My newborn fanfiction book collection

I recently decided to start a collection of fanfiction books.

This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, especially nowadays when most fanfic is published online and most fans aren’t even aware it exists in book form.  When you say ‘print fanfic’, most people think you mean fanzines.  But I’m talking about books, actual fanfic printed in book format. I can’t say exactly what spurred on my sudden decision to collect fanfic books, especially when a good portion of its contents already exist online, and free.  Maybe it’s just the bibliophile in me.  Maybe it’s just the librarian in me.  Maybe it’s just the collector in me.  Maybe it’s just the fan. Most likely it’s all of the above.

I was first introduced to the idea of fanfic in book form in the mid-2000’s when my sister’s friend sent her a beautiful illustrated book of her fanfic (which I briefly mentioned a long time ago in a previous blog post). It looked so gorgeous, so professional, that the concept stuck in my mind, and a few years later I published my own fic in book form. This was more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.  I just really wanted to hold my own words in my hands, to leaf through them, to annotate them, to put them on my book shelves just like the other treasured tomes I possess. It turned out that there were a small number of fans who also wanted copies, and so I opened up access to the books on Lulu.com

The first few books of my new collection…

It wasn’t until I started research on my Ph.D. that I discovered that the fanfiction book was more common than I first thought it was.  I was doing a random search for my ship on Amazon when I discovered a certain book that I may also have mentioned in a previous blog post. I bought a copy (for research purposes initially), mainly because I was intrigued that this book of fanfic was being sold (presumably for money) on a major online bookstore, and had an ISBN (Lulu.com will make these books available at major bricks-and-mortar bookstores, such as Borders, in this case). I haven’t linked to this particular book, since I don’t want to risk drawing the attention of rights-holders to the author, due to the work’s legally grey area.

At the Fan Studies Network Conference last year, I was shown some gorgeous fanfic books, also printed by Lulu, by an acquaintance, and this again reminded me that ‘this was a thing’. At this point, I actually did a little bit of digging into the phenomena and discovered the notorious case of Lori Jareo’s Another Hope, a Star Wars fanfic book that was sold in major bookstores, and was finally shut down by Lucasfilm in 2006. At the time, it caused significant ripples in the fan community, who were afraid that the furore would cause a backlash from the Powers That Be against fanfic itself.  Taking a look around the net, I was able to find that there was quite a sizeable amount of fanfic books out there, and since this seems to be a little-known area of fandom (and fandom research), I thought I would start up a collection of my own – for both research and entertainment purposes.

From a research perspective, there are three strands to my interest in collection fanfic books. The first centres around changing modes of publication.  In the digital era, print-on-demand (POD) has meant that self-publishing has become an affordable reality for many, and there is no longer the stigma of publishing through a ‘vanity press’.  This suggests that the internet has afforded yet more ways for fans to publish their work, apart from digital or amateur press avenues.

On the shelf…

The second area of interest revolves around the materiality of the book, and the fact that some fans still like to have their work presented in a physical format; and that others still like to buy physical written works, despite the free/gift culture that exists within the fan community.  I suspect that this may have something to do with idea of collectability – that there exists in the fan the desire to possess physical tokens of their fandom, the collective size of which may bestow fan capital.  This interest in owning physical works is especially interesting considering the recent decline in e-book sales. Could the phenomenon of fanfic books tell us something about why print books sales are once more increasing?

The last strand of interest for me is that old chestnut – copyright. Needless to say fanfic books occupy a grey area legally, and even if they are not being sold for profit (i.e. sales only going towards the cost of production and/or shipping), does this let them off the hook?  Do they still constitute fair use? And what drives fans to sell print versions of their fanfiction despite the legal nightmare experienced by Another Hope over a decade ago?

I’m not expecting my collection to answer any of these questions.  What it does make me think about however, is that fanfiction books occupy a unique place in the long history of print.  One day, I hope, my collection will be the basis of a public institutional collection that can be enjoyed by all.

* I’m currently taking donations to my collection.  If you’re interested in donating, please reply to this post, DM me at @ludiprice on Twitter, or email me at Ludovica.Price.1 (at) city.ac.uk. Thanks! 🙂 

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A (very) belated report on #FSN2016

They do say that if you want to write a blog post about an event you have to do it straight after, otherwise the glow soon fades.  I regret to say that in the case of the Fan Studies Network Conference 2016, I fell prey to what seems to be the bane of the blogosphere – you go to the event, you leave all jazzed and inspired, you get home and real life distracts you, and then the ship sails and it’s too late.

But they also say ‘better late than never’, and so here I am, writing my blog post on #FSN2016 after nearly 5 months of reflection.

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. ;)

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. 😉

What I will say first is how much FSN had grown even since 2015.  There were so many more people, and the atmosphere was buzzing – there was a general feeling of excitement in the air.  Of course, the buzz may have been something to with the fact that Henry Jenkins was giving the keynote; but in my case it probably also had something to do with the fact that I was presenting this time, along with my supervisor, Lyn Robinson, on the ‘Using the Archive’ panel.  Our presentation, “Fanfiction in the Library”, sought to give an overview of fanfiction in libraries within the UK.  This might seem an unusual area of research, as one is very unlikely to have ever seen fanfiction in a library before.  I feel that our interest was prompted by two main areas:

  • The growing evidence (as seen in my doctoral research) for fans as accomplished practitioners of information work, who build their own collections (both on and offline), who display highly sophisticated information behaviours, and who work collaboratively to create, share and maintain collections;
  • The growing interest in the fanwork as a cultural document worthy of collection, not merely by fans themselves, but by memory institutions (e.g. the expansion of fanzine collections within UK libraries).

Three different methods were used to glean an overview of fanfiction (and fandom) in libraries within the UK:

  1. A literature review of past and present research into the concept of fanworks as documents, or as parts of a wider collection;
  2. A study of the collection policies of 10 UK libraries, and whether the collection of fanworks or fanfiction comes under their remit (it doesn’t);
  3. A survey of current #citylis students and alumni, asking them about their current awareness of fanfiction and fandom, and whether fanfiction or fanworks should be collected in libraries and other memory institutions.

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    Fanfiction in the Library!

The intention was not to promote the collection of fanfiction in libraries across the UK per se; rather it was to begin a dialogue between the LIS and fan studies communities on the subject.  Whilst there seems to be a strong feeling amongst the relevant literature and most of the surveyed students in our study that fanfiction is culturally important and worth preserving, there is an equally strong feeling that collecting it is fraught with issues.  Both fans and librarians can agree that fanfiction is not like the ‘usual’, standard literature one might find on the shelves.  Most fanfiction nowadays is born digital, and is rarely instantiated in one fixed state – it can be constantly updated, edited, reworked, rehashed, removed, and sometimes just never even finished.  What if the author does not care for their work to be collected?  What about the perennially thorny issue of copyright?

These are just a few of the valid questions raised both by the #citylis students and the audience during our panel.  It was heartening to find that there actually was a dialogue to be had about this topic, and that many people in both the LIS and fan communities were interested in preserving fanworks – or at least in entertaining the idea.  During the research phase, I was particularly interested to find that a large proportion of the interviewed students were aware of fanfiction and were fans themselves – and that some of them read or wrote fanfiction, or had created their own fanfiction collections.  This indicates that there will be a sizeable percentage of both future and current library and information professionals who are willing to entertain the idea of collecting, curating and managing fanworks and other non-traditional media in more mainstream and/or professional bibliographical contexts. Likewise, the interest shown from the fan studies audience at #FSN2016 indicated a willingness to start thinking of ways in which fan culture and its many outputs can be preserved for future posterity – or indeed, whether it should be preserved at all.

