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[QUOTE] From (Re)examining the attitudes of comic book store patrons | Stevens | Transformative Works and Cultures

Understanding that comic book fandom has historically been organized around the physical, tangible objects of comic books in paper pamphlet form is critical to examining the way technological innovations affect the industry’s future prospects and the relationship between reader and text and any potential shifts in the role comic book stores play in those relationships. Are comic book readers not fans if they collect digital files instead of physical texts, or has this historic boundary shifted as a result of textual digitization? Can one “own” a digital comic book text and, if so, how does this ownership alter the historic boundaries between comic book readers and comic book fans? And how does the locus of fan community shift if texts are no longer primarily distributed through comic book stores?

(Re)examining the attitudes of comic book store patrons | Stevens | Transformative Works and Cultures ift.tt/2dKj0R2

[QUOTE] From (Re)examining the attitudes of comic book store patrons | Stevens | Transformative Works and Cultures

Digital consumers overall read more comic texts and spend more money on comic books than those who exclusively collect and read physical formats. When the two outliers who purchase no physical material are excluded, it appears the publisher gets more revenue from the digital format consumers than the physical format consumers. Much like the iTunes model, consumers who are offered accessible, legal means of consuming digitally are often willing to pay for their wares; piracy is a matter of convenience, not necessarily a matter of maliciousness.

(Re)examining the attitudes of comic book store patrons | Stevens | Transformative Works and Cultures ift.tt/2aI6Rvr

[QUOTE] From “Geek hierarchies, boundary policing, and the gendering of the good fan” Kristina Busse, Participations 10.1 (2013)

If female fans are dismissed more easily, then so are their interests, their spaces, and their primary forms of engagement. Or, said differently, gender discrimination occurs on the level of the fan, the fan activity, and the fannish investment. There is a ready truism that enthusiasm for typically male fan objects, such as sports and even music, are generally accepted whereas female fan interests are much more readily mocked. Likewise, fangirls are mocked as is fan fiction, an activity more commonly ascribed to females. More than that, affect and forms of fannish investment get policed along gender lines, so that obsessively collecting comic books or speaking Klingon is more acceptable within and outside of fandom than creating fan vids or cosplaying. Even the same behavior gets read differently when women do it: sexualizing celebrities, for example, is accepted and expected among men but gets quickly read as inappropriate when done by women.

“Geek hierarchies, boundary policing, and the gendering of the good fan” Kristina Busse, Participations 10.1 (2013) ift.tt/1gQemxE

[QUOTE] From Catherine Coker, Earth 616, Earth 1610, Earth 3490—Wait, what universe is this again? The creation and evolution of the Avengers and Captain America/Iron Man fandom

The relationship between slash fan fiction and comics fandom is problematic not only because of the shift of medium from source text to fan text but also because of the shift of fan community. Comics fandom is often viewed as consisting of heterosexual white men and comics are often explicitly marketed to them, excluding and othering the rest of the audience. Comics fandom online subverts this expectation of audience because the majority of fan authors and creators are women. While canon plots privilege action and conflict, and the problematic depiction of women characters in them is so obvious it hardly need be discussed, comics fan fiction reverses these trends: stories privilege emotional arcs, and female characters are depicted as more recognizably human even when they are secondary to the male characters.

Comics fan works thus become completely transformative because of the shift in both fan space and fan audience: texts that are homophobic become homophiliac, authors and readers who are male become female, and that which had previously been other becomes the new norm. For these reasons, the fans are not just aware but indeed hyperaware of their own identity as subaltern and subversive practitioners.

Catherine Coker, Earth 616, Earth 1610, Earth 3490—Wait, what universe is this again? The creation and evolution of the Avengers and Captain America/Iron Man fandom

[QUOTE] From Suzanne Scott, Fangirls in refrigerators: The politics of (in)visibility in comic book culture

Fan conventions have historically been characterized as safe, even utopian spaces in which differences are embraced. My work on the Twilight protests at San Diego Comic-Con 2009 (Scott 2011), the recent sexual harassment debacle at Readercon 23 (Colby et al. 2012), and comic book artist Tony Harris’s November 2012 Facebook screed against “COSPLAY-Chiks [sic]” who “DONT [sic] KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS” (Dickens 2012), all indicate that these utopian characterizations of comic book conventions belie how gendered subcultural tensions manifest in these spaces. Specifically, the hostility directed at the Batgirl of San Diego from fans and publishers alike suggests a sort of panopti(comic)con, in which fan expression is increasingly policed.

