Fortean Times - "The World of Strange Phenomena" - is a British monthly magazine devoted to the anomalous phenomena popularised by Charles Fort. Previously published by John Brown Publishing (from 1991 to 2001) and then I Feel Good Publishing (2001 to 2005), it is now published by Dennis Publishing Ltd. Between January and December 2008, its circulation was 21,676.1 The website at January 2008 was registering 91,404 unique users per month and 1,822,880 monthly impressions.2
The roots of the magazine that was to become Fortean Times can be traced back to Bob Rickard's discovering the works of Charles Fort through the second-hand method of reading science-fiction stories:
"John Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (as Analog was then titled), for example," writes Rickard "encouraged many authors to expand Fort's data and comments into imaginative stories."3
In the mid-1960s, while Rickard was studying Product Design at Birmingham Art College he met several like-minded science-fiction fans, particularly crediting fellow-student Peter Weston's fan-produced Speculation 'zine as helping him to "[learn] the art of putting together a fanzine," some years before he created his own.4 Attending a science-fiction convention in 1968, Rickard obtained Ace paperback copies of all four of Fort's books from a stall run by Derek Stokes (later to run Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed and take a role in the day-to-day running of The Fortean Times).5
After reading an advert in the underground magazine Oz (in 1969) for the "International Fortean Organization" (INFO), an American group "founded in 1966… by Paul and Ronald Willis," who had acquired material from the original Fortean Society (started in 1931, but in limbo since the 1959 death of its founder Tiffany Thayer), Rickard began to correspond with the brothers, particularly Paul. Rickard was instrumental in encouraging the Willises to publish their own Fortean journal - the "INFO Journal: Science and the Unknown" began intermittent publication in Spring, 1967 - and sent them many British newspaper clipping, although few saw print. Rickard later discovered that the production was fraught behind-the-scenes as Ronald Willis had been seriously ill, Paul thus finding it difficult to "keep up with things" on his own.6 Ultimately, the Willises were instrumental in inspiring Rickard to create his own periodical. Ron Willis succumbed to a brain tumour in March 1975.78 Bearing a date of November 1973, the first issue of Rickard's self-produced and self-published The News was available directly from him.
The News (1973-1976)
The magazine which was to continue Charles Fort's work documenting the unexplained was founded by Robert JM "Bob" Rickard in 1973 as his self-published bi-monthly mail-order "hobbyish newsletter" miscellany The News - "A Miscellany of Fortean Curiosities".9 The title is said to be "a contraction taken from Samuel Butler's The News from Nowhere",10 (although Rickard may be conflating/confusing Butler's Erewhon and William Morris' "News from Nowhere"). The News saw fairly-regular bi-monthly publication for 15 issues between November 1973 and April 1976. Debuting at 35p (£1.80/$4.50 for a year of 6 issues11) for 20 pages, The News was produced on Rickard's typewriter, with headings created with Letraset, during (as Rickard says in #2) the late-70s blackouts. The first issue featured a cover (which would become briefly the unofficial logo of The News) drawn by Rickard from a Selfridges advert originally created by Bernard Partridge.12 From the second issue, pictures and photographs from various newspapers were interpolated within the text. The price was raised slightly for #6 - which also saw the page count upped to 24pg - due in large part to rising postal and paper costs.
