Making Mine Marvel


marvuntold

Reading Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013) I am learning all sorts of things. Or rather, some things I am learning and some things I am relearning, as Marvel’s publications are woven into my life as intimately as are Star Trek and Star Wars: other franchises of the fantastic whose fecundity — the sheer volume of media they’ve spawned over the years — mean that at any given stage of my development they have been present in some form. Our biographies overlap; even when I wasn’t actively reading or watching them, they served at least as a backdrop. I would rather forget that The Phantom Menace or Enterprise happened, but I know precisely where I was in my life when they did.

Star Wars, of course, dates back to 1977, which means my first eleven years were unmarked by George Lucas’s galvanic territorialization of the pop-culture imaginary. Trek, on the other hand, went on the air in 1966, the same year I was born. Save for a three-month gap between my birthday in June and the series premiere in September, Kirk, Spock and the universe(s) they inhabit have been as fundamental and eternal as my own parents. Marvel predates both of them, coming into existence in 1961 as the descendent of Timely and Atlas. This makes it about as old as James Bond (at least in his movie incarnation) and slightly older than Doctor Who, arriving via TARDIS, er, TV in 1963.

My chronological preamble is in part an attempt to explain why so much of Howe’s book feels familiar even as it keeps surprising me by crystallizing things about Marvel I kind of already knew, because Marvel itself — avatarizalized in editor/writer Stan Lee — was such an omnipresent engine of discourse, a flow of interested language not just through dialogue bubbles and panel captions but the nondiegetic artists’ credits and editorial inserts (“See Tales of Suspense #53! — Ed.”) as well as paratextual spaces like the Bullpen Bulletins and Stan’s Soapbox. Marvel in the 1960s, its first decade of stardom, was very, very good not just at putting out comic books but at inventing itself as a place and even a kind of person — a corporate character — spending time with whom was always the unspoken emotional framework supporting my issue-by-issue excursions into the subworlds of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange.

Credit Howe, then, with taking all of Marvel’s familiar faces, fictional and otherwise, and casting each in its own subtly new light: Stan Lee as a liberal, workaholic jack-in-the-box in his 40s rather than the wrinkled avuncular cameo-fixture of recent Marvel movies; Jack Kirby as a father of four, turning out pages at breakneck speed at home in his basement studio with a black-and-white TV for company; Steve Ditko as — and this genuinely took me by surprise — a follower of Ayn Rand who increasingly infused his signature title, The Amazing Spider-Man, with Objectivist philosophy.

It’s also interesting to see Marvel’s transmedial tendencies already present in embryo as Lee, Kirby, and Ditko shared their superhero assets across books: Howe writes, “Everything was absorbed into the snowballing Marvel Universe, which expanded to become the most intricate fictional narrative in the history of the world: thousands upon thousands of interlocking characters and episodes. For generations of readers, Marvel was the great mythology of the modern world.” (Loc 125 — reading it on my Kindle app). Of course, as with any mythology of sufficient popular mass, it becomes impossible to read history as anything but a teleologically overdetermined origin story, so perhaps Howe overstates the case. Still, it’s hard to resist the lure of reading marketing decisions as prescient acts of worldbuilding: “It was canny cross-promotion, sure, but more important, it had narrative effects that would become a Marvel Comics touchstone: the idea that these characters shared a world, that the actions of each had repercussions on the others, and that each comic was merely a thread of one Marvel-wide mega-story.” (Loc 769)

I like too the way Untold Story paints comic-book fandom in the 1960s as a movement of adults, or at least teenagers and college students, rather than the children so often caricatured as typical comic readers; Howe notes July 27, 1964 as the date of “the first comic convention” at which “a group of fans rented out a meeting hall near Union Square and invited writers, artists, and collectors (and one dealer) of old comic books to meet.” (Loc 876) The company’s self-created fan club, the Merry Marvel Marching Society or M.M.M.S., was in Howe’s words

an immediate smash; chapters opened at Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge. … The mania wasn’t confined to the mail, either — teenage fans started calling the office, wanting to have long telephone conversations with Fabulous Flo Steinberg, the pretty young lady who’d answered their mail so kindly and whose lovely picture they’d seen in the comics. Before long, they were showing up in the dimly lit hallways of 625 Madison, wanting to meet Stan and Jack and Steve and Flo and the others. (Loc 920)

A forcefully engaged and exploratory fandom, then, already making its media pilgrimages to the hallowed sites of production, which Lee had so skillfully established in the fannish imaginary as coextensive with, or at least intersecting, the fictional overlay of Manhattan through which Spider-Man swung and the Fantastic Four piloted their Fantasticar. In this way the book’s first several chapters offhandedly map the genesis of contemporary, serialized, franchised worldbuilding and the emergent modern fandoms that were both those worlds’ matrix and their ideal sustaining receivers.

Howe is attentive to these resonances without overstating them: Lee, Kirby and others are allowed to be superheroes (flawed and bickering in true Marvel fashion) while still retaining their earthbound reality. And through his book, so far, I am reexperiencing my own past in heightened, colorful terms, remembering how the media to which I was exposed when young mutated me, gamma-radiation-like, into the man I am now.

