I’ve just been invited to an anime convention.
Nothing unusual in that, you might think. I get invited to quite a few anime and manga conventions. I go to as many as I can: they’re fun, I get to see old friends and meet new ones, and they offer the chance to promote my work. But what made the Anime Los Angeles invitation unusual, and very special, is that this the first time I’ve ever been invited to a convention as a fan guest of honour.
I like fan-run events because that’s where I started out. My anime fan activity ended before many current fans were born, and my fannish origins go back way before that. It happened in the days before the Internet, so it’s stayed below the radar. Most people who know my professional work are completely unaware that there’s a fangirl lurking under that outwardly respectable exterior, geeking out every time she gets the chance to do the stuff she used to dream of. I found it genuinely moving to have a convention acknowledge my age-old, long-buried roots.
I’ve been reading SF and fantasy for as long as I can remember, but it was Star Trek that got me into fan activity. The show first aired on British TV in 1969. Back then, we still communicated by letter, and it wasn’t easy to contact other fans: Audrey Baker got the Star Trek Correspondence Club going by writing to the Radio Times and asking other Trek fans to get in touch. If the BBC hadn’t felt like publishing her letter, I wouldn’t have known other fans existed.
The first British Star Trek convention was in 1974, the year Space Battleship Yamato failed in Japan’s TV ratings but won enough loyal fans to secure its revival. It was also the year I moved to London and started attending a science fiction evening class run by the late film critic Philip Strick and novelist Christopher Priest. SF conventions were a new experience, and one I relished. I wrote, did artwork, made costume, organised groups and clubs and conventions, and helped to set up the Gerry Anderson appreciation society, Fanderson. By the time I became involved with anime, I had over a decade of fannish experience and contacts.
It was another decade before the Western release of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira slammed anime into the British public’s consciousness in 1991. ICA Projects released it theatrically on 25th January, with a later home video release from Island World Communications. It was the huge success of Akira that led to the foundation of the Manga Video (later Manga Entertainment) label, whose first release was Fist of the North Star.
Priming the pump for its later success, Akira had been shown at several UK festivals in 1990. It appeared unofficially at Eastcon 90, the National Science Fiction Convention held in Liverpool from 13-16 April. I was on the organising committee, and persuaded my fellow committee members to let me curate a weekend-long anime programme. People who enjoyed the programme were willing to support a fan newsletter, Anime UK, which my partner and I put together on our dining-room table. By the end of the year, we had the chance to turn it into a professional magazine with the support of Peter Goll and his company Sigma.
I was also getting invitations to write and speak about anime and manga from other sources – Manga asked me to write the copy for the brochure to their ICA season Manga Manga Manga: a celebration of Japanese animation at the ICA Cinema, there were a few TV and radio interviews, and I became involved with Britain’s Japan Festivals of 1991 and 2001. This led me to the Barbican Cinema, where I now curate and present anime seasons. So my professional involvement with anime and manga grew directly out of my fan activity, and that grew out of my earlier experience in other fandoms.
Of course, many writers have gone the same route. The first fan GOH they ever invited to Anime Los Angeles was the great Fred Patten. (Apparently he didn’t make it to that first convention, but he attended the second and third.) Fred too started out as a comics and animation fan, and turned his passion into a second and third career, as a comics importer/dealer and as a writer, while continuing to work at his first one. If it hadn’t been for his fannish activities, his talent as a writer and researcher wouldn’t have been shared so widely or given pleasure to so many.
It’s always been a great honour to follow in Fred’s footsteps. I’ve been doing that for most of my professional life in anime. I was thrilled to be asked to do it once again, as a fan.