Helping behind-the-scenes was Steve Moore, a kindred-spirit whom Rickard met at a comics convention when the latter was a sub-editor at IPC. The two found they had much in common - including a love of Chinese mysticism - and Moore helped inspire Rickard to publish The News.13 The early issues featured some articles by different individuals, but were "largely the work of Bob Rickard, who typed them himself with some help from Steve Moore."14
Moore and "Paul Screeton (then editor of The Ley Hunter), both urged on the first few uncertain issues" and Moore would frequently join Rickard to "stuff envelopes and hand-write a few hundred addresses" to disseminate the early issues.15 Rickard also highlights amongst the key early Fortean Times advocates and supporters: Ion Will, who discovered The News in 1974 and became a "constant [source] of valuable clippings, books, postcards and entertaining letters"; Janet and Colin Bord, later authors of Mysterious Britain (Janet also wrote for Flying Saucer Review and Lionel Beer's Spacelink, while it was Colin's Fortean article in Gandalf's Garden that is particularly cited by Rickard as bringing him/them to his attention); Phil Ledger, a "peripatetic marine biologist", and The News' "first enthusiastic fan"; Ken Campbell, Fortean playwright; John Michell; Richard Adams and Dick Gwynn, who both helped with the evolving layout and typesetting of later issues; Chris Squire, who helped organise the first subscription database; Canadian "Mr X"; Mike Dash and cartoonist Hunt Emerson. Emerson was introduced to Rickard in late 1974, when after seven issues, he "wanted to improve the graphics", which Emerson certainly did, providing around 30 headings for use in issues #8 onwards. (Emerson's still-on-going monthly "Phenomenomix" strip in FT had its prototype in #11's three-page "Fortean Funnies").16
Notable News content
Other early contributors included writer and researcher Nigel Watson (Chairman of the Scunthorpe UFO Research Society 'SUFORS'), who wrote "Mysterious Moon" for The News #2. Watson would later write a regular column of UFO commentary entitled Enigma Variations (from #29), and articles on the subject of UFO-related murders and stories of sexual assault by aliens. Phil Grant wrote about Ley lines for #3 and Mary Caine who revised an earlier article (from Gandalf's Garden) on The Glastonbury Zodiac for issue #4, which also saw the debut of the "Reviews" section, beginning with comments on a book by John Michell, the Sphere reprint of Charles Fort's New Lands and John Sladek's The New Apocrypha. Issues #2 and #3 noted that The News was published "with an arrangement with INFO", this was revised from #4 to it being "affiliated to the International Fortean Organization". From #5, Mark A Hall produced a section entitled "Fortean USA", continuing on from his earlier, discontinued, newsletter From My Files; issue #5 also saw William Porter's article on Llandrillo printed, after being delayed from #4 for space constraints. Janet Bord contributed "Some Fortean Ramblings" alongside William R. Corliss's "The Evolution of the Fortean Sourcebooks" for #7, and issue #8 was the first issue of Vol. 2, after Rickard decided to end Volume 1 with #7 (not #6 as fully bi-monthly titles do), since that issue was dated November '74, thereby attempting to keep each Volume aligned with a year.17
Issue #8 (or, Volume 2, issue #1) saw the special "Christmas present" of headings by Hunt Emerson, after Rickard was introduced to Emerson by Carol and Nick Moore as Hunt was working on Large Cow Comix. Described by Rickard as "as much a disciple of George [Herriman]… and my [Rickard's] favourite artists from Mad (Bill Elder and Wally Wood)" as Rickard was of Charles Fort, the two got on well, with Emerson producing not only a series of headings, but later strips and covers for issues right up to the present day.18 The death of INFO co-founder Ronald J Willis was announced in #9, which described itself as providing "bi-monthly notes on Fortean phenomena", and an index to the first year's issues (#1-7) became available. Colin Bord penned "Amazing Menagerie" for issue #10, while Paul Devereux and Andrew York compiled an exhaustive study of Leicestershire in "Portrait of a Fault Area", serialised in #11-12. Issue #11 featured Rickard and Emerson's first "Fortean Funnies" cartoon, while #12 saw a price rise to 50p/$1.25, a logo change (from Selfridges' herald-on-horseback to the more descriptive Fort's face-encircled) and a tweaking of its tagline to "bi-monthly news & notes on Fortean phenomena." Issue #14 first mentioned Rickard and Michell's then-in-production book Phenomena!, which would be more actively trailed from #18. Issue #15 - now with 28 pages - announced that Rickard had decided to bow to popular opinion and retitle his miscellany with a more descriptive title. Thus, with a subtitle of "Portents & Prodigies", Fortean Times was born.19
Fortean Times (1976-present)
After fifteen issues of The News, issue #16 (1976) saw the magazine renamed Fortean Times, which "new title emerged from correspondence between Bob Rickard and Paul Willis" - the two having talked of creating a Fortean version of The Times newspaper, "full of weird and wonderful news and read by millions worldwide".20 Its cover bore the descriptive text "Strange phenomena - curiosities - prodigies - portents - mysteries," while the inside cover kept the 'Fort face' logo from later issues of The News but bore the revised legend "A Contemporary Record of Strange Phenomena".21 Included within was an offer for a "4-colour silk-screened poster" created by Hunt Emerson for this landmark issue. From the start, this new format compounded earlier financial difficulties for Rickard, following on from #14's plea: "we need more subscribers or we die!".22 (Fortean Times issues #16-18 - as The News #1-15 before them - were solely edited, published and in large part written & typed by Rickard himself. Even by passing on rising postal and paper costs to the readership - which Rickard constantly reiterates that he is loathe to do, the early Fortean Times was constantly facing an uphill financial battle.) Early editorials of the new FT, therefore (in fact beginning with The News #15) featured a notification of donations received, naming and thanking the hardcore readership (which included many current and future-contributors) for monies received, which aided the move towards higher production values. With donations helping to offset costs, the price was held at 50p up until issue #20, whereupon the magazine dropped to a quarterly schedule from Spring 1977 (Issue #21) - but raised the page count (and price) to continue producing the same amount of material for the same yearly fee (40pg, 75p ea. or £3/year).
