Rants & Essays

Legends – The Next Ten Years

By Marcus Pan

LegendsI meant this article to appear in Legends #150 which is, admittedly, more than a half a year ago. But things ran away from me, and there was this big flop of a party and the break-up of a partnership and the band was going and…I know, nothing but excuses. But finally I am getting to it. Back in Legends #83, January 1999, I had started a series of articles called Legends: The First Five Years. So it seemed only fitting that I write something about the next ten now that we’ve gotten here. Or at least it did at the time I started this. As I write I can of course at any time decide it’s too pedantic and scrap it. I’m sometimes accused of gazing at my belly button (a common term used to tell somebody they’re ego-surfing), but I’ve had at least three requests to write this (besides myself!) so we’ll see how far we get before I decide it’s worthless ego hatching.

Reading the original four parts I wrote over a decade ago is making me yack. I stopped writing that series with issue #57 and included at least one paragraph for each issue. I certainly can’t do that – we’re talking about an additional 100 issues since then. What I can do, maybe, is lump them together – do some sort of abridged version. There certainly are things worth talking about, and I probably wouldn’t mind doing a little bit of belly button gazing…it’s kind of fun sometimes.

So let’s see, when we last left off, we were talking about Legends #57. That was back in December, 1995 – ten years ago as it’s currently December 2005. Music was just starting to become a main theme at the time as that issue contained the most complete Iron Maiden Discography to date as well as a reprinted interview with Big Catholic Guilt. I started using things off of the net, such as Hyperreal’s FTP server (where the BCG interview came from). It was FTP and net-based finding that brought about one of Legends’ most well-known issues to date – #58 as the Drug Special Issue which had articles on marijuana, psilocybin, hash and more. Legend #59 had a few like this, finishing up the drugs theme, but returned to fantasy (Albinor Chronicles), humor such as An Internet FAQ which shows Legends growing Internet/online face and Legends #60 continued similarly.

LegendsLegends #62 bears mentioning because it has the first instance of a Legends logo designed by somebody else. Music had by this time become a constant and it was in 1996 that the first website went up, with Legends Online being a portion of my own Pan Pages vanity-type site. Gaming, one of Legends’ original themes, became a background thread. Legends #67 in May, 1997 was a really strange issue – I had kicked off a side project based on the magazine called Inferno Publishing and had tried to combine all my efforts under this banner. What’s strange here is that I had a half dozen press releases from Inferno Publishing in this issue – a super-silly attempt at being somewhat legit and corporate-like. A truly and totally asshat maneuver on my part.

CharlieOne of my favorite original science fiction pieces began in Legends #68: Gillian G. Mason’s Golden Oldies. The second part ran in the following issue #69. Legends #70 for August, 1997 boasts one of Legends’ most well known music interviews. The Too Gothic Interview covered Sunshine Blind, Dark Ferret Concerts and The New Creatures after a controversy surrounding the Sisters of Mercy booting them off the bill for their “too gothic” look at a Philly area concert. What’s interesting about this article is it was picked up without permission and printed in the small damN! magazine of my area – with me getting a byline that a fly’s dick could cover.

Promotions and marketing and partnerships started happening now. With Legends #71, I interviewed the Mean Little Man and was set to cover the Farm Funk Fest, a yearly music festival in the Somerset area that fell through – leading me to be the exclusive press on the property at the time. Additionally, Legends went clubbing at Boston, as staff writer Rat Bastard and I went to Ceremony night at The Spot on October 16th armed with copies of Legends #72, the Alt.Gothic Special Issue, and recruited writers, artists and subscribers. This issue is still, to this very day, one of my favorites I’ve ever produced. There were quite a few contributing writers to this issue as well, most from Usenet’s alt.gothic, which leads it to being one of my favorites.

