20 Years of Protoculture

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This article was first published in Protoculture Addicts #94 (Nov.-Dec. 2007): 21-27. It was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine. For this version, I have added a few details and corrections, and I have omitted some illustrations (but added some new ones), as well as removed the sidebars (Uh?! for episodes 1-6, Top Uh?!, Where are they now) and the articles’ index that were part of the original article.

It might be hard to believe, but this magazine has been in publication for twenty years. I, myself, am amazed by this fact. Twenty years already? It didn’t feel that long. But, yeah, I’ve spent nearly half my life working on Protoculture Addicts, and I don’t regret a single moment of it. Like any anniversary, it makes me nostalgic (well, the fact that I am listening to soundtracks from Macross, Mospeada and Robotech while writing this certainly add to this feeling). It makes me think of the good ol’ years, of friends that I have not seen in a long time. But there’s no time for melancholy— anniversaries need to be celebrated! In the past, when I wanted to do a special issue, I usually added more colour. 

Unfortunately, I cannot do that now since we are already full-colour and we are still not big enough to add goodies like a free DVD. However, I quickly realized that the best way to celebrate the magazine was to tell you its story. I am sure that, once you know a little more about where it’s coming from, you’ll better appreciate the magazine. After all, it started like an episode of Comic Party or Doujin Work—a crazy idea in the mind of a bunch of idle college kids. So please, gather around, be quiet (gee, I feel like Uncle Carl when he was telling one of his anecdotes), and listen to this very special anime story… 

[ Traduire ]

Ianus Saga

The Early Days: #1-14 (Nov. 1987 – Sep. 1991)

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Genesis Climber Mospeada (Illustration by Michel Gareau)

It all started in December 1986 when one of my friends told me about Robotech: “The humans are fighting a race of giant space invaders. They’re like, fifty feet tall,” he told me. “They find a huge spaceship — the control bridge is like, eight stories high — and they defend themselves with fighter jets that transform into giant robots. And later, they have motorcycles that transform into power armors…” It sounded cool enough, so the next Saturday morning, I programmed the VCR to record the show. (There was no way I could get up to watch it. I never was a morning person and at the time, I was working the night shift in a hospital to pay for University — I think I still have a box of those Beta videocassettes in the basement.) I was a big science fiction fan (watching many movies, reading lots of books, writing reviews of them, and penning some short stories of my own). Despite usually not being easily impressed, particularly in regards to cartoons, I found Robotech quite remarkable. It had very good storytelling and dealt with mature themes that we would never have found in American animation. This experience totally changed my view of animation; I realized it was the ideal medium to tell a science-fiction story. With a little research, I discovered that Robotech was, in fact, a Japanese anima- tion (or actually, three animations slapped together: Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada) and that all those cartoons I was watching when I was a kid (Prince Saphire, Léo The White Lion, Sally The Witch, Marine Boy, Maya the Bee, Démétan, Vicky the Viking, Caliméro, etc.) were also Japanese animation! 

IanusLogoEarlier that year, I had started—as a hobby—a publishing company, Ianus Publications, named after the two-headed Roman god Janus, who looks both towards the past and the future. The intent was to produce historical and science-fiction books. First, with the help of one of my friends (Philippe Gauthier, later joined by Yves Meynard), I started publishing a local science fiction fanzine called Samizdat. It ran for 25 issues until November ’94. I later published two French-language science fiction anthologies, Sous Des Soleils Etrangers [1989] and Orbite D’Approche, the latter of which was published in four volumes, from 1992 to 1997, and also three collections of short stories by Daniel Sernine [1991-92, 1997]. At that time, I was also living at the University dorm and finishing my masters thesis, a comparative historiographic survey of the sources on Roman emperor Lucius Verus [130-169] in relation to his biography in the Historia Augusta corpus. I told some friends at the dorms about Robotech and we ended up watching it together. Other friends joined us and in February 1987—after I came back from a research trip in Europe—we started playing Palladium’s Robotech Role-Playing Game, as well as reading the Robotech comics and novels. We even started an anime club. We loved Robotech so much that we wanted to do something about it and share our enthusiasm with others. My friend, Michel Gareau, proposed that we could do a comic book parody. Michel was good at drawing, but I thought that it would be a little too hard and time consuming (though we did publish a comic in March ’91 titled The Gates of Pandragon). Since I already had experience with publishing a fanzine, I proposed that we publish a Robotech fanzine instead. 

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Staff of the Early Days (Claude J Pelletier, Michel Gareau, Yvon Maillé Jr, Alain Dubreuil; note that Jean Carrières is “missing”) illustrated by Michel Gareau.