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well ;)

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well 😉

I think that goal – the goal of starting a dialogue – was achieved in abundance during #FSN2016.  I’m not sure whether the dialogue has continued, but I’d like to see it do so.  At the very least, I feel that there is so much that LIS can learn from the collaborative, participatory, creative and generous model of information behaviour that fans show.  But do fans want to make a concerted effort to preserve their creative work, and should information professionals become involved in that process?  The contributions of volunteer librarians and other professionals, as well as passionate amateurs, on AO3 shows the greatness that these kinds of collaborations can achieve.  The recent publication of Abigail De Kosnik’s Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom has convinced me that this is a more timely moment than ever for us all to work on the cultural preservation of fandom.  I’d be happy to carry on the conversation with anyone else who’s interested. 🙂

A long overdue thanks to the amazing folks at #FSN2016 and the fan studies community for the fun and intellectually stimulating conference!  I had a whale of a time and yet again met some truly stellar people.  I just wish I’d had the time to meet more.  But then, I guess there’s always next year! 😉

 

The “Fanfiction in the Library” presentation is available here.  (The paper is currently being edited with a view to publication).

You can read Lyn Robinson’s blog post on #FSN2016 here.

The #FSN2016 programme and abstracts can be found here.

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Delphi study findings: the resources fans use

This post focuses on the information sources and resources that the 31 members of my Delphi panel mentioned in their responses.

The main finding in this section of the study found that overwhelmingly, the primary or source text is the key source of information for cult media fans. Whilst online sources take up the largest percentage of sources used by panel members, offline sources, or those that are neither specific to digital or analogue forms, were also widely used, thus supporting the view that fans are comfortable using a wide range of resources to gather news, seek out trivia, research projects, and share information about their fandom.

The first round of this study also seems to show that fans use a wide variety of resources, from ‘official’ sources to fan-made resources.  In the case of official sources, this is not merely restricted to the source text or canon, but also includes such things as interviews, tweets and Tumblr postings from actors/writers/creators/producers, printed art books, promotional materials and other merchandise.  As for fanon and fan-made resources, there are obviously other fanworks, but also fan talk, wikis, rec lists, social media, and so on.

The following table gives a run-down of all the information sources and resources cited by the Delphi panel’s 31 participants. The list is broken down into three sections – online, offline, and specific to neither of these media.

 

Online Offline Non-specific
Fanfiction.net Art books Primary/original source/text
Message boards Comics News and press releases
Fan sites DVD extras/commentaries Interviews
Fanart sites (e.g. deviantART) Magazines Articles
YouTube TV shows/documentaries Promotional materials
Tumblr Library Other fans
Twitter (official and fan accounts) (auto)biographies Friends/family/colleagues
Facebook (official and fan accounts) Radio shows Actors/agents/producers/creators
AO3 Stores and shops Newspapers
Google Drive/Docs Books Scientific/academic papers
Podcasts Movies Fanworks
Social networking sites CD’s/records/soundtracks Reviews (print, AV, digital etc.)
Gossip sites (e.g. Celebrity Dirty Laundry) Overhearing fan conversations
Screenshots (of games, movies etc.) Teachers/professors
Soundtracks Reading groups
Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Marvel & DC Comic Databases) Theatre/stage/performance
Databases Imagination!
Spoiler pics/lists etc.
Mailing lists
Archives
Livejournal
Rec lists/link lists
Google search
Mediafire/Dropbox
Dreamwidth
WordPress
Live tweeting
Blog posts
ComicBookResource
Marvel.com
Ebay
Adultfanfic.org
Yahoo
Live-plays/walkthroughs/guides
Kickstarter/Patreon/Twitch
Instagram
Google Translate
Memrise
Comicology/My Comic Shop/Midtown Comics
Rage comics
Memes
Gamespot/IGN etc.
Fic-find communities
Cosplay.com
Game trailers

If you want to read more about the findings of the Delphi study, you can read my paper, “Being in a knowledge space”: information behaviour of cult media fan communities.  The paper is also available through my Publications tab above.

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Cataloguing Fandom – transcript of my interview with the Fansplaining podcast

The following is an excerpt of a transcript of an interview between myself and the Fansplaining podcast.  The interview is about my research into fan information behaviour and is featured in Episode 19 of the podcast, Cataloging Fandom.  The transcript in its entirety can be read on the Fansplaining blog.

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Fans collect… but they also catalogue.

 

Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!

FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!

ELM: This is episode 19, Cataloging Fandom.

FK: And we’re gonna be talking to Ludi Price, who is a PhD student and a librarian and she’s working in information science and she’s going to talk about why fans are interesting in that arena.

ELM: Right, and we’re also going to take the opportunity to exorcise all of my lingering feelings about my master’s degree, which was in this realm.

FK: Oh, exOrcise, not exErcise! Exorcise.

ELM: Yeah, like a demonic possession.

FK: The power of Christ compels you kinda thing.

ELM: Yes. The power of Christ does compel me.

FK: Right.

ELM: Kinda thing. Cause I got a master’s degree in the digital humanities two years ago now, and that’s, at that university it was in the broader realm of information studies, which includes information science, librarians, archivists.

FK: All that good stuff.

ELM: Yeah it’s great stuff.

FK: So you have feelings about that.

ELM: Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about it. No spoilers.

FK: OK, should we just talk to Ludi then?

ELM: OK, um, and after we talk to Ludi we’ll read a couple of—we’ve been tagged in a few Tumblr posts recently and so we wanted to talk about one of them and we got an email that I think referenced, what episode was that where we talked with DestinationToast about yuri?

FK: It was several episodes ago.

ELM: Lord only knows. It was some time ago. So we got a thoughtful email about that so we can talk about that too.

FK: Alright, so, shall we talk to Ludi?

ELM: Let’s call her up!

FK: All right, let’s welcome Ludi Price onto the podcast!

ELM: Welcome!

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Fandom at #citylis: Wolverine and Thor pinatas

Ludi Price: Hello! Thank you! Great to be here, I’m very flattered to actually be asked to come on here, because not many people know what I do or understand what I do, so yeah, it’s great to talk about it!

ELM: That’s a perfect setup for us to say “what do you do?”

LP: Ah, ok. I am many things, but part of what I do right now is I am a PhD student at City University London in Information Science. And I am actually researching the information behavior of fans. But at the same time I’m a librarian part-time. There’s kind of interconnections there. And of course I’ve also been a fan since I was a little girl.

FK: Information science—I understand, I think I understand what a librarian is at least on some level, but what is information science?

LP: Ah, OK. Actually this is a bit of a long story, because library and information science, the two disciplines, there’s a lot of overlap between them and they’re usually lumped together but they are slightly different. So I would say that information science is kind of the overarching discipline. So it’s the science of how we deal with, as human beings, information. So a lot of it is to do with the information chain, how do we create, find, seek and actually find, collate, disseminate, share, and organize information.

So it’s not actually a chain, a linear chain, it’s more like a cyclical chain, so we create, we organize, we share. Library science is kind of, I don’t want to say an offshoot of it because that’s disrespectful to librarians, but it’s, it’s the same but it’s to do with specific collections, basically. So in a library you will have a collection of some books. And then intertwined with that is the idea of documentation and documents themselves of which from my perspective you would consider fanworks as documents, and how are they collected and shared.

FK: OK so fanworks are documents, then what’s interesting about fans and the way that they deal with this stuff—it seems like everybody must, everybody encounters and deals with information, why are fans especially interesting in this way?

LP: Well, you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head because everyone in their everyday lives encounters information, from the books you read to even like bills and just general everyday things like that. Information science in itself as a discipline is more interested in kind of the more professional aspects of that, like how do certain groups deal with finding information. For example how do lawyers find information and what do they do with it. How do teachers deal with information. How do students deal with information.

And it’s only fairly recently that people have started to look into the more everyday aspects of information behavior. How do individuals deal with their own personal information, for example. And there’s also been kind of a movement towards how do people, I don’t know, people who are enthusiasts and hobbyists, how do they deal with information. Because a lot of what they do doesn’t have official channels or official sources, resources to gather information from. A lot of what they do they kind of document themselves and fandom is closely related from an information science point of view to the information behavior of hobbyists and collectors and enthusiasts and volunteers and things like that. Because they work outside of official channels and a lot of what they do is from their own kind of passion about or obsession, dare I say, with something. So yeah, there is kind of an interest in the more informal ways of sharing information in the information sciences. And fandom is a part of that that has been largely ignored, in fact almost totally ignored, and even though people are starting to pick up on that, that’s something that I’m interested in.

