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[QUOTE] From A connected country: Sweden—Fertile ground for digital fandoms | Christina Olin-Scheller and Pia Sundqvist | Transformative Works and Cultures

In Sweden, older siblings are generally the ones who introduce younger siblings to various fandoms, such as digital games and fan fiction sites, thus further conflating online and real-life relationships (Swedish Media Council 2013a, 2013b; Olin-Scheller 2011).


Technological advancement, English proficiency, and fandom activities are all closely interrelated. However, being connected to the Internet and being heavily involved in digital fan activities do not necessarily imply that one’s main focus is international. Instead, digital activities are associated with closeness, both in terms of relationships (friends sitting on the same couch when going online) and geographical locations (attending local cosplay or gaming conventions). This way of being and acting as a fan is likely not limited to Sweden or Swedish fan communities; it is probably also the case in other areas with ubiquitous Internet access and English-language proficiency.

A connected country: Sweden—Fertile ground for digital fandoms | Christina Olin-Scheller and Pia Sundqvist | Transformative Works and Cultures

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p244

Comike was neither the first nor the biggest dōjinshi fair when it was established; its main purpose was to provide the freest market possible, and that freedom has come at a price. The dream of a Comic Market open to every one and everything was never realized, as there were too many physical, financial, and legal restrictions. Even today, the Comic Market suffers from a lack of space, a lack of money, and a lack of legal security. Only two-thirds of applicant circles can participate due to constraints, since, as a small independent operator Comike’s financial resources are limited and most of the work is done by volunteers.

Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p244

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p244-245

Though its most important function is still to provide a physical place, Comic Market has also become a symbol of the otaku and dōjinshi communities. It is not only by a wide margin the biggest dōjinshi event in Japan (and therefore related to many subcultural and independent media in Japan), it is also the oldest such event, and the one most famous in the mass media. As the center of attention, with its size and its links to the industry, it is undeniable that Comike possesses the power and the means to influence social, market, and even political developments. In recent years it has not been reluctant to use this power. Whether through conferences on copyright issues or on the establishment of a “National dōjinshi fair liaison group” (Zenkoku dōjinshi sokubaikai renrakukai) in 2000, it has taken on the responsibility of representing and of regulating Japanese dōjinshi culture.

Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p244-245

[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 Akiko Hori, On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination

In the middle of the 1980s, fannish dōjinshi based on the manga Captain Tsubasa exploded in popularity, and yaoi dōjinshi circles proliferated accordingly. This caused dōjinshi conventions to grow as well, to the point that commercial manga magazines could no longer ignore the existence of the major dōjinshi circles. These major circles consisted of woman creators who, although amateurs, had often amassed large fan followings of their own. Publishers reasoned that they could save themselves the effort of cultivating new artists if they let these popular fan creators publish in commercial magazines. They began to scout popular yaoi fan creators, and commercial manga magazines that focused solely on boys’ love were launched one after the other. With the availability of yaoi in regular bookstores, a massive expansion of yaoi fandom ensued. However, a less desirable consequence of yaoi’s commercialization was that a hobby that had previously been underground was now thrust into the public eye.

Akiko Hori, On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

The Comic Market was dominated by women from the beginning (90 percent of its first participants were female), but in 1981, thanks to lolicon, male participants numbered the same as female participants for the first time in Comike’s history. With almost ten thousand participants, Comic Market was now Japan’s biggest dōjinshi event and the center of dōjinshi culture. It grew big enough that the nineteenth Comic Market, in the winter of 1981, was held in the International Exhibition Center in Harumi. A year later, a convention catalogue was sold for the first time, both to help visitors to find their favorite circles in the crowd of almost a thousand circles and to help finance Comic Market’s expansion. Comike also encouraged the many fan-related companies to include advertisements in the catalog.

Internal conflicts on the Comike planning committee underlay some of these developments: they marked the ascendancy of the faction led by Yonezawa Yoshihiro, who favored Comike’s unlimited expansion. Though he was criticized for purportedly selling dōjinshi out to commercialism, Yonezawa couched his plans for Comike in terms of a collective organization of the convention by all participants, including staff, circles, and visitors. Whatever the underlying reality, these public principles remain little changed today.

Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p240-241

Since the 1980s, it has become common for talented dōjinshi creators to be recruited by professional companies and become popular on the mass market. Many famous artists have had a past in the dōjinshi scene or are still involved. Artists—including Ozaki Minami (1989–91, Zetsuai) or CLAMP (2003–9, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle; 1992–present, X: 1999)—became famous in the dōjinshi world before conquering the professional market, and artists such as Koge-Donbo (1999–2003, Pitaten) and Hiroe Rei (2002–present, Black Lagoon) are still very active, regularly selling dōjinshi at fairs. Dōjinshi like Masamune Shirow’s Black Magic (1983) or Minekura Kazuya’s Saiyuki (1997–2002) were directly converted into popular professional works.

Professional artists selling dōjin products on the side have been a common practice for a long time. In the summer of 2004, 5 percent of all circles participating in Comike were headed by a professional mangaka or illustrator, while another 10 percent had some professional experience. Similarly, it is common for erotic game producers to allow their underpaid artists to sell their drafts and sketches as dōjinshi, giving the artists a second wage and the company free promotion.

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

When the Comic Market was first held, it was one among many well-known dōjinshi conventions such as Manga Communication or Nihon Manga Taikai (Japan Manga Convention), at which all kinds of groups producing manga-and anime-related fanworks could physically gather together in order to share, buy, and sell dōjinshi. Dōjinshi circles, anime fan societies and science fiction school clubs sat side-by-side exchanging dōjinshi and fanzines.

But no fan scene is immune to controversies and imbroglios, and the Japanese dōjinshi scene was no exception. In 1975, a woman who had made critical remarks about the Manga Taikai was excluded from that convention, and subsequently a firestorm of anger among fans produced a movement against the Manga Taikai led by the famous circle Meikyū (Labyrinth), which resulted in the conception of a new alternative convention. On December 21, 1975, the first Comic Market—”a fan event from fans for fans”—was held in Tokyo.

Comike’s underlying vision was of an open and unrestricted dōjinshi fair, offering a marketplace without limitations on content or access. At the time, manga and anime fandom was organized around formal circles (particularly the school clubs that charged membership fees and produced regular group publications), and conventions were gathering places for the groups—rather than that of individual fans. Crucially, and from the beginning, Comike attracted visitors who were not just circle or club members, and who did not necessarily themselves produce fanworks. This innovation created its now massive popularity in Japan and increasingly, with international fans as well. Comike was soon held three times a year, attracting ever-increasing numbers of groups and fans.


[META] Fandom gets physical

I have been trying to write this post for three months. Today, I sat down and typed it all out at once, once and for all, so here goes.

I was angered – though not terribly surprised – to hear about the harassment of Genevieve Valentine by Rene Walling at Readercon this summer, and the decision of the Readercon Board – later reversed – to violate its own policies by only giving Walling a two year suspension, rather than banning him from the con for life. I was disgusted to hear that Walling had later volunteered “incognito” at WorldCon in Chicago. I wasn’t terribly surprised when, while I attended Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits in Minneapolis, I mentioned Walling and his harassment by name to a WorldCon attendee, who responded with total blankness – he hadn’t heard about Walling, and didn’t particularly seem to care. I didn’t need to hear that to suspect that he didn’t spend much time in the parts of fandom on the internet that I frequent, where Walling’s harassment was a popular topic over the summer.

Perhaps I libel that particular person undeservedly; perhaps not. More importantly, although I was angered that Walling’s harassment very nearly went almost unpunished while the safety of Valentine and all other Readercon attendees – and their right not to be harassed – was disregarded, I had another, very specific reason for being angry about the whole thing.

As some readers may know, I spent this summer working with Gail de Kosnik of the UC Berkeley Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Department on an oral history and data project on fandom on the internet. The lead researchers, of whom I was one, interviewed 53 people about their participation in fandom on the internet, and one thread that I heard come up in a couple of the interviews I conducted was the potential – and, in many people’s case, the actual realization – of conventions as a transformative space. Most of us who do fandom primarily on the internet, as participants and I agreed, is because on the internet it’s possible to create communities and spaces where certain aspects of societal norms are transgressed, suspended, overturned, disregarded. And for many of us, that can be liberatory.

