Magazine article Information Today

A Fanboy’s Notes for Librarians

Magazine article Information Today

A Fanboy’s Notes for Librarians

Article excerpt

The year was 1988. A Sunday morning. I was sitting where I sat every Sunday morning, being the son of a Southern Baptist pastor: third pew from the front, left side. I was a comic book collector in those heady high school days, and my father had taken me to a comic convention the previous afternoon. It was not my first convention, and yet I made a rookie mistake: I forgot to scrub off the hand stamp that I had gotten at the gate.

With the choir filing into the chancel, the organ music filling my ears, and my father looking down from the dais, I put both arms up on the pew. Angie sat beside me. I liked Angie, possibly loved her. Glancing at my hand, she touched the stamp, stopping my heart, and said, "What's this?"

My heart did not start again for several minutes. Angie was smiling-that cheered me-but I imagined her smile shrinking if I told her I had been at a comic convention. Comics were dweebish, a trait I already possessed thanks to glasses and straight A's and memorizing the Bible, as preachers' kids are known to do. And yet I couldn't lie to her, not with an active fantasy of her becoming my girlfriend. So I said it. I disgorged the truth: "Comic convention." Her smile didn't shrink, nor did it grow. A terrible stasis was achieved. We turned away from each other, facing the front of the church, and she never did go out with me.

That scene wouldn't happen today. Comic books are big now, as is the science fiction genre. Fantasy. Video games. Cartoon Network. Anime. Fan fiction. The convention I went to in 1988 occupied a single hotel ballroom. Now, shows such as New York Comic Con draw 100,000-plus attendees who stand in line for celebrity autographs, talk in their fandom's lingo, dress and act like their favorite characters-this is called cosplay-and occasionally name their children after them (my daughter is Michaela, after Michaela Quinn in Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman).

Such are the workings of fandom, a once-niche lifestyle that has become mainstream in the last decade. Fan behavior is inherently literary, which is why librarians need to know about it. Here, then, is a primer on fandom.


You can't learn about a subject until you know what its words mean. Ship? This is not a seagoing vessel. AU? Not the chemical symbol for gold. OTP? Not a Naughty by Nature song. These terms have specific meanings in the world of fandom.

A good place to start learning terminology is Oxford Dictionaries' fandom vocabulary page (blog fandom-vocabulary). Ship, for instance, is short for "relationship," meaning a pairing of fictional characters, usually a romantic one. Your favorite ship, the one that really tugs your heartstrings, would be your OTP, or one true pairing. AU stands for alternate universe, for instance, if you wrote a story that placed Batman in the 19th century. (In fact, this was done in Gotham by Gaslight, a 1989 graphic novel pitting the Caped Crusader against Jack the Ripper.)

A longer list of terms is over at The Geeky Mormon (thegeeky dom-slang), where you can also read the author's musing on specific fandoms such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And a still longer list can be found at The Daily Dot ( how-to-speak-fangirl). Fandom jargon changes too quickly to keep up with, so if you get overwhelmed, it's OK. You won't encounter most of these terms unless you read or write fan fiction-which is a big part of the fandom lifestyle, so I guess I need to talk about it.

Fan Fiction

Where are my Star Trek fans? Are you out there? Good. I have a question for you. Did you ever wonder what would have happened if Kirk and Spock, instead of just being crewmates, had been friends? Close friends? Reeeeeeally close friends?

If so, you're not alone. Modern fan fiction (aka fanfic), or the practice of writing original stories using established characters and worlds, is generally thought to have begun with Kirk and Spock ships. …

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