Suzanne Scott, Fangirls in refrigerators: The politics of (in)visibility in comic book culture

[QUOTE] From Forrest Phillips, Captain America and fans’ political activity

When the Tea Party rose to national prominence in 2010, the movement’s cosplay of American icons, including the Founding Fathers, immediately made news (Walsh 2010). One of the most remarkable costumes worn by Tea Party demonstrators was that of the Star-Spangled Avenger. As Nicolle Lamerichs (2011) argues, when fans cosplay they are expressing their fondness for, identifying with, and making statements about the narrative associated with the character whom they are playing. The statement made by political Captain America cosplayers is that Cap would agree with their point of view. For instance, at a 2011 Tea Party rally, a man dressed as Captain America personalized his shield with a bumper sticker that read “Please don’t tell Obama what comes after a trillion” as a way to assert that his support of limited government is the sole authentic American perspective (White 2011b). Similarly, the Star-Spangled Avenger waved the star-spangled banner at a March 24, 2011, rally in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Shelly 2012).

While in both these cases Captain America’s iconography was used to support right-wing causes, his use in political action transcends partisan boundaries just as the character does in the comics. In October 2010, the Sentinel of Liberty showed his support for “reasonableness” at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Calhoun 2011). A year later he defended labor unions at a protest in Madison, Wisconsin (Mills 2011). Furthermore, Cap’s iconography has been used at multiple Occupy rallies: one protestor wore a makeshift Cap costume and flashed the peace sign while another attached a figurine of the Star-Spangled Avenger to the top of a sign bearing a handwritten anticorporate slogan (Moscamaurer 2012; jamie nyc 2011). Additionally, an activist advocating for homeless veterans addressed Occupy Oakland clad in the costume of the Sentinel of Liberty (addio33 2012).

(…)

While Captain America was first created as a fervent nationalist who wanted American children to “free our country of our traitors” (Yanes 2009, 58), he has developed into a very different character. Fans have embraced the modern incarnation of the Star-Spangled Avenger because he is one of the few embodiments of an Americanness that encompasses a wide swath of the nation’s political spectrum, from the most conservative Tea Party member to the most liberal Occupier (Johnson 2010; Mroczkowski 2011). This near-universal American appeal renders any political use of his image inherently divisive and questionable, yet makes his political appropriation irresistible.

Forrest Phillips, Captain America and fans’ political activity

[QUOTE] From Matthew J. Costello, The super politics of comic book fandom

Transformation is a political act. Whether it is slash fiction’s challenge to heteronormativity, cosplay at political rallies, or editorials that question the white male privilege of fandom, whenever fans appropriate cultural artifacts they transform them for rhetorical purposes. Fandom thus becomes the battleground through which cultural meaning is constructed and as such is always contested terrain.

 

[META] New issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on comics fandom

Fan studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures has published its thirteenth issue on comics fandom. Here are links to all the articles, on topics ranging from women in comics fandom to fans on 4chan to Captain America and various other Avengers-related things. Enjoy! As usual, we’ll be posting some good quotes from the articles too.