Although I firmly believe – and just this statement can be enough to weird some people out – that the internet is a real place, and what we do on the internet is not isolated from the rest of our “real lives” but an important part of them, since I have become more active in fandom and started attending conventions myself, I have come to realize that conventions can be just as transformative as the internet, if not more so. If the internet allows fans to find a place where they fit in, conventions can be a powerful counterpart to that, by temporarily making that digital place into an actual physical experience. Pants are optional on the internet; they generally aren’t at conventions, and experiencing something as transformative as internet fandom can be for yourself, in your own physical body, can be a wonderful – and sometimes overwhelming – experience.

Having experienced some of that for myself and having heard similar stories from participants, I was doubly angered at the decision of the Readercon Board, because their unwillingness to guarantee the safety of all Readercon attendees meant that for some people, that potential experience was firmly off the table. Readercon would be poorer for their lack of attendance, but so would they, and having never attended Readercon and having no intentions of doing so, ever, I was much more concerned for those people than for the con itself.

I was lucky enough to attend AdaCamp DC this summer, and I was struck by something several attendees said: that they’d almost never been in an all-female or majority-female space before in their professional lives. The majority of my offline fandom interactions are gender-equal or majority-female spaces, and it’s an experience I’ve come to cherish. WisCon and Sirens are two wonderful cons that I am happy to attend every year, both to see again the friends I’ve made there and to meet more awesome new people, and also to talk about books and media and fandom and all our other geeky interests. These experiences, these communities, have transformed and strengthened me, and everyone should feel safe enough to have that kind of experience at any con they are interested in attending.

I should make clear that the Readercon Board later reversed its decision and resigned en masse, and that the con com has shown every indication of sticking to its guns, policy-wise. I wish them well, but I also know that it’s well past time for more conventions to adopt harassment policies along the lines of those recommended by the Ada Initiative. You never know who isn’t showing up until they’re made welcome, and if SFF fandom as a whole is to live up to its egalitarian pretensions, its physical instantiations have a responsibility to take responsibility for making those pretensions reality, instead of empty, hypocritical rhetoric.

[META] Thoughts on AnimeExpo

After eleven years of being an anime fan, I finally made it to Anime Expo, the biggest anime convention in the United States, held in Los Angeles, California, this past weekend. I’m a veteran of Otakon, the second-largest anime convention in this country; I’ve actually blogged about that con for this Symposium before. I went to Anime Expo (which this year was co-located with the X Games, for some amusing convention center logistics) to co-present our article “Even a monkey can understand fan activism” in the convention’s academic track with my friend Alex Leavitt. Perhaps inevitably, wandering around AX led me to compare the two, although the last anime con I’ve attended was actually Otakon 2010 two years ago. AX has long had the reputation of being the “industry” con to Otakon’s “fan” atmosphere, and I found that to be largely true – compared to Otakon, there didn’t seem to be quite as much cosplay (though there was a lot of it, and a lot of it very good), and the panels were mostly put on by anime- and manga-related companies and people involved with them, perhaps neatly symbolized by the fact that our badges put us down in the “industry” category and staff kept offering to let us jump the massive queues for panels. One of the people I was hanging out with asked me at one point whether I’d seen anything truly mind-blowing at the con, and I was hard put to it to think of an answer. In the United States as well as in Japan, it seems, this has been something of a fallow year in the production cycle for anime and manga. But the overarching lesson I drew from AX, actually, was the realization that anime/manga fandom doesn’t need the industry. This might sound counter-intuitive, since over the last four to five years the bottom has basically dropped out of both the anime and manga industries in the United States, leaving only a handful of scrappy companies in near-monopoly positions after the exit of some of the scene’s former titans. But this winnowing has left a lot of empty space for innovative partnerships across platforms (such as those Tokyopop has put together to continue publishing Hetalia, or that is putting together to publish hentai manga in print), and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see in what directions these partnerships develop in the future. In particular, I’m glad to see companies beginning to finally harness the full power of digital content delivery tools. (Although I have to admit I thought it was more than a bit rich for Stu Levy of Tokypop to cite “piracy” as one of the causes of his company’s recent near-death experience, since I know for a fact that Tokyopop routinely relied on scanlation groups to pick out new titles to license.) More than that, however, my pilgrimage to AX taught me that anime and manga fandom is not only alive but doing well, well enough that members of a Christian group (I don’t know which one) took it upon themselves to protest outside and pray for the souls of the sinners for the convention’s first three days. In all seriousness, though, when I went to Otakon two years ago I was a little taken aback at how thoroughly it had been transformed into a subcultural convention rather than a convention for just anime and manga. AX has not been transformed to any similar extent, although I did see one or two people cosplaying as raver-style Pikachus, and the number of Homestuck, My Little Ponies, and Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra cosplayers was quite remarkable. This seems to me to reflect not only a broadening of the fanbase of anime and manga, but also the new strength and richness of the American animation scene. I found myself telling someone at a party several weeks ago that I didn’t think that it would have been possible for Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko to create the show that they did in A:TLA, which wears its Asian-American storytelling colors with all pride and also is remarkable for the number and variety of its strong female characters (a trend epitomized in the fact that the eponymous protagonist of Korra, the current Avatar, is also a girl), if it weren’t for the success of anime, and realizing that I believed it wholeheartedly. Similarly, I can think of several newer authors of SFF who are obviously anime-influenced (N.K. Jemisin most prominent among them), and I know for a fact that a lot of manga fans have become enthusiastic Homestuck readers. I don’t know that all those bronies would be such enthusiastic Pony fans if shows like Sailor Moon, Utena and Powerpuff Girls hadn’t proven that girls could be awesome a long time ago, either. In a way these developments make me feel better about the disappearance of Japanese-language manga from the AX and Otakon dealers’ rooms of now compared with those of the early ‘Naughts. It’s a lot easier to get manga in multiple languages now than it was then (I can take a bus to Kinokuniya, for example), anyway, and in any event, I’ll gladly trade shifting merchandise availability for the broader influence that anime is beginning to have, and for its broader availability. Now if only Japan could put out some truly stellar shows again. Well, in the meantime, at least there’s Evangelion 3.0.

