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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
Venus and Braves

Halfway Survey Update

It’s been about a year since my research survey went live. The survey will remain up for another few months, closing in September 2011. The rate of responses has slowed, but a few continue to trickle in.

Towards the end of February I took a second snapshot of the survey results to see how things have changed. When I did my three month write-up, I had 337 total responses (251 fully complete and 86 partial). Since then, those numbers have jumped to 494 total (367 complete and 127 partial) of those 417 were complete enough to use for analysis.

Without further ado, here is some of that simple data with some graphs (no correlations or complex statistical analysis until the final results are published):

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Once again, thank you to anyone who took the time to complete the survey. I appreciate each and every response I get. Also, if there was a particular question you would like to know about that I didn't discuss above or would like to see more of the results, please let me know.

Follow up interview requests are being sent out in the next few weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be getting a few more survey responses from the last few conventions I’m attending for my research. The last convention should be New York Comic Con in October. The final results of the survey should be posted online and emailed to those who requested it by the end of October.
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3 month-ish Survey Update

As of the 13th it'll officially be three months since my research survey went live. Since then, I've gained permission to post to a few more online communities, such as the Otakon LJ and pimped the survey a bit at Anime North during my "Fanthropology of Slash" panel.

Towards the end of July I took a snapshot of the survey results, intending to talk about the results at the "Fanthropology" panel I got approved at the last minute for Otakon, only to have my trip canceled due to expensive, unexpected car repairs... When I took the snapshot on July 21st I had 337 total responses (251 fully complete and 86 partial). Since then, those numbers have jumped to 475 total as of today (354 complete and 121 partial) mostly thanks to people from the DragonCon LJ.

Without further ado, here is some of that simple data with some graphs (no correlations or complex statistical analysis yet):

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Some very interesting data so far, which I look forward to testing for correlations and such when the survey closes. I've continued to have a lot of positive feedback from people taking the survey and from conventions I've contacted for research access. I plan to start selecting respondents for follow up interviews sometime in September and will be making research trips to a few conventions over the next several months (more on that in a future post).

Once again, thank you to anyone who took the time to complete the survey. I appreciate each and every response I get. Also, if there was a particular question you would like to know about that I didn't discuss above or would like to see more of the 3-month results, please let me know.
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Survey so far

My survey for my dissertation research was launched at 9:34 pm on Friday, May 14, 2010. At that time I posted it to this community, my own journal, my twitter and Facebook. Several of my friends shared it with their friends and by the morning I had my first twenty responses. My next step was to search out LiveJournal and Dreamwidth communities for anthropology, fandom and conventions, contact the moderators and ask permission to post my little intro and survey link to their communities. Yesterday I heard back from 3 of the 20 I contacted initially. So, I now have posts up at Constrictcon's LJ, Anthrocon's LJ and Forums, and San Diego Comic Con's LJ. archersangel was also kind enough to crosspost to Geek Girls and suggested I contact the people at Fandom Research, who have promised to post/twitter my blurb on Monday.

From this limited publicity I jumped to 128 responses this morning (90 completed and 38 partial at the time I checked). Here are some initial statistics from this sample:

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Overall, I've had some very good, positive feedback and some wonderful responses. The only negative criticisms I've had have been about wording of questions. When I could, I've gone back and clarified some questions, but I can't add additional questions or answers at this point. I'm rather looking forward to seeing how the demographics turn out. I like how user-friendly LimeSurvey is, but I can't wait to export the final results into SPSS.

Thank you again to everyone who has participated so far. I'm overwhelmed by how supportive people have been of my research. I can't wait to see the final results in a year.
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Fandom Survey

Hello! I’m currently doing research on fandom and fan conventions for my doctoral dissertation in Cultural Anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Specifically, I’m looking at the relationship between fandom participation and convention attendance and the ways that fan culture manifests online versus in-person.

Phase 1 of my research involves a survey of all kinds of adult fans (whether or not you currently attend fan conventions). I would like as many people to complete as possible so that I can gain a statistical overview of Fandom and preference for fan conventions. The survey is located at and should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes to complete. I am posting this to several places, so I apologize if you see this more than once. If you know of a community that I should post it in please contact me here or feel free to repost.

Thank you for your time!
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Documentaries on Fans and Fandom

Below is a list of documentaries with short descriptions taken from Wikipedia.

Trekkies is a 1997 documentary film directed by Roger Nygard about the devoted fans of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchise.