ELM: Yeah it’s funny because one thing that struck me a lot while I was doing my master’s was how much of the behavior that was being studied in terms of information organization or behavior seeking online was around academia.

LP: Mmhm.

ELM: And it did seem to me a huge oversight that everything I’ve always encountered in fandom seemed so much more exciting and richly organized and built as opposed to the stuff that we were studying.

FK: But, wait wait wait, actually it would be helpful to me if we could be concrete about what the stuff you’re studying is. Because I just heard a bunch about how people study, yeah, academics or whatever, but they ought to be studying hobbyists and maybe they’re beginning to, but what is the thing that you’re studying? Is it the way that people find fanfic or find fanvids or the way they bookmark them, or like… what is it?

LP: So I’ve taken on a humongous task of trying to research the whole information chain so everything from how fans find fanworks or whatever or information to do with their fandom all the way through organization of these works or whatever to actually how they share them with each other. So this is a really huge topic because no one has actually ever looked, to my knowledge no one has ever actually looked at the whole information/communication fans as fans do it, basically.

But obviously because of time and whatnot I’ve had to focus in on certain areas. So in my first year what I actually did was a literature review which was basically trying to synthesize the literatures of library and information science and fan studies and see if there was any kind of commonality or any research that overlapped on each other. So I’ve found out some stuff from that about how fans tend to go for informal information resources, how they come up with their own vocabularies, ontologies, taxonomies, things like that. They’re very generous with what they share and what they do.

FK: OK so just to make sure I understand, if you’re talking about, like, fans coming up with a vocabulary and taxonomy and stuff, so one thing you might be interested in would be like the Archive of our Own tagging system? Or vidders.net and the way vids are organized within that?

LP: Mm-hm! Yes yes.

FK: OK.

LP: Exactly. And that’s actually something that I’ve started to look at in my third year, which I’m in now,  I’m actually gonna do some social network analysis but not social networks—tag network analysis of Archive of our Own, Tumblr which I just want to give a shoutout right now to DestinationToast cause she’s really helped me with that, she’s come up with some awesome Python scripts to help me collect data from Tumblr which is really difficult to do.

ELM: That’s awesome.

LP: Thanks to her, she’s great! Also I’m looking at Etsy cause another thing I’m looking at is fans who are not entrepreneurs but are fans who sell their work as well. So yeah a lot of what I’m focusing on this year is tagging practices, classification practices, vocabularies, things like that.

FK: Sorry to have cut you off Elizabeth, because I just felt like I had so many questions and you already know what she’s talking about and I have no idea!

LP: (laughs) that’s fine, that’s fine! That’s cool.

ELM: I just wanted to throw academics under the bus—but you’re an academic so maybe I shouldn’t!

LP: (laughs) If you wanna go off record that is absolutely fine! (all laugh) I do not mind at all.

ELM: No it’s just like, I often felt like, you know, say you wanna study how people communicate and organize on Twitter for example, you have to pick a subgroup, you can’t just say you know. And it just felt like the default was to pick academic Twitter, which sometimes I just felt like it was a strange way to draw conclusions. I mean I just—you can see it, in fan studies more broadly, people will in a very social science way focus on a very small fan community and then draw some, I feel like a lot of times they don’t even draw bigger conclusions because they just observe. And you’re like, or like, I would get this in DH—that’s digital humanities, Flourish, just so you know.

FK: (sigh-laughs)

ELM: They’d be like “we studied an email group of 20 people, and 2 of them said this, and 4 of them said this.” And I’d be like, OK. I just—I, you know, I guess cause I was a journalist before and I’m a journalist after and during, I don’t know what this tells us. I don’t want to put you on the spot and make you defend academic study. So. (laughs) I can cut myself off.

FK: But you are a little bit. (Ludi laughs in background)

ELM: No! it sounds like you are, it sounds like you have a bigger scope though, or maybe that’s not true?

LP: To a certain extent. I think with anything in academia, especially with anything in LIS, Library and Information Science, the problem is that it’s such a huge area. Information as you said comes into all aspects of our lives and so by its very nature, if you’re studying it, you have to focus on a certain subset or group. It’s hard to make generalizations from all that.

ELM: Right.

FK: How much do you draw conclusions from, how much of this is about just observing behavior and how much is about improving practice in other areas, so like, learning lessons in one area and then applying those lessons to another? The reason I ask is when, since ebooks have become a thing that everybody does the way that, I really personally wish that ebooks were organized in a way that was a lot closer to fanfic archives. Right?

ELM: Mm.

LP: Yep, yep.

FK: Because fanfic archives are clearly superior at actually directing you to what you wanna—I mean like this is an opinion, but. And it sometimes is irritating when people talk about the “new developing area” of this and it’s like, yeah, there’s been a ton of you know, native online texts that have existed for years that have been in archives that have had this practice. So is some of that work about just like observing even if it’s a small community, a community that seems to have made an innovation or to have something working for it and then applying that to other areas?

LP: Yeah definitely. That is actually one of the aims of my thesis is to see how this work, all these findings can actually feed into the discipline of information science itself, or not the discipline but practical uses of it, basically. Can we harness information practices, the passion, the investment that fans have in organizing their works, which is not—it can be creative but it’s just a practical way of organizing your fanworks. And fans are brilliant at doing that. I might say that some, many, most of are even better than professionals at doing it.

ELM: Yeah!

LP: And (laughs) I really want to make library users and other librarians as excited about the work they do or the resources they’re accessing as fans are. I’m really lucky that actually my PhD supervisor is really supportive and she’s really into the whole fandom herself. She really inspired me because I never even, when I finished my masters I just thought I was gonna go on a library career path, librarian career path. And then she was like, Ah, you know, have you ever thought about doing a PhD? And I was like um, kind of no maybe? And she was like, well, have you ever thought of doing a PhD about how fans deal with information? And I was like say what? This is potentially a thing?! I was like yeah, okay! And luckily she helped me with my proposal and I was lucky enough to get funding for it, so that’s really cool.

And she was really into this idea of new forms of documentation and new forms of looking at works. And I think this is a time of, even though there’s a lot of cuts in the library and information professions, in England anyway probably where you are too, there’s a great push for innovation and a great push for library and I don’t know museum archives. The users of these and memory institutions to actually get involved in helping to organize and share and get people excited about collections. I don’t know if you’ve seen things like GalaxyZoo and the World Archives Projects and stuff like that, TranscribeBentham, these projects where they want people who are really excited, amateur historians and genealogists and things like that to actually come and look at the work, transcribe it, to tag it and stuff like this.

For the library and information professions this is a really exciting and amazing thing! It’s like, we can harness the passion of the public to actually come and do this stuff for us! And it’s like, this is not a new thing, fans have been doing this stuff for years. And they are just amazing at doing this stuff!

ELM: This is interesting to me and I’d be really curious to know, and I don’t want to go too deep in the weeds, but like, so TranscribeBentham is the like—TranscribeBentham, Flourish, is (laughs) is the—

LP: Sorry about this!

FK: (laughs) What’s funny about this is I actually know a great deal about both TranscribeBentham and the digital humanities but I will be the official person who doesn’t know things about things so you can explain them!

ELM: (sputters) No it’s just like we have to explain it for the listener—

FK: We do, we do!

ELM: (doubtful) You know a great deal about TranscribeBentham, really?

FK: Well, I had a long conversation with somebody about it actually when I was in London last, so that’s the only reason I know.

ELM: With someone who was involved?

LP: Oh really?

FK: No, somebody who’s in digital humanities, about it.

ELM: So Flourish, I won’t Benthamsplain to you, but for the listeners, (laughs) Jeremy Bentham is a—

FK: (giggling) Benthamsplain!

ELM: Spiritual founder of—

FK: A corpse.

ELM: —of UCL, he’s not the actual founder of UCL but he’s like the father of UCL, he’s a what, late nineteenth, late eighteenth century early nineteenth century philosopher?

FK: And now he’s a corpse.

ELM: —real chill, and so his body is in the—(Ludi laughing in the background) He was super chill though, that’s his thing, right? Like, and (laughs) he invented the panopticon? Yeah, his body is in the hall at UCL—

FK: But not the head!

ELM: The head is in the basement.