[META] Fandoms: Virtual and face-to-face

It’s May, and besides the end of the academic spring term and Mother’s Day, the calendar has also brought in the local Renaissance Fair, conducted every weekend this month in Muskogee, Oklahoma, less than an hour’s drive from where I live.

A couple of years ago I loaded up my two boys and my mom and set off to experience it. Six sunburned, gleeful hours later, the kids were brandishing wooden pirate swords, I had the Gypsy-style ankle bells I’d wanted all my life, and we were all tired and happy and full of turkey legs.

Given this timely local backdrop, I read the article “Bowlers, ballads, bells, and blasters: Living history and fandom” in the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures with something approaching delight.

Most of my fannish experiences these days happen on the internet. But in this article, Mark Soderstrom draws a wide and inclusive circle around several types of face-to-face activities that he links in “style”, or perhaps in affect, with fandom. He describes his interest in Renaissance festivals, historical music, dance, reenactment, and fandom. And he writes, “The intersections of these interests in the lives of many individuals, and the way these activities organize community and create relationships of reciprocal exchange, function to create social networks that offer an alternative to modern patterns of consumptive leisure and the alienated marketplace.”

There’s been a great deal of descriptive and analytical work done about how fandom and fan works are a gift economy, how we repurpose commercial and corporate creations, texts and paratexts for our own purposes, and how community building happens on the internet. I appreciated Soderstrom’s article so much because it ties these ideas back into face-to-face activities that coexist, and have always coexisted, with internet fandom, and, of course, predate it.

Soderstrom describes, for example, someone who’s interested in morris dancing, SCA and “Firefly”, and who can find at SF cons other people who share these interests, and a venue to pursue them.

He writes, “It seems that shared dispositions bring these interests back into orbit with each other.” Because in a way, they are all fandom. Or fandom-like.

Also, he notes, the word-of-mouth communications that occur in these overlapping fan-like communities can lead to actual job leads of all kinds, based on “who you know.” Kind of an “good ole fan network” instead of a “good ole boy network”.

He speculates, “These social networks of affiliation, discourse, and material interaction account for at least some of the longevity and continuity of fandom.”

I really appreciated the reminder to include face-to-face or “real life” activities when I consider fannish community and affiliations, even though I chiefly experience fandom online these days. In my teens I attended a few SF cons, but my fourth-ever con was Escapade 2010! When I was 48 years old! In between those experiences, I discovered online fandom, but of course face-to-face fandom is equally alive and well, in all its diverse incarnations.

As Soderstrom concludes, “Shared dispositions to envisioning and exploring alternate realities historic, future, or fantastic are complemented by social and material exchanges that result in overlapped history and SF/F fan communities that endure through time.”