Editorial:

Matthew J. Costello: The super politics of comic book fandom

Theory:

Suzanne Scott: Fangirls in refrigerators: The politics of (in)visibility in comic book culture

Praxis:

Catherine Coker: Earth 616, Earth 1610, Earth 3490—Wait, what universe is this again? The creation and evolution of the Avengers and Captain America/Iron Man fandom

Lyndsay Brown: Pornographic space-time and the potential of fantasy in comics and fan art

Tim Bavlnka: /Co/operation and /co/mmunity in /co/mics: 4chan’s Hypercrisis

Symposium (short articles):

Forrest Phillips: Captain America and fans’ political activity

Babak Zarin: The advocacy of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), as seen in hetrez’s “Average Avengers Local Chapter 7 of New York”

Amanda Odom: Professionalism: Hyperrealism and play

Rebecca Lucy Busker: Fandom and male privilege: Seven years later

Kayley Thomas: Revisioning the smiling villain: Imagetexts and intertextual expression in representations of the filmic Loki on Tumblr

Ora C. McWilliams: Who is afraid of a black Spider(-Man)?

Interviews:

Matthew J. Costello: Interview with comics artist Lee Weeks

Kate Roddy, Carlen Lavigne, Suzanne Scott: Toward a feminist superhero: An interview with Will Brooker, Sarah Zaidan, and Suze Shore

Reviews:

Daniel Stein: “Comic books and American cultural history: An anthology,” edited by Matthew Pustz

Drew Morton: “Of comics and men: A cultural history of American comic books,” by Jean-Paul Gabilliet

[ADMIN] The joy of loopholes

Last year, Andrea Horbinski wrote a self-introduction post here that started out like this: There’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in an apartment in Kyoto, Japan, as I write this post. Three and a half years ago, on a Fulbright Fellowship to Doshisha University in Kyoto, faced with a lot of free time and nothing in particular with which to fill it other than reading manga, biking around the city, and searching for interesting things on the internet, I fell (back) into fandom, and thence into the Organization for Transformative Works. I didn’t know it then, but that was a transformative moment for me. I suppose there’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in a graduate student office at Doshisha University in Kyoto as I write my own self-introduction post. My road to Doshisha, and into the OTW, was completely separate from and unrelated to Andrea’s, but unfolded so similarly that I almost feel like I can point at her post and just skip my own introduction. She even likes the same titles I do. But I’ll take this opportunity to assert my individuality. I’m Nele Noppe, a Japanologist by trade, currently in the middle of a PhD fellowship at a Belgian university but spending a few years in Japan to learn about doujin culture (doujinshi and related fanworks). My research compares how English-language and Japanese-language fandoms exchange works. More precisely, I’m interested in the architectures and circumstances of those exchanges: what technology is used, what the legal limitations are, what languages are used, what the involvement of non-fans is like, and how all that influences what sort of works are made. I’m endlessly intrigued by what happens when technology, law, and large groups of very determined and enthusiastic people collide. As for the fannish side of things, I grew up on Franco-Belgian comics, but the American Elfquest was my first really active fandom. After buying a Zetsuai 1989/BRONZE mook at a con, I tumbled into yaoi and never looked back. I spent my last years of high school poring over dearly-bought Japanese-language BRONZE and Kizuna tankobon with a tattered kanji dictionary in hand, and enrolled in a Japapanese Studies program as soon as I could. More than half of my fannish life was spent memorizing everything on Aestheticism, roving around the old Anime Web Turnpike, and chatting on Yahoo! mailing lists. LiveJournal, fanfiction.net, and other big fannish hubs only came onto my radar after I wandered into Harry Potter fandom sometime around 2006. Right now, I write, read and draw mostly about Avatar: the Last Airbender, and lurk in a variety of manga fandoms. Avatar is a good fandom to be in right now, and not just because the new series The Legend of Korra rocks and I found a bunch of people who share my tiny OTP. As mentioned above, the clash of technology, fans, and law fascinates me no end, and parts of Avatar fandom have been getting into some pretty interesting clashes lately. Take the neverending string of online leaks from the new series, from clips to whole episodes. At first it seems to have been an insider who was smuggling out clips, but once they stopped, others took over and started tricking Nickelodeon’s website into giving up upcoming episodes early. Unless I’m mistaken, last week’s episode 5 was the first one that managed to air without being preceded by any leaks whatsoever. And of course everything that was leaked or uploaded to the official site was immediately re-uploaded elsewhere so fans outside the US could access it as well. Leaving aside the dubious legality of everything that’s been going on around Korra, what strikes me the most about this ongoing situation is how utterly unprepared Nickelodeon turned out to be to keep the leaks from happening, and people from sharing them around. (Viewer numbers for Korra were fantastic, leaks or no leaks.) Amazon met with a similar fate. The first part of the Avatar tie-in comic The Promise was supposed to be published only this January, but it was circulating online by November last year. Amazon made the issue available for pre-order and enabled the “look inside” feature, which shows every visitor a couple of pages from any book. A bunch of Avatar fans descended on the site, saved the handful of pages each of them could see, and started putting their puzzle pieces together. Nearly the whole comic had been reconstructed on Tumblr before Amazon realized what was going on and put some brakes on “look inside”. (Sales for The Promise were fantastic as well.) This is the sort of creative loophole-exploiting that, to me, is typical of the interesting times we live in. Individuals have technologies at their fingertips that even large companies couldn’t dream of just a few decades ago – and apparently can’t really grasp the significance of even now. The laws that govern the use of those technologies are completely out of sync with what people can actually do, or think they should be allowed to do. And there are a lot of people working together all around the world in order to communicate better and route around whatever hurdles are in their fannish paths. I expect that I’ll spend most of my Symposium posts talking about those things, and often from a transcultural perspective, given my focus on doujin. I’m thrilled to be here and get a chance to learn from you all.

