It's time to return to bangs: a fan event postmortem and reflections on zine-centric fandom

August 01, 2022 (originally posted on Dreamwidth)

I've been thinking about fan space bullshit for a while (just not posting it anywhere lol), so I felt like now might be the best time, and this might be the best place, for me to get some of these thoughts down. I'm sure nothing I'm saying is 100% original, as I've seen many others express the same gripes with modern fandom, but I think this kind of thing can be talked about and rehashed at any point for the sake of d i s c o u r s e.

Now, like the title of this entry says, I promise I'll get to my reflection on a fan event I ran earlier this year, but please bear with my rambling and grumping about fandom. Yes, I'm that old now, I guess. Anyway, if you want to read my bitching about current zine culture and why I think it's ruined fandom spaces, feel free to skip ahead...

The main thing that's bothered me in recent years is the pivot away from fan events to the current zine culture. What do I mean by "current zine culture" you say? For those unaware or blessed by not following fandom on any major social media platform, imagine carrds as far as the eye can see, with promises of charity donation and backing goals and loads and loads of merch to go along with said zine. Also you can't forget the BONUS zine that might be thrown in with print orders for no extra charge. Can't forget all of the mods being anonymous or new fans that seemed to have cropped up out of nowhere! And not only that but mod teams with jobs ranging from social media mod to printing mod to shipping mod to sales mod. Phew! That's a LOT of mods! But don't worry! All of your hard work is going toward a mass charity donation that totally won't end in tax issues for whoever the main zine runner is! Wait...Paypal actually monitors transactions? Shit, may as well pocket the whole sale and hightail it out of Discord to whatever the next fandom trend is.

This may just sound like I'm bitching, but this is really a problem I am sick and tired of. I mean with all of these whacky contributor callouts and mods running away with six figures just to blow on .jpg gambling and weeb RPGs, I think it's fair to say this shit has gotten out of hand and is in serious need of fixing. Just go on Twitter for a microsecond and you'll be bombarded with every new zine coming out, one for every month! Or every week if you're in a bigger fandom. And each of these zines tend to be run by the same ring of people, some groups working out better than others. Now this zine circle business isn't new, but it starts to become a problem when there's this sense of elitism some of these mods have about their standing in a fandom that gives me weird authoritarian vibes. It's too hard to become a BNF these days, so why not inflate your ego artificially by running a zine and not fulfilling any of your modly duties to actually get stuff printed and sorted out on time! It gets to a point where I have little trust in each zine that crops up in fear that it will just be the same 6 people who honestly would be better off just running a fan week or an ask blog or something like that.

And don't even get me started on the lack of creativity I've noticed with a lot of these modern zines. Yes, many zines, including doujinshi, tend to have a uniting theme that holds the project together. This can be something as general as "dreams" or broader to encompass a ship. But at least in the fandom that's my stomping ground, I tend to see a lot of zines that pop up with really uninspired themes that are just trying to cash in on attention or clout (since they're all "charity" zines) like "LGBT", "Horror", "Flowers", etc. Now in theory, these zines could be interesting on their own. However, when looking into them, they're typically a bunch of artbooks with art that honestly I probably wouldn't look at again since there's no real passion in it. Just crap out the art to get you 10 seconds of attention and then move onto the next zine. And maybe that's really rude of me, but it's just a whole lot of the same "junk food" art where there doesn't seem to be any real passion behind it. Ditto for a lot of the fics in these zines. Some are great! I've seen some really great pieces art-wise and fic-wise in these generic sort of zines, but they're so eclipsed by all of the filler that many times they just go unnoticed. And I'm saying this as someone who has been a participant in TWO zines--one a free zine before the great flood of zines that came out in 2019-current, and the other being one of the more "corporate" zines that focused a lot of attention on merch sales and the like. I will say, there is a sense of passion from the participants. I don't think someone would go through the hassle of applying if they truly didn't care. But there is a general lack of inspiration in a zine market so over-saturated as it is today. I think perhaps the meaning of "zine" is getting lost behind this weird corporate masquerade in fan spaces, and it honestly makes me a little scared moving forward that actual companies are going to take notice and get involved in CORPORATE zines. *shivers*

I think where a lot of these modern zines suffer, and perhaps this is where I'm sensing the lack of passion, is the lack of it actually feeling like a fan project and moreso something that is marketable or an act of community service (that's still advertiser friendly). And it's this ad friendly image (especially with all of the MARKETING CAMPAIGNS!!!) that's killing the nature of zines. I mean look at this (examples pulled from zines that have had a TERRIBLE track record and I don't feel bad shitting on at all given the complaints about mods everyone involved have shared):

Zines like this are incredibly common in my home fandom. There are many MANY other examples I can think of but I really don't want to hurt the feelings of the zine runners because I'm sure many of them have good intentions but I am SO skeptical given how many of these zines just are a hot fuckin mess.