By May 1987, after considering several titles—like Flower Of Life, Veritech Log, Micronians Daily, Robotech Chronicles, Robotekkies ‘Zine—we finally chose “Protoculture Addicts.” The title was inspired by the fact that, in Jack McKinney’s Robotech novels, the rebellious Zentraedi commander, Khyron, had an addiction to protoculture leaves. Also, I like the concept of protoculture and always considered that sub-cultures like anime or sci-fi were cultures in the making, or “proto-” cultures. After working several months on the content, our little group of enthusiasts (Michel Gareau, Alain Dubreuil, Jean Carrière, Yvon Maillé Jr, Paul Berthiaume and myself) released the first issue of “Protoculture Addicts: The Robotech Fanzine of Quebec Quadrant” in November 1987. It offered some comments on the TV series, an episode listing, some trivia, a list of funny anecdotes titled “Uh?!”, some news & reviews, alternate rules for the Robotech RPG and a short comic. That issue is now called the “Unofficial” fanzine or #0. 

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#1 (2nd printing) cover by Michel Gareau

We were so proud of our little fanzine that we sent complimentary copies to Palladium Books (publisher of the RPG) and Harmony Gold (producer of the animated TV series). In response, we received an angry letter from the first, and a lawyer’s letter threatening to sue us for copyright infringement from the second, because of the fanzine and a picture of us wearing homemade Robotech t-shirts. Fortunately, it was agreed that we could continue publication as the OFFICIAL Robotech fanzine with the payment of a license ($2000 per year was probably a reasonable amount, but it was a lot of money for a bunch of kids in college). In Spring ’88, we reprinted an extended version of the first issue as the Official Robotech Fanzine, which was reprinted again in 1989 in a new comic book format. Now, the magazine needed to make at least enough money to cover the licensing fee, so with #2 (following the advice of local comic bookstore owners—Comic Key, Captain Quebec, Cosmix) we sought a larger distribution and, for that, got a color cover. As they say, the rest is history. 

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#11 (cover: Sylvie Bissonnette & Michel Gareau)

We diversified the content by adding lyrics from the songs, lists of clubs and penpals, interviews, fanfics, and we slowly added articles about other anime (Iczer-one, AkiraMegazone 23, Dangaoi, Gunbuster, Dirty Pair). After ten issues, we felt that all that could be said about Robotech had been said, so we turned our interest toward anime in general (I was not unhappy to leave the costly Robotech license behind), but it was agreed that we could keep the name Protoculture Addicts. So, with #11 (February 1991), PA became an anime fan magazine. We still considered ourselves fans, but the magazine was produced in our own offices (no longer in the University dorms), so we started considering PA a professional magazine. 

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#2 (cover: Michel Gareau)

In the early period of the magazine (Nov. 1987 – Sep. 1991), we released only fourteen issues on a quarterly basis. The main staff of the magazine was quickly reduced to only three people: Alain Dubreuil, Michel Gareau and myself. We moved into a real office, located in a start-up incubator in old Montreal. We also published a few anime-related projects: the Anime Shower Special (Oct. ’90, a special issue of the magazine dedicated to an anime classic: the shower scenes), the Poster-Zine #1: Akira (Feb. ’91, a folded poster with articles on the back published in collaboration with Anime-Zine’s Robert Fenelon) and The Gates Of Pandragon #1 (Mar. ’91, a comic book written by myself, drawn by Michel, with inking & lettering by Alain Villeneuve). From that period, my favorite articles are probably “Uh?!” and the Robotech Triva. My favorite cover is the one for issue #2. 

The Golden Age: #15-37 (Nov. 1991 – Dec. 1995)

1991 was a year of transition. First, in the summer, we attended the first anime convention, AnimeCon, where we met lots of people from the anime industry for the first time (and I met my future wife, Miyako Matsuda). At the University anime club, we also met a bunch a guys—headed by graphic designer Pierre Ouellette—who wanted to publish Mecha Press, a magazine dedicated mostly to anime-related modeling and gaming. Those encounters soon opened new doors to the magazine. 

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Illustration by Alex Racine

Fred Patten told me once that college-aged fans usually quit publishing their fanzines once they graduated from college and that it was exceptional that PA continued publishing at a professional level. Truthfully, the magazine was very time-consuming, and by the end of 1991, both my associates wanted to move on to more serious occupations (Michel wanted to go back to the army and Alain wanted to dedicate himself into finishing his PhD.). For my part, like Alain, I had been working on my PhD since 1988, but I was stalling and, as the magazine was demanding more attention, I decided to quit university and dedicate myself to the magazine full-time. After all, working in the publishing industry had always been one of my goals. We were already working in close collaboration with the Mecha Press group, so I decided to take Pierre Ouellette as new associate and we merged our operations. 