LegendsIn February 1998’s Legends #75 we debuted the newest logo with Legends scripted in gold over a window. This remained for some time and was the result of a logo contest held in which dozens of people participated and submitted competing ideas for Legends Magazine’s new logo. In issue #76 writer Derek McDonald held the Polishing of Metal contest, which garnered a complete zero in response. But we also interviewed London After Midnight’s Sean Brennan, which did well. Legends #78 did well as the Drug Special Issue II and also introduced the world to Charlie the Cannibal Chicken. By Legends #79 in August of 1998 Legends’ music coverage took off, with Dan Century taking the lead as a reviewer of music CDs and live concerts. He also was instrumental in providing the image scans of all the Legends Magazine issues to date, so that the redesigned website using the yellow/red/black coloring could house every single issue produced. All the text was retyped as well, by hand, and incorporated with the graphics to create the second edition PDF files for all those issues that came out in hardcopy only originally. Now the entire text and graphics of Legends Magazine’s body of work was available on the web. Some of the yellow/red/black original site design can still be seen in some older areas of Legends Online, though that’s being phased out into the new design that is currently in use.

Old DesignLegends #83 was one of the biggest problems we’ve ever dealt with. The cover art used was believed to be in the public domain, but it had turned up being a copyrighted image by UK artist Stephen Stone. The issue was settled with a fee paid to the artist, which was problematic considering I was hoarding cash for my upcoming wedding at the time. Legends #83 is still the most expensive cover we’ve ever produced because of that and nearly folded the magazine. This changed Legends’ policy surrounding the accepting of unsolicited artwork for the cover and all work that appeared on covers since has been designed by a staff member or a contributing artist. Another interesting thing about issue #83 was the start of the Off the Shelf column which reviewed books. At the time I was just writing reviews of books I had happened to read and it hadn’t become a submitted-to column until a few years afterwards.

#88#83Around the time of Legends #85, roughly the middle of 1999, Legends Magazine’s music reviews got heavier until it, by today, has become considered a music magazine as opposed to the fantasy, gaming and science fiction themes it began as. Gaming especially has faded away, though fiction still remains strong. I hooked up after the Convergence 4 music festival in Toronto with Jett Black, currently a west coast promoter, and he sent me a box of CDs to review and a pile of unprinted interviews he had done with various underground bands. I contacted all of those bands and told them I’d be running their interviews and, if I hadn’t one already, asked for copies of their CDs for review. They came in droves, necessitating me to start enlisting a review staff that consisted of more than myself and Dan Century. Legends #88 in July, 1999 was the first issue cover that could truly be considered a “music magazine,” with Needulhed and Deathwatch Beetle Repairman featured in that issue. Somewhere around this time the www.legendsmagazine.net domain was picked up as well, though details are hard to remember going back this far as far as an exact date is concerned. I do recall that Legends Online by this time was currently on its third server system after having grown too large for the previous two to handle. As I write this, we’re on our fifth server since the hit rates have grown too substantial for the two servers after that.

The Ask Psiguy column started in Legends #89, though this was short lived. The first column, about Ouija Boards, is still nonetheless one of the most searched for and read articles of Legends Online to this day. In issue #90 I thanked alt.gothic, and that’s another good article to take a peek at the history of the magazine as well. Definitely by Legends #90 we had become a music magazine.

PLIFFiction also started getting very interesting around this time, with such authors as Sue Simpson and Cameron Rogers, both of whom have gone on to author books for various publishers. Richard Lovig, R. Patrick Murtha, Reinaldo E. Grandal and others contributed heavily. Illustrators were brought in to handle the fiction: Zubrovka, Emperor7, Alderek, RPM, Lee Alverson and more besides. Goth/punk subculture was becoming a main topic, with articles modeled after the original Take a Bite which I adored, and the look got better with every issue I think as well. Music interviews were becoming heavier and more respected as bands and labels started servicing us directly making one of my passions, music itself, a much lower cost for me. The money I spent on music was high, and as a new dad it was kind of hard to justify the amounts I’ve spent in the past. The submissions coming in greatly reduced my entertainment spending, which was a welcome relief and has become one of the main reasons I sight when asked why I’m still doing Legends.

