The Origins of Club Nintendo - The Konami Konnection
The story of Club Nintendo actually begins with Konami. In the summer of 1987, MSX enthusiast Mark Smith and Konami PR man Dennis Hemmings collaborated to bring to gaming fans the Konami Software Club newsletter.
These newsletters were initially 4-page leaflets that were distributed monthly; they contained news, reviews, and tips on Konami's game releases - including conversions of their games by other companies - for various systems. Other features included profiles of key staff members, a letters section, competitions, and even the opportunity to buy Konami t-shirts! For fans of this iconic company, it provided a dedicated alternative to scouring the more typical retail gaming magazines in the hopes of finding any Konami-related news.
After issue 12's publication in July 1988, fans had a long wait until the 13th issue was released sometime in early 1989. As it turned out, not only had Smith and Hemmings been beavering away at the latest KSC magazine, but they had also been working on the creation of Club Nintendo!
Given that Konami made numerous acclaimed games for the NES, the staff must have felt there was enough overlap to drum up some early interest in CN from their current readers, as the new magazine was advertised within the KSC newsletter. However, it appears that Club Nintendo may have sounded the death knell for the Konami Software Club, as no issues beyond 13 have come to light, despite the magazine including a few references as to what the next issue would feature.
Comparing the Clubs
As previously mentioned, the first 12 issues of the Konami Software Club newsletters were only 4 pages long, so much had to be made of the space available. Only the front and back pages featured any kind of colour, and the newsletters didn't even have game screenshots until issue 6!
The belated issue 13, however, increased the page count to 24, allowing for more game reviews and features - not to mention more screenshots! While the front and back pages were still the only ones that were printed with selected colours, overall, issue 13 was much closer in style to a magazine than previous issues.
In comparison, the first issue of Club Nintendo was 20 pages long, but with larger pages that were all in full-colour. This allowed for more in-depth features on some of the bigger titles. Having previously worked with less space for text, the staff knew how to fill pages as much as they could, which meant that every page of CN was jam-packed with information and screenshots.
It's especially interesting to compare these two issues, as there are some similarities in design and layout (and it goes some way to explaining how Top Gun made it to the cover of Club Nintendo's first issue!). It does leave one wondering if CN was how KSC could've ended up looking had it continued.
Another key connection between the two is Catalyst Publishing, who are credited for the 'artwork and typesetting' in issue 13 of KSC (the only issue they were involved in, to my knowledge), and would go on to handle Club Nintendo's publishing in the UK.
Where Are They Now?
After retiring from his PR work, Dennis Hemmings maintained contact with Konami fans, even taking part in interviews for MSX websites (Konami was a big supporter of the MSX computer systems during the '80s). It appears, however, that he passed away sometime in the 2010s. (If this information is inaccurate, please let me know.)
While Mark Smith did keep in touch with some of his friends in the MSX fan community, where he is and what he is doing now currently remains a mystery.
Many thanks to Nick Pendriis and MSX.org for some of the information mentioned here.
Picture credits: Konami Software Club newsletter pages - Hans Otten MSX Archives. Club Nintendo issue 1 page - Out-Of-Print Archive.