Trekkies 2 is the 2003 sequal to Trekkies. This documentary film travels throughout the world, mainly in Europe, to show fans of Star Trek, commonly known as Trekkies, who do not live in the United States.

Trek Nation is a documentary film examining the positive impact that Star Trek may have had on people's lives on the eve of its 40th anniversary. Includes interviews by Rod Roddenberry with castmembers and crew from all five Star Trek shows, as well as various fans and celebrities who were markedly influenced by the show while growing up.

Ringers: Lord of the Fans is a 2005 documentary film about the growth of Tolkien fandom.

Monster Camp - See this entry.

Darkon is a 2006 documentary film that follows the real-life adventures of the Darkon Wargaming Club in Baltimore, Maryland, a group of fantasy live-action role-playing (LARP) gamers.

Adventures in Voice Acting contains interviews with close to 100 voice actors, producers, and casting directors that are in anime dubs and video games.

Go, Go, Anime! is a 2004 documentary loosely centered on Anime Expo 2003. There are three main threads that are woven through the film – the first concerns the members of cosplay group Sailor Jamboree, the second is about a group of older anime fans, and the third features amateur manga artists, focusing mainly on artist Henry Liao.

Otakumentary is a 20 minute film on fandom that was shown at Otakon in 2001.

Otaku Unite! is a 2004 documentary look at American fans of Japanese culture, specifically anime and manga, who are better known by their self-proclaimed title of Otaku.

Invasion: Anime, a 2002 documentary that looks into the world of anime aimed more toward the novice than the expert. Not quite "Trekkers," this movie tends not to poke fun at "fanboys" but focuses on the creators and critics with a nod towards the obsessive fan base.

Adventures Into Digital Comics is a 2006 documentary by Sébastien Dumesnil about the fall of the comic book industry in the 1990s and the emergence of webcomics since then. The film features interviews with various comic book and webcomic artists and authors.
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Monster Camp

Monster Camp is a documentary released in 2007 and directed by Cullen Hoback about a group of Live Action Role Players (LARP) in Seattle who play in the NERO LARP system. It shows the game from a variety of different angles, from the point of view of the Player Characters, Non-player characters, monsters, the game Owner, plot characters, and the family members of the players.

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A (working) Bibliography of Fandom and Fan Studies

In the course of my research, I've come across a wide variety of articles, books, journals, and blog entries about fandom, fan culture, and identity. The list here is by no means a complete and exhaustive list of all things related to fan studies. Instead, it's a list of works that I feel are the most relevant for my research. Some of the works, like Hellekson and Busse's Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, are representative of larger areas of fan studies. Studies on anime and fan fiction are both very numerous, and while I find them tangentially relevant, I have not included all of their works in this bibliography (though expect to see posts on those topics at some later point).

Over the next couple weeks, I'll be reading through most of these works and providing reviews and comments on the ones that I find particularly useful. Some works will get cut from the list if they are not particularly helpful to my current research needs. Others will be added as I stumble upon them. For now, though, this list is a starting point as a piece my way through a review of the literature on fandom and fan studies.

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Well, hopefully I'll be presenting a paper at the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association meeting in Boston in November. It'll also be the beginnings of my dissertation research, laying down the basis for the terms I'll be using and the groups I'll be looking at.

The abstract for the paper:

Caste Among the Outcasts: A Taxonomy of Fandom

Fandom is a collective subculture composed of fans of wide range of media whose shared interests serve as the basis of their communal identity. However, the term can be defined in a number of ways: narrowly to include only fans of a single celebrity, literary work, or television show, such as the Harry Potter fandom; widely to encompass all fans of a genre or hobby, such as Sci-Fi fandom; or broadly as Fandom, to refer to an interconnected social network of smaller fandoms, many of which have overlapping membership. Each fandom has its own jargon, body of common knowledge, and social mores by which it defines membership and excludes non-fans. Within this subculture members continually negotiate their own membership in relation to individual fandoms and Fandom as a whole, leading to a fluidly defined hierarchy of fans and fandoms. But, what makes Trekkies different from Trekkers when both groups identify as fans of the Star Trek franchise? Why is being a video gamer more socially acceptable than being a Live Action Role-Player or LARPer? This paper examines the negotiation of identity within Fandom and attempts to work towards a taxonomy of fans and fandoms.

I'll post the paper and an account of the conference in November and some notes on the research for the paper as I work on it.