Introduction to COMIC BOOK FANTHROPOLOGY, 2011

It was because of Fandom that I got married.

Well, not comics fandom, but that’s beside the point, really, since all fandom is pretty much alike.

By the early 1980s, as is typical for kids of a certain age, I was beginning to drift away from comics a little bit. I never quite stopped reading them entirely, but at that point a family relocation to the underdeveloped wilds of Delaware had cut off my main source of income, a paper route that I wasn’t able to replace in this new area. This was also about the time that the then-new Direct Sales market began to explode with new publishers, companies with names like Pacific and Noble and Capital and Eclipse. There was suddenly a wealth of new material available, material that at least held the promise of being more substantive and more interesting than the comics I had been following up till that time.

I had been buying and following just about the entirety of the Marvel and DC lines when we lived in New York. I had more than enough money to do so, and was enmeshed enough in a completest mentality that I continued to follow even titles I wasn’t that wild about at the time, such as GHOST RIDER or DEFENDERS or SHE-HULK. They were cheap, I loved comics, and so I’d make that mental leap each week at the 7-11 or Card Store and add them to the stack. But now I’d hit a bit of a crisis point, in that my finances had diminished to the point where I knew that I had to trim the fat off my buying habits.

As it turned out, once I made that mental leap, I jettisoned something like 80% of the books I was following. Even beloved titles such as FANTASTIC FOUR got the cut, as I just wasn’t enjoying what was going on in them at that particular moment. (I’d return to FF about a year later.) And once I’d committed to the course of action, I found it was incredibly easy to make the leap.

Plus, I’d found something else that captured my heart.

Star Blazers.

The translated version of the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato, Star Blazers had aired in New York only briefly, and then only incredibly early in the morning. But in Delaware, it had built up a sizable following, and was a perennial part of Channel 29’s afternoon line-up. The series concerned the journey of the battleship Yamato (or Argo in Star Blazers), reconfigured into a spaceship through the use of alien technology and tasked with completing a journey of 148,000 light years in order to recover the only device that could decontaminate a hopelessly poisoned Earth. In style and tone, I found it held similar appeal to me as the early Stan Lee Marvel Comics—it was a serialized story that continued from day to day, possessed a deeper sense of characterization than any other animated show I’d ever seen, had a talented if largely anonymous voice cast, and a spectacular soundtrack whose music pulled you into the adventure.

At that time, there wasn’t an organized Anime fandom per se. In fact, the word Anime was unknown—in those less politically-correct days, the genre was known as Japanimation. And a network of fans was beginning to sprout up, based around the love of Star Blazers, and Battle of the Planets, and Astro Boy, and Gigantor, and Kimba the White Lion. These groups, like the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (better known as the CFO) tended to be offshoots of SF fandom, people from those circles who shared a common love of cartoons from Japan., and so decided to organize.

As is typical of me, having found something I liked, I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. So, in my limited way, I began to seek out more information. I lucked out, and the timing was right, because I located a mail-order dealer who was selling Japanese film-books based on the series (and on the subsequent movies and television series that hadn’t been imported, which was a mind-blowing revelation.) He, in turn, was able to direct me to Mike Pinto’s nascent Star Blazers Fan Club, which published a regular newsletter and held get-togethers at local science fiction conventions to screen tapes of Japanese animated series that had been recorded off the air (typically four or five generations of copying down from the originals, so they were grainy and tended to skip a bit. But we loved them anyway.) From there, I branched out, and found a similar organization, the EDC, or Earth Defense Command, a Texas-based Star Blazers/Japanimation fan club that was just starting up.

Most of my resources had been going into gathering information and videotaped episodes both on Yamato as well as the other, similar shows of the period such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross and Blue Gale Xabungle. This meant that, while I was far from comprehensibly knowledgeable, I was better informed and often better stocked that the folks who were running the EDC, and as I shared my resources and materials with them, I gained a little bit of notoriety; this despite the fact that, to this day, I’ve never met any of these people face-to-face.

Some years later, the family of Jessica Reynolds was making one of their periodic relocations, from Texas to Virginia. She had been active on the fringes of the EDC through a friend of hers, and was prevailed upon to attempt to start up a new chapter of the club in Virginia upon her arrival. She was given the names of fans in the area (“in the area” being a relative term, since almost all of them were still dozens if not hundreds of miles away, closer than in Texas but just as remote.) Among the people she was told to contact was me (“He’s a very interesting person,” they told her, “and should be able to help you.”) A decade after that, after years of on-and-off correspondence and a year or two of dating, we were eventually married.

Fandom wasn’t the reason we got married. But without Fandom, we never would have met.

Here’s the thing: all fans are essentially the same. That goes for sports fans, Twilight fans, comics fans, Miley Cyrus fans, Star Trek fans, or whatever. Fandom is about sharing a passion (sometimes bordering on the obsessive or unhealthy) with like-minded individuals in common cause. It’s about celebrating this thing that you love, and sharing it with other people. It’s a social phenomenon, with all of the benefits and drawbacks that define human interaction. There’s almost always a sense of exclusion that counter-balances the inclusion—a feeling of superiority that comes with knowing and appreciating something whose merits the bulk of society is blind to. In a lot of ways, fandom is about feeling good about yourself, despite whatever “weird” things you’re obsessed with.

Fandom also tends to become self-reflective after a certain point, and so Sean Kleefeld, once named comics’ #1 fan by Diamond Comics Distribution,  has written this volume on the phenomenon of comics fandom. But what he lays out here applies, with minor modifications, to all fandoms, to all fans. While the subject of adoration may be different, the underlying behavior remains remarkably consistent across all party lines. So regardless of what you yourself may be an aficionado of, Sean’s observations and insights will certainly be relevant to your own life and pursuits.

But they won’t necessarily get you married.

–Tom Brevoort

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