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She Has No Head! – The “Science” Of Fandom

Buffy and Spike

Buffy and Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9

As some of you more creatively minded types know, November is something called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – frequently shortened to the even shorter NaNo).

NaNo happens every November and is an experiment in writing a novel (or at least 50,000 words of one) that novelists everywhere (both professional and amateur alike) participate in. There’s a whole official website where you can register and track your progress, and find like-minded friends, and even get a certificate of completion (if you meet the 50k word count goal).

I’m not much of a joiner, so I don’t ever officially join up, but I’ve done NaNo three times unofficially. Twice I failed miserably (in 2010 and 2012), for both legit and non-legit reasons. In 2011 I freaking killed it. Writing more than 90k in just over five weeks.

So why are we talking about this on She Has No Head!? Well, mostly because I’m doing NaNo (unofficially) again this year and thus it’s what I’m consumed with right now and what I’m spending most of my “free” time doing/trying to do.

But since I have an audience here, and you guys have been receptive in the past to opening a dialogue (cough>sometimes more receptive than other times<cough) I thought I’d ask you some questions about what it is for you – in any media – be it comics, prose, movies, television, music, or even sports – that gets you to devote yourself so entirely to something.

What is that elusive THING that gets you to start a Tumblr about a “ship” you like, or gets you hunting down hard to find copies of a comic book, or make fan videos for youtube, memorizing stats, staying up all night watching and re-watching something, or re-reading the same books over and over again?


Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games

Because that elusive thing that we’re all chasing – as consumers – that’s what I’m trying so hard (as a creator) to pin down in my new book. My new book for NaNo is the second in a new series (the first book is not yet published) and I find myself thinking a lot about what it is that makes something obsess-worthy on a large scale. While I don’t want to manipulate my book in a non-organic way, and turning readers into slavish devotees of a character or world I create is not my PRIMARY concern, I admit to a fascination and interest in what makes some things “fandom” worthy and what keeps other from ever achieving that level. As a writer I’d like to make that evolutionary leap with this new series…but like anyone, I have trouble pinning down what it ACTUALLY IS about certain books, songs, shows, concepts, characters, or even character pairings, that gets me all obsessed, that makes me become an unequivocal unabashed FAN.


Team Cyclops or Team Wolverine? Clearly Jean is Team Annoyed.

One of the reasons this is hard for me to pin down (as a consumer of media) is that I can’t find a great pattern for myself. Sure, there are some similarities – like I tend to get a little fanatical about very specific character pairings – one of the few I “ship” is Buffy/Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I would also call myself hardcore Team Peeta (Hunger Games) and for some reason I find myself MORE interested in “ships” than I ever used to be (hell, I’m officially Team Avery over on Nashville for Christ’s sake). I never used to think of myself as someone that shipped a lot (though maybe I was just in denial?). I also almost never ship outside of continuity (comics or otherwise) though I certainly understand how a lack of inclusivity leads consumers to that place a lot of times. Anyway, all that to say I’m having trouble with the “SCIENCE” of FANDOM if you will…anyone have any ideas?

Maybe you all have just as much trouble with this as I do – it is a hard thing to pin down – if it wasn’t then there would be some sad little formula somewhere that we could all follow (man that would be depressing). But I thought if we all put our heads together maybe we could figure out a pattern about what it is about certain things that makes us tick, swoon, obsess, and sometimes all of the above.

Story continues below

Packers Chargers Football

Early Cosplay?

I took to twitter last night with the question and got some really interesting comments back. Some suggested that open-ended universes as well as ongoing ones with no definitive endings or ways to feel “finished” hold strong appeal.  Another suggestion was the controversial or “flawed” obsession – i.e. it’s more interesting perhaps to talk about the thing that not EVERYONE likes. Some suggested that the community aspect of some fandoms drives them almost as much as whatever the impetus for the fandom was – the ability to find like-minded people in safe spaces. Another suggestion, specific to shipping was that the ship is sometimes less about what is actually good for a specific character(s) and more what the consumer his/herself actually desires. Which absolutely makes sense, especially given how popular some cipher characters are in fiction. And that idea certainly makes sense given the escapist/fantasy nature of fandom in general. This is a comics website, so I expect we all know a little bit about this kind of thing, but in truth you can apply it to almost anything. Who is more devoted than a sports fan? Memorizing all the stats for players or teams, collecting cards, watching a ton of content, wearing jerseys, painting faces, re-living events through highlights and analytical shows, reading every article you see about a certain player or team. No matter how you want to look at it, we are a culture of die-hard fans and I’m just fascinated by the WHY.

So what do you guys think? What are some of the things you obsess over? Do you know why? What does it spark in you that elevates you from just liking something to feeling you’re a part of “fandom” (officially or otherwise)?




For me it’s an eomtional connection. Does the piece make me feel something? It can be laughter, it can be fear, it can be sadness, it can be joy. It can be awe and wonder at cosmic events or the subtle intimate conversations between two people. Thematic depth, narrative complexity, and realistic character development are also important, but typically any writer who can conduct my emotions like a well-tuned orchestra can do those with no effort at all.

I think it’s a bit more complex than an emotional connection, but wether or not the story creates an emotionally resonant “reality”. What makes me a fan of a series, as opposed to simply enjoying reading/watching/playing it, is wether or not the whole experience feels like something that directly relates to the human experience (or at least my interpretation of it). The particulars may vary, but if the characters’ responses to the world around them (no matter how mundane or fantastical that world may be) don’t ring true, the story won’t hold my interest.

