Guest-blog: CARL FORD

Way back in the day, when the internet was nothing but a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, we had things called ‘zines to keep us going. One of the very best that came out in the late 80s was Dagon, run and edited by Carl Ford. The ‘zine was a mix of game scenarios, articles and fiction, all based around the vision of one man – HP Lovecraft. For me, it was a regular fix of info and stories – I wasn’t so bothered with the gaming sections for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, as there weren’t any others where I lived who were interested in role-playing games. It was, however, where I read some of my favourite authors for the very first time. Here, Carl talks about the genesis of Dagon, and of his love of weird fiction in general.

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Confessions of a Geeky Goth

There’s an element of synchronicity floating around in my life right now. So when Simon asked me whether I’d like to write a guest blog about my reminiscences of publishing Dagon, despite the fact that it’s been some 23 years since I last published an issue, it wasn’t a total shock when, coincidentally, another website asked me for the same, that very day. Having agreed to write for Simon, and a perennial sufferer of writer’s block, I politely declined the second offer.

For the record, Dagon was a small press ‘zine that I first published whilst at college at the start of the 80s. Knocked out as single-sided photocopies, I think the initial print run, intended for friends and a couple of the guys in the original Dalling Road branch of Games Workshop, amounted to 10 copies! The original format combined my love of the recently-published role-playing game by Chaosium entitled Call of Cthulhu and my enthusiasm for the writings of HP Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. At the time, Lovecraft’s writings were all out of print, but I’d been steadily collecting horror novels and shorts as a pre-teen. My introduction to the Mythos came via battered copies of a 1963 Panther paperback of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (editor’s note: which, in another example of synchronicity, I just happen to reading at the moment) and a Consul edition of The Mask of Cthulhu, given to me by my grandfather who helped out on a second-hand book stall in the Shepherd’s Bush Market. The stall disappeared by the mid-70s, but I still have the two hoary books, which I will always cherish.

The 80s were a great time for those who liked the dark side: punk was morphing into the gloomy shadows of goth and the girls looked great. Alas, being a wimpy-looking geek with the sexual allure of squashed roadkill meant that the only thing I ever pulled was a muscle delivering copies of the local Informer door-to-door. In fact, I’d been doing that only a couple of days when I went down with pains in my stomach. Following numerous tests at the hospital, it was revealed I had cirrhosis of the liver resulting in my spleen being twelve times normal. Apparently, the spleen had been taking up all the good things in my diet (including hormones) and converting them to waste. Upon admittance to the hospital my height was 5′ 3″: shorter that the average girl and slimmer than the average lamp-post. I decided to immerse myself into geekdom, hang out with other guys who couldn’t pull, and put sex on the backburner.

The early issues of Dagon were knocked out on an old Corona typewriter as stick and paste jobs with editing courtesy of Tippex. I’d write most of the material, mainly gaming scenarios and filler that included articles on the Mythos and Lovecraft’s circle. By issue 11 I had started to attract a small cult following and word got around. At the time, Dagon was the only British ‘zine devoted to the subject, and contributors from the Lovecraftian stable soon agreed to supply me with material. Authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, TED Klein, Thomas Ligotti, and Brian Lumley began to contribute fiction,and prominent Lovecraftian scholars that included Peter Cannon, Robert M. Price and ST Joshi, followed suit. I was also fortunate to acquire the illustrative services of Dave Carson, Allen Koszowski, and Gahan Wilson for the despicable artwork. This collective of big names helped Dagon to garner several British Fantasy Society awards for Best Small Press, and I was fortunate to pick up an award for Most Promising Newcomer (formerly the Icarus Award) for editing/publishing.

Alas, fame was not to be. I’ve never been the most confident of people, and my hellraising is almost legendary. Following the publication of 27 issues, a couple of projects involving a portfolio of Dave Carson’s Lovecraftian artwork, a chapbook by Brian Lumley, entitled (here it comes again) Synchronicity, or Something, and a string of illnesses including life chronic pneumonia, meningitis, and the side-effects associated with cystic fibrosis, and not forgetting numerous nights on the London tiles and a short dalliance as vocalist for a forgettable two-chord punk band (we had one song concerning the Cthulhu Mythos entitled Madness of Madness) meant that life was too short to sit behind a typewriter long into the early hours with just the ghouls for company. Lovecraft was now becoming big business and I’d done my little bit for fandom. I soon discovered girls, goth and clubland, and didn’t miss typing the address labels for a 500-strong subscriber base and packing several hundred issues for shop sales.

Dagon had proved an amazing experience and introduced me to a new circle of friends from the worlds of fantasy and horror, some of whom remain dear friends to this day. The publication itself has something of a cult following, and copies (especially the earlier ones) have changed hands for silly prices. Oddly, the day after Simon asked whether I’d contribute this piece, happened to be the 120th anniversary of Lovecraft’s birth – synchronicity again, or something far more sinister. Perhaps the stars have finally come right.. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, or maybe he’s awakening once more…

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Thanks to Carl for this really enjoyable article, and also for bringing back great memories of sending off a postal order every two months and then waiting patiently for the new issue to arrive by return of post. In fact, I recently contacted my brother in Wales to see if those old issues are still packed away somewhere – would be absolutely brilliant if they were still there. It’s like waiting for the new issue all over again….. =)


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6 Responses to “Guest-blog: CARL FORD”

  1. Donny Boucher Says:

    Wow. Even I, who lived in Oregon as a teen, heard of Dagon. I had friends, twins, who were recently from the UK, and they were into AD&D. We had a group that would meet on Sunday & Wednesday to play, and one day, the twins had Call of Cthulu. I had never heard of Lovecraft until then. Within the box they brought the book out of were three copies of Dagon.

    Thanks for this, Simon an Carl. It brought back some good memories.

    • Carl Ford Says:

      Thanks for sharing that news, Donny. I’m amazed that Dagon managed to do the rounds worldwide in one way or another, and feel humbled that people remember the ‘zine with affection.

  2. Marc Palmer Says:

    I enjoyed reading that, it brought back memories of when I found out about Dagon. If memory serves there was a section in Adventurer magazine about fanzines so it must’ve been that, if not then I’ve no idea! I was only 13 when I got my first Issue (number 15) and my Mum gave me some funny looks when she saw the cover, which was worth the price on it’s own! It was a time when I started playing Call Of Cthulhu, reading HPL and also getting into Bauhaus and Joy Division so an item or two of black clothing may have been lurking in my wardrobe. I never classed myself as a geek but very much a Goth and certainly appreciated the darkness in most things, if anything it increased with each year but not in a negative way, which is what people from the outside looking in can rarely appreciate. It was certainly a great way of spending my pocket money during a golden time (before White Dwarf became Whitehammer…) and if there’s ever a follow-up I want to be one of the first subscribers on the list! I used to take my Dagons to RPG sessions and I know I’m not the only one to have enjoyed them, I’m glad i was part of a cult and all your hard work was very much appreciated Carl!

  3. […] Dagon (UK zine) Carl Ford on the history of the British Lovecaft ‘zine Dagon…. […]

    • Jed Ambrose Says:

      Hi Carl, subscribed to Dagon in the early eighties. What a great fanzine it was. Brings back a lot of happy memories. Thanks for all the work you put into it.

      • Carl Ford Says:

        Thanks Jed. It was, perhaps, the best thing I did with my spare time in those days, and for me it holds very precious memories.

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