John B. Michel

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John B. Michel, 1938

John B. Michel (1917-1969) was a science fiction fanzine editor and publisher, who also contributed art, articles, poetry, and fiction to most of the prominent fanzines of the 1930s and early '40s.

Michel was actively involved in the early years of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. In summer 1938 he ran for the organization's Presidency. He co-edited the second and third issues of FAPA's newsletter, The Fantasy Amateur, and solo edited the fourth issue. And in 1940 he was honored with the FAPA Laureate Award for best fanzine artist.

Michel was also one of the twelve charter members of The Futurian Science Literary Society (later the Futurian Society of New York), which held its first open meeting on September 18, 1938. (The other charter members were Donald Wollheim, Rudolph Castown, Robert W. Lowndes, Frederik Pohl, Jack Rubinson, Walter Kubilis, Jack Gillespie, Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, and Herbert Levantman.) In 1941, Michel was elected Director of the Futurians.

Judith Merril (Temper!, Science*Fiction), with whom Michel was romantically involved in the early 1940s, said that "Johnny was potentially one of the most interesting and talented [of the Futurians], but there was some real lack of confidence, or self-direction, or something, that just kept him from going anywhere." Robert Lowndes also describes Michel as "loaded with talent".

More than anything, though, as Earl Singleton (Nepenthe, FanFare) put it, Michel was "widely known for his revolutionary ideas" which came to be known within fandom as "Michelism." Michelism held that "science-fiction should by nature stand for all forces working for a more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life." In short, Michelism saw science fiction as a form of civic engagement and social criticism, and not merely a means of entertainment.

When he was 14, Michel entered a plot contest through Wonder Stories. Raymond Z. Gallun penned a story based on Michel's entry and the result, "The Menace from Mercury," was published in Wonder Stories Quarterly in Summer 1932 as by Michel and Gallun.

Michel went on to enjoy some success publishing in the prozines, usually under the pseudonym "Hugh Raymond". In the 1940s his fiction appeared in such pulps as Avon Fantasy Reader, Comet, Cosmic Tales, Future, Science Fiction Quarterly, Stirring Science Stories, Super Science Stories, Uncanny Tales, and Unknown. Michel's short story "The Mile" (as by John Tara), published in the Spring 1957 issue of Future Fiction, has been praised by James Blish and others.

As a child, Michel was temporarily parazlyzed by diptheria, and as a teenager and young adult suffered terribly from chronic osteomyelitis. In The Futurians, Damon Knight describes 18-year-old Michel as "slender and slight, well proportioned except for his bandy legs. His dimpled cheeks were pitted with acne scars. He had lost several molars on the upper left side, and his grin was gap-toothed."

His interest in art likely came from his father, who was an actor and the head of the art department at a Woolworth's in Brooklyn (where Michel silk-screened many fanzine covers). In the early thirties Michel joined the Young Communist League, and later became a Party member, until being asked to leave in 1949.

In the last two decades of his life, Michel left fandom and fanzines, but continued writing for various newspapers, published books for children, penned at least four erotic novels, and attempted to write a fictionalized account of his time as a Futurian. He died, tragically, in 1969.



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