Of course, this varies from reader to reader, and certainly there are some readers who are just too narrow-minded and unempathetic to even entertain aspects of the human experience beyond that which they’re comfortable reading/watching/playing…

You should start at the beginning: Kirk/Spock
(Also the start of organized tribal fandom… comics fandom was disorganized except for a few APAs/fanzines during this time.)

Some aspects which encourage ‘shipping:
Strong characters and relationships
Unexplored relationships
Dissatisfaction with canonical relationships
Fertile sandbox (Sunnydale’s monsters, Star Trek’s aliens)
Mass market exposure. (If you write, you need an audience which is familiar with the sandbox you are playing in.)

Why do I like comics?
Well, I wasn’t into sports (although we always listened to the Cornhuskers on KFAB growing up).
I read a lot.
Before comics, I was a Lego maniac, and a fan of MAD Magazine. Then I got hooked on video games. And then comics, via Secret Wars.
Most everything was fueled by reading and wanting to know more about the subject. (I still go on research jags, reading all I can about something until I get bored.)

Comics, initially Marvel, and then other publishers, offered a fictional universe which was mostly brand new. It fueled my imagination, offered a universe of knowledge, and provided an escape.

So I know a lot about comics. And enough about a lot of other tribes to hold a conversation (animation, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, crazy stuff).

Would I ever write fanfiction, or professional fiction? No. I’m not interested in specific characters, aside from maybe an Elseworlds perspective. Would I discuss specific story arcs? No, not really, although I will recommend specific titles.
Perhaps I’ve built up a tolerance to the hyperbole of Marvel and DC, and not much gets me excited anymore.
Perhaps the excitement of discovery has grown old, as “new” gets less and less common.

Yet, I get excited when I can share my knowledge with others!
Perhaps that’s a bit of storytelling, sitting around a fire (or a booth) and spreading the gospel.
What fuels that excitement? The crazy stuff. Like Kaptain Kool and the Kongs.

There’s actually an interesting– if a bit breathless and fannish– attempt to examine this phenomenon in a book called STAR TREK LIVES! that came out in the late 1970s. Their theory is that Star Trek hit fans so hard not because of any ONE thing, but rather a confluence of separate niche appeals. It got the SF fans with the stories, it got fans of adventure with the western-in-space approach, there was sex appeal, there were fun characters and humor… it was the versatility of the format that got fans interested and kept them there.

I kind of like the idea that you bundle a bunch of narrow, niche appeals rather than try for an overarching broad appeal. That way you get get a better overall product, I think– if you are careful about building each thing narrowly but really well, then you get multiple groups of fans that really LOVE what you do. It’s the approach I’m taking with the current projects I’m embarked on, anyway: trying to make something work as a traditional mystery story as well as a rocking two-fisted adventure and stay true to the original character’s roots… etc. It’s a harder road but I think it’s worth it.

I’ve never understood the appeal of “shipping” or even fan fiction for that matter. When I was younger, I did a bit of “fan fiction” in the sense that I wrote original stories in the voices of authors I was reading so that I could learn how to do what they did (eg I wrote disaffected first person present when imitating Bret Easton Ellis). But otherwise, I tried to write my own stuff.

Doesn’t the very idea of fan fiction seem arrogant? As in, “I know better than these writers so I’ll do it myself.” Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the phenomenon.

I feel like fandom is just like a friendship.

A story comes along that speaks to your already-formed ideas of the world, and you’re instantly like, ‘Yes! That is exactly what I think and or feel! Let’s go on a journey together.’

Then your friend becomes a scientologist, and you’re like, ‘I just don’t know who you are any more.’ (Superior Spider-Man anyone? Heck, any change, anyone?)

We form our strongest connections with people who think like us the most. You have the same ideas about parenting? Let’s get married!! Spider-Man believes that with great power comes great responsibility? Me too! Let’s experience 600 issues together.

And this is where your depth of involvement comes in. If you just love the character of Spider-Man, but he gets mishandled and mistreated by all sorts of ‘friends’ coming in, messing up his life, you’ll stick with him. He needs you to, even if he doesn’t know it. But once you get past the fact that he’s just a wayward dude you don’t recognise anymore, maybe you can go and track down that guy he introduced to you some time ago who did wonderful things with him, and you kinda liked that friend of Spidey’s.

Now you have made ‘friends’ with a writer. Someone who clearly thinks like you, and would drink with you at the bar if you bumped in to each other one day. So you follow what they’re doing, check out their stories here and there, until you realise they’re just singing the same old song and it’s getting kind of dull.

So you find new friends.

Apparently, humans are only able to have ‘intimate’ friendships with 150 people, then it tops out. Maybe it’s the same with your entertainment ‘friends’. If you add up your favourite comics, books, movies, tv shows, musicians, songs, video games, whatever, without looking anything up – off the top of your head – maybe you’ll end up with a rough figure of 150.

Could that be evidence I’m on to something??? Oh my.

Anyway. However far down the rabbit hole of creation you wish to go, I think we just latch on to things that validate our reasoning. It’s why we love a catchy song. The beat performs as expected. We’re always thinking one step ahead of the beat, and it’s constantly gratifying when the beat happens the way we envisioned it. We love to be right, and we’ll latch on to the things that corroborate our thinking.