Issue #18 saw a new semi-regular feature entitled "Forteana Corrigenda," aimed at correcting "errors in the literature" that had crept into various Fortean works through misquotation or other difficulties. After 18 more-or-less solo-produced issues, long-term supporter and helper Steve Moore was credited as assistant editor for issues #19-21, becoming co-contributing editor (with Phil Ledger, Stan Nichols and Paul J Willis) on issues #22-26 and 'associate editor' from issue #27. He was joined by contributing editor David Fideler, and subsequently (also as co-associate editor) by Paul Sieveking (#28-) and Valerie Thomas (#31-32). Issue #20 announced that Kay Thompson (a staff member of Ley Hunter magazine, then under the editorship of Paul Devereux, with whom FT shared an address for several issues) would be helping to type parts of subsequent issues to further delegate the burden from Rickard. He, Moore and Sieveking were also later joined editorially by author Mike Dash (who is mentioned as particularly overseeing the publication of scholarly occasional papers), before Moore moved from full editorial to largely correspondent duties for a dozen issues after #42, returning as a contributing editor in Autumn 1990 (#55). The four - Rickard, Sieveking, Dash and Moore - are often collectively referred to as "The Gang of Fort," after the Gang of Four.
Issue #21 saw the debut of FT semi-regular column "Strange Deaths" (later descriptively subtitled "Unusual ways of shuffling off this mortal coil"), while issue #22 updated FT's to include (Ivan T Sanderson's) The Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU), alongside INFO. Issue #23 featured an article by Robert Anton Wilson on, aptly, "The 23 Phenomenon"23, made available a second Index (1975, to The News #8-13) and included a 12-page 'Review Supplement', issued as a separately bound supplement since the-then printers had difficulty binding more than 40 pages. With #24, the printers were changed to Windhorse Press to overcome this difficulty, and FT became officially 52-pages in length, the changes cemented in issue #25 with a new font for the title and a change of address - c/o London-based "SF and cosmic" bookshop Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, run by Derek Stokes (who had sold Rickard the four Fort books ten years previously). The same issue ran an obituary for Eric Frank Russell, of whom Rickard was a considerable fan. He writes that Russell turned down an invitation to contribute material to The News back in 1973, having "earned his rest" after 40 years as an active Fortean. Rickard further states that Russell was one of the key Fortean-fiction writers he read in Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction and Analog, and the author of "the first Fortean book I [Rickard] ever read": Russell's Great World Mysteries.24 Issue #26 trailed "a special series of 'Occasional Papers' in Fortean subjects" to be edited by Steve Moore, and #27 - the 5th Anniversary issue - welcomed Michigan-native David Fideler (whose Anomaly Research Bulletin was then due to cease publication, although its subscribers, FT promised, would be absorbed by them) as FT's "man in the New World".
