“Fan,” as we know, is short for “fanatic.” Attendance at the 2018 New York Comic Con convention was estimated to be above 250,000. The west coast edition of the conference in San Diego saw over 180,000 attendees. Like-minded, open-minded enthusiasts come together to fill a core human need: hope. They seek to revel in a shared exploration of what our imaginations might allow us to see as possible for each of us, and for all of us.
This is not a new phenomenon. Social networking isn’t new. Self-organizing communities aren’t new. Fan fiction and fan art aren’t new. The joy that a fan can experience today evolved directly from a first generation of science fiction fans whose passion and energy created the genre we know today – and the multi-billion dollar industry that supports and maintains it.
The origins of organized science fiction fandom can be traced back to a letter from an early fan. The letter appeared in Amazing Stories in August, 1927. Amazing was the first magazine dedicated entirely to science fiction. Its “Discussions” column had become a lively forum where readers shared their thoughts on the magazine’s stories. This particular letter – an appeal to form a “Young Men’s Science Club” – was printed along with the sender’s full address. By enabling fans to connect directly with each other, the visionary publisher of the magazine sparked what became a wave of self-organizing fan activity.
Within a dozen years, the interactions between the first fans — the clubs they formed, the amateur magazines they published, the letters they wrote to each other and to the “professionals” of the day – led to the great-great-grandfather of today’s massive gatherings: the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention.
Over three days in early July, in the shadow of the New York World’s Fair, at the end of the Great Depression and on the eve of war, eager young fans like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl met and found inspiration in seasoned professionals like John W. Campbell, Otto Binder and Virgil Finlay. The 200 attendees witnessed the birth of cosplay when Los Angeles fans Forrest J Ackerman and Morojo arrived in homespun outfits patterned after the H.G. Wells movie Things To Come. The event was a proper microcosm of the future of science fiction fandom.
The goal of First Fandom Experience is to bring this story to life through the artifacts and memories these early fans created. We seek to give today’s fans a sense of what it might have been like to be at the beginning of something huge.