[META] Happy Free Comic Book Day!

Happy Free Comic Book Day! Here in Columbus, Ohio, the day has been a huge success. The comic I was most excited about, The Guild: “Beach’d,” was awesome, and the event at which I acquired said comic was surprisingly pleasant. I am an impatient person, and I tend to avoid crowds and long lines, but, for free comics, I figured I could give it a shot. I will never understand people who are energized rather than drained by events such as Comic-Con, or its academic complement, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, but this year’s Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) has given me a taste of the particular pleasure of convening with other fans in person.

My girlfriend and I arrived at the Laughing Ogre comic book shop here in Columbus around lunchtime, and we saw a line out of the store and several friendly, costumed superheroes. Amused, we joined the line, and were heartily welcomed by a man dressed as Superman, who, along with a little girl who was likely his daughter, and who was dressed as Supergirl, entertained the waiting comic book fans. Behind us stood a man and a woman, the latter of whom Superman asked if she’d been “dragged along” to the event. She said she hadn’t, and Superman seemed pleased that they were a comics-reading duo, rather than a fanboy-plus-support person. This was my first FCBD, so I can’t speak for the crowd in past years, but I imagine that Superman’s experience had been to notice particular demographic changes throughout the recent history of the event. Feeling moved by this public assessment of each fan’s authority, I planned a speech about how I was just here for Buffy, fictional feminist role model, and The Guild, authored by real life role model Felicia Day. Nobody asked, and so I didn’t get to give my speech, but it gave me some pleasure to know that I could share it with you in this venue later.

Normally, when I go to the Laughing Ogre, it’s on a Wednesday at 10 a.m. Twice a month, I make the trek to purchase my new Buffy comic (Buffy Season Nine one visit, and Angel and Faith the next), and I’m usually one of only a few people there. However, the staff always greets me kindly, and, knowing what I’m looking for, they never fail to tease me that Buffy Season Nine has been cancelled. I got the same personal greeting today, but I got the further pleasure of seeing some of the rest of the store’s clientele, and hence, some of the rest of Columbus’s comic book-reading community. There were a lot of children, for example, who I assume are in school on Wednesday mornings, and the store had prepared well for this, setting up superhero face painting, as well as photo opportunities with the costumed superheroes. Additionally, the staff members in charge of the free comics tables had divided up the comics nicely, explaining to children, parents, and those of us who are neither, which comics were intended for which audiences. The idea of the separation was not one of censorship, but rather one of clarity, helping visitors to find what they were looking for. In front of me was a kid of indeterminate age (perhaps a savvier observer of people could have determined it, but I couldn’t), who expressed interest in a non-fiction meta comic intended for adults, and he was invited to take it if he wished, but warned that it did not contain a story with action, but rather was more of a history. This interaction reminded me of one of the things I like most about comics, namely, the medium’s flexibility, and its fans’ desire to educate new fans about the form’s many histories and pleasures.