FK: Because people used to steal the head!

ELM: Actually I heard that it was too deformed to show now.

FK: (disappointed) Oh, really? I liked my idea better that people had, like stolen it.

ELM: Anyway.

LP: It’s a good idea!

ELM: As you know, OCR, text recognition software can’t handle handwritten text, particularly from way back in the day. So they have all of his archives so they created this project where it’ll be like fun for the public. I shouldn’t make, sound so flippant, some people enjoy it. Where they transcribe his letters piece by piece and tag it very lightly with XML, and then there’s someone who works on, like, cleaning up the work of the public.

And as far as I know most of it is done by like half a dozen individuals who are just very dedicated. One woman used to watch EastEnders every night and now she, (laughing) now she transcribes Bentham. Just like, fine! That’s cool! It’s interesting! But I, one thing that really struck me, at UCL I had no less than 150 lectures about this project in my various classes. Which was a little frustrating since we all had to take the same classes.

LP: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to bring it up.

ELM: I’m traumatized.

FK: There’s other projects like this too, right? Like the New York Public Library recently did a thing with menus, which also are hard to OCR.

ELM: Right, there are all of these image projects, even Google was trying to get people to tag their shit for them. The thing that really struck me though when I hear about things like TranscribeBentham, and this gets back to what we were just talking about—I kind of bristle at the, like, academic embrace of this unpaid labor. So they’d be like, in what you’re describing they’d be like “the public is gonna love this and we have a free source of doing this work that would take a billion hours and tons of resources that we just don’t have.” I thought that was a weird strategy to kind of, fall, rely on. It was being treated like this was a default thing that was just gonna happen.

In fandom it’s different because I think there’s a lot of interesting questions of unpaid labor in fandom, but like, it never would occur to me to say like, if I was like “oh can we all look through these Sherlock screencaps to see if we can like catalog X, Y and Z,” people would just do it, and you’d be like, of course I’m doing that, I love that, you know? And so that’s the tension and the difference and I’m wondering if you’d care to comment on that. Sorry that was long.

LP: That’s OK! Yeah it’s difficult obviously there’s a tension there. And you know, I was a member of World Archives Project for like three years, and I never saw it as unpaid labor cause it was fun, it was enjoyable, and it was something that I really liked to do, and yeah, I don’t know if there’s any easy answer to it.

FK: Well isn’t there also a question about who it’s benefiting? We all do things that are unpaid labor that make, sort of, the world nicer, right? This is one of the questions about sort of the quote “emotional labor” that people go through, like, when we’re in public, we hold doors for other people even if we don’t know them.

ELM: Is that emotional labor?

FK: I think some people would say it is.

ELM: Aw, it’s not that hard, guys. Who are complaining.

FK: But also when we, you know, like with our friends we share things, in order to make a—like in an office we all agree to do things. And so there’s a question of, like, it’s one thing for Google to ask people to tag things that are then going to benefit Google’s algorithms and benefit Google’s ability to make money off of stuff and it’s another thing to be like, “here is an archive, here are the letters of Jeremy Bentham, they are public, they are for the public’s use, and in order for everybody to get more use of them, which everybody has…”

ELM: I think Google having, like, working on their algorithm for image search is vastly more beneficial to the public.

FK: Yeah but it ultimately results in, Google owns that algorithm. It may be more beneficial for the public but Google still ultimately owns it and makes money off of it.

ELM: Flourish you know that their motto is “don’t be evil,” and so…

FK: Oh yeah, cause that’s enforceable.

LP: I think they got rid of that motto now.

ELM: (laughs) Cause they started buying robotics and weaponry facilities and—

FK: But you see what I’m saying right, because on the one hand it’s beneficial for the public to do that but on the other hand you’re literally giving value to a corporation that you don’t own any part of, whereas Jeremy Bentham’s letters are, I guess I don’t know for sure that this is the case but I assume that they are in a charitable situation, right.

ELM: Cause he was just so chill, right.

FK: Well, most university—

ELM: Right, cause they just own them. UCL has them. This kind of leads back to something that I wanted to, kinda carry along with the comparison between what you were talking about before, fans’ natural inclination to organize and desire to do this stuff, and trying to bring that into the realm of you know professional information organizers, librarians and information scientists.

I have to wonder if you see a tension there too because like, just like I’m saying with I can’t imagine that anyone would want to transcribe Jeremy Bentham’s letters—and I understand that there are people that are and I’m not meaning to disparage them actually, like, thank you for your labor or your passion which is not labor! I’ve had a lot of jobs where I’ve had to organize large amounts of information and I enjoy that in my, like, OCD quelling kind of way, but it’s nothing like the joy that I get in fandom organizing and seeing the way things are organized. And I wonder if you think that that’s something that’s like, that’s surmountable, or… does that make sense?

LP: Yeah it does, it makes a lot of sense. And the more I look at the subject the more I don’t know if it’s achievable. I mean, last year I actually did a talk about trying to harness that passion in your library users that fans have, and they were just like, “we don’t see people becoming that obsessed with what we have.” And someone said, “your users would need to have a huge investment in your collection, like fans have in their fandom.” And is it possible to kind of induce that in your users? When an academic library can’t even get their academics to tag the books in their library system catalog in the area of study that they are seriously invested in and hopefully passionate about? If academics can’t be bothered to do that…

FK: Does it, do you see any difference with genre fiction? Because something I definitely wondered about was, full disclosure the thing that bothers me in the ebook universe is romance novels of which, which I think are sort of the closest officially published thing to fanfic, I mean that’s how I see them.

LP: Yep.

FK: And I enjoy them for the same, for some of the same reasons that I enjoy fanfic, and so it really grates my cheese to not be able to find romance novels in the same way I find fanfic.

ELM: Grates your cheese, Flourish, wow.

FK: Grates my cheese. And I think that there’s a lot of other romance readers who feel the same way, and I know that because romance readers tend to create their own, like, incredibly complex libraries and have extreme ebook cataloging, like, for themselves, but I haven’t ever seen that for a community out in the public.

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Fandom stats – a way of looking at the tagging behaviours of fans on the internet

LP: Yeah, that kind of ties into some of the studies that have been done on hobbyist collectors and stuff like that. And a lot of what they do they do in a very insular world. The difference between the information behaviors of hobbyists and enthusiasts etc. etc. is that fans do it in a participatory way. They will organize and collect and classify and do all this stuff but they will share the fruits of their labor online and say, “this is up for grabs, you can copy this, you can use my vocabulary, whatever.”

Hobbyists don’t tend to do that. I mean they might do in a kind of physical meatspace club or something. But they don’t tend to do it in large scale, en masse movements like fans do. And what you’re saying about romance fiction and stuff like that, I’m sure there are a ton of people out there who have classified and made collections and stuff. But they don’t come together to share that. And I think probably some of the stuff that they are doing would be of great interest to publishers or the ebook creators or whatever.

And I think that this is where the intersection comes with what I’m doing with fans and what we’re saying about romance readers for example.

FK: You know it actually, while you were talking it occurred to me that maybe GoodReads is the closest thing that we have to that.

LP: Yep, yeah, I think you’re right.

FK: It doesn’t have the same robust tagging system but there are things people will make like, a collaborative list of every, here are all our favorite forced marriage romance novels. (Ludi laughs) and similarly Ravelry might be one of the few places where people who are hobbyists share information, in the knitting and crocheting and yarnmaking community.

LP: Mm.

FK: I’m sure it’s the exception that proves the rule, is what I’m saying.

ELM: The interesting question here though is, what is the aim of all this tagging? What is the aim of the way that you’re organizing? Like Amazon organizes their books in a way…

FK: It is a way.

ELM: That exists…

FK: There is some organizational principle.

ELM: They play at having all these deep subcategories like you know, like “#19 in African American-Football-Paranormal Romance.”

FK: That obviously mean nothing to people.

ELM: Which sounds like the most amazing story that I’m going to write right now. But you know, they don’t care—the question is the people doing the organizing, do they care about the person who needs to seek out this information. Like Amazon doesn’t give a fuck, right?

FK: But they should, right? Isn’t their business helping you find the thing you want to buy?