Anyway, all of this bitchin about zines is for me to say that I really, truly, from the bottom of my heart feel like current zine culture that has totally ditched the DIY nature of them has done severe damage to people's conception of fan events. Everyone thinks that there needs to be a product or some sort of financial transaction for their passion and work to be viewed as meaningful, which is such a depressing way of looking at art and what should be a hobby for everyone. Like yes, I think it is totally valid to pay for a zine. I am not saying that zines must be free in order to fulfill my utopian view of what a zine should be. Please pay the artists involved in making these projects! Pay for the printing! Pay for production costs! Pay artists for their work! But I am really uncomfortable with how this culture of zines has killed the online fan event scene. There used to be more fan weeks and big/mini bangs and anon-memes. I think social media is partly to blame for this switch, especially Twitter and Instagram now that those platforms are essentially just adspace. And how do you get noticed in an online space that is so heavily influenced by advertisers? You sell shit! What used to be prompts for fan weeks are now full fledged zines to donate to XYZ charity (often without the charities permission to use their name in any of the promotions FYI). I am just old and tired and am digging in my heels to refuse this garbage I'm being fed where if you want to participate in any sort of creative fan community, you must appease these same circles of mods for their financial clout project. Gross.

Now, what's the cure to this, you ask? Go back to making NON-PROFESSIONAL, NON-ADVERTISER FRIENDLY, NON-MOD PANELED FAN EVENTS! Or shit, if you're gonna make a zine, drop this weird corporate LARP and just make a damn PDF or self-printed zine that people can pick up. Zines don't need to come as pre-order packages with all of these bells and whistles that are killin lil old ladies in Chinese sweatshops to advertise your grandiose corporate marketing skills rebranded as a fan zine. Make sloppy zines with misprints! Make zines that aren't full color and if you want to see the color images, then you'll have to type a URL to see the artist's page! Make zines about themes people are passionate about, that niche shit that would actually get someone interested in collecting it and not just to feed into whatever the algorithm says will be trendy (I'm looking at all of the holiday zines and gay pride zines that sit to be released at just the perfect time). Or don't make zines at all! All that stress for something that will be forgotten, or worse, held up in production hell and never printed just isn't worth the hassle. Go back to home-grown, farm-fresh fan events that no advertiser would dare to imitate!

"Damn Whim, that was a long fuckin introduction to finally get to the point you're trying to make. Long winded, much?"

Yeah, I've had a lot of these interrelated thoughts and this essay is gonna be messy. Deal with it lol.

So, what the fuck is so special about fan events that I keep harping on and on about? Well, the beauty of them is that you can do whatever the hell you want, and it's low pressure! It invites people to participate who aren't drawn to the current zine scene because they are disinterested in the "professionalism" that comes with it. And in my opinion, you get the real passion from projects where people just get to be their unfiltered selves. There is no fear of attracting the right crowd to buy shit when you're just doing you! And there is no weird sense of Stockholm syndrome to appease the amorphous mod team with you work! Sure, there are deadlines, but these are mostly for fun and to hold a fire under creatives who might not actually complete a work without the artificial sense of needing to work on a schedule. And you can actually build community and talk about things that enjoy you when the event you're working on is surrounding a particular niche interest that you all share!

Last summer, I got the idea of putting together a minibang for the YGO fandom that centers around rare pairs (I am VERY green to Dreamwidth, so forgive me if this community isn't polished and shiny lol...but look! This is me suffering from that same learned behavior from social media to make everything I do professional and marketable!). And this minibang was great! I think part of why it was so lovely was the fact that there wasn't a mod team and I was the sole evil overlord to micromanage watch over the whole thing. My experience with other bangs with mod teams is similar to experiences with merch-zines too. I think that having too many mods really stifles communication even though it seems like that's what these panels try to alleviate. Moreover, I think the fact that this minibang was centered around something that's already a niche attracted a lot of cool people who were passionate about what this event stood for, especially after multitudes of issues from THE big bang in th ygo community that often leaves writers without artist pairings--many people leaving unpaired and empty handed for all of their hard work and passion put into their fic. This other bang also has an issue where it just becomes a popularity contest for ships, which leaves out anyone who dares to write abou a pairing not in the top 10 ships on AO3, let alone ANY of the spin offs. At this point, that particular bang might benefit from a rebranding to just be a puzzle-puppy-pride bang and not burn the rest of the fandom interested in anything else, but I digress. Perhaps they enjoy the power that comes with hurting the feelings of other fans.

Anywho, the event was small, but I also think that's what made it so great. I was able to get to know nearly everyone who participated over time, and it was cool to just vibe and fan-out over little tiny ships we loved. At first I was worried about the size of the event, that I wasn't  p r o m o t i n g  enough on social media, but really I would do it nearly the same again. Maybe make some nicer banners just to decorate, but I really do not think that fan events need to have all of these bells and whistles to function. It really comes down to just getting a group together and banging out some art together.

I also made a promise to myself that nobody would leave empty handed, and this kinda came down to the wire where there were a few pinch hits that needed to happen (even if I needed to be the one to do it) and IT HAPPENED! Wow! The power of modding! I just feel like so many of the mods for these events don't actually want to mod and send uncomfortable messages when it comes down to the wire to actually check in on people who are unresponsive and not in communication with their partner/s. And I think with that, if you set deadlines and set rules, do not stray from them! Like I'm not saying be an evil dictator, but when your a mod, you're kind of signing up to be the whip for this event. If someone is falling off schedule, talk to them and get them back on track! Or be realistic with them and tell them that it would be better to have them again next time so that someone doesn't get left behind with no creative partner. 

I think I might make a how-to style post at some point detailing how to actually put together a bang, since this seems to be a foreign concept to many (especially in my fandom in particular). I just think it's important to be able to share how to put together these types of things successfully for the health of a fandom so we can get off the train of the way it's headed, straight into capitalist, mass-marketed, advertiser-friendly, mediocre bullshit land. Fandom deserves more than this. Bring back community projects that are just for fun