What the Feck? – Underground Newspaper Days Revisited

What the Feck?

One of my stated goals with this blog is to let you get to know me better through various written works. I’m a history buff, and I believe that sharing archival pieces will give you some insight into my style and interests. So far I have presented the early “little kid” school assignments and a couple articles from my Junior/Senior year on the Viking Voice high school newspaper. I also wrote for “What the Feck?” in high school, and before I present anything from that newspaper, a bit of background is important.

By the time I reached high school, writing was a huge hobby. I’d get an idea and just run with it on paper. Filling notebooks with my own works became commonplace. I churned out poems, plays, and short story observations.   Later I put the poems and plays together and created what I thought were rock operas or musicals. Obviously those types of presentations were nothing new to the world – I was merely imitating formats that I enjoyed.

In high school I gravitated toward classes that related to my hobby. We had a class called Current Affairs that I kept taking as an elective. It pretty much had students reading newspapers and reporting out on current world events. I had already been studying newspapers and magazines on my own for both content and layout. A lot of this led me to joining the school newspaper staff as a junior. I started to see a career as a newspaper columnist as a possibility. Being on the staff excited and energized me. We were generally assigned one story per month, which left plenty of time for me to continue writing outside of school. I think this is where “What the Feck?” was truly born.

I had a great time writing for the Viking Voice and learned a lot about deadlines, responsibility, and ethics. The first year on staff gave me confidence and laid the groundwork for a successful senior year. There was just one problem – we were no longer cranking out one issue a month consistently. Our class had moved out of type/cut/glue assembly for issues and into a computer layout. While the new layouts looked polished and more professional, they also took considerable set up time. Meanwhile I was still writing on the side, and finding that much of my content didn’t belong in a typical high school newspaper. A few “underground” newspapers had surfaced early that year. I don’t recall the exact one that started it all, but I felt that each had value at Mt. Horeb High School.

This perfect storm of events led me to creating a first issue of “What the Feck?” that I mainly handed out to friends. I came across the word Feck at some point and wanted to use it either in a story or title. Of course it was most useful as a title and was a word that could have multiple connotations, even though I tried to not use it to replace the F word as much as possible. Mainly it was just plain fun and super catchy to say. I used my own name as editor/writer in the first issue, but somehow it didn’t feel right. I think I would’ve been happy with just doing the one issue and leaving it at that, yet it felt like a void was being filled. I almost felt like the band member that puts out a solo album because some of their material doesn’t fit what the band is doing. A good friend joined me after the first issue to write articles and also do illustrations. We had collaborated on other “for fun” projects throughout high school and had a partner in crime type relationship. We decided to come up with pen names. He was to be Sir Riginol Styles and I was Robin Goodfellow. I chose my name because like the word Feck, it was Middle English in origin. Puck was actually the proper name of the character, and was one of William Shakespeare’s fairies. Puck could also be called Robin Goodfellow, and was a mischievous practical joker and prankster.   This fit with our newspaper format. Most likely I picked up on Puck/Goodfellow in Shakespeare class.

What was the Feck format? I thought you’d never ask (or I’d remember to tell). We generally tried to be funny and make readers think at the same time. A number of written and TV/movie influences helped shape our newspaper, such as Mad Magazine, National Lampoon, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Saturday Night Live, and other sketch comedies too numerous to mention. We existed a few years before The Onion, but we did do a lot of satire like they did later on. Occasionally we would do a “deep thought” issue to throw our readers off. Many of those articles still were written with an odd slant or outlook on the bigger issue. In a way we were like what South Park perfected – coming in out of left field with comedy to make a valid point about a bigger issue – in kind of a connect the dots format.

Each issue contained some staples, such as an Editorial, Rip-up’s Believe it or Else, Confused Lit, Crud Page, and some sort of review. Confused Lit often contained a very “out there” poem or an on purpose half-hearted attempt at literature. The Crud Page could be a mash-up of a number of different things that filled the issue’s final page. My friend came up with the Rip-up concept and wrote/illustrated all of those features. It was an obvious take off on Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but none of the items were true. You were told things like “The Green Bay Packers are the greatest team in the world. They’ve just had a lot of bad luck.” Of course this would be during a season that ended with a 4-12 record, making the claim all the more absurd. We also did a weekly feature that was a continuation story, but the twist was we traded off writing episodes from week to week. Sometimes we’d keep some continuity from one week to the next, but often times we’d time jump or go in a completely different direction.