It’s why change is hard. It’s why people cry foul when Ben Affleck is announced as Batman, because their friend went off and changed. You are a bad friend. A bad friend who just stops returning calls as soon as they start spending all their time with that smug dude who you don’t understand.

It’s why nostalgia doesn’t really work for me. When I’ve met old friends from school who haven’t grown up, it’s sad. Every time I look up old friends on Teletoon retro, I get that same feeling. I’ve moved on, you haven’t. They’re still punching girls to show that they like them and you have adult relationships now.

Shipping is you wanting to see your friends happy.

Fan fiction is your way of expressing why you love your friends.

In short (not even close – not short at all) – Fandom is Friendom.

I happen to work with a lot of gun nuts and they talk all day long about guns, gun laws, barrels, scopes, ammunition, new guns they want, new guns being advertised…they leave the TV on hunting channels, talk about their weekend plans to go shooting at some range, which is so much better than that other range, where this one time this crazy event happened…I can’t take it!

I think is definitely a different sort of fandom. As much as I love Spider-Man I stopped being able to rattle off the first appearances of the Puma and Black Cat a long time ago. I want the stories to have a genuine impact on how I view and appreciate experiencing life, which is admittedly a tall order. But having read the works of Dave Sim, Alan Moore, and a couple others, that potential for greatness and significant effect upon my life is certainly enough to be a lifetime devotee of the medium. And its that potential glimmer of an honest-to-God Truth that’s what I’m looking for, and, I don’t know, it’s probably not why people love Harry Potter necessarily but I can only say that comics is where the most fantastic artists and writers are working today, and it’s gotten to a level beyond mere entertainment for several creators. And my fandom manifests by applying that education into my own lifestyle.

Hmmmm I have this type of fanaticism following my NYC sports teams (Jets, Yankees, Rangers, Knicks, RedBulls) along with following favorite TV/Film/Video Game franchises (Star Trek, Resident Evil, Serenity, WWE, ECW, Gundam, Dragonball, Naruto, Bleach, Gatchaman, Yu Yu Hakusho, Tenchi Muyo)

…and of course comics in X-Men, Legion of SuperHeroes, Teen Titans, Avengers,. and certain creators no matter where they go like Mark Waid, Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Christopher Priest,

I think it is a soul and trust thing when you boil it down…. You connect with the franchise/character/writer in such a detail that you actually feel the highs and lows with them. I’m in a bad mood for stretches of time when my teams lose, or when a momentous thing happens in a book, I can feel an energy that I don’t feel in regular life. Now I don’t get so over the top like some “fans” who actually think they are a part of the action or a part of the book but I get involved all the same…

As time has gone by, I have gotten lax in being the “uber-genius” in everything I have an big interest in… but I feel that I know enough to have a passing conversation with those that know much more…(Like just try to have a talk or stump Mark Waid in facts involving The Legion or Justice League…. How his head hasn’t gotten as big as MODOK’s with his knowledge I don’t know)

I guess no one can control what they get to be a fan of… devoted or obsessive.. but isn’t that a great slice of life?

Everything that I have ever really gotten into has had a Russian Nesting Doll quality. There is the surface thing, but inside there is another (slightly different version) and inside that is another and so on.

It is the most apparent in sports. Groups of players are constantly coming together and coming apart, but they land on certain frozen moments with big wins or painful loses. The Lakers that won the ’07 title were similar to (Kobe, Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson), but different from the Lakers that won the ’02 title. That teams was similar to, but distinct from the Lakers team that kept getting swept in the late 90s by the Utah Jazz. It is a line that goes all the way back to George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers. I have weird attachments to total (often obscure) strangers. My heart literally leapt with happiness at finding out that Tyronne Lue was an assistant coach with the Clippers. I have ancient grudges against people who may be perfectly kind and decent.

Superhero comics are like that, too.

I entered the X-Men toward the middle of the Claremont/Byrne run and there was so much to learn. There were at least two (or maybe three) prior iterations of the X-Men. Those characters kept popping up. There were supporting characters and bad guys and on and on. DC was even more complex with multiple versions of absolutely everything.

Books and films that spawn huge fan-bases seem to build that quality in from the start. J.R.R. Tolkein had his Mythopoeia and JK Rowling seemed to have something similar. The Star Wars films felt that way until prequels revealed there was less there than met the eye.

A lot of great/interesting thoughts everyone, thank you!

A couple specifics:

I really like the nesting dolls idea, Dean. That makes a lot of sense to me. I also like the “ancient grudges against people who may be perfectly kind and decent” – I think that is an honest reaction, and one a surprising number of us harbor, and kind of the other side of fandom – like it’s exactly the same but the reverse, which I know I absolutely do have. Like maybe you can’t have that intense love of something without also sometimes having that intense hate of something too. Very intriguing.

Caanan – some interesting stuff in there. Your Spider-Man comment especially makes me think of what a big Rogue fan I am and that I suspect I always will be independent of how some writers mishandle her. There was clearly some point in my reading of Rogue where I decided that “this” was “who she was” as a character, and while she can evolve and change in my mind, I outright reject (and try to block out) certain takes on her over time. So I can just ignore whole swathes of her history because basically in my mind “I don’t know who that character is that they’re writing, but it’s NOT Rogue.”

But I’m not like that with all characters of course – and not just because I don’t perceive that I know everything about them and how they should be as I perceive I do about Rogue.