ELM: Not books. (laughs) But that’s fine. They don’t exist to sell books, Flourish! And I’ve been thinking a lot about this and maybe this is taking it too far afield, but I’ve been thinking about how fanfiction categorizes by emotions, right, and you can explicitly seek that out, so it’s a question of like… I think if you don’t understand that some people read looking for angst or hurt/comfort or fluff or whatever, whatever the equivalents would be in the professionally published world, then you’re not inclined to organize that way but maybe that’s what the person who’s seeking out the information wants, does that make sense?

FK: Right or like—

ELM: This is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about but I don’t know why I’m saying this right now.

LP: No no it’s really interesting cause I think fans are you know, they’re so into their little niche interests or kinks or whatever that fan tagging and fan classification is so highly granular, like it goes into really really specific details so you can find exactly what you want as easily and quickly as you want. And the marketing industry is not geared to that. Even though with the rise of the internet you are able to find, the internet better serves the long tail of what you want more easily, you can find really obscure stuff really easily, I think there’s still a tension with the marketing industry at large. They still kind of, it’s still broadcasting to the masses. You could have a potential really small but dedicated community that’s really heavily into this one product. And I’m not sure that many of them have quite grasped that yet. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing.

FK: This is interesting, it puts me in mind of the fact that Netflix recently made a statement that everybody in the entertainment industry is like “ohhhh!” about which is the same thing I’ve been saying for years, which is that gender and age are not good predictors of what you want to watch. Like, this seems like it should be obvious, right? Gender and age are not very good predictors of what you’re gonna want to watch, with the exception of if maybe you’re like a woman of childbearing age you’re more likely to watch instructional videos about baby care, but actually who knows, right?

ELM: Classic Netflix content.

FK: You could be a 16 year old boy who is like about to have a baby sister or brother, who knows?

ELM: Interesting example.

FK: Anyway, this is funny because it—it blows people’s minds still that this might be the case. That’s like the broadest possible categories.

LP: Yeah, it’s true.

FK: So do you think that library, do you think that libraries and the way that information is organized in there, do you think there are biases that come through from the commercial realm over into that realm?

LP: Oh definitely, definitely. I guess that goes without saying. You’ve gotta be, your books, your collection has gotta be used. You can’t just have books just sitting there or else they’ll just be a waste of space. So they get weeded if no one uses them, if they’re not in circulation. So yeah definitely. And that’s also part of what I’m interested in, is the fanwork as a collection. And as part of human culture, libraries themselves think of it as a throwaway culture. And there’s been a movement now to collect fanzines and have fanzine collections, but this is kind of, you know, the fanzine has had its heyday and it’s kind of trying to catch up with something that’s moved on so very vastly.

And so there are huge holes in libraries where fandom is concerned. And it’s a huge part of our human culture, you can’t deny that. Luckily, fans are doing a lot to preserve their own culture and I have an investment in it, so.

ELM: It sounds like there’s a disconnect though between—I feel like this is a theme we keep coming up against. Fans doing it themselves, we were just talking about this, the big episode about TV and film production, it just seems to be this gap between what the establishment is doing in any of these realms and what fans are mirroring but doing for themselves internally. Which is—or I just went on a rant about this about journalism, cause men keep writing stupid articles about fanfiction. Like, why aren’t fans doing it? But then it’s complicated.

FK: And then we have people like Ludi who are trying to bridge that gap, right?

LP: Yeah, for what it’s worth! Definitely. (laughs)

ELM: It’s worth a lot! So I don’t know, I feel like all three of us are in similar positions and I, I’m really tired right now. So I don’t know how you guys feel.

FK: I’m not tired right now, but.

ELM: Great, you had some coffee!

LP: Yes.

FK: You had coffee too, Ludi!

ELM: I haven’t had coffee yet. So one thing that I do see a lot these days, I think as fan studies gets more visibility—do you identify as a fan studies person?

LP: Not completely, I feel half and half. LIS and fan studies have widely divergent, like, backgrounds and methodologies, you just can’t—

ELM: Cause fan studies is usually, it’s social sciency, right?

LP: Yeah it’s more media and cultural studies, yeah.

ELM: OK. So that aside I think because it’s gotten so much more visibility recently I see a lot of younger people writing saying, realizing that this is like a viable thing now, yeah? —Flourish is waving at these metaphorical, or these imaginary young people.

FK: Yeah! They’re not imaginary, they’re real!

ELM: It’s exciting to think about, I am approaching what will be my 10 year college reunion, if I had known 10 years ago that this was something that I could have studied it might have changed everything, you know?

LP: Mmhm.

ELM: And so I’m wondering if you have any, like, advice or resources, I don’t wanna put you on the spot, but in terms of people beginning their academic journeys and wanting to take this stuff seriously, cause I see a lot of confusion.

LP: It’s a very kind of visceral question for me because I spent a lot of my life just feeling really unhappy with what I was doing and where I was going and then I, I just like, I was so fed up I was like “I want to be a librarian!” Because that’s what I wanted to be originally as a kid, right. So I went back to school and I did the master’s in Library Science and then I got a job as a librarian and then in the space of, the same week as getting the job the PhD proposal acceptance came through and I was like “Wow, I’m doing an information science PhD in fans!” And you know, I still can’t really get over that this is a thing. And if I’m doing this weird subject that I love so much, and I do love it despite sometimes feeling like I want to tear it apart, it’s possible, you know? It’s possible to do this if, I mean, a lot of it is luck and circumstance, I never would have gotten into it if I didn’t have a brilliant supervisor who is both a leader in her field, in the field of information science, and also is a fan herself.

But you know, if it’s something that you’re passionate about, if you’re a fan you go and do it, you write your fic, you make your vids, whatever, if you want to go into the academic area of fan studies it’s there, and if you’re passionate about it do what you do as a fan and go for it. Just try and do it, even if things are rubbish sometimes, sometimes you write crappy fic, but you love it, go for it!

ELM: That was a very positive ending!

FK: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Ludi, you’re like a little ray of sunshine!

LP: Aw, thank you, that’s really sweet!

FK: You really are.

LP: Thank you for having me, it’s been an awesome ride. (all laugh)

FK: Bye!

This post is an excerpt of a transcript originally published by the Fansplaining podcast on 10 April 2016 on their blog, Fansplaining.  The actual interview can be streamed and downloaded from SoundCloud. A version of this blog post was also published on the #citylis blog.

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Fan info behaviour – Delphi findings update

In the interests of original research, I’ve removed the previous text of this post.

However, I would like to say that so far the findings have been really interesting, and that the Delphi panel’s responses seem to tending more to a consensus.  Fans may not be an homogeneous group, but it appears that there’s a lot they can agree on, especially where their information behaviour is concerned!

I’d like to thank my 31 participants for their amazingly in-depth responses, and for their patience in waiting for me to get Round 2 sent out.  They all went above and beyond the call of duty in sharing their lives as fans with me.

I hope to get Round 2 sent out some time next week, or the week after.  In the meantime, here’s a link to Mason & Robinson’s (2011) list of sources of inspiration for emerging artists and designers (pp. 167-176) – from my perspective, it’s interesting to compare the inspirations of artists to that of fans.  It brings to mind just how much fans also share with creators.

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A PhD student at Loncon 3

This year was the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, which took place at the ExCel Centre in London over five hectic and fun-filled days (#Loncon3).  I felt it my duty to go there, both as a fan and as a research student (field observations being a must, don’t you know?), and thanks to the most excellent Con or Bust initiative, I was able to get a free membership.  I managed to make two action-packed days (the Thursday and Saturday), which gave me much food for thought – that is, when I could actually sit down and get a moment to sit down and ponder.  What struck me most about my time at Loncon was the realisation that fans are not homogeneous – just like any microcosm of humanity, fans have different values, morals, points of view, creeds, colours, sexual orientations and political agendas.  And of course, fandoms.  There can be genuine moments where a fan is rambling on about something they are passionate about, whilst you’re there thinking “What on earth are they talking about?”, even if you consider yourself a fellow geek.  Or you might be the one sitting there, rabbiting on, whilst others are staring at you blankly.  Yeah, I got that a few times.  But it was fine, because it reminded me that too often in fan or media studies, there is a tendency to think of fans as one homogeneous whole that thinks the same.  This is not true, and, as I am finding out, it is therefore not true about the ways that fans (or fan communities) approach or engage in information behaviour.