We did our best to disconnect ourselves from anything to do with the newspaper, and said we were only handling distribution for someone else and accepting letters to the editor. In a way it took the pressure off a bit and since some of our topics were not main stream, it gave us a little more freedom in writing and publishing. I was becoming quite frustrated with the lack of output on the Viking Voice, and this led to Feck being branded as “Mount Horeb High School’s Only Weekly Newspaper.” Unfortunately I found out the hard way that I was trading quality for quantity. While we had a couple people jump on board to provide illustrations, it was still just the two of us. If either person was busy with other commitments, or in my case, a hernia surgery, the other person had to shoulder the load. A couple of times I hastily threw together rarities or best of issues just to put out a weekly issue. As with a lot of things in life, we had some great moments, and some that were not so great.

We managed to make it to the end of the school year as a still fully functioning newspaper. I remember looking back with a lot of pride over what we’d accomplished. We learned a lot and grew as people and writers, and had lots of fun in the process. While we paid out of pocket to produce copies of each issue, you really couldn’t put a price tag on the experience. Yeah, that’s probably a bad cliché, but twisting tired old concepts and clichés back then was my game. I hope to scan and offer Feck issues as downloadable .pdf’s in the future, but I will share some of my favorite excepts in the coming months here on the blog. I have a very timely article that I will post soon about the commercialism of Christmas.

For now, I’ll kick things off with a review and editorial.  More to come…

Book Review – Webster’s Dictionary

The Dictionary by Webster is a tedious struggle both to read and to comprehend.  For starters, the book opens with a confusing “Foreword” section that makes no sense whatsoever.  The writers appear to be seeing how many over-sized words they can put on one page in the text.  In the end, it’s a waste of space that most readers will probably skip over.

As for the rest of the book, it’s almost as unclear as the opening pages.  The only real plot deals with some letters that have a contest to see who can begin the most words.  “S” emerges clearly victorious in a smash-up finale ending with Zyzzyva.

One aspect that made the whole entire story unbelievable was the poor sentence structure used by Webster’s henchmen.  The concept was further jumbled by some symbols that were tossed around in an attempt to spice up each paragraph.

Webster’s Dictionary is an interesting idea, but it’s too bad the story behind the letters wasn’t developed to its full potential.  By the time one finishes the epic, the effort put forth will be lost in a sea of long and short vowels.

Editorial – Daylight Savings Time

What the feck is the purpose of daylight savings time?  Why do we have to keep setting the clocks forward and back, forward and back, until insanity sets in?  Frankly, it’s beginning to drive me up the wall.

For one thing, when I get home now it starts to get dark.  Who arranged this garbage?  Can I get something accomplished outside now before five o’clock?  No!  Why not?  It’s bloody dark out, that’s why not!

I also can’t see why everyone bothers to call it daylight savings time when we don’t save any time.  Where do they put it?  Well, any idiot knows you can’t save time permanently.  And guess what?  In the spring we get the time we lost this fall.  So we won’t ever get ahead and we won’t ever save any time.  What a waste!

Setting my clock back two weeks ago really screwed up my system.  I walked around like a stupid zombie for about three days afterward.  I couldn’t adjust to wanting to go to bed at eight o’clock and getting up twelve hours later.  I really wish everyone would get together and put their clocks back to a normal time.  The world would gain a lot by banning daylight savings time forever.  So join the crusade!

The cover of one of our "big issues." This was 8 & 1/2 x 11 format, while the smaller ones were half size. This is one of my few poor attempts at illustrating!

The cover of one of our “big issues.” This was 8 & 1/2 x 11 format, while the smaller ones were half size. This is one of my few poor attempts at illustrating!

2 thoughts on “What the Feck? – Underground Newspaper Days Revisited

  1. Pingback: What the Feck? – Underground Newspaper Re-Revisited | Chris Zantow

  2. Pingback: Chris Zantow’s Blog Year in Review | Chris Zantow

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