I am definitely a follow creators kind of reader/fan/etc. I find certain creators create characters/voices/worlds that I am particularly interested in, they also tend to write about things that I find thematically interesting.

this is getting long so I’m going to break it into two parts…

@Torsten: Definitely agree with your list of things that tick boxes that encourage shipping.

I also love the idea of “storytelling/sharing the gospel by the fire” – interesting.

I too go on “research jags” (and I like your name for it better than mine – which is more manic/ocd based) where I will absorb insane (ocd-levels) of something and then just stop. I am absolutely consumed with it, and then at some point it just seems to have run its course and I can let it go (I’m in one of these currently in fact).

@Greg Hatcher: I agree Greg that the idea of hitting a lot of niches is more appealing in many ways than broadly going for the whole enchilada.

@Daralsco: Agreed that emotional connection drives it for me, but I can’t figure out why some of these things rise up for me to incredible almost alarming attachment while others are just things I enjoy and connect with on an emotional level – like what Neil is saying – I guess that’s the line I’m trying (and failing) to find, both in my behavior as consumer and in my work as a creator.

@Matthew: You know, I think “shipping” as a concept has definitely evolved. I mean, I believe initially it was mostly for things out of canon, but today for example I call myself a Buffy/Spike shipper (and there are many of us) and that’s based on the characters having actually come together as a couple in the original work (and in the spin offs in comics and such) as opposed to fans just wishing they had gotten together. As I said, I’m hard pressed to think of any characters that I “ship” that is the more narrow (and original?) definition of shipping – i.e. couples that ARE NOT actually couples – like, say, shipping Spike and Xander.

I think A LOT of shipping culture and fan fiction for many people has to do with not seeing yourself represented in media and seeing something in characters that you can relate to and seeing potential for something that you know will never be addressed in mainstream media. I know very little about fan fiction, and have never been into it myself (again, my shipping is pretty mainstream/boring), but I think people draw a lot of power (and pleasure) in being able to take control and maybe creating a feeling of inclusivity and representation for themselves via fan fiction. Does that make any sense?

@Darryl B: So, with your comics fandom stuff – let’s use X-Men for example – does that ebb and flow for you as things happen (or don’t happen) with the books/characters/universe? Or are you able to hold onto it regardless of the changes that it goes through?

@Dave: I actually find the gun thing rather fascinating…and I’m not sure it’s as different as you think. I mean, yes, a gun is not a story and on the surface it doesn’t seem to have the depth or emotional resonance of some other things we’re discussing…but if it’s what these people are obsessing about/fascinated with/building their lives around (which is sounds like it is) then I’m not sure it’s all that different.

Great comments so far, everyone! For me, I switched from “liking comics” to “fandom” when two aspects of fiction came together at just the right age:

1) Quality: I had read comics before I discovered the Peter David/ Dale Keown Hulks, but they grabbed me in a way contemporaneous Batman and Spider-Man comics hadn’t. The creators’ level of craft made me NEED to know what happened next. From there, I began poking around the Marvel Universe in earnest, discovering the good X-Men stories via Classic X-Men and gravitating towards comics with AWESOME!!! art (which look considerably less awesome as an adult, but try telling 12 year-old me that Rob Liefeld sucks) then comics whose stories were compelling.

2) Self-immersion: Anyone else have a super-hero alter ego that joined the X-Men or the Justice League and saved the world? It’s semi-embarrassing to talk about now, but 12 year-old me did. Earlier in his life (and in other universes), child-me had been a member of the Enterprise crew and had his brain put in the mind of a transformer (a tank, no less, way more powerful than the car Autobots!). It’s called “fantasy” for a reason. Putting myself into a fantasy universe is something I’ve outgrown, but I still gravitate toward genre fiction.

I actually hate the fan fiction and shipping aspect of fandoms. I feel like these people don’t accept and don’t seem to understand that there is a story there and it has emotional impact rather than just relationships or didn’t go the way they went. It’s almost like they refuse to do actually think about everything going on. And then they call people “Fake fans,” because they don’t ship anything or write fan fiction. Those are the real fans.

I’ve heard others point out that “Fan” is short for “Fanatic” so I try to find that fine line between “Something I like” vs. “Something I’m a Fan of”. And to me the more specific I get, the closer I get to pure fandom.

I like sports. I particularly like football. I am a fan of the New Orleans Saints.
I like comics. I particularly like manga. I am a fan of Excel Saga.
I like music. I particularly like progressive and hard rock. I am a fan of the band Marillion.

So fandom to me comprises the elements of a larger whole that I obsess over, that I forsake other things for. Sure, the Denver Broncos, Crying Freeman and Iron Maiden are all great, but they do not and cannot move me the way the Saints, Excel Saga and Marillion do.

Hope that makes sense.

” I actually hate the fan fiction and shipping aspect of fandoms. I feel like these people don’t accept and don’t seem to understand that there is a story there and it has emotional impact rather than just relationships or didn’t go the way they went. It’s almost like they refuse to do actually think about everything going on. And then they call people “Fake fans,” because they don’t ship anything or write fan fiction. Those are the real fans. ”

To be fair, all the currently published Marvel and DCU books are effectively illustrated professional fan fiction, and bending over backwards to serve desired status quo over natural characterization can be attributed to the authors as well as the fans (just look at things like One More Day or House of M). There’s plenty of fan fic that offers greater quality and emotional resonance than most of the licensed stories, just like there’s plenty of dreck that’s clearly just the fan writers trying to live vicariously through the heroes in their desired ‘ships.