The free comic I was most anxious to read, The Guild: “Beach’d,” was, as I mentioned, an absolute delight, although this review admittedly comes from a reader who has adored every single installment of The Guild‘s transmedia universe, and a reader who feels that The Guild: Fawkes comic must have been created as a personal gift. But I feel like this free comic embodies Felicia Day’s mission beautifully for more reasons than my personal enjoyment of this latest extension of The Guild storyworld. The decision to package it with the Buffy comic was wise, as Buffy fans are likely to be familiar with Felicia Day, and might take this opportunity to acquaint themselves with The Guild, her best-executed project to date. Perhaps some of them watched the first few episodes back when they first rolled out, but forgot to keep up with the series. Others might have seen the music videos, but not realized that they were meaningfully attached to an increasingly complex and impressively fleshed out narrative. The Guild: “Beach’d” embodies the greatest pleasures of the series in an easily-digestible format. On its title page, we are reacquainted with all five of the show’s main characters, as well as their in-game avatars. This page showcases the adeptness with which The Guild comics represent the game/life balance as experienced by each of these characters: we see that Codex, Day’s character, responds as viscerally to violence in- and out of game, because she has an uneasy constitution and a low threshold for stimulation. By contrast, Tink, played by Amy Okuda in the series, can happily drink a soda out of game, while attacking brutally in-game. The language of comics works so well for this series, and I love the way this particular comic, offered to us as a free invitation to explore the series’s current stage of development, speaks so easily to a concern central to online fandom. It’s so funny to get up in the morning, walk four and a half miles to a comic book shop, wait in line with strangers who share only my anticipation for free comics, and then be transported back into the storyworld that feels like home. Henry Jenkins once described fandom as a weekend-only world, and, while it’s come a long way since then, my particular Saturday nevertheless revealed a kinship with that utopian idea.

[META] Fannish Moments in the Poetry Classroom

Regular co-blogger Lisa Schmidt has posted two excellent reflections on teaching and fandom, and I thought that today might be the day to share some of my own. The course I taught this quarter was Introduction to Poetry, which sounds much more conventional and less potentially fan-friendly than Lisa’s Media and Society course, or, say, a course in the History of Audiences, or Transmedia Storytelling. But in fact, I find that I can relate better to her experiences this quarter than I was able to while teaching Reading Popular Culture. I have my suspicions about why this is so, and I hope that my reflections will be of interest to anyone who, like me, sees themselves not only at the intersection of academia and fandom, but also at the intersection of literary studies and media studies.

I tried to introduce fandom into my Reading Popular Culture course in several ways. The first time I taught it, I assigned Kim Deitch’s graphic novel, Alias the Cat!, which tells the story of the evolution of the mass media in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century in the United States from the perspective of a hardcore collector. I introduced students to Lostpedia. I assigned blog reviews of Dollhouse episodes alongside academic articles in order to start a conversation about the investments of different kinds of media critics. I got my point across, more often than not, but I was rarely able to feel a fannish energy in my classroom, outside of a few post-class one-on-one interactions. This experience is normal, as commenters on Lisa’s first post suggested, but it’s not satisfying. There was part of me that felt like I was giving away too much for too little reward — part of me that was disappointed that students who came in unimpressed by Twenty-First-Century storytelling left feeling the same, rather than having been called to critical practices that would help them find their rightful place within a more democratic interpretive landscape, one defined by fan practices.

