Editor Guest of Honour, Karl Johanson

by Dr. Robert Runté, (Senior Editor, Five Rivers Publishing)

Karl VCON 41 picture

Karl Johanson is not just an exceptional editor of a marvelous magazine, he is—behind his unassuming exterior—a mad genius whose team is, against all logic, constantly pulling off these completely astounding projects.

I first met Karl Johanson in 1981 at the Imagine convention in Victoria BC. At least I thought I was on my way to Imagine, but the driver who picked me up at the airport the night spirited me to a studio where Karl and associates were dubbing the final dialogue for the monstrous movie, Dawn of the Living Socks, before its premier next day at Imagine. Imagine my surprise when the first scene they showed me was of a helicopter disgorging a platoon of soldiers to engage the stop-motion socks in furious battle.

“How in the world did you guys get a military helicopter and a platoon of the Canadian armed forces to play in your movie?”

Karl shrugged and said, “Well, you know, we just asked. They thought it might be fun.”

Normal people would know that couldn’t happen. But Karl has this quiet way of just doing stuff that shouldn’t be possible.

During the 1990s, Karl co-edited the Canadian SF newsletter, Under the Ozone Hole with John Herbert. The UTOH team, which included Stephanie Johanson as illustrator and Monica Spencer as proofreader, racked up an astonishing four Aurora Awards during its run. By providing news, reviews, and eclectic (often satirical) content, UTOH was one of the key factors in developing a cohesive national Canadian fandom.

In 1994 Karl applied to work at Sanctuary Woods Multimedia, because once again, why not ask? While chatting with the general manager, Karl happened to mention that one of his hobbies was spotting science flaws in SF shows such as Star Trek, and trying to justify them during the commercials. He had the job before he got home: turned out part of the job was to ‘science up’ the ideas of head writer, Lee Sheldon’s (whose writing credits include work on Star Trek: The Next Generation) so they were scientifically valid—or at least plausible.

I asked Karl shortly after what he was working on at Sanctuary Woods, and he told me he was coming up with a list of technologies that would likely be available twenty years in the future. I couldn’t believe he was getting paid to do something that cool. Just because it never occurs to him not to ask. (Karl still regularly runs amusing and informative “Justify the Science Flaw” panels at conventions, some of which can be seen at his YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/karljohanson42.)

Karl’s YouTube channel is another one of those ridiculous projects that he somehow manages to pull off on a grand scale: he’s up to a quarter million views for completely silly content. One of my favourites is “Funny Convention Singer”, a video of Karl from the 1984 Norwescon dressed in a gold space suit and singing, “If you’re intelligent and you know it clap your hands.” Then he stomps his feet. “If you’re intelligent and you know it stomp your feet.” Whereupon Karl claps his hands. I made the mistake of showing the video to my 13 year-old when it was first posted and the next thing I knew her whole middle school was doing the routine.

After Sanctuary Woods, Karl worked for Disney Interactive. The studio’s manager referred to Karl as a Swiss Army Knife because Karl could do whatever he needed done at the moment. Much of what Karl did was fact check educational computer games. I know the content that got through Karl was accurate, because my daughters played those games.

When Disney Interactive’s studio in Victoria closed, Karl and wife Stephanie missed working on creative projects, so they decided to start Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. They showed me their business plan and I explained to them, in minute detail, how such a business could not possibly work. I believe they are now working on issue #27 . . .

Of course, it is as editor of Neo-opsis that Karl is Editor Guest at your convention.

Neo-opsis focuses on Canadian writers, and frequently features work by Canadian superstars such as Spider Robinson, Dave Duncan and Matthew Hughes, but includes fiction from all over the world. Neo-opsis has also helped launch the careers of dozens of emergent writers; indeed, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Neo-opsis is their persistent efforts to provide constructive feedback on submissions, which—as any acquisition editor will tell you—is above and beyond the job description. Neo-opsis includes SF convention and book reviews (including, I am proud to say, a dozen I contributed) and Karl’s regular science column—which is unlike any other science column, ever. Not only a fan favourite, Neo-opsis also manages to attract readers new to SF&F. If you are not already familiar with the magazine, I urge you to pick it up: it’s good to hold something impossible in your hands.

And if you haven’t talked to Karl yet, allow me to assure you that he is completely approachable. He’s easy-going, upbeat, and thoughtful public speaker, and an entertaining raconteur. He loves science and science fiction and has a wide-ranging knowledge that makes him the Swiss-Army Knife of panelists. And he is, of course, one hell of an editor.