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#24 (Jul-Aug ’93 — cover by Robert DeJesus)

Ianus Publications moved into a much larger loft-office and Pierre Ouellette redesigned the look of the magazine. PA changed to a bigger format (8.25 x 10 in. from #16 and 8.125 x 10.625 from #22), a bimonthly release schedule, and with better contacts in the industry as well as a bigger staff (Ghislain Barbe, Normand Bilodeau, Jean Carrières, Robert Dubois, Dominique Durocher, Jean-François Fortier, Martin Ouellette, Pierre Ouellette, Alexandre Racine, Marc-Alexandre Vézina), the magazine grew quickly as the anime industry itself was expanding. By issue #30, PA had quickly reached a readership of about 10,000 and was distributed by all the major comic book distributors in North America. We also had distributors in half a dozen countries and subscribers all over the world. It was really the Golden Age of the magazine. We were able to diversify the content even more with new in-depth articles and coverage of Japanese culture (Jpop music, Language Seminars, book reviews). My favorite article from that period is probably the “Kimagure Orange Road Whimsical Episode Guide” (in #22-25). I don’t really have a favorite cover, as there were too many excellent covers by Alexandre Racine (who unfortunately died of cancer in 1999), Robert DeJesus and Ghislain Barbe).

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Anime Shower #3 (Fall 1992) Cover by Robert de Jesus

In four years, the same amount of time as the previous era, we released twenty-three issues of the magazine, as well as several other anime-related publications: Anime Shower Special #2-3 (Dec. ’91, Nov. ’92), Mecha Press #1-17 (Jan. ’92 – Apr. 95), Cybersuit Arkadyne #1-3 (Mar. ’92 – Jun. ’92, a comic book by Tim Eldred & Jonathan Jarrard), the Project A-ko RPG (Mar. ‘95) and we also produced three Macross II sourcebooks for Palladium (Mar., Jul. & Dec. ‘94). The gaming aspect was taking more and more of our production time. On top of our anime-related titles, we published dozens of alternate-reality adventure books for R. Talsorian games, Cyberpunk (18 titles), Mekton (2 titles) and Teenagers from Outer-Space (1 title). We also created our own games: Heavy Gear (which spawned a couple of video games and an animation) and Jovian Chronicles. The production team was getting too small to handle both the gaming book line and the anime magazines, so at the end of 1995, we decided to split Ianus Publications in two: Pierre Ouellette kept the gaming part (which became Dream Pod 9) and I kept the anime-related stuff (under the new name of Protoculture). 

Protoculture Masters

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#38 (cover by Ghislain Barbe)

The next era of the magazine was one of downsizing. With issue #38, in January 1996, we moved into a smaller home-office and the production team was reduced to only myself and Martin Ouellette (Miyako Matsuda, a collaborator since 1992, joined us in 1999). However, it didn’t mean that our situation was worsening. On the contrary, we were able to concentrate on making the content better, adding more pages to the magazine and starting to have more colour (8-20 pages). In many aspects, it was my best time with Protoculture Addicts. We produced forty-four excellent issues, as well as one eXtra issue (PAX #1, Oct. ’96, compiling the best articles of the time) and a book: Anime: A Guide To Japanese Animation (Dec. 2000, an anime filmography covering the years 1958-1988, translated from an Italian book). We also dabbled a little with the distribution in Québec of French version anime video and manga (without much success). I don’t really have a favorite article (too many good ones: Evangelion [#39,41], Escaflowne [#43], Kenshin [#52, 61] and the specials: Robotech [#50], Mecha [#51], Go Nagai [#54], Movies [#63], Miyazaki [#72], etc.) and if I had to chose my favorite cover, I would probably say #75. 

PA81Unfortunately, as I was concentrating on the production, I was neglecting the promotion of the magazine and we stopped attending conventions. At the same time, the quasi collapse of the comics and gaming industry crippled our distribution, and with the slow economy created in the wake of 9/11, a strong Canadian dollar, and more competition (Anime Insider, Newtype USA), our sales started to slowly decline and we were losing advertisers. It was getting economically more difficult to produce the magazine and I was getting tired of working so hard. I was on the verge of a burn-out, so in June 2004 (with the release of #81), I decided to call it quits, find a new job, and eventually continue the magazine as a web-based publication. 

Anime News Generation

PA82In the summer of 2004, I met Anime News Network’s Christopher Macdonald at the Fantasia Film Festival and told him I was going to stop publishing PA. I had met him several times before and he’d known about PA since its early days. He thought it would be sad to see such an institution as PA disappear, so a few weeks later, he made me a proposal. He had been thinking about publishing his own magazine for a while and was now in the financial position of doing such a project, and he proposed to join our effort in continuing PA. The influx of new blood from ANN and a bigger production team would definitely improve the magazine, and ANN’s large readership, as well as its financial support would allow a much stronger promotion than ever before. In January 2005, with issue #82, Anime News Network’s Protoculture Addicts was born. 