I’m sure that those readers who are teachers can easily recognize what I’m describing as the standard utopianism of the newish instructor, but fortunately, I’ve finally started to find what I’d been looking for. In order to excite fannish energy, it turns out, one must alter a portion of the work of the course into creative production. Lisa describes in her first post the experience of showing an episode of fan favorite Supernatural, and then later, a Supernatural fanvid, but she remained disappointed until she asked students to create a fanwork for their final project. It doesn’t even have to be anything as significant as a final project, as I’ve learned this quarter, and it doesn’t have to be a fanwork. In Introduction to Poetry, I simply gave students the opportunity to write an imitative exercise once during the quarter, which would be worth 5% of their grade. Initially, I created this assignment because I thought that students who didn’t already love poetry might get into it more if they experienced the challenge of writing for themselves. And indeed, a complex form like a sestina or villanelle almost demands to be imitated — I even remember writing a (very bad) sonnet almost automatically in high school, because it seemed like the only logical way to take notes on Shakespeare. I even thought that students whose talents were in quantitative fields might be impressed by the mathematical demands of rhythm, and then produce poetry in spite of whatever shame is associated with articulating one’s feelings in verse.

However, while a few did take on these pseudo-mathematical tasks, more took on the task of writing in a famous poet’s voice, or drawing from their tactics, especially found poetry. Those who wrote in the voice of a poet revealed to me a depth of critical engagement I might have completely missed out on, had I tried to extrapolate it from their descriptive claims. Those who, inspired by Alice Walker and Hart Seely’s found poetry, proceeded to “find” their own poetry in documents addressed to them, inspired me to think about incorporating a found poetry assignment into any future writing course I teach, because I was so impressed by their clear senses of humor and subtlety. Part of what I’m describing is my own journey from being a lover of essayistic critique and meta first and foremost, and only then the fiction and art that share the same source material, into a more broad-minded thinker and fan. It would, of course, be inappropriate for me to convert an Introduction to Poetry course, whose major goal is to instruct students in tactics for reading poetry, into a creative writing course inadvertently. I am not qualified to teach creative writing courses, and there are plenty of people who are. However, I have been thoroughly convinced that at least part of what I’ve been looking for, in terms of inviting students into an exciting, multi-faceted contemporary reading landscape, can be attended to via targeted imitative exercises.

I’ve heard more and more about literature professors assigning fanfic or fanfic-like work to college students, although perhaps less often than I hear about media studies professors and Digital Composition specialists assigning remix projects that lend themselves to a comparison with fanvids. I think that it’s an exciting development, because, while it turns out that it’s difficult to impress people by just insisting that there is fandom, and it is intellectual and awesome (which it is!), it is easy to excite a certain fannish energy by inviting students to participate in creative tasks that reward their skill at capturing voices and filling gaps, without requiring the accompanying expository justification.

I’m very jealous of people who teach courses on fandom in which both come together somehow — courses in which there is time enough to explore the history and culture of fandom, as well as incorporate fannish critical and creative practices. But until I am given the opportunity to teach such a course, I will happily incorporate assignments that give students, as well as me, the instructor, a glimpse of the reading community that is made momentarily visible by an archive of creative responses to literature, enabled by the course website. It can even make grading momentarily feel like checking out a trusted friend’s latest fanwork recommendations.

[META] Fandom Makes the Front Pages

Twice this week, the mainstream media has turned its attention to issues I normally encounter only within fandom discussions. In the first instance, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly features an article about shippers, authored by Jeff Jensen. In the second instance, I was surprised to learn that issue #6 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Comics had, within three days of its publication, generated fourteen responses from mainstream media sources, including The Guardian and USA Today. Oddly, the shipper piece focuses mostly on shippers as target market, although the author both gets in his dig about shippers being “TV’s weirdest fans,” and also cites scholars who point to the social subversion that has animated many ship-driven fan cultures. By contrast the Buffy coverage focuses almost entirely on the plot development as a feminist response to the current political climate in the United States, and spends little time justifying its reporters’ attention to the cult television (and now comics) icon.

It turns out that, although fannish behavior is generally understood in the mainstream media as mere excess, fans do, increasingly, matter in at least two situations: when we distill cultural consumption trends for cultural producers, and thereby constitute a target demographic, and when our beloved source material turns out to bring newly-layered perspectives to real political issues, thus leading commentators to visit, or at least imagine a visit to, our world. The latter version of fandom on the front pages gives us more credit, but it is also more potentially volatile. It’s exciting to be a part of the “comics fans welcoming the development”(link), but it’s scary to know that so much of what one holds dear can simultaneously be presented to a careless and unforgiving public. Could I handle (and here comes the spoiler alert for the current Buffyverse development) a public trashing of the Buffy comics and of a woman’s reproductive rights on the same day? Add to that the reversion of shipping to its earlier meaning, of human labor facilitating the transfer of resources and capital, and it all starts to sound pretty overwhelming.

