Dick Ellington, Les Nirenberg, Ted White, and rich brown (to name just a few)-- all highly interesting stuff to a beatnik-wannabe like myself. Dominating Verse 5, in my eyes, was a very dense and tortuous analysis of all the ills of Western Civilization by the late Art Castillo (" Only under the conditions that produced this sweet paranoid dream could such fragmented concepts have arisen as Weiner's 'mechanism without matter'.").
Visuals were supplied by regulars Bill Rotsler (with a "surrealism in shapes" portfolio), Art Castillo and Trina Castillo (who, as Trina Robbins, would years later become a pro cartoonist and writer, championing recognition of women comics creators), but, as far as HABAKKUK's overall look was concerned, Ray Nelson remains The Man throughout the entire run.
Verse 6 (June 1961) would be the final one of the first cycle, a "mere" 102 pages, and included an article on the rise of electronics in music by Britt Schweitzer, an article on jazz by Donaho, "How To Be A Beatnik" by Ray Nelson ("Just don't become a salesman, whatever you do") "War Is Bunk" by Kris Neville, "On The Road" by George Metzger, winding up with another standard HABAKKUK feature: a long and engaging letters column. The baccover sports a "pledge of mutual aid" written by Nelson, the antithesis of Ayn Rand's John Galt Oath and probably the ideological launch of something Bill would have a great deal of fun with in the later sixties, The Church of the Brotherhood of the Way, performing LSD weddings in places like the Avalon Ballroom and Golden Gate Park Be-Ins.
Chapter II was launched in May 1966, the first of three hefty issues for the fanzine's second revival (this time in FAPA). The rest of the country might have been fascinated by the rise of the hippy counterculture, but I was vegetating in the army at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Worse, while I was sick with the flu, the MPs had caught the majority of my GI buddies living illegally off base and shipped their asses off to Viet Nam, there to defend one dictatorship against another.
Lonely, I began to spend more spare time in fanac and was sketching out some skiffy spot illo on my bunk one night when a GI wandered over and commented that there was another guy on the second floor of our barracks who did drawings just like mine. "I think his name is, uh, Colum Camberoon, something like that," he said. By an incredible coincidence Colin Cameron, my West Coast fan artist counterpart, was stationed in the very same barracks that I was! (What were the odds on that, I wonder?)
Not only that, but Colin had also received the first issue of the new multi-colored HABAKKUK. The material and Bill's "Meanderings" --Donaho's reportage of doings in Barea fandom-- were just as fascinating, but that run has a special significance to me as Colin and I were fannishly ignited by the zine and flooded the next two issues with our fan art and articles on life in the army. (Unfortunately, in the third issue, Colin's article was about life in Vietnam, having been nabbed in another MP raid with some more of our friends.
After taking a mortar shell fragment in the leg while he was at Cam Ranh Bay, Colin was eventually discharged and went on to play bass in John Hartford's and Paul Williams' bands, and was blown up good on the big screen as one of the Juicy Fruits, the house band in "Phantom of Paradise." (I lost track of him sometime in the early 1970s, but thanks to the internet we've reestablished contact.)
The second Chapter, featuring more of an emphasis on s.f., sported ambitious multicolored mimeography that spiffed up a 33 page profusely illustrated article on Astounding's artist Charles Schneeman by Alva Rogers for the first issue, in addition to material by previous regulars Ted White ("Jazz and Creativity"), Eunice Reardon ("Art & Communication Revisited"), Ray Nelson ("What Does Music Mean?"), and Bill's "Christmas In Berkeley 1965."
The subsequent two final issues (August 1966 and February 1967), added another fan serviceman as a contributor, Gordon Eklund, writing about R&R and bizarre people and life in the military. As always, Bill's "Meanderings" were entertaining and the letters section was large and robust, featuring a wide selection of fans and pros hashing out such matters as Art, science fiction, and the worth of (or lack of worth of) J.G. Ballard and Harlan Ellison.
After the 1968 Baycon and a 25 year period gafiation (ghood grief!), Bill bought back HABAKKUK again, launching Chapter III as an 8-page con report, explaining that he had been reintroduced to fandom when Dave Clark wrote offering him a free membership in ConFrancisco ("I had never heard of Dave Clark and didn't even know the con was being held in San Francisco this year! But naturally I took Dave up on it."). (It was at Pat Ellington's PreCon Party that I met Donaho again, sadly for the last time.)
Featuring a rare cover by Trina, the second issue (December 1993) of the new HABAKKUK returned to its usual panache and bulk (only BLAT! and later BOONFARK were in that same ballpark), goosing up my weary interest in fandom a few notches. Bill led off with "Meanderings" commenting on the persistence of friendship in fandom ("It's as if I have never been away!"), and then going on with nine pages about fan friends (I was amazed that Miriam Knight had two grown kids) and pros, Star Trek, ConFrancisco and Baycon. Bill had picked up Debbie Notkin as a book reviewer and covering fanzines was Ted White's "Trenchant Bludgeon." Both became regulars for next two, last, issues. Bill also began writing separate articles about his past, about the legendary N.Y. slanshacks, the Dive and the Nunnery and, in the fourth issue, about growing up in Texas. All choice stuff, but unfortunately Verse 4 (Fall 1994) was to be the last HABAKKUK.
After the fourth issue I sent Bill a partial cover depicting the prophet Habakkuk raving and ranting at fandom (I had hoped that Ray Nelson would complete the drawing with a crowd of typically degenerate fans in the foreground), but unfortunately --perhaps due to ill health, postal rates, or burn-out-- Bill stopped publishing.
I sometimes wonder why I've kept as many fanzines as I
have as I suspect that only a percentage of them will be reread, but every
so often I go back to enjoy HABAKKUK and its tales of the Nunnery, New
York, and Berkeley, and I'm sure I'll continue to do so. It was a fine
fanzine, providing a good look at a man who I regret I will now never get
to know better.