PA94adHowever, after a year of publication (#82-87), we made an assessment of our success and realized that while we succeeded in improving the content, we wouldn’t be able to find time to improve the visual aspect of the magazine. Therefore, we decided to take a break that allowed us to re-design the look of the magazine. We came out with an improved, 100-page, full-colour, glossy paper and better printing quality format. I found a new printer (one that could provide the paper and printing quality I wanted for a reasonable price) and also switched doing the layout from PageMaker to InDesign, which allowed for a better design. Unfortunately, because of that, we released only two issues (#88-89) in 2006. But, the magazine never looked better and our readership tripled (thanks to an improved distribution in newsstands and bookstores). We are always working very hard to constantly improve the magazine and, since this new era is just beginning, I cannot really choose a favorite article or cover. I know that the best is still to come… (ok, maybe the cover of issue #94…)

That’s it. There were so many things I wanted to tell you — a lot of adventures and misadventures can happen in twenty years! I could go on and on and fill the entire issue. Unfortunately, we’re limited in space and I am sure you want to read our manga preview, the other anime stories—the real ones—and our reviews. So I’ll keep more stories for another time… maybe for the 30th anniversary! Thank you all for reading and supporting Protoculture Addicts! 

Logo Genesis Climber

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Issues #1-7: Logo designed on 3D software by Michel Gareau

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Issues #8-11: Logo “designed” by Claude J. Pelletier

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Issues #12-15: Logo designed by Pierre Ouellette

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Issues #16-21: Logo designed by Pierre Ouellette

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Issues #22-85: Logo designed by Pierre Ouellette

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Issues #86+: Logo “designed” by Claude J. Pelletier

Afterword 

PA96adUnfortunately, after publishing this anniversary tribute, only three more issues of the magazine were published: #95 (March-April 2008, covering mostly Appleseed: Ex Machina, the new Evangelion movies, Emma Act 2, Gurren-Lagann, Seirei no Moribito, Toward The Terra), #96 (May-June 2008, covering mostly Blood+, Genius Party, xxxHolic, Angel Heart, Dennou Coil, Moyashimon, Ookiku Furikabutte, Rec) and #97 (July-August 2008, covering mostly Gurren Lagann, Maria-sama ga Miteru, Kujibiki Unbalance, Aria, Black Cat, Claymore, Kashimashi, Mokke, MoNoNoKe, Shigurui). My favourite issue for the ANN era (and ever) is without contest #96 because I am very proud of the layout and of the quality of the articles that Miyako Matsuda and I wrote (mostly Dennou Coil, Moyashimon, Ookiku Furikabutte). I am also quite fond of #97, because it is the last one and I always did my best to constantly improve the magazine with each new issue.

20YoP-MomijiCJPWith those ten final issues (#88-97) we had finally reached our goal for a larger distribution and achieved the quality in content and presentation that we were striving for. The funny thing is that it is only when we reached our peak that we finally got the recognition that we deserved. First, at Anime North 2008 on May 25th, I was personally awarded the Momiji Award in recognition of my “many outstanding achievements and contributions throughout the years”. I was selected by the organizing committee “in deepest gratitude for his valuable role in bringing the art of Japanese manga and animation to an international audience“. As Christopher Macdonald wrote in his editorial of issue #97, “Any lifetime achievement award is a great honour, but when co-winners of the award in question includes Hayao Miyazaki and Go Nagai, it’s something truly remarkable.” The second honor that we received that year, this time bestowed upon all the staff and contributors of the magazine, was that Protoculture Addicts was nominated for the “Best Magazine” award of the SPJA (Anime Expo). We didn’t win (Newtype did) but just being nominated was already a recognition of our accomplishments. 

PA97It is quite frustrating that despite our best effort to publish a beautiful magazine with great content we had to stop because it was just not profitable. The competition was getting strong (with Anime Insider, Newtype and Otaku USA), the newsstand distribution was rather expensive (as only about 30% of the distributed copies are actually sold) and, following the implosion of the housing/financial bubble, the economy was bad enough that many of the anime distributors in the U.S. went bankrupt or disappeared (Manga Entertainment, Pioneer/Geneon, ADV Films). The remaining companies (mostly Bandai, Funimation and Viz) were more cautious in their promotion expenses so it was getting hard for us to get enough advertising revenue to cover our production expenses. It is sad because when we stopped publishing, issue #98 was almost completed and we had a few other half-finished projects and plenty of unpublished articles…

Now the magazine has been dead for ten years, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have any publication projects for the future. For the moment I am concentrating my writing on the blog (clodjee.com). I’ve started to republished some old-articles (like this one) and more will come in the future as I will also includes unpublished ones. I am also planning a tribute page for PA where I will list and describe each issues, with an index of articles and eventually setup an e-store to make available PDF copies of back issues (however, some are still available on drivethrurpg.com). When I have more time I also hope to be able to publish some ebook projects (poetry, articles compilations, historical essays, etc.). 

Picture Gallery

 

 

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