I was at the con right from the start, as I was participating in a fan arts and crafts event in the afternoon (and was, for my sins, helping set up the Transformative Fanworks tent).  For an hour I sat at a table, demonstrating my limited artistic skills and showcasing my work.  Many fans sauntered past with minimal interest (Rogue & Gambit shippers are a fairly rare breed in the fan world, or so I’ve come to learn).  But I was surprised and pleased when two lovely girls from America came and chatted to me about my work and the Rogue & Gambit fandom, and showed an interest in following my Tumblr page.   There was an interesting conversation on copyrights and IP, wherein I explained that I don’t sell prints of my fanart on deviantART as I don’t own the rights to franchises I draw from.  They seemed surprised at this. “We buy that stuff all the time,” they said. “We can just get it from anywhere.  Does that mean we’re doing something illegal?”  Well, yeah, technically.  I tried to explain about the difference between selling fanart on the internet via a third party (they have to cover their proverbial backsides after all), and selling to friends or at a convention.  But young fans aren’t really interested in that stuff.  They want their fanworks, and they’ll get them whatever the means.  The internet has made ‘reapproriated’ works so readily available to fans that copyright is hardly an issue to youngsters who have grown up in an information free-for-all.  It does make one wonder whether notions of IP will slowly die out with the next generation.

Me drawing in the Loncon 3 fan activity tent.

Me drawing in the Loncon 3 fan activity tent.

On Saturday afternoon, Megan Waples and I held what was intended to be a redesign contest for sexist superheroine costumes.  Unfortunately this wasn’t in the programme  as we’d cooked it up too late for it to be sent to print, and so we abandoned the idea of a contest and left the design silhouettes out throughout the day for anyone to do.  After a slow start we managed to get quite a lot of interest and ended up with a lovely pile of redesigns!  In fact, the project got such a lot of positive feedback from participants that we figured we could scan in the whole lot and start a Tumblr blog on it; and not only that, but to open the blog to submissions so that anyone can create a redesign, and raise awareness about the issue.  This idea also achieved some interest from fans and hopefully will be implemented once the pictures are all scanned in.

Starfire comics costume (left); and costume design  from Loncon3.

Starfire comics costume (left); and costume design from Loncon3, by Megan Waples (right).

Saturday evening brought with it the chance to attend the Researching Fans: Fan Studies and Fan History academic panel, which was enlightening.  The panel focused many on the problems of studying fans – apart from issues arising from generalisation of fans and their heterogeneity, there were also very interesting discussions around the continued suspicion of fan-related studies in the academy, and the pitfalls inherent in studying fans as an acafan (academic fan).  Many fan scholars are still coming up against complete ignorance of fandom from their peers, and there is an assumption that acafans should ‘dress up’ their research in academic language in order to make it more accessible to the scholarly community.  There was also the question of whether fan research – a finished dissertation, article or thesis, for example – could be considered a fanwork in its own right; whether this implies a lack of rigour and distance from the subject; and whether that in any way lessens its importance as a piece of scholarly literature.

I left the panel with my head swimming – too many thoughts, too many things to digest.  Fan studies is essentially multi-disciplinary.  It touches so many parts of our lives, and we can look at it from the perspective of cultural studies, media studies, games studies, sociology and psychology, to name but a few disciplines.  This is an area of study that can impact so many people’s everyday lives; and vice versa.  In my research I am hoping to look at fans from an LIS perspective, and this is yet another aspect of fan life that has been ignored and which, I think – or at least, hope – is and will come even more to the fore in future years.

After the panel I was able to finally meet some lovely Fan Studies Network people, and over a few drinks we got some discussion in about fan information behaviour and the dubious joys of Tumblr tagging.  In fact, Tumblr managed to wheedle its way into several conversations over the time that I was at the con.  The more I think about it, the more Tumblr is the new place for fandom, as more and more fans young and old adopt it as a flexible place for showcasing a myriad of fanworks such as fanfiction, fanart, animation, videos, news, quotes and essays.  It is this flexibility of use and content that makes Tumblr such a godsend to fans.  You can write a collaborative fanfic and track its progress with amazing ease; you can reblog and share content with just a simple click; you can write whole essays or express your opinions just through the tags alone (and I’ve seen tags that are longer than the actual posted content!).   Whole projects can be realised in very little time.  And this goes for the negative as well as the positive.  Flame wars and ruckuses can evolve just as quickly as a full-blown artistic endeavours.

It will take me some time to digest everything I’ve learned at Loncon, but what I will definitely be taking away are some interesting approaches to researching fandom, as well as some fascinating thoughts about how tagging and folksonomies facilitate fandom; and last but not least, I’ll remember it for some great new friendships.

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Woodrow Phoenix’s “She Lives” – a (fan) experience

On 23rd May 2014, during my second, unplanned visit to the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library, I happened upon the very talented Mr Woodrow Phoenix getting ready to give a live presentation of his monster-sized work, She Lives.   I had no idea these ‘short’ talks were going on, so the whole thing was doubly serendipitous.  All the more so for the fact that what I was treated to was an amazingly tactile and visceral experience.

Being at the front helped.  It meant I was one of the few in the audience that had the distinct privilege of helping to turn the pages, to feel the handmade, embossed cover, to run my fingers over the smooth, shiny expanses of black ink and the knobbly ridges of corrector fluid.  All too often reading comics involves solely visual ingestion of the material – you pick up the comic, you open it, you look at it, read it – its pages are either smooth and glossy or matt and slightly rough – as a printed artefact it is uniformly homogeneous, a processed piece of finished product wherein the story of its production is, if you will, a closed book.  She Lives reminds us – like the illuminated manuscripts that preceded the printing press – that comic books have a double life: on the one hand, a life as a commodity; on the other, a life as a work of art.  It is all the more interesting that Phoenix does not plan to print the book – in an industry that is known (whether rightly or wrongly) to churn out the throw-away and the ephemeral, She Lives will remain a one-of-a-kind, a real work of art – an artefact that refuses to suffer from the losses of reproduction.

Excerpt from one of the repeated sequences of She Lives. Courtesy of woodrowphoenix.co.uk.

Excerpt from one of the repeated sequences of She Lives. Courtesy of woodrowphoenix.co.uk.

What is also apparent with She Lives is the vast amount of real blood, sweat and tears that went into its making.  It’s physical size is staggering (it’s just under a square metre, it’s width double that when opened).  When you consider that it was hand-bound, embossed, and went through at least 3 previous iterations (as dummy books), the work involved in its creation is all the more impressive.  Stitching together such a large book was a feat in itself (involving much self-puncturing with the needle); and none of the repetitive sequences (totalling about 60 individual panels in a single round) are mechanically reproduced.  All are hand-drawn.  Ink spillages (of which a few were substantial) were painstakingly whited out.  The physical processes involved in bookbinding and embossing demanded much research.  So too did the environments and acts of a 1940’s circus and its performers, which make up the setting of She Lives.

Seeing the comic in its display case is impressive in itself.  But having the chance to read it is something else.  There is no narrative text, no captions or speech bubbles – yet still there is a sense that it is read.  Phoenix’s talk-through focuses mainly on the making-of the piece, which does not interrupt the flow of that reading, but instead augments it with a sense of wonder that such an endeavour was possible at all.  The sheer size of it demands a more leisurely pace in the reading of it, and this affords the chance to appreciate the artistic details of the comic.  Turning the large, heavy pages makes the reading a tactile experience, a communing with a piece of art that made me wonder what it must have felt like for the kings, princes and nobles of yesteryear to leaf through their priceless manuscripts.

This act of reading was carefully crafted by Phoenix himself.  As a document, She Lives plays with concepts of reading a book or comic when there are no words to read.  The physical size and weightiness were intentional experiments in resolving this question, as Phoenix explains:

Because silent comics can paradoxically be very difficult for readers to engage with (many people interpret a silent panel as having no important story content) a comics creator must make readers understand that the pictures do not just support the captions and speech balloons but contain and deliver as much or more information in their own right.

