In 1963, Sean O’Mahoney approached Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager, about the possibility of publishing a fanzine dedicated solely to The Beatles. And quite naturally, Epstein readily agreed. In August ’63, a whopping 80,000 copies of Beatles Monthly (also known as The Beatles Book) flew into circulation, and the popular journal was much requested (reaching 330,000 copies in print by the end of 1963 alone!) and respected. In fact, Beatles Monthly only concluded its run when The Beatles fell apart in 1969.
Of course, other fanzines sprang up across the globe throughout the Sixites and beyond. These journals took different tacks from Beatles Monthly and appealed to different audiences. During the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond fanzines such as Good Day Sunshine, Strawberry Fields Forever, and Daytrippin’ were first mailed to fans and later, transformed into online offerings. But today, many Beatles magazines have fallen by the wayside.
However, two highly-regarded and historic Beatles magazines are still in existence and fill an important niche in The Beatles community at large. Indeed, Baby Boomers are not, by any means, the only subscribers to these two very popular publications. Beatles aficionados of all ages subscribe to Tom Aguiar’s Octopus’ Garden and to Bill King’s Beatlefan. Though the two magazines are drastically different in format and focus, they both play an important role in keeping fans all over the world informed about upcoming Beatles-related events, educated on Beatles history and musical releases, and connected to the greatest minds in Beatles scholarship.
Recently, I sat down with Tom and Bill to talk about their two long-lasting, distinguished works.
Jude: Tom, let’s start with you…when did you create Octopus’ Garden and what inspired you to begin publishing it?
Tom Aguiar: The first issue of Octopus’ Garden Fanzine came out in September 1991, and was published by Beth Foster (now Shorten) out of New Jersey. Beth had a love for The Beatles and issued OG as, more or less, a newsletter. I came on board in 1993, doing book reviews and reviews of Beatlefest, subsequently becoming Assistant Editor and taking on more writing responsibilities.
In 2001, Beth decided that she wanted to stop publishing, and I asked her if I could take it over completely as I also had, and still have to this day, a great love for The Beatles and their music. I changed the format from a newsletter to a “fanzine” (a magazine published by a fan), reminiscent of those great fan magazines of the 60s and 70s like Strawberry Fields Forever by Joe Pope and Good Day Sunshine by Charles Rosenay, both of whom were pioneers in the field of Beatles fan magazines. I upgraded its style and direction and it became Octopus’ Garden, The Beatles Fanzine By and For Fans that it is today, twenty-nine years later.
Jude: And Bill, same question: When did Beatlefan come into being…and why?
Bill King: The first issue of Beatlefan came out in December 1978. It was inspired by the desire my wife, Leslie, and I had to run our own publication (we both are journalists) and my love of The Beatles. I’d always wished there was a news magazine for Beatles fans that was professionally written, edited and published, instead of the then-typewriter generated and not always reliable fanzines that were available. So, Beatlefan was a case of producing a magazine I’d like to read.
Jude: Of course, an integral part of any great magazine is an excellent staff of writers. Tom, tell us a bit about your writers and staff at Octopus’ Garden. Who are they, and are there any who have been on- staff throughout the fanzine’s history?
Tom Aguiar: Robin Roberts is our Co-Editor and has performed a number of roles with OG since June 2007. Assistant Editor Janet Davis has been with OG since March 2002. Beth Shorten is our Editor Emeritus, as she started OG, and her husband, Steve, serves as a consultant. Barbara Jonas, our European Correspondent, has been on board since 2001. We have two long-term regular contributors: Mike “Ringo” Streeto has been with us since December 2017, and Bill Last has been with us since December 2016.
Jude: And Bill, tell us about your staff at Beatlefan if you don’t mind.
Bill King: Our Beatlefan staff box is pretty much a “Who’s Who” of Beatles experts, authors, and writers. The two longest-standing that are still with us are Wally Podrazik, a pop culture expert who was co-author, with Harry Castleman, of the first serious published Beatles discographies back in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Al Sussman, who started out as our New York correspondent and has been our Executive Editor for many years.
Other regular contributors include Senior Editor Brad Hundt, a fellow newspaperman who first started writing for us when he went to college in Atlanta (where we’re based) and is our chief reviewer; Associate Editor Kit O’Toole, a pop music and Beatles author who frequently provides the voice of the second- generation of Beatles fans on our staff; Associate Editor Tom Frangione, a longtime fan expert who appears regularly on The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM; Associate Editor John Firehammer, another professional journalist who writes features and reviews for us; London Editor Simon Rogers, who has a knack for getting into just about every Beatle event in Britain; Contributing Editor Jorie Gracen, another early supporter of the magazine, known for her photography, especially of Paul McCartney; Allan Kozinn, a former classical music critic for The New York Times, who wrote one of the best histories of The Beatles’ music; Rip Rense, a veteran Los Angeles journalist, and arts critic; Ken Sharp, our ace interviewer, who started out in radio and has written a number of pop music books; and Bruce Spizer, author of some of the most acclaimed Beatles reference works. And, that’s not a complete listing, by any means!
