Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vanity Plate 3: The Peat Marwick Mitchell Newsletter

Introductory piece © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Main body text and photo from
Park Avenue Peat Newsletter, 1980

When I worked as a proofreader for the Fortune 500 accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell [PMM], I had already started publishing FFanzeen, and with their kind permission, I personally typeset the ‘zine in their in-house production department where my desk was also conveniently located (in exchange for filling in when the company’s typesetter was out), which was located in the basement of the Park Avenue building (they have since moved to New Jersey). I also learned how to use the Vydec word-processor, but that’s another story.

It was the early days of
FFanzeen. I had recently graduated from college and had moved on from a local Bay Ridge newspaper in Brooklyn called The Weekly (though due to missing a couple of missing letters on the sign outside the storefront entrance, it was known to us as The eekl), where I had learned to photo typeset on a machine that had a screen that displayed only 13 lines of only text and cues (looking much like HTML codes). As it was not WYSIWYG, one had to imagine what the final output would look like until the copy was pulled out from the processor (full of concentrated photograph developing chemicals) in long strips that would then be cut to the size needed.

One day while at my desk, comparing pages upon pages of lists of numbers, I received a call from someone who worked on the company newsletter,
Park Avenue Peat, named such because the company was on Park Avenue and 50th Street; it has since moved to New Jersey. She said he had heard about my independent endeavor, and would I like to be interviewed for the newsletter. Sure, why not?

We met in the company cafeteria (as I remember it) and talked during a lunch break. After, we went outside where she took some photos of me sitting cradled in a large modern sculpture that stood on the south side of the building. Unfortunately, I don’t remember her name, but she made it very easy. In October 1980, the article came out, with the photo, which follows:

Francos puts out music mag for fun and maybe profit

Nobody has ever said publishing a magazine was an easy and profitable vehicle to fame and fortune. Putting out one’s own tabloid can be, however, fun, creatively rewarding, and a great way to write about whatever one wants, and perhaps break even in the process.

Robert Barry Francos, 25, a proofreader in the word processing department, spends his spare moments editing and publishing FFanzeen, a New Wave rock‘n’roll tabloid with a circulation of about 5,000. Robert created FFanzeen in 1977 while getting a degree in communications at Queens College. Since then he has produced six issues, circulated mostly in Greenwich Village, but with some national distribution – copies are now appearing in still limited number in places like Berkeley, Chicago, Toronto, and Greensboro.

Robert’s passion for New Wave music began about 1975. “I saw bands like The Talking Heads and Blondie before they became famous. I’ve interviewed The Ramones and Tom Petty, and have an interview in the next issue with Ronnie Spector – remember the Ronettes? I really only interview the bands I like, but if I wasn’t impressed with the group I’ll say so. Most of them are very nice and more than willing to talk to me, but every now and then, they’ve been giving so many interviews they’re tired and bored, and don’t say too much.”

Unlike many rock n’ roll magazines with little content and an artsy style, Robert puts as much information into each issue as possible. “I hate magazines that don’t have anything in them but pictures and white space. Some people don’t like our layout, but they always say there’s plenty to read!”

Robert does most of the photography himself and his own typesetting, which he learned while working for the now defunct Bay Ridge Weekly. His friends donate their time and talent to help get each issue off the presses. “I can’t pay anybody now, and the most I’ve ever been paid for an article is five dollars,” he said with a smile. “I guess a lot of writers getting started have to be content with only a byline.”

The name FFanzeen is a derivation of the term “fanzine,” which is any magazine put out by fans, for fans. There are a good number of such magazines across the country, and their editors exchange issues, ideas, and sometimes even stories. “Sometimes if I need a story, I’ll call one of the other fanzine editors,” Robert said, “and I’ve been published in several magazines across the country that way. It’s also made me quite a few friends, many of whom I’ve only met over the phone.”

Though not yet too financial lucrative, editing FFanzeen does have its little perks – often Robert gets in free to various New York nightspots, and he receives lots of promotional records. He estimates his current record collegian at around 1,000 LPs, and 2,000 singles, some of them New Wave collectors’ items.

Robert, with true entrepreneurial spirit, is confident of FFanzeen’s success. “People are reading it, and I’ll just keep putting it out,” he says matter of factly, “and hope that someday I can make a profit.”

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