2016: James (Jocko) Allen

A. Bertram Chandler Award 2016 presented to James (Jocko) Allen

There are many quiet achievers in the Australian science fiction community. There are also loud and brash achievers. James Arthur Allen, affectionately known to most folks as “Jocko,” somehow manages to be both at once. On one hand he’s the type of ‘get in and quietly get the job done’ person every group needs to survive but, occasionally, he indulges in works of a type which are hard to ignore, no matter how much we try.

Frustrated Jocko surrounded by fanzines proclaiming 'The situation is under control...trust me'
Frustrated Jocko surrounded by fanzines

Jocko’s love of science fiction was kick started by the British Marvel reprints of his childhood, episodes of Space Patrol, and the Everyman’s Library edition of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. He joined his first fan club at school, Grade 4, 1966 – The Monster Club! Sharing a love of Lost in Space, and horror film host Deadly Ernest, the group made a paper maché dinosaur as a class project. Jocko still has one of the teardrop-shaped, bakelite badges handmade for the club by one of the kids’ fathers.

In the early 1980s, Rock Australia Magazine published a mistake laden article on The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The following issue featured a letter correcting all the errors. Jocko wrote to the address on the letter, and in reply received a copy of Australian Playbeing from the late, great Ian Gunn, winner of the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist, beginning an enduring friendship.

Fandom's fun! Just jump in anywhere!
Fandom’s fun! Just jump in anywhere!

Jocko is one of fandom’s great collaborators, happily inspiring, working with, and taking inspiration from those around him. He and Ian Gunn sparked off each other beautifully, producing all manner of fanzines, not to mention costumes, such as their two radiation suits. They delighted wearing these out on Melbourne streets, waving their prop radiation detectors about – this being the 1980s, it only caused mild curiosity, not today’s mass panic or their incarceration.

During a bout of ’flu in 1984, and having been inspired by Kerry Hennigan’s fanzine The Dragon’s Hoard, which had been advertised in Australian Playbeing, Jocko wrote his first issue of Kalien, and so Singular Productions was born. He still produces Kalien to this day.

Jocko, with his many friends, has produced a large number of memorable fanzines over the years. The output of he and artist Phil Wlodarczyk alone was staggering enough, but when you factor in the many ‘zines he published for himself and others, you get an amazing range of material (Psycho Daleks, Constantinople the Brave, Babbling On, The New Wave Manifesto, CHEVWIXL, and Show Us Your Willy, to name a few). Some of these publications were only a little bit odd…

… such as Get Stuffed, of which Jocko was one of the writers and editors. That was created to win a Ditmar award, after a Ditmar committee had rejected the Melbourne Science Fiction Club newsletter Ethel The Aardvark, thinking it was a joke nomination. Get Stuffed did in fact win a Ditmar Award, and true to the promise of those involved, the Ditmar was shoved down the pants of 2014 Chandler winner, Danny Oz, supposedly to impress girls. While James is happy to have shared in that award, one is not sure he actually wanted to touch it after that.

Cover of the infamous 'Ghoulie bear goes ga-ga' fanzine
Cover of the infamous ‘Ghoulie bear goes ga-ga’ fanzine

Jocko and Phil Wlodarczyk created many fanzines for Anzapa, the Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association. Cover of an infamous chain saw massacre issue is pictured at left. One issue had a condom in every copy of it, unrolled and placed over an appropriately shaped section that would pop out when you opened the fanzine. And of course there was Shoezine. True to its name, it was completely hand-written on to a shoe. Only two copies were made.

Back in the days when Australia had two National Science Fiction conventions – the Media Natcon, and the Literature Natcon – James was part of the committee that ran Huttcon in 1990, a massively successful Media Natcon. He was also a part of the follow-up in 1994, the first ever joint Media/Lit Natcon, named for a creation of Phil Wlodarczyk – Constantinople, the three-legged cat. Like Huttcon, it was a hugely successful convention. Jocko knew they’d gotten the balance of Constantinople right when dyed in the wool Media fans opined there was too much literary content, and dyed in the wool Lit fans complained there was too much media content. In fact, great efforts were made to ensure an equal number of Lit and Media related panels.

But his involvement goes beyond those conventions. James was on the committee, programme, or both, of virtually every Victorian Science Fiction Convention from the late 80’s through to the 1999 Worldcon. I’ll take this chance to remind fans of that era that in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were usually at least two to three science fiction conventions run in Melbourne every year.

That was on top of his involvement in various Melbourne clubs. Jocko joined the Hitch-Hikers club in 1982, shortly followed by the Doctor Who Club of Victoria, and then the Melbourne Science Fiction Club (MSFC) in 1983, back when it was still atop Space Age Books (the Mecca of science fiction fandom from 1971 to 1985). In a life chock full of helping out and inspiring others, it’s at the MSFC that he has had the greatest impact. When Space Age sadly closed down in 1985, it was Jocko who got MSFC its follow-up permanent location of St. David’s Uniting Church Hall in West Brunswick, where it stayed for 27 years.

James Allen was MSFC librarian at least twice for long periods in the 1990s through the noughties and beyond, as well as having spent nine years in the kitchen between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties. He now does some kitchen duties at the Club’s new address at St Augustine Church Hall, 100 Sydney Road Moreland. At MSFC he has organised games, activities, panels, movie nights, discussions, computer-assisted presentations, and workshops covering science fiction, fantasy, role-playing and board games.

Jocko inspires people. Sometimes his enthusiasm is enough to get someone to do a panel, write an article, make a fanzine, or perform a masquerade act. He is a man deeply loved by those who know him, so much so that when his finances were once a bit tight, a small group organised to get into his flat and leave a box of food for him to make sure he was eating well. The next week he talked about the ‘break-in,’ commenting that nothing was stolen, but they left food and he thought they might have also done his dishes. (We did.)

Get Stuffed #6, an issue Jocko edited on his own, featured the SF Sux article that garnered him the prestigious William J Atheling Award for Criticism and Review. In 2004, James was Fan Guest of Honour at Continuum 3, along with guests Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z. Brite, Richard Harland, and Robin Hobb.

In a more questionable milieu, demonstrating the extraordinary scope of his cultural reach, he has also received a Green Putty Award for Vogon poetry.

In 2009 MSFC recognised his long service to the club and fandom by making him a life member. At age 57, he works in Audio-Visual at Penola Catholic College and runs a student science fiction club there. But his enduring legacy to the science fiction community lies in his kindness, humanity, and creativity. His love, enthusiasm, and encouragement of fans and fandom, not to mention the SF genre itself, makes him a truly worthy recipient of this year’s A. Bertram Chandler Award for Outstanding Achievement in Science Fiction.

Danny Oz March 2016