Imraith Nimphais

November 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Keeping it specific to comic books…More than anything else, I obsess over sequential art.

Me mum tells me that even before I could talk (or read) I would open the picture books (Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm, the Lady Bird Reading books, The Picture Bible) and just gaze at the pictures. I am a professional artist. I am in the creative/design/art field. I love art.

The very first comic book I bought was UXM 175 and while I fell in love with Punk Storm first…Paul Smith’s art came in a very close second. Bill Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants and Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan are my cherished “crown jewels”. Frank Frazetta is (one of) my God. Walter Simonson and Coipel are demi-gods. I am madly in love with Phil Jimenez. I will buy anything and everything illustrated by JHW3. I want to marry Fiona Staples and I will happily bear our children (sextuplets). Yes, I love great art (Or wot my heart and eyes subjectively tell me is great and beauty-full art).

The very first thing I take note of/judge when picking up a comic book is the art. I remember reading each of Jae Lee’s Namor and Inhumans in ten minutes then spending another forty-five minutes just looking at his artistry. I love illustrations that engage me, interest me, capture me and seduces my artistic soul.

It does not matter if the writer is an Eisner-winner ten times over and my absolute favourite superhero is the star of the book…if the art is not to my liking, or I find the artist (personal style aside) is not particularly skilled in his craft, technically…lacking the basics in form, line, composition and visual interest…I’m not buying it.

I think it stems from whatever whole you need plugged or find yourself in at any given time in your life. A person’s fandom speaks to that, appearing to me, through reflecting on my own fandom and those of others I witnessed.

I found comics as a teen because, thank heavens, a shop opened up across the street from my own personal abyss of abysmallness, or what the kids these call high school. There I found the x-men circa The Executioner’s Song” crossover so we’re not talking 5 star reading here folks. It spoke to me cause it was crazy … it truly was that first thing that I needed to know everything about. My first great escape. As horrible as those issues or that era may be in hindsight I truly believe that it was the content that drew me in. It was that Summers bloodline/Cable/Stryfe/MrSinister stuff that just drew me in with its time spanning drama and over the topness. It sucked me in .. I needed to know more .. How did cable get to the future? … Who is this Sinister cat. Stryfe’s the clone? Apocalypse?
It is a large possibility that if I had not found the X-men at this express moment that I might had not become a fan. It brought joy to what was sorely missing from my daily teenage trial and tribulations.
This makes me think that it has nothing to do with how amazingly something is written, or how it is touted. Scott Lobdell was not the greatest X-men writer by far, but at that moment to me … he was. From that point on I followed the X-men devoutly for over a decade until the infamous “no more mutants” era. I don’t know why? It just did nothing for me. I tried to latch on to the messiah complex stuff …. nope. Manifest Destiny stuff? nope. Age of X? nah. Don’t ask me why but its only been recently, with the ALL NEW X-MEN stuff, that I have become very interested in X-men again.

Then there’s LOST, also hitting me at the perfect moment when it came on. I actually watched the first season through NETFLIX discs borrowed from a friend the summer before season 2 aired. I was mystified and utterly in love. Why? . it was the moment. I was 29-30 and after doing nothing for most of my 20s .. I was ready for something simply more from myself. Yes I was drawing for a living, making good money, but I lucked into that. I can positively say I was not a grown-up yet and nowhere near doing what I was meant to do. I was LOST. Lost literally sparked a fire under my ass. I wanted my hero’s journey .. whether I realized I was embarking on or not and as Jack journeyed, fixing, escaping, falling, bearding, regretting .. so was I .. honestly a hero’s journey has it’s sucky bits .. in truth like Lost. like Jack, the journey showed me things. Sometimes your not ready and that can drag you down, but also like the show .. sometimes I was ready.

At those moments in my life they filled that void or took my hand and now that I think about it.. after reading what I just wrote .. they provided puzzles, both enrapturing me with twisty turny lore and dangling plot threads. … interesting..

for me it’s all about the character. If the character snares me in their personality, actions, beliefs and look I will definitely play along.

I have to want to know more about the character and want to follow them in their journey. I am drawn to survivors, warriors, the occasional wizard and anti-heroes. I discovered these at a pivotal time when the Eastwood Westerns and John Carpenter/Kurt Russell’s collaborations were (thankfully) playing all over broadcast tv in the early 80s.

Snake led to Wolverine (which led to comics) etc.

I like fan fiction if it builds upon the universe presented, but keeps the characters as they were in cannon (no slash, shipping for me.) I love finding new iterations of the archetype I like. I would rather get lost with those characters than most things in real life. Thats’ the way it’s been for over 30 years for me and I do not seem to be mellowing with age.

Caanan and others have said some very profound things here. All I can add is, I know what I like and that’s what I continue to revisit and discover.

In terms of what causes the emotional connection, I think it’s an element of “realness” in the reactions the characters have. If a reaction feels real and relatable and human (or in the case of We3 which literally makes me cry every time, real and relatable and consistent with dogs and cats I’ve known and loved) then it has an effect on me. It’s why Mr. Freeze is my favorite Batman villain. I look at his actions in “Heart of Ice” and know that in his position I would do exactly the same thing. But it doesn’t have to be a personal relation. I can look at characters who take actions I never would but I get that reaction as long as it’s something I think someone would do. I don’t think I would relate to Phoenix possession and the murder of Xavier the way Cyclops did, but I understand how someone could experience denial like that and go so wild and militant so I feel for him and am loving Bendis’ UXM because of it.