Jude: Now, I think with this next question, our readers will begin to see some of the differences in these two long-running publications. They both fill a special place in The Beatles world, but in unique and dissimilar ways. So, Tom, please tell us about the regular features that Octopus’ Garden provides to readers.
Tom Aguiar: In each issue of OG, you will find Beatles and solo Beatles news, to start off. There are also features in each issue that are topical and time-sensitive along with features that our readers will enjoy from Beatles history. There are book, record, and movie reviews, interviews, puzzles, artwork, games, and more. We even have opinion pieces that touch on a number of topics, some of which are controversial. With each subscription, you get a membership card and an 8” x 10” glossy photo of The Beatles, and from time to time, we even send out a little “something extra.” For example, we recently did a giveaway of a Beatles Abbey Road tin tote. The staff of OG even prints and puts together each issue (including stapling) by hand, just like the fan-created magazines back in the 60s and 70s.
The thing that makes Octopus’ Garden unique is that we look to our subscribers for news, features, puzzles, artwork, games, and so much more. We encourage their input and many of them have submitted stories that we’ve published. We have had subscribers submit stories about meeting a Beatle, traveling to Beatles sites such as the Cavern or the Peace Tower, attending concerts, festivals, and more. We’ve had subscribers submit artwork, some of which has been on the cover of issues, poetry, short stories, and other creative work. We’ve had submissions by musicians and tribute artists. They are as much a part of OG as our staff, and we value what each subscriber brings.
And Bill, over to you…what are some of Beatlefan’s monthly features?
Bill King: Beatlefan offers exclusive interviews (we’ve talked with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as family, friends, band members, and associates); retrospectives on Beatles history; fun features such as “The Beatles’ X-Files” and “101 Reasons to be a Beatles Fan”; concert and TV taping reports; excerpts from Beatles books; authoritative record, book, and video reviews; helpful collecting tips; fan scene updates; and the most comprehensive, factual, and up-to-date Beatlenews Roundup available anywhere.
Jude: And looking at these differences, that leads us right into the next logical question: What are your “mission statements”? What niche do each of you hope to fill for today’s Beatles fans? Tom, we’ll let you answer first.
Tom Aguiar: Our tagline pretty much sums up our mission statement. Octopus’ Garden is “The Beatles Fanzine By and For Fans.” We are fans first, and so, we encourage other fans and subscribers to contribute to OG along with our own staff. Our goal is to bring fans a fun, informative, and interactive magazine that they can hold in their hands and keep, which gives them a little feeling of what it was like during the years of Beatlemania from the fan’s perspective. That’s our niche, and that’s what makes us different. We try to bring people “a fan’s fan magazine,” one that they can feel, in some small way, belongs to them, as fans: those are the people who make up our subscriber base and who have been a part of Octopus’ Garden for years.
Jude: And Bill, what is Beatlefan’s “mission statement” and goal?
Bill King: It’s summed up simply by the slogan that Wally Podrazik gave us early on: “the authoritative publication of record for fans of The Beatles.”
Jude: Naturally, I subscribe to both magazines, so I know this next answer, but tell our readers, who are some of the most interesting people that you have met/interviewed throughout the years?
Tom Aguiar: Beatles people are special, and I’ve met many that I now consider friends. At Octopus’ Garden, we have interviewed Beatle people such as Louise Harrison, Alistair Taylor, Sam Leach, and Laurence Juber. We’ve also interviewed authors like Jude Southerland Kessler and Nancy Lee Andrews, film producers like Paul Saltzman and Nate Harar, and aspiring musicians. I could tell you beautiful stories about all of them!
Jude: And Bill? Who have been some of the most outstanding interviewees for Beatlefan?
Bill King: My interview with Joe English of Wings was on the front of our first issue. My biggest interviews have been Paul and Ringo. And, over the years, I’ve also interviewed May Pang, Peter Brown (twice), Derek Taylor (three times), Victor Spinetti, Cynthia Lennon, Mike McCartney, Walter Shenson, three of the original members of Badfinger, Jurgen Vollmer, Pete Shotton, Phil Ramone and many more. Plus, stars like Carl Perkins, talking about their Beatles interactions.
Jude: Well, my sincere thanks to Tom Aguiar and Bill King for taking time away from their work to speak with us about these long-loved, successful Beatles publications! I highly recommend that any sincere Beatles fan subscribes to both, to stay in-the-know and connected to other fans, across the world.
To subscribe to Octopus’ Garden: Send information and funds to Octopus’ Garden, P.O. Box 3683, Peabody, MA 01961-3683, USA. Octopus’ Garden’s e-mail address is Beatles94@excite.com or Facebook at Octopus’ Garden Fanzine.
To subscribe to Beatlefan magazine: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 33515, Decatur GA 30033. Also, see facebook.com/Beatlefanmagazine or Beatlefan’s SOMETHING NEW blog at beatlefansomethingnew.wordpress.com.
-Jude Southerland Kessler