August 2000’s issue #101 has one of my favorite covers. Also this year the partnership with Amazon.com began and we started adding purchase links to the reviews so that readers can immediately go and buy a CD or book that sounds interesting to them. This partnership remains today. In the year 2000, the Mean Little Man became a regular columnist and music reviewer and his involvement with Legends increased as time went on as you’ll read later in this article. Also not long after this the Mean Little Man started a Cafepress shop for Legends Magazine so that the first instances of merchandise and other swag was available – coffee mugs, steins, t-shirts and more.

CoverCoverLegends #104 is remarkable to me in that we got to interview someone who I was a big fan of for many years – Gary Dassing of Mentallo & the Fixer fame. The interview was done by another staff member who would play an important role with Legends as time moved on – Rev. Daryl Litts. His covers, in my opinion the best of which can be found being Legends #111 featuring Foetus, became occasional works of art by him and later he was contracted to create the first commercially-paid logo for Legends Magazine, the familiar dragon we use today. This first appeared on Legends #109 in April, 2001…one of the best cover designs I did myself featuring artwork by Lee Alverson for the first chapter of the Disoriented vampire-action stories by Eric L. Busby. Legends Magazine also delved into dark horror more heavily including a Lovecraft story, The Final Pronunciation by Bruce Turlish in issue #106 which featured artwork by Mike Strick.

In Legends #112 Disoriented Chapter 4 featured the main character wearing a band t-shirt on the cover – the band being Fierce Culture. One of the members of that band and I became good friends and about 3 years later he’d lead me into playing bass for Bitter Grace in Manhattan. The year 2002 saw more band interviews, more stories, cooler stuff I think. We started syndicating the dark humor comic strip The Parking Lot is Full. Bands that were known more were being featured: Fektion Fekler, Massiv In Mensch, Blue, Omnibox, The Cranes. Music is coming in regularly for review giving us tons to write about as we moved along. Auntie PanPan’s Horrorscopes debuted in February, 2003 in issue #130.

Throughout this time the Mean Little Man continued his editorials, helped with our merchandise and eventually became a partner with Legends Magazine in the role of producer. He helped market it – I kept making it. It seemed to work well for a while. By Legends #133 in June, 2003 he had taken control of producing the covers, the design, the layout – I was very happy with his work. Covers became stunning. We interviewed Razor Skyline, Unwoman and punk pioneer Dave Smalley. MLM designed the new hardcopy template still in use today and it debuted in Legends #134 in July 2003.

CoverWith writers like Ray Van Horn, Jr., Kim Mercil, Rev. Daryl Litts and Dan Century the features became awesome (to me, at least) by 2004. Legends #139 in January featured Laibach and #140 featured the DJs Pick Their Faves feature which listed the top dance floor gothic/industrial hits for the previous year. This particular article had the ignominious honor of being leaked to the public causing an unknown entity to hack into, and replace, one of the DJs lists to us so that the list would be rigged. It was fortunately caught and corrected before going to print, but I found it wonderfully thrilling to have been producing an issue considered important enough to require being leaked and hacked. This event changed some of the policies of divulging information on upcoming features so that things didn’t get out of hand again.

TicketMore great interviews in 2004 occurred – Alien Sex Fiend, Nashville Pussy, Bella Morte and more. In September, 2004 with the web release of Legends #144 the MLM designed website had gone up live. Compared to the previous yellow/red/black design it was brilliant and is still being used at the time of this writing. Because of the time and debugging necessary to work all the kinks out of the new web programming, Legends #145 arrived three months later. The partnership with MLM heated up as he became more involved, but the magazine started to become more work-like and less hobby-like. I was finding myself drawing up feature/issue plans three months in advance and struggling to maintain control of as many as four issues of Legends at once – a version going to web, a version coming out in print (we started holding the web version back a month to jump start the hardcopy subscriptions), a final hardcopy layout for the following month and an outline of plans for the month after that. Even though it was now coming out professionally printed and bound, it still became…straining.