Everything I have been into (Comics, SF, Horror, Fantasy, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) generates a sense of wonder; an escape from the mundane world of reality. It does not replace reality, but makes it considerably more tolerable. I have had nearly 40+ years to collect and enjoy the things I love, and my life would have very dull indeed, if not for these bright things in my life.

My fandom connects my childhood with my adulthood in a way I never thought possible. It binds me temporally to the past, but allows me to move into the future. Emotion is always attached to memory, and I have so many…..
My dad bought me my first comics, to help with my reading when i was 8. I still have the Spiderman Marvel Treasury Edition he bought for me, another good memory of a man now gone. I remember how it felt to see Star Wars for the first time, that feeling of being blown away by another man’s vision on film.
I remember running home from school to watch reruns of Star Trek every day.
I remember reading the Tolkien books, feeling sad when Frodo left with Gandalf to journey into the west; the recent films rekindle that feeling.
I enjoy the same feelings when I see Comic Book characters brought to the big screen.
Its that sense of wonder that propels me along, that desire to see whats over the next hill, or stare at the stars at night.
I have no regrets of my love of such things, nor any regrets of the money or tiime spent pursuing such things.
Thanks for the chance to express my feelings on all this.

I think there are two things that tend to get their hooks into me, personally…

The first, more shallow, one is that I am an absolute sucker for serialized fiction… generally TV shows with clear continuity, development and arcs (as opposed to more episodic shows), and comics, though if I lived in Victorian London I’d prollz be all about some Dickens and Doyle and stuff. But not ALL such serial fiction gets me… generally just the kind that has a strong focus on character… especially where there’s an ensemble, and the interpersonal dynamics are centered.

This, I think, is really just a question of TIME and EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT. I’ve never really been too keen on movies… it feels like a very strange sort of timeframe (that weirdly standardized 90 – 120 minutes) which is both too long and too much of an “investment” for it to feel like a quick little nip of something pleasing or interesting (the way I enjoy poems or short stories or short, single-issue comics), but isn’t *enough* for me to build the kind of emotional involvement and connection to characters that gets me hooked into something. While a two-and-a-half hour movie will often feel like a chore, I will happily spend a week spending 40+ hours of a TV show.

In a way, I’m basically just a slightly-more-modern-and-sophisticated version of a soap opera fan, especially when considering how important character and character dynamics are to what I obsess over and what I shrug my shoulders at.

There are shows like Lost and Northern Exposure and Dawson’s Creek that I got RIDICULOUSY “into” at various points in my life even though, in retrospect, they aren’t very good. But something that the serialized format allows, with character-driven fiction, is to build up a strong sense of “knowing” the characters, and becoming emotionally connected to them in ways that make them almost seem real… and I end up invested in their relationships and conflicts and fate in a way that approximates how my natural sense of human connection, empathy and sympathy emotionally connects me to the lives of my friends. And with fiction, I don’t have to worry about being PART of those dynamics, or screwing anything up for anybody, or seeming creepy or overstepping boundaries with my interest in how people are doing!

The comics I most love and cherish are generally the ones that are also a bit “soap opera” in a way, and built around the characters, and their relationships, and that allow me to feel that similar sense of emotional connection, empathy, worrying-about-them, etc. Demon Knights, Secret Six, Saga… I mean, my heart has broken for The Stalk and I was TERRIFIED about the fate of Lying Cat for a month straight! And they hadn’t even been given much time for me to love them yet!

Even with comics that AREN’T really about the “soap opera” stuff, it’s those aspects that I tend to connect to… and in some cases even project or elaborate in my own head just to have it be there. I’m constantly reading comics the “wrong way” as a result… or in a way that is RADICALLY different from how most fans read them. The Bat-Family, for instance, is a thousand times more interesting and important to me than Batman himself. I don’t care about Batman’s badassitude… I care about his relationship to Alfred and Dick, about Dick’s relationship to Babs, about Babs relationship to her father, and about Commissioner Gordon’s relationship to Batman. You know? THAT’S the stuff I obsess over, and get into silly heated internet arguments about… not whether or not the yellow oval is cool (but it IS).

So basically? Whenever I become a “fan” of something, wherever I obsess a little too much, it is 9 times out of 10 because the fiction in question can work as a sort of proxy for human relationships, somewhere for me to place a bit of my excess of love and empathy and worry and scorn. It isn’t even a matter of living vicariously through them… the joy and fun and obession is because I REALLY AM experiencing those sorts of emotions towards all these fake people!

The other aspect of fandom for me, which is a little harder for me to pin down, is where and when certain kinds of genre fiction operate as ciphers and symbols and allegories for sorting through things.

Superman MEANS something important to me… as a symbol, for instance, of ethical responsibility, and specifically the responsible, compassionate use of power and privilege.

The first few arcs of the New 52 Batgirl meant a great deal to me… as an allegory of the process of coping with trauma, and my experiences as a survivor. It played a very real, very identifiable role in my process of finally speaking openly about my experiences as a rape-survivor, abuse-survivor and incest-survivor (and no, I’m not just referring to the same event in three different ways. I’m referring to more-than-three different things)… as well as helping with some of my survivor’s guilt regarding my experiences as a heroin addict, and my feelings about having gotten clean while many of my friends… didn’t. And met with the other of the two possible fates.

