The Legend of Bill-Dale Marcinko

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Jason Sacks

Recently, I read the news that Bill-Dale Marcinko had passed away. That was a real shock to me. In his time, Marcinko was a legend: a brilliant fanzine editor, a merry prankster, a wonderful and heartfelt writer, and a tremendous influence on his fellow fans.

Marcinko was the publisher of a controversial and exciting fanzine called AFTA, or "Ascension from the Ashes." This zine contained the standard reviews and articles about pop culture icons of the time like Steve Martin and Star Trek, but they were done in a way that directly spoke to the fans of the time. Marcinko's opinions fit the adolescent angst of so many of his readers and felt extraordinarily revolutionary. He even did wacky stuff like taping raisins into every copy of AFTA #2, a stunt that people still talk about today.

In his work on AFTA, Marcinko was a passionate and articulate writer, a man who seemed able to crystallize adolescent angst and pop culture addiction in a way that made readers feel like they were sharing the same viewpoint as he was. Bill-Dale was like an older brother who had worked through his problems but who also kept his youthful passions. He seemed to have figured out the world and his place in it, due to hard knocks and battles fought, and to many readers he seemed a figure to really emulate. It’s no surprise that many younger fans really looked up to Marcinko, even publishing interviews and articles about him in their own fanzines. AFTA only ran for three issues, but its influence at the time was incredibly powerful.

Eventually, as always seems to happen, Marcinko drifted away from organized fandom as he went to college. His friend, the blogger Elayne Riggs, has many stories to tell about Billy and it's obvious that in college, he maintained an incredibly incisive and cutting intelligence, both thoughtful and melodramatic, and was always fond of the odd gesture. Bill-Dale Marcinko was like the Andy Kaufman of the fanzine crowd.

When we old time fans all started finding each other online in the late '90s, Marcinko was one of the first people that everyone thought of. Where had he been all these years? What had this mercurial genius been doing with himself? Unfortunately, recently, the news came out that Bill-Dale Marcinko had died in a house fire. He had been living as a shy recluse in his parents’ home, a home filled with boxes and boxes of his beloved collectibles.

How could a man who once seemed like such a towering figure die in such a way? It seemed impossible that Bill-Dale Marcinko, who was once a legendary figure in my world, passed away under such banal circumstances.

Several years ago, I found a copy of AFTA #3 for sale at a comic shop for a quarter. My heart actually jumped when I saw the comic, and it was truly one of my great fan thrills to find this zine. Reading the zine, I could see why Marcinko was so popular. He had a way of writing that was wonderfully personable and completely his own. Please allow me to share a few paragraphs of Bill-Dale's editorial from AFTA #3:

Hello, my name's Bill-Dale Marcinko. This is my magazine, AFTA. The initials stand for Acension from the Ashes. Those passionate enough will find meaning in that.

I am called Billy by my family. My friends don't. They want to act grown up and smoke cig-ar-ettes (sic) and be chic and oh so clever --I want to have fun. I am afraid of people who want to grow up too quickly. I feel sorry for adults sometimes for they have exterminated all sense of wonder in life.

Most people call me Bill-Dale, or the "Kid." Many people have their special names for me, known only to us. Many others have special names for me, known only to them. I rarely answer to Bill. Common. Common.
...
I have lived in New Jersey all my life. I have wobbled between the simple strength and good country wisdom of small towns and big families and the intellectual cynicism of the big cities. My idols are Woody Allen and Bruce Springsteen. I have always been at war with myself.

I write. When I write, I think I am building highways where people can escape their towns when the mines close down.

I was the smart but shy one in school. I had few friends, and remember the experience of being an outcast. I tried to pretend for the first 15 years of my life that I wasn't bothered by being a misfit. I tried to convince myself I wasn't lonely.

When that failed, I admitted that I was. Things have improved steadily since. I am really quite happy now; I wake up every morning and realize that I am hardly the person I want to be; that I have hardly loved. It is hard for me to be proud of past accomplishments; however, I have visions of future successes, which are sublime, and they sustain me.
...
I started AFTA to make friends, create a family--a subculture of media critics and just plain crazy people who can come together, amidst the mainstream melodrama. I want AFTA to be an alternative, a place to come to.

I want you to be my brothers and sisters. The families are going, going, gone. It's time to build new ones. College campuses have turned into factories, churning out diplomas with startling efficiency. Education by rote memorization is the rule now. Students have turned into cut-throat rivals, competing for .0001 of a grade. College communities? No such thing, anymore.

I want AFTA to be a party line. Let off steam. Make bad puns. Fart.

The model for AFTA is a broken down roller coaster at Bertrand's Island Amusement Park in Hopatcong, NJ. I want to fill it with bumps and twists.


How could writing like this not attract a following among a bunch of misfits? Marcinko almost seemed like a new Salinger of our very own, speaking of alienation and presenting an exciting alternative vision.

And now, damn it, that man is gone. I never knew him, never even traded mail with him, but Bill-Dale Marcinko was a legend.




Visit Jason Sacks’s blog.

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