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Early Conventions

As I work on writing my dissertation, I've been thinking about how fandom and fan conventions have changed in the relatively short period of time that they've been around. Today, there are hundreds of fan conventions in North America and around the world. It's easy for fans from America and Canada to connect with fans in Japan, South Africa, England, anywhere in the world. We can get manga and anime directly from Japan within an hour of its initial release, communicate with our favorite authors from across continents, and find out the latest news and rumors about our chosen fandoms no matter where we are.

Even in the 20 years that I've been in fandom, there have been significant changes. Though I've always been reading fantasy, playing D&D with friends, and watching sci-fi shows and movies, my first experiences with the larger fandom community occurred when I got into subtitled anime, conveniently around the same time my family got our first computer and with it the internet (October 1996). I still remember helping a friend of mine run a fansub anime distribution in the late 90s, because the only way to get anime in those days were to spend $30-40 on a two episode VHS at a commercial store or mail order tapes from a fansub distributor (usually someone like my friend copying tapes in their home) for about $10 a tape. Quality was sometimes pretty bad, but it was that or nothing. If you're interested in fan sub distributors, Fansub Distributor Database has a collection of links that you can click through, though most of the distribution sites died out around 2001.

But, back to conventions - My first fan convention was Anime North 2002. Back then, it was held in one hotel and was fairly small, with just 3,000 estimated attendees. This year's Anime North will span three hotels and a conventions center and has had to institute an attendance cap at 20,000/per day in order to provide quality content to that many people without overcrowding. So, when I considered that in just ten years it's grown six times the size, it makes me think about how much fandom and conventions have changed since the first early conventions.

And, it seems like I'm not the only one to be looking back. This year marks the 75th anniversary of second of the two conventions that have been called the first science fiction convention. Held on January 3, 1937 in the Leeds' Theosophical Hall, this convention was organized to set up the UK's first national SF organization, the Science Fiction Association. To commemorate this, Rob Hanson, one of the attendees, has written up a description and included photographs of the conference, which you can read/see here. Rob Hanson has also written up a very in-depth history of Britain's science fiction conventions on his site, THEN, as well as an archive of documents.

The other claim to the title of first convention is a meeting on October 22,1936 in which a New York City fan club (NYB-ISA) visited their Philadelphia branch and met at one of the Philadelphia member's houses. Though it consisted of tour of the city and socialization, they did elect a convention chairman and secretary and begin planning the second convention, to be held in 1938. Frederick Pohl has a picture of the meeting on his webpage.

With these anniversaries has come a number of pictures and some videos that give us a look back at early conventions. So, without further ado, here are the links to those images:

Star Trek Convention Footage from 1973

Photos from the 1980 Westercon and the i09 article about them.

A look at Anime Fandom in the 1980s

Footage of a 1985 Cosplay Contest

Footage from WonderCon 1988

World Con Cosplay from the 70s and 80s

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