Revolutionary Girl Utena has also been very powerful to me, in terms of abuse, rape, incest and gender identity…

And definitely Tale Of One Bad Rat was one of the most personally powerful works of fiction I’ve ever read…

Wandering Son provides all kinds of trangst and gender feels and frameworks for dealing with those gender feels…

Rachel Pollack’s Doom Patrol and Maddie Blaustein’s Deathwish were significantly empowering….

Doctor Who is a fandom that actually has managed to provide an ethical framework for me that makes sense to my own life and experiences and position…

I mean, I can’t even list everything that has had these kinds of symbolic meanings and resonances for me. X-Men, Runaways, Stumptown, Superman: Secret Identity, Batman: Mad Love, My Little Pony… there are COUNTLESS “geeky” interests of mine that were ultimately just about finding things that somehow hit on something deep or important to me, and somehow provided a “safe” framework for dealing with my feelings surrounding that stuff.

Cos, you know… sometimes things are too painful, or too big, or too complicated, to deal with directly. And sometimes you need something kind of silly, or comforting, or simplistic, or joyful, or escapist, or even just suitably distanced from you by allegory and art, to provide a place where it feels okay to deal with those things.

And most of the times the things that feel safe for those kinds of internal processes are things that are, superficially, comfortable and easy and have a sense of being reliable… like when you calm yourself down by making a grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of tomato soup. Things like Superheroes. Kids shows. Science fiction.

…stuff that gets associated with “fandoms”.

So ultimately, whenever I develop any kind of obsessive or intense “fan” relationship to something, it’s ALWAYS a result of that work providing some way for me to feel significantly emotionally connected to it. Either by providing time and space enough to develop a genuine emotional investment in characters, or by providing a “safe” or allegorical framework for dealing with things and emotions and issues of my own that are already of deep personal significance.

Does that make sense?

For me, being a “fan” of something really just means “this is something that I was able to FEEL for”.

“fan” to me is an insult, as far as im concerned.

it might as well come from “fanatic” and means having an unhealthy relationship with cheap fictional characters. ;)

I’m captivated by ideas. They can be contained within characters, the world they inhabit, the objects they’re surrounded with, the way they are described or what have you. I’m always looking for another angle to look at things. I read Batwoman because of its presentation, Wonder Woman because I’m wondering how they’re going to depict the various entities and what personalities they’re going to attribute to them. Saga because of the universe and the oblique characters.

The most important thing for me then is imagination and internal logic. If you can present me with an idea that I can nudge about and not have it fall over you’ve got me engaged. It’s no wonder I play games like Magic, in which you can reassess your approach a million times over without scratching the surface of the number of possible ideas contained. I’m an escapist, maybe the quintessential escapist, who looks for other worlds to inhabit and other dreams to share in or expand upon, I look for a foundation that a ‘real reality’ could be built upon.

My favorite superhero overall then is Doctor Strange (and he’s not even a superhero if you ask me), a guy around whom reality can warp into any shape or form, about whom any type of tale can be spun (which is exactly why he’s so hard for writers to get a handle on), detective, thriller, horror, soap, personal drama, family drama, psychological, philosophical. Flip back through his stories and you can find all of them.

Not to say I don’t stick with character’s personalities as well. Transmetropolitan presents a lot of neat ideas, but its this weird dude that holds it all together, one of the major things that stick is this guy’s world view and how you find yourself agreeing with this total bastard.

Things that bore me are retreads. The whole Western genre and especially gangsters are a hard fit for me, sometimes a spark comes through where they manage to hit upon a new view upon the same old (Deadwood or Leon for example) but most of it I am bored with in no time flat.

For me, I believe its less about the specific “thing”, and more about me as a person. No matter what it is, if I’m into it, I’m REALLY into it. I think it’s just that the nerd brain can’t simply passively be into something, and it wants to know every detail surrounding it. I spend just about as much time listening to podcasts and watching videos about things I like, as I do actually enjoying the things I like. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

By sheer coincidence, a friend of mine who writes a sports blog (be warned, it’s incredibly UK centric, lots of cricket and soccer!) has been writing on this subject but in terms of being a sports fan. He could care less about comics and entertainment fandom as far as I know. http://takingsporttooseriously.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/banging-same-drum-over-and-over.html if you’re interested in that perspective. It seems a lot of it is irrational, personal, and almost impossible to quantify.

I would echo comments above that, for myself, I think responsding to good quality writing is what initially drew me in to the various comics (and other thigns) I have been, and in many cases still am, fanatical about. After that, I think it really helps discovering a) that some other people I know have at least a passing interest, and b) some people absolutely disagree with me, or even think my fandom foolish, so my affections are inflated in opposition. How you can factor either of those things into a new property I don’t know, but I do wish you the best of luck.

I’d also like to echo Greg H above that it helps if the book/comic/whatever is multifaceted. The best works of literature have text and at least one layer, if not more, of subtext. Anything that doesn’t have a certain amount of depth is unlikely to reward a second read, let alone obsessive poring over to tease out hints of layers of meaning on subsequent rereads.

What!?! Nothing about how horrible DC is doing? Boring…

What makes a fandom:

1) Reading superb Marvel comics

2) Watching amazing Marvel movies

3) Watching great marvel television like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Screw the haters!