But things really did look great. In 2005 Len Rely’s The Green Man took the cover on issue #147 which weighed in at 46 pages long and Legends #148 was the April Fools Issue in which the first few pages resembled a teen-steam format along with me griping about being tired of writing things nobody cares about and going corporate as well as reviewing CDs by Usher and Nelly…an unforgettable fun moment.

Then came Legends #150 – a big todo. The plan was to throw a party about it in New York City. The venue chosen was Club Rare on 14th street. Bands came from out of state to play: Bunker Soldier, Amber Spyglass, Chris Eissing, State of Being and of course my own outfit, Bitter Grace as headline act. The stage and turntables were spinning all night managed by DJ CSB. June 25, 2005 was the night. Press kits were mailed, tickets were sold and given away and posters were going up in three states.

#150Even with NJ’s Sentinel newspaper covering Legends and its 150th issue mark and all the promotion that occurred, the party happened with an extremely low attendance. This slammed the finances of the magazine and producer MLM. The result was a complete liquidation of the partnership. I scurried home with my tail between my legs at about 5AM on June 26th 2005 with thoughts of being done with it all. MLM went his way, Legends went mine and out of the end of this flop Legends kept printing and MLM kept doing whatever it is that MLM does when I’m not looking.

Right after the party – which is argued to be a financial failure while a good party however low in attendance – I took a break from it all. I debated things…I thought the party was maybe a sign that we had reached a peak and should move on to other things. But I still had all these CDs on my desk to review, and I still had all these reviews already written to run, and so in September, 2005 after a brief hiatus Legends #151, dubbed the Back From the Grave Music Special, came about and we just kept going, party or no, along with the new mantra about the party: “I’ll never do something silly like that again.”

I took back control of most aspects of Legends Magazine. I now design the covers again and Rev. Daryl Litts will do so as well. I now put together an issue when the next month approaches instead of planning it for three months in advance. I don’t have to worry about issue sizes and being divisible by four pages for a printing press. I still use MLM’s website design and hardcopy design because it’s excellent, and I thank him for those. But ever onward I go and I’m even finding more time to write again for myself. Most of the CD reviews right now are mine, I’ve written scores of essays and pages of fiction. This I think is because I don’t have to spend that time writing pages of outlines and scores of plan memos. It’s fun again.

#155Well…that’s the next ten years in a nutshell. I managed to crank about 100 issues into five or so pages. What else is going on? Well, I’m writing this in January, 2006 and I expect this to run in Legends’ February issue #156. And I’m having too much fun again to put it down. In future issues you’ll see feature interviews with Joe Vargo (Nox Arcana), Headscan and the creators of Indie911.com. I’ll debut some of my newest fiction with the Serpent’s Inn series, sci-fi steps up with Wires soon and we’re reviewing DVD’s now that are being submitted for review as well as books and music. I’m on service lists with Dark Sky Films, Harper Collins Publishers and Radikal Books besides all the music labels that service us with review materials.

So you see…I can’t stop now. There’s too much to do. Movies to watch, books to read, music to listen to. So onward we go…we’ve learned a few things on the ride the last ten years. We’ve learned that it is possible to crush a server with too many hits and that you can’t trust everybody when they tell you that something is “public domain.” I’ve received legal threats and had to school myself on “fair use” laws and digital copyright issues. I’ve hung out with some really cool people in two different countries and threw a party in the most well known city of the world and decided that I’m not throwing any more that doesn’t involve my grill and backyard. I’ve been on TV talking about this cheesy little rag and doing it has helped me find, keep and lose many friends as well as forcefully curtail my entertainment spending so that I can support a family that I didn’t have when it started.

Why? People ask that a lot. If the party is any indication, there’s no bank-breaking money in this. Every now and then I’ll break even in a month. That’s nice. So…why? In an interview with UK Author’s webzine, and reprinted in Legends #150 because I was feeling pedantic, I think I told interviewer Sue Simpson the answer when she asked me things like “why.” And that answer is still true. “I write world’s better than I talk. Being read is one of the greatest joys I have.” So bring on another ten years, bitches, let’s do this…