John Brosnan: "Why Bother?"
A treasure from the John Ryan Comic Collection
23 June 2015
Never in my 18 years of work have I stopped to seriously read the items I’ve been cataloguing … until now. What appeared to be a pile of unassuming documents not worth a second glance, turned out to be a goldmine of the most entertaining writing I have ever read.
The title in question is Why Bother?,a fanzine written by Australian science fiction author John Brosnan, as his contribution to the monthly Australian and New Zealand Amateur Press Association (ANZAPA) mailing. Why Bother? had a short run of only eight issues. All but one contains an outstanding personal piece, with some also containing comments on other ANZAPA members’ contributions, sometimes a book review, and once even a hilarious commentary on a badly written newspaper article, 'Katoomba fears at mental case influx' (John Yeomans, Sun Herald, 1969).
What attracted me to Why Bother? in particular were the personal pieces. John wrote about whatever was going on in his life at the time. While job hunting, getting mugged, a kitchen fire, and getting infected by a tick may not exactly sound like riveting subjects, John wrote about them in such a way, that I’ve read them many times over and still don’t show any signs of tiring of them.
By a hair, I think my favourite personal piece was when he wrote about setting his kitchen stove on fire. Here’s an excerpt:
Keeping cool and perfectly calm, I decided to ignore it for a while. I began to read again.
Black smoke started to curl out from under the door.
It was time for decisive action.
I shot out the door and almost collided with a fellow flat-dweller just coming out of his own kitchen.
“Excuse me”, I said, “but my stove is on fire.”
He raised his eyebrows. “What?”
“My stove is on fire”, I repeated.
“Oh…” he said. There was a lengthy pause, then he said, “Let’s see.”
I led him inside and opened the oven door. The flames roared out on cue.
“Hmmmm”, he said, and stood there staring at the bloody thing for what seemed ages. I started to fidget.
“I was considering wet sand…” I ventured.
“Hmmmm? Oh no….” He reached over, grabbed a tea towel and wrapped it round his hand. Then he extended his hand into the inferno and withdrew the blazing tray. This he dropped into the sink and turned on the cold water tap.
I now know that wasn’t the correct thing to do.
An eruption of flame resulted. I yelped and tried to climb over him in an effort to reach the door. It wasn’t fear, it’s just that I wanted to make sure my comic book collection was safe before the rest of the building caught fire.
The final issue left me on an absolute cliff-hanger, as it was here John wrote at length about preparing to go on a trip with 11 other friends/associates who had bought a share in a double decker bus, and planned to drive it across Asia and Europe. I love hearing about other people’s travel experiences, and this one sounded so exciting, especially as it was in an age before all the technical gadgets we take for granted these days. I had to find out if John wrote a travel journal of sorts in his inimitable style.
I was to find that there was good news, and there was bad news. The good news was that John did indeed write about the trip in a new fanzine called Why Bother Abroad? The bad news was that the National Library of Australia doesn’t hold a single copy. No library does! Not in a catalogued accessible form anyway. Absolutely determined not to be defeated, I continued searching, and found that a wonderful person (based in Canberra, no doubt!) had compiled a selection of John’s fanzine work, which just happened to include two issues of Why Bother Abroad? I was absolutely thrilled! A few issues are most certainly better than none at all! I immediately absorbed myself in the Indian leg of John’s adventures, where he attempted to deal with a toothache (which remained unresolved), managed to lose his travel party and the double decker bus, and navigated the crazy traffic on a motorbike he described as, “If it wasn’t crashing, it was breaking down.” John also wrote humourously about the long drawn out process of trying to cash a traveller’s cheque in Afghanistan.
Shortly after discovering John’s fanzines, I began to wonder what the man behind these wonderful tales was like. He was born in Perth, Western Australia on 7 October 1947. I was thrilled to find that he lived with John Ryan for a couple of months in 1968! In issue number nine of John Ryan’s fanzine, Boomerang*, Ryan details the joy at having another comic fan living under his roof to bounce ideas off, and distract each other from life’s more serious tasks:
(*Boomerang was John Ryan’s contribution to CAPA-Alpha, a monthly US-based fanzine that is still going to this very day. And the Fiona mentioned in the excerpt, is Ryan’s young daughter.)
John Brosnan moved to England during his twenties. He was a regular contributor to the fandom movement (he won a Nova Award in 1974 for best fanzine), before breaking into the big time, publishing many novels, non-fiction books and even a few comics under various pen names, as well as being a regular columnist for Starburst magazine. I was pleased to discover this after having read about his attempts at getting his first novel published, only to be constantly rejected (see Why Bother? Number seven.) The National Library holds a small selection of John’s work (including a signed copy of The Sky Lords), and I’m currently working on following up the rest of his works to add to the collection.
Some of John’s novels have been adapted for the screen. The one that immediately grabbed my attention, was Carnosaur, which John wrote under the pen name of Harry Adam Knight. As I’m a big fan of creature features, especially when producer/director Roger Corman’s name is attached to them, I immediately placed an order for my own copy on DVD. I was really interested to find out that Carnosaur was released in the cinemas just a month before the first Jurassic Park movie premiered in 1993! Another coincidence I came across, was that the lead actress in Carnosaur, Diane Ladd, is the mother of Laura Dern, the female lead in Jurassic Park!
On a more personal note, I was very sad to find that John suffered from depression, and drank more than he should have. Towards the end of his days, he became withdrawn, and resisted friends’ intervention attempts. It was heartbreaking to find that such a talented person passed away, alone, aged just 57, on approximately 11 April 2005. His death date is an estimate, as he was found by friends in his flat days after he had passed away from acute pancreatitis.
To end this post on a positive note, let me share with you an excerpt of my new favourite John Brosnan piece, entitled 'The things that go bump in the night are working overtime':
Then it began to gnaw. It was gnawing on the door. The sound was so loud it filled the room. It sounded like a sawmill. At this rate the rat would be free within minutes. I got up, went over to the cupboard, and kicked the door. From inside there was the sound of something scuttling around. Clang went the saucepans again. It was no use, I would have to deal with the creature there and then.
Visit the National Library of Australia anytime during opening hours, to gain access to the wonderful works of John Brosnan. Be sure to search the catalogue under his pen names as well—Harry Adam Knight, Simon Ian Childer, James Blackstone, and John Raymond.