For me, what makes me ‘obsess’ over something is it being layered. For example Firefly is something that I kind of ‘obsess’ over. I can watch Firefly for purely entertainment value with its funniness and pretty CGI. I can watch Firefly to think about themes and analyse and discuss it. I can watch Firefly for super awesome character stuff and to ‘ship things. I can watch Firefly for a whole multitude of reasons. I think that’s why I really love it. And it’s the same with the other things I rather enjoy; X-Men, Buffy, Stargate, (almost) Star Trek.

But then again I try not to ‘obsess’ over these too much because art is supposed to reflect on society, to help shape it. But if you put the art before the world. If you put characters above what they represent and applying the thoughts that the piece provoked to reality then not only is the piece futile, so is your fandom of it.

There are three elements that are essential to obsessive fandom, IMO. They are size, detail, and progression. That is why serialized fictions featuring ensemble casts with some amount of soap opera tend to attract the more obsessive fandoms. I would add a fourth factor: loneliness. I agree with the stereotype, to some extent: fans are seeking a kind of secondary life, because the primary one isn’t entirely satisfying. That’s something nerds may have in common with bored housewives.

When I was a kid, I soon grew obsessed with the Marvel Universe. It was about 1986, but the stories were published with a delay of 4 years in Brazil (that was before globalization), so to you Americans that was the Marvel Universe from around 1982. My obsession lasted 10 years, approximately. But it cooled gradualy. When I wonder about what caused me to fall out of love, I think of two reasons.

First, 10 years is enough for a new generation of writers and artists to take over, and changes in general style to become dramatic enough so that I felt that it wasn’t really the same Marvel Universe I knew, I wasn’t the audience for it anymore. Second, as I matured and became more selective, I no longer accepted all stories as some sort of revealed truth about the continued lives of people that were almost real to me. Only a few stories reached that threshold. In other words, I realized that it was okay to ignore bad stories. Then, I realized it was okay not to read bad stories. And then I was no longer a fan of the Marvel Universe as a whole, I was a fan of certain writers. And when you keep with the hobby long enough, you eventually accept that even your favorite writers sometimes disappoint.

I know this sounds sad, but it isn’t really. When you’re less obsessive, you become more varied in your reading. More open to new writers, new genres, new styles, other publishers. What you lose in love for a definite set of characters, you gain in love for the whole media.

Also, I am far more happy now that I’m a married man. I don’t need a secondary life quite as much. I used to watch a lof of TV shows when I was a loner, now I spend that time with my wife. I don’t have the time for long investments, except if it’s something I can watch with her.

But even a little before I met my wife, I think I already had moved away from obsessing about specific stories. My habits have changed. I watch a far greater variety of movies, I read a far greater variety of novels. Before, I was more restricted to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Now I can as easily pick an European movie or a classic literature novel. It may feel strange, but now I feel like “dwelling” so much in a single fictional universe is sort of a waste of time. I am more interested in the entirety of fiction, and in how fiction intersects with real life and other fiction.

But there are still a few fictional universes that I’m very attached to. WILD CARDS is one. I always buy a new novel when it’s released. ASTRO CITY is another. But even then, I only stick with them because a minimal level of quality has always been mantained. My loyalty is not undying. I was kinda “cured” of my obsession with A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, because I felt the new books were bloated and didn’t advance things. I don’t think I’m capable of undying loyalty any more.

For me it started with comics. I found one on the ground when I was 3 or 4 and wouldn’t put it down. My parents kept up the habit to get me to read not knowing how bad it was going to get. I started getting into sci-fi with Next Generation, which to me was a couple non-powered white guys leading quasi superheroes (and a doctor). Georgi looks like Cyclopes and has enhanced vision. Troi can read emotions. Data has super-strength, intelligence, etc. I got into the vampire craze with Lost Boys which again seems more superhero than monsters. Buffy, Twilight, Vampire Diaries are all superhero stories, they just use vampirism as the source of powers than nuclear radiation. I have wandered into Doctor Who and other science fiction over the years, mostly from osmosis than anything else.

So, short answer, I like things that make me feel like a kid again. That induce that sense of wonderment I had all those years ago. Unfortunately there’s not that many things that do that anymore.

@ Kelly: Thanks for the question. I find that such devotion does ebb and flow depending on the book/writer/direction. I have never hid how much I love Marvel and when a writer uses past history to enhance the telling of their stories I enjoy it immensely and it strengthens the bond I have reading their work. It’s why I can read guys like Busiek, Waid, Slott, David, and new folks like Hickman, DeConnick and Bunn. Because I find they use a character’s/book’s past events to effectively to support their tales more often than not….

…and on the other side it is why guys like Bendis, Aaron, Byrne, and Morrison, I either avoid or trade wait their work because I don’t find their tweaks to the history of books that I found interesting so appealing. Not that I find they do it in all their works because these are quality writers that I have read along with you all. I know it is a little bit of rambling but I guess it is my comic OCD that also makes me a devoted fan…

@Rene: I right with you. Astro City is almost the perfect storytelling comic series for me. It combines my kidlike awe of these heroes with my now adult sensibilities when reading these books…

[…] Episode: Maybe Kelly Thompson will join us to talk about the science of fandom. Or maybe we'll review Iron Man 3 and give away a buttload of Nick's Iron Man comic books. Or maybe […]

[…] Episode: Maybe Kelly Thompson will join us to talk about the science of fandom. Or maybe we’ll review Iron Man 3 and give away a buttload of Nick’s Iron Man comic […]

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