Back in 2002, Marvel tried a silent comic campaign with their ‘Nuff Said event.  My enduring impression of the event was how confusing some sequences were – how you sometimes really had to think what on earth was going on.  She Lives doesn’t suffer from that.  There is an elegant flow to the panels and action, no doubt thanks to the meticulous thought, effort and time that went into its making (time that the Marvel guys probably didn’t have the luxury of).  Size and weight prove to be brilliant strategies in pacing the reader, in guiding their journey through the book. “In order to hold the reader’s attention,” Phoenix says, “and to direct their gaze, my strategy was to present them with a large surface and heavy paper that would  have the effect of slowing the reader down and making them stay on the page longer, to look more closely at what the page contains.” It was clear, from the reactions of those at the page-turning event, that the strategy also increased readers’ sense of immersion and wonder.

On a more personal level, what struck me about She Lives is that it is a fan work.  I’m aware that the term has derogatory connotations attached to it; words such as derivative and even intertextual, which have been applied to concepts of fan work, imply a somehow subordinate role to the original material that a fan work may be based on (Derecho, 2006).  The point is that She Lives proves that such works can be both original and of high quality.  Set in the late 1940’s, it takes up the story of the Bride of Frankenstein, giving one of those continuations of a closed off plot that fans so enjoy playing with (Bacon-Smith, 1992; Derecho, 2006; Jenkins, 2013 [1992]).  Everything about the comic – from the lavish attention to detail, to the sense of motion in its panels, to its visceral physicality – pays testament to the love Phoenix has for his subject matter, to his desire to explore beyond the boundaries the 1935 movie presents.

Still from The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that Phoenix himself does not see his piece as fan work, or even as a tribute.  “This story was inspired by the ending of Bride of Frankenstein, but I don’t think of it as a fan tribute,” he says in an email conversation with me. “It’s more like I’m using something that was discarded. The titular character only appears in the film for two minutes and she dies without speaking, having barely done anything… There’s nothing to her as a character apart from a fabulous visual design.” And, according to Phoenix, it was that visual design that prompted him to continue her story:

I would occasionally wonder about what could have happened with her had she lived. And then one day an image occurred to me of her sitting in the dark smoking a cigarette. I thought it might make a good short story: the bride of Frankenstein had survived the explosion but had no function, no purpose or place to be, and was living in a trailer or a motel somewhere in Glendale, California.

This thought led him to the backdrop of She Lives – to “the idea [of] a freak or outcast who hides amongst other freaks”.  The circus seemed to be a natural extension of that; and once the idea had started rolling, the Bride character was no longer strictly needed.  Nevertheless, Phoenix kept her as a sort of ‘anchor’ for the reader, not simply as a striking visual motif, but as an “extra resonance” to those who would recognise who she was.  To other viewers or fans of The Bride of Frankenstein, the story would be enriched, as the Bride brings with her a cultural and narrative baggage that adds a dimension to her character (and the story) that a non-viewer or non-fan might be bereft of.  Her presence is not necessary, but for those in the know it provides a powerful story in its own right.

Even though Phoenix doesn’t self-identify as a fan artist per se, She Lives encapsulates several of the aspects that drive fans to create – the closed or unfulfilled plot that is rich for further development; the attraction to a certain character; the persistence of an image, plot point, or character trait that demands further exploration (Derecho, 2006).

As a piece of art, She Lives is an immensely satisfying work, beautiful, tactile, absorbing.  As a comic, it is compelling, perfectly paced, painstakingly plotted, wonderful to look at.  As a fan work, it is one of the best examples, even if Woodrow Phoenix did not intend it to be so.  As a fan of the original film, one must certainly feel a thrill when such an iconic and beloved character reveals herself and demonstrates a continuing life beyond the four walls of the movie that once enmeshed her.

And that is what fan works are really all about – feeling a character, and bringing that character once more to life.

* Future She Lives page-turning events with artist Woodrow Phoenix take place on Tuesday 22nd July 2014 at 6pm, and Tuesday 12th August at 3pm, at the British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition.

References

  • Bacon-Smith, C. (1992).  Enterprising women : television fandom and the creation of popular myth.  Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Derecho, A. (2006). Archontic literature: a definition, a history, and several theories of fan fiction. In: Hellekson, K., & Busse, K., ed. 2006. Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the internet.  Jefferson, North Carolina; London: McFarland.  Ch 1.
  • Jenkins, H. (2013), updated 20th anniversary ed. Textual poachers : television fans and participatory culture.  New York : Routledge.
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Serious leisure in the digital world, July 9, 2014

On the 9th July 2014 I gave a small presentation at a City Informatics forum for LIS PhD students, entitled Serious leisure in the digital world: exploring the information behaviours of fan communities (which is the working title for my thesis).  The presentation gave a summary of research done so far in my first year: i.e. how we define fans, what do previous studies have to say about fans, has any work been done on their information behaviour, and how we work towards a conceptual model of fan information behaviour.

For those who were interested in hearing about the research but unable to attend the presentation, I’ve packaged the slides in two different formats for your convenience – PPT and PDF – which can be downloaded below.  There is some amusing video in there which can only be watched with the PPT file – make sure you have an internet connection when you open. 🙂

Presentation July 2014 (PDF)

Presentation July 2014 (Powerpoint)

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my supervisor, Lyn Robinson, for her support, encouragement and advice in bringing together this talk, and in helping to get my research to the (almost) one year mark! 🙂

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Read for Research Reading List

City University London Library has started Read for Research, a great new initiative where research students are able to order books pertinent to their research which will then be added to the library.  As a resource for others who are researching LIS-related fan studies and participatory cultures, or who are interested in doing so, I’ll be sharing my list of RFR books here, which will be updated as and when new books come in.  All these books are now available at the City University London Library at Northampton Square. 🙂

  • Bacon-Smith, C. (1992).  Enterprising women : television fandom and the creation of popular myth.  Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Barton, K. M., & Lampley, J. M., eds. (2014). Fan CULTure : essays on participatory fandom in the 21st century. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc.
  • Black, R. W. (2008). Adolescents and online fan fiction.  New York ; Oxford : Peter Lang.
  • Delve, J., & Anderson, D., eds. (2014). Preserving complex digital objects. London: Facet.
  • Delwiche, A., & Henderson J. J. (2013). The participatory cultures handbook. New York ; Abingdon : Routledge.  NEW!
  • Devitt, A. J. (2008).  Writing Genres.  Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Duffett, M. (2013). Understanding fandom : an introduction to the study of media fan culture.  New York : Bloomsbury.
  • Duits, L., Zwaan, K., & Reijnders, S., eds. (2014).  The Ashgate research companion to fan cultures.  Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
  • El Morr, C., & Maret, P., eds. (2012).  Virtual community building and the information society : current and future directions. Hershey, Pa. : Information Science Reference.
  • Elkington, S., Jones, I. & Lawrence, L., eds. (2006).  Serious leisure : extensions and applications.  Eastbourne : Leisure Studies Association.
  • Fisher, K. E., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, L. E. F., eds. (2005).  Theories of information behavior.  Medford, N.J. : Published for the American Society for Information Science and Technology by Information Today.
  • Harrington, C. L., & Bielby, D. D. (1995).  Soap fans : pursuing pleasure and making meaning in everyday life. Philadelphia, Pa. : Temple University Press.
  • Hellekson, K., & Busse, K., eds. (2014).  The fan fiction studies reader.  Iowa: University of Iowa Press.
  • Hills, M. (2002). Fan Cultures.  London : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Jamison, A. E. (2013). Fic : why fanfiction is taking over the world.  Dallas : Smart Pop.
  • Jenkins, H. (2013), updated 20th anniversary ed. Textual poachers : television fans and participatory culture.  New York : Routledge.
  • Jones, W., & Teevan, J., eds. (2007). Personal information management.  Seattle ; London : University of Washington Press.
  • Murray, J. H., (1998).  Hamlet on the holodeck : the future of narrative in cyberspace.  Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
  • Pearce, C., & Artemesia, (2009). Communities of play: emergent cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds.  Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.
  • Pugh, S. (2004).  The democratic genre : fan fiction in a literary context.  Bridgend : Seren.
  • Ryan, M. (2001). Narrative as virtual reality : immersion and interactivity in literature and electronic media.  Baltimore, Md.; London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Stein, L. E., & Busse, K. (2012). Sherlock and transmedia fandom : essays on the BBC series.  Jefferson, N.C. ; London : McFarland.
  • Zubernis, L. & Larsen, K. (2012). Fandom at the crossroads : celebration, shame and fan/producer relationships. Newcastle upon Tyne : Cambridge Scholars Publishing. NEW!
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Excerpts from “The Drowned Man” Pre-show Talk, December 1st 2013: Meet the Directors

Last December I had the opportunity to attend a pre-show talk with the directors of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man.  During this talk I managed to ask a question about the participatory nature of the production, and there were some other interesting tidbits related to documentation that were drawn out during the Q&A.  I had been meaning to transcribe the event, but, as is always the way, RL (“real life”) got in the way, until I was directed to a full transcript already posted on Tumblr.

