Stilyagi Air Corps

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Founded in 1973, the Stilyagi Air Corps is the fan club that founded ConFusion, a regional convention in the Detroit area. Stilyagi originated as a club at University of Michigan.

In the early ’80s a struggle developed between the Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association and the Stilyagi Air Corps over management of Confusion. See the article at Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association for details. (The con is now officially sponsored by a separate organization, the Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association, a nonprofit corporation, though club members continue to have input and provide staffing.)

Stilyagi Air Corps History[edit]

From the Stilyagi Air Corps website:

(Based on an article by Larry Tucker, with added reminiscences and editorializing by the rest of the Stilyagi)

It all began in 1973 at Torcon 2, the World Science Fiction Convention held in nearby Toronto. Ro Nagey, while working as a gopher at the registration table, noticed that a fair number of attendees were from Ann Arbor, where Ro was currently attending the University of Michigan as an engineering student. It seemed somewhat ludicrous that all these Ann Arbor SF Fen should have to travel such a distance to hang out with each other, so Ro decided that Something Should Be Done About It. The first step was to organize a room party at Torcon, where all the Ann Arborites could meet one another. The next step occurred when they returned home from Torcon and began holding weekly meetings in the back room of the Cloak and Rocket, a science fiction bookstore (now long defunct) where Ro was employed.

Initially, the idea was to form a literary scientific and futurist discussion group, organized under Ro's benevolent dictatorship. At one of the first meetings, Ro declared that if within one year the group was sponsoring a science fiction convention, they would have failed in their intended purpose. The group decided to call itself the Stilyagi Air Corps, inspired by a reference in Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress to a "Stilyagi Air and Pressure Corps". They pubbed an ish of a clubzine called The Stilyagi Air Corps Strikes.

By November of 1973, Stilyagi filed for recognition as a University of Michigan student organization - not, as later generations of Stilyagi erroneously assumed, because most of the club members were U-M students (they weren't, and in fact for a number of years the "official" members listed on the student organization paperwork weren't even attending members of the club) but because they needed access to free meeting space (the Cloak and Rocket having gone belly up), cheap repro for the fanzine through the U-M copy centers, and a rent-free place to hold ... (gasp) ... a convention.

Then Ro made the mistake of missing a meeting. In his absence Mark Bernstein suggested that they call the next ish of their fanzine "Cap'n Ro's Whiz-Bang", in honor of William Fawcett's first comic, "Cap'n Billy's Whiz Bang" (Cap'n Billy is perhaps better known as Captain Marvel). Failing to learn from this mistake, Ro missed another meeting, where Stilyagi resolved to sponsor a science fiction convention. Belatedly sensing that things were starting to get out of hand, Ro reasserted his authority by declaring himself chairman of the convention.

Thus it was that Stilyagi hosted their first convention, the A2 Relax Icon in the ballroom at the U-M Michigan League in February 1974. Contrary to the name, it was not a relaxacon, but a rather ambitiously over programmed affair including panel discussions, art show, hucksters, a dance (with live music provided by Stilyagi member Mike Gould's Martian Entropy Band, accompanied by his light show, Light Opera) and a masquerade all held in one room! GoH was author, Ypsilanti resident, and longtime Friend-of-Stilyagi Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Some 87 people attended, and the event was deemed to be a great success. It was so successful that Stilyagi decided they wanted to do it again, with a few modifications.

The Relax Icon, while a rousing success in most ways, was also our first experience with the inability of mundane reporters to report on fannish events as anything but freak shows. In amongst all the serious discussion, there was one panel at which Ro, Randy, and a couple of others came running into the room wearing nothing but towels around their waists and paper bags over their heads. Guess what picture was published in the Michigan Daily?

The next con would be held in a hotel, the newly built Briarwood Hilton in Ann Arbor, with separate rooms for all of the Con's functions. They also decided to add a movie room, with an amusing twist. Since most of Stilyagi agreed that spending the weekend watching movies was not what a convention should be about, they resolved to show nothing but crummy old movies, available free from the Washtenaw County Library, to encourage people to spend as little time as possible in the movie room and more time at the room parties, where the real action was. Plus, they wanted to add a special element that had been lacking at the first Con. Something that had been forbidden by University regulations. Something that proved its efficaciousness since they had began smuggling it into the weekly Stilyagi meetings at the Union. Booze. All of this, Ro agreed, would be a Good Idea. (As an interesting aside, it should be noted that the flyers for the first couple of ConFusions included the line "brought to you by the only slightly alcoholic Stilyagi Air Corps".)

Then Ro missed another meeting. In his absence, Stilyagi chose a new name for their convention. It was to be called "Condom", complete with a wonderful logo Randy Bathurst created... a Bathurstian alien holding a stick at the end of which was an inflated condom with "Condom" printed on it. This lasted only until Ro got around to writing his first Con business letter. Somehow, "Ro Nagey, Condom Chairman" seemed to lack a certain amount of dignity. He tried a few variations, such as "Head of Condom", but that only sounded worse. On his own initiative, and without the advice or consent of the rest of the club, Ro scrapped Stilyagi's crude pun for a more elegant one of his own invention, ConFusion. He also tacked on a number - 13 - because he liked the sound of it and (possibly) to mislead people into thinking that ConFusion was an established convention. Instead of the expected crowd of 150, nearly 350 people showed up at ConFusion 13 in January 1975. It was a truly legendary event. When the Con ran out of nametags, Stilyagi's resident fan artist Randy Bathurst (several-time Hugo loser and creator of the bird-flipping alien who appeared on our club t-shirts, as well as the "Up? I hope..." alien on the "ConFusion Is A Way of Life" t-shirts [See FIAWOL]) drew over 50 more nametags by hand while sitting at the registration table. A confrontation outside of the Consuite between, Ro, ConFusion's perennial toastmaster and legal adviser Jim Martin and the hotel's night manager (later re-enacted for a scene in Larry Tucker's videotape, FAAnS) nearly resulted in the Con being evicted from the Hilton. What it actually resulted in was an event that some of us like to refer to as The Police Riots of 1975. A spontaneous public display of affection in the hotel lobby on Sunday quickly escalated into a group grope that has come to be known as the first Fondlecon - the precursor of the touchy-feely fandom that peaked during the late 70s and early 80s. So that's how it all got started.

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