Fandom didn’t just begin recently. It’s been around well before the days of the internet and social media. Comic book and media conventions have been going on since the 1960s. So how did fandoms function in the early days of the internet? How did they function before online communication? I decided to ask someone who knew all about this stuff because she’s lived it:
Yep, my lavender-haired mom. The O.G. geek. She’s been going to conventions and knitting 4th Doctor scarves long before I ever knew what a tribble was. She’s the reason why I started going conventions. And if I hadn’t been raised by a geeky mom, I wouldn’t be a writer at Geek & Sundry.
Here’s what she taught me about the early days:
The Evolution of Fandom
Fan clubs were the main source of fandom communication before the internet. In the same way that teens signed up for newsletters, people into fandoms did the same. You could sign up to receive regular mailings with news, updates, and stories from people who had the same interests.
As for fanfiction, I can’t accurately pinpoint when it began. People have been writing about the things they like since humans could write. Though when it comes to fandom, Star Trek was a major launch point for writers. They’d pen stories about their favorite characters, mostly for themselves, but some enjoyed sharing their stories with friends. Eventually fan clubs started culling these stories through mail submissions, and editors would put them together to create a letter magazine, or “letter zine.”
These letter zines evolved into “fanzines” which were self-published collections of stories that were printed, bound, and sold. Some fans even wrote full novels. There wasn’t just one zine per fandom either. Lots of editors took it upon themselves to create multiple zines for publication. Conventions were a hub of fanzine sales and trades.
As for sharing media, fans would duplicate VHS tapes, then eventually media CDs and DVDs. Not everyone had the ability to dub tape to tape and would sometimes resort to setting up a camcorder in front of a television to record the program directly off the screen. There was also added difficulty when it came to international fandoms because there was no easy way to send foreign TV shows to the US. The main obstacle was PAL (Europe) to NTSC (US) broadcast conversion. Converters were expensive and not the easiest thing to find.
In the mid 1990s, fandoms changed thanks to the Internet. There were still conventions and fanzine publications, but now there were also online options for faster communication and distribution. AOL and Genie offered listservs, allowing fans to communicate via email lists, which we still have today. Then forums became a thing, and fans could create separate topics into organized sections. So yes, flame wars have been around since before some of you were born.
Some Fandoms You May Have Missed
By now, you may be wondering what people were into before the days of Joss Whedon and the Doctor Who reboot? Here are a few favorites from our parents’ generation that you may want to check out sometime:
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Image credit: NBC
That spy movie that came out last August? It’s actually an NBC series from the 1960s. Secret agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) are a two-man team working for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.) against T.H.R.U.S.H, an evil force bent on world domination. It was all very James Bond inspired. Literally. The show’s producer tapped Bond writer Ian Flemming to help develop Solo’s character.
Image credit: BBC
Blake’s 7 is a sci-fi TV series from the BBC that was wildly popular. The story follows Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) as he leads a team of rebels against the totalitarian Terran Federation 700 years in the future. The show ran from 1978-1981, and has held a solid fan base since. Creator Terry Nation claimed the series was “The Dirty Dozen in space.” So if you’re a Firefly fan, this show might be right up you docking bay.
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Kung Fu was a TV show from the 1970’s that starred David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine, a nomadic Shaolin monk. There was fighting. It was cool. Then in 1993, Warner Bros. created a spin-off. In this new series, Carradine plays the grandson of the Caine from the original Kung Fu. He and his son Peter (Chris Potter) were separated when their temple caught fire and each thought the other had perished. 15 years later, Peter’s a police detective, and the pair is reunited. Now they solve crimes in Chinatown.
Beauty and the Beast
Image credit: CBS
No, not the Disney movie. Not the CW series. I’m talking about the 1987 TV series on which the CW loosely based its show. Beauty and the Beast was a crime drama that revolved around a woman named Catherine (Linda Hamilton) who is rescued from a group of attackers by a beastly looking man named Vincent (Ron Pearlman). Vincent is not the only unusual person in the underground tunnels of NYC. If you enjoy Castle and want to twist it with a supernatural kick, this would be a good choice for you.
Do you have any older fandoms that are hidden gems? Share them with us in the comments!
Featured image credits: NBC/Warner Bros.