Below I have posted some excerpts from the talk that touch upon LIS matters specifically.  The questions asked are by myself and other audience members, and are put to Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, the director and director/choreographer respectively.  The session was moderated by academic and immersive specialist, Josephine Machon.  Please note that this post will contain spoilers for those who are sensitive about the show being spoiled for them.

Many thanks to Ami from At the gates guarded by horses for getting round to doing what I didn’t.  To read the full transcript, go here.

 


 

[I ask about the participatory aspects of the show, and how much the fan activity around The Drowned Man was planned from the outset].

“To ask about the audience, because they’re very much an actor or actors in itself, and the participation and the performance and the kind of agency that they have – I wanted to ask how much that was intended? Because also the audience is a participant away from the performance as well, I mean they carry on world-building, on Facebook and Tumblr and they really become attached to the characters, and I was wondering how much that’s caught your attention?”

Felix: We’re trying to empower the audience, we’re trying to give them control. The whole thing’s to make them active so it’s theirs. So it’s incredible, we’re overjoyed when we see the Tumblr thing and just the ideas and response that people have to the work. And it actually provokes us to think of more ways that we could infiltrate the real world and we can give back to people who – I think the grand plan is ‘how can you break out of walls? how can you free yourself from going to the theatre for three hours in one space?’ All of this stuff that’s happening is all part of a dialogue that’s going to lead to something new and exciting.

Then within the show…

Maxine: It’s what I was saying earlier, they fuel the dynamic of the narrative. So, in the show, when William and Wendy start having episodes then the audience which was invisible to them then become visible. They see ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred apparitions and they become their demons, so the reality of that dialogue is really present. And also it’s exciting seeing an audience flying down the corridor chasing a character. That sort of sense of commitment and desire to be part of that story and be part of that world is kind of weird but sort of wonderful at the same time.

Felix: It’s sort of like a modern-day Greek chorus. They’re judging, they’re the Furies, they’re watching over, they’re casting their vote. My favourite bits in the show are when they slip from being invisible, safe, protected behind their mask, and suddenly be exposed because a character has reached a state of frenzy whereby they’re suddenly – imagine I mean sometimes it feels like we’re having a conversation, the three of us. And then you realise there are eighty of you… And it’s empowering as well.

Josephine: So why do you choose the white mask as well as the black mask, is there any point to these? [Audience members wear white masks.  Ushers wear black masks].

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Maxine: Well the point of the characters, well they’re not characters, they’re our stewards and ushers, that wear the black masks, and they’re there for your safety and the safety and protection of the cast. They wear black masks and can just disappear really into a dark corner. And they’re just there so people feel secure, because I think when they’re – one of the things that makes this work really exciting and allows us to take risks is that we know it’s safe, we know that there’s order and structure and rigor in the chaos of it. And then the white masks, well they offer a very different function…

Felix: The white mask comes from back when I did the experiment with the Woyzeck text for my finals. We didn’t have the mask and we were in rehearsals and it really didn’t work because all you’re going to do is see other audience’s responses to the action. By the way I hate a theatre-in-the-round, because all you’re doing is having other audience inform your reading of the situation. And obviously then the performers have their status, because if you get a colourful character watching then suddenly who are you going to follow? So suddenly the idea of a mask and removing them from the picture and adding them to the scenography was a useful device. Initially it was a neutral mask, sort of plastic blasé style, you know a physical theatre-empowering device, which makes the body into any character you give it, because it completely removes any emotion from the face. That would be the dream mask – the problem is it’s not wearable. And over the first five years we had people sort of drenched in sweat –

Josephine: We still have some problems with that now…

Felix: Sorry about that… So they’ve gradually – the neutral mask is white because that’s what it was historically and it’s just a blank face, genderless and emotionless. And what we’ve done is just gradually bring out the bridge of the chin and the nose so that it’s wearable and the actual detail, it looks like bone structures, is actually to try and make it comfortable. So it’s actually not an aesthetic decision as much as to enable audience to forget they put it on.

[An audience member asks about the essentially ephemeral nature of the performance and whether it will ever be formally documented].

“Have you ever thought about the posterity of Punchdrunk’s work? About how in twenty-five years, when people talk about The Drowned Man, how can you explain to someone what it was and how it was done and what the script was? You’ve put it all together in such a fragmented way…”

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Felix: No we’re not really very good at documenting… As a company we always look forward rather than…. But there are so many projects we’ve done we don’t even have images from, which is a real shame. And so, no we haven’t thought of that at all. Although we do have a big chart on the wall upstairs in the green room which explains what scenes happen in the show, where people will be, but we’ve yet to come up with an articulate way to really put that on paper. We don’t have the visual data representation. You know I wish we had some sort of omnibus…

Maxine: In this show actually, we do have a script. We do have all of the dialogue, but that’s probably fifteen percent of the show. Most of the show is physical so that brings up the whole debate about how do you document choreography… So we’ve got an abundance of images and we have our planning notes, but we often talk about if we can make little films of all of these stories. And at least start the document process that way. Felix won’t let me do that.

Felix: Only because… We probably will do for this. If we can squeeze more time in the space, we will film more of it, but we always have the battle of do we try and film it, for posterity’s sake, or in doing some sort of low-res video recording does that undermine that which we’re aiming for, which is something that feels cinematic. And feels so richly textured. And sepia, and tungsten, and tactile in a way that video feels disposable. And I suppose I’m loathe to – well cheapen is the wrong word – undermine everyone’s hard work by putting it into that kind of box. And yeah, we don’t have the time to do that. If we had the money, we’d film it properly, but then it would be like why not just do a film?

[An audience member asks about the authentic set and its props, and where they’ll all end up… Important because the set itself incorporates innumerable documents, from books to letters, to vintage magazines, postcards and even parking permits…]

“So the set is absolutely incredible, and it’s one of the things that is most enjoyable, how immersive it is and how it engages every sense of your body. So two questions: What happens after the show? What happens to all of this, are you going to keep it, are you going to sell it or are you going to throw it away? And another question, like in a room like this, how do you arrive at the decisions of what gets put where? How do you select from the found objects and objects that are made, etc”

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Felix: You should definitely come to the talk with Livi here, she’s one of the brilliant brains behind the aesthetic, and will tell you everything about their process. But, for now… we collect props for five months, everything’s sourced. Up until this show, everything you see and touch is real. In New York we have an outdoor walled garden which is made of real brick, and the floor bends about four inches down from the weight of the tonnage.

But part of the reason why this had to be a film set is because we knew we were building from scratch and because the walls would be fake we were allowed to have a level of façade. So quite a lot of the detail here is actually plastic because it’s a film set and it’s allowed to be.

In terms of what we do with it afterwards, that’s a really good question. And I don’t know. We have a really big store down in the docklands, but it’s smaller than this building. There might be a sort of massive car boot sale? I’m getting the neons.

[So in other words, if any information professional wants to take on the truly daunting task of collecting, indexing, classifying and organising everything to do with The Drowned Man, they’ll need to get down to that boot sale with a hefty wad of cash…]

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