But, you might counter, that day is every day. It’s not as though the Buffy comics are any kind of critical darling of any mainstream reviewing sphere, and reproductive rights are rarely afforded unqualified support outside feminist-identified media outlets. As Mark Greif has argued in his n+1 piece, On Repressive Sentimentalism, in much of public conversation, “safe medical abortion, a fundamental social good in any sexually egalitarian society, an invention to be celebrated like the polio vaccine, must disguise itself as everything but what it is—the freedom from involuntary motherhood, owed to any woman young or old, to let her shape a life equal in freedom to those of men.” Whether or not one personally agrees with the entirety of Greif’s statement, and it happens that I do without reservations, the fact that the conversation has been forced into sentimental terrain improper to policy discussion is indisputable. Should I, then, be so surprised that the comments section on The Guardian article about Buffy’s hypothetical abortion contains hostility, both to abortion, and to the Buffy comics, as well as a particular contempt for their shared page space in this instance? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean that the intensity of my emotional response is without important context.

Fandom, as the EW article makes clear, is, for many of us, a space in which to explore desire, including its enactments and their concomitant consequences, beyond the constraints of those social worlds we otherwise inhabit, circumscribed as they are by such external factors as geographic location. This is not to deny that fandom itself is volatile, in its own way, already — fandom, too, is a world inhabited by human beings and therefore all the messiness of human communication. However, its volatility is different from the often-predictable kind of the public sphere, the kind that can have so many long, unproductive conversations about reproductive rights. In fandom, however, sentimentality is given its own space, and given the freedom to flourish according to the trajectories of individuals and specific sub-groups of fans, so that it doesn’t (in the best of times) seep into conversations that are actually about something else entirely, without first making its presence known. Abortion is something of a limit case for the roped-off sphere of sentimentality, hence my anticipation of emotional upheaval of unpredictable proportions at this latest development.

As Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffyverse well knows, popular culture has an incredible power to inspire meaningful conversation about important issues, particularly when there is a visible, engaged and savvy fanbase following each new development with a critical but generous sensibility. His choice to go public about his own approval of Buffy’s decision to get an abortion was not made randomly, or, I don’t think, as a cynical attempt to make money. There are much easier ways for him to make money than by temporarily drumming up interest in an installment of the ninth season of a long-arc serial. To be clear, this isn’t to say that I think that the comics belong on the same playing field as fanworks — they are a for-profit enterprise, and they engage regularly in various kinds of sensationalist marketing, and their authors deserve many of the serious criticism they’ve received from fans. However, I think that there is a serious distinction to be made between sensationalist marketing and an incitement to public conversation about a currently-contentious political issue, particularly one which lies at the center of the feminism that has, since the beginning, informed the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In a moment in which fans are being noticed more and more by the mainstream media, in more and less exploitative ways, I think it’s important that we register these opportunities to take note of the differences between the conversations we’re able to have with one another, and the conversations that happen next to us, and, if only tangentially, about us. I am a Buffy comics fan, and I am excited about this most recent development. I’m so excited about it that I’m reading comments sections in The Guardian that I know will break my heart. But I know that I want the conversation to be happening, and I have hope that even 10% of the joy that is the intersection of Buffy and feminism will somehow seep into it. Shipping, to unite my two threads, might still strike many as akin to a million schoolgirl crushes, transcribed onto a notebook during study hall. But if it is more than that — if it constitutes a veritable reconsideration of how relationships are structured within complex social worlds, then the possibility of abortion starts to look less like a topical news item, and more like a social reality worth incorporating into the unfolding canon of any story that wishes to speak directly to a contemporary audience.