Paul Sieveking and FT's format change
In 1978, mutual friend Ion Will introduced Rickard to Paul Sieveking, who recalls that "the Forteans used to meet every Tuesday afternoon above the science-fiction bookshop Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed in Soho, a shop run by Derek Stokes, to open post and interact. (Indeed, this was the semi-official address of FT until that shop closed. With #35, Summer '81 the address was changed.) Sieveking joined the FT team with #28 as co-associate editor, and writes, highlighting the intrinsic early difficulties in printing FT that that issue "was printed by an Israeli entrepreneur in northern Greece and shipped to London."25 That issue (#28), bearing a cover blurb of "Strange Phenomena", featured an early advert for the bookshop Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed, drawn by Bryan Talbot, while the editorial promised that the next issue would not only see the availability of Index 1976, but be in a "larger and more professional format, typeset throughout, [with] better graphics, layout and legibility."26
Indeed #29, under a cover by Hunt Emerson,27 was printed fully typeset in A4 (thanks to art director Richard Adams of AdCo and, according to Rickard's preface to Yesterday's News Tomorrow, Dick Gwynn) and even distributed on a limited basis through WH Smiths. The move away from production on Rickard's typewriter gave "The Journal of Strange Phenomena," (as it was now subtitled) greater ability to produce longer, better laid-out articles. These opened with a seven-page guide to "Charles Fort and Fortean Times" by Bob Rickard, explaining the background and philosophy of FT as well as outlining the influence of Fort "who", writes Rickard, "is still largely unknown"28, and also included the first of Nigel Watson's "Enigma Variations" columns and Loren Coleman's "Devil Names and Fortean Places" article sat alongside comments by Colin Bord, Tim Dinsdale, V G W Harrison and Rickard on Anthony 'Doc' Shiels' 1977 "Nessie" photographs. The magazine itself dropped the description 'non-profitmaking' from its publication information, and ceased to name its stated-affiliations to INFO and SITU and 'other Fortean journals' in favour the more general aim to be a "friend to all groups and magazines continuing the work of Charles Fort".29 It also contained a considerably higher number of adverts, including both inside covers - making the page count slightly higher than previous issues, which had previously counted the cover as page 1 - and an early advert by Brian Bolland for Forbidden Planet (which would ironically begin to take off only after the closure of Stokes' Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed).
Issue #30 announced that while "over the last couple of issues [the] subscriber list… nearly doubled," so too had the "printing, production and postage bill," necessitating a price rise to 95p/$2.50 - albeit softened by another length increase, to 68 pages. Now published not merely by Rickard, but by 'Fortean Times Ltd', it was typeset by Warpsmith Graphics and printed by Bija Press. The cover was painted by Una Woodruff (whose Inventorum Natura was reviewed within) to illustrate John Michell's article on "Spontaneous Images and Acheropites," drawing on his 1979 Thames & Hudson book dealing with - and titled - "Simulacra". Bob Rickard produced an article on one "Clemente Dominguez: Pope, Heretic, Stigmatic;" Michael Hoffman speculated on the occult aspects of a serial killer in "The Sun of Sam;" Robert J Schadewald wrote about "The Great Fish Fall of 1859" while Hunt Emerson produced the first cartoon strip under the title "Phenomenomix".
Sieveking took over full editorial duties from Rickard with #43, helming the subsequent four quarterly issues (to #46) to give Rickard a chance to "revitalize",30 which he did, returning with #46 to the position of co-editor. Moore, Dash and Ian Simmons (and others) variously edited the magazine for the next 18+ years, and although main editorship passed from Rickard and Sieveking to David Sutton in 2002, they both continue to contribute - Sieveking continues as before, editing and writing most of the Strange Days news section and editing the letters pages, and acting as the main quality-control proof-reader, as well as producing the occasional feature (while Sieveking's wife edits the "Reviews" section).
During the 30 years of its publication, Fortean Times has changed both format and publishers on a couple of occasions. Early issues (particularly of The News) were produced in black & white (for ease of photocopying), and the whole was largely produced by typewriter until #29. Colour, professional printing (and wider distribution) followed and a 6.5 x 4.5in size held sway for several years before the magazine settled into its "normal" A4 (magazine) size in the 1980s, after which glossy covers followed. Several changes of logo and font have occurred throughout its life.