Tilt-Shifting Pacific Rim

PACIFIC RIM

Two-thirds of the way through Pacific Rim — just after an epic battle in, around, and ultimately over Hong Kong that’s one of the best-choreographed setpieces of cinematic SF mayhem I have ever witnessed — I took advantage of a lull in the storytelling to run to the restroom. In the air-conditioned chill of the multiplex the lobby with its concession counters and videogames seemed weirdly cramped and claustrophobic, a doll’s-house version of itself I’d entered after accidentally stumbling into the path of a shink-ray, and I realized for the first time that Guillermo del Toro’s movie had done a phenomenological number on me, retuning my senses to the scale of the very, very big and rendering the world outside the theater, by contrast, quaintly toylike.

I suspect that much of PR’s power, not to mention its puppy-dog, puppy-dumb charm, lies in just this scalar play. The cinematography has a way of making you crane your gaze upwards even in shots that don’t feature those lumbering, looming mechas and kaiju. The movie recalls the pleasures of playing with LEGO, model kits, action figures, even plain old Matchbox Cars, taking pieces of the real (or made-up) world and shrinking them down to something you can hold in your hand — and, just as importantly, look up at. As the father of a two-year-old, I often find myself laying on the floor, my eyes situated inches off the carpet and so near the plastic dump trucks, excavators, and fire engines in my son’s fleet that I have to take my glasses off to properly focus on them. At this proximity, toys regain some of their large-scale referent’s visual impact without ever quite giving up their smallness: the effect is a superimposition of slightly dissonant realities, or in the words of my friend Randy (with whom I saw Pacific Rim) a “sized” version of the uncanny valley.

This scalar unheimlich is clearly on the culture’s mind lately, literalized — iconized? — in tilt-shift photography, which takes full-sized scenes and optically transforms them into images that look like dioramas or models. A subset of the larger (no pun intended) practice of miniature faking, tilt-shift updates Walter Benjamin’s concept of the optical unconscious for the networked antheap of contemporary digital and social media, in which nothing remains unconscious (or unspoken or unexplored) for long but instead swims to prominence through an endless churn of collective creation, commentary, and sharing. Within the ramifying viralities of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and 4chan, in which memes boil reality into existence like so much quantum foam, the fusion of lens-perception and human vision — what the formalist Soviet pioneers called the kino-eye — becomes just another Instagram filter:

tilt-shift-photography-1

The giant robots fighting giant monsters in Pacific Rim, of course, are toyetic in a more traditional sense: where tilt-shift turns the world into a miniature, PR uses miniatures to make a world, because that is what cinematic special effects do. The story’s flimsy romance, between Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) makes more sense when viewed as a symptomatic expression of the national and generic tropes the movie is attempting to marry: the mind-meldly “drift” at the production level fuses traditions of Japanese rubber-monster movies like Gojiru and anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion with a visual-effects infrastructure which, while a global enterprise, draws its guiding spirit (the human essence inside its mechanical body, if you will) from Industrial Light and Magic and the decades of American fantasy and SF filmmaking that led to our current era of brobdingnagian blockbusters.

Pacific Rim succeeds handsomely in channeling those historical and generic traces, paying homage to the late great Ray Harryhausen along the way, but evidently its mission of magnifying 50′s-era monster movies to 21st-century technospectacle was an indulgence of giantizing impulses unsuited to U.S. audiences at least; in its opening weekend, PR was trounced by Grown Ups 2 and Despicable Me 2, comedies offering membership in a franchise where PR could offer only membership in a family. The dismay of fans, who rightly recognize Pacific Rim as among the best of the summer season and likely deserving of a place in the pantheon of revered SF films with long ancillary afterlives, should remind us of other scalar disjunctions in play: for all their power and reach (see: the just-concluded San Diego Comic Con), fans remain a subculture, their beloved visions, no matter how expansive, dwarfed by the relentless output of a mainstream-oriented culture industry.

Sharing — or stealing? — Trek

In a neat coincidence, yesterday’s New York Times featured two articles that intersect around the concerns of internet piracy and intellectual property rights on the one hand, and struggles between fan creators and “official” owners of a transmedia franchise on the other. On the Opinions page, Rutgers professor Stuart P. Green’s essay “When Stealing Isn’t Stealing” examines the Justice Department’s case against the file-sharing site Megaupload and the larger definitions of property and theft on which the government’s case is based. Green traces the evolution of a legal philosophy in which goods are understood in singular terms as something you can own or have taken away from you; as he puts it, “for Caveman Bob to ‘steal’ from Caveman Joe meant that Bob had taken something of value from Joe — say, his favorite club — and that Joe, crucially, no longer had it. Everyone recognized, at least intuitively, that theft constituted what can loosely be defined as a zero-sum game: what Bob gained, Joe lost.”

It’s flattering to have my neanderthal namesake mentioned as the earliest of criminals, and not entirely inappropriate, as I myself, a child of the personal-computer revolution, grew up with a much more elastic and (self-)forgiving model of appropriation, one based on the easy and theoretically limitless sharing of data. As Green observes, Caveman Bob’s descendants operate on radically different terrain. “If Cyber Bob illegally downloads Digital Joe’s song from the Internet, it’s crucial to recognize that, in most cases, Joe hasn’t lost anything.” This is because modern media are intangible things, like electricity, so that “What Bob took, Joe, in some sense, still had.”

Green’s point about the intuitive moral frameworks in which we evaluate the fairness of a law (and, by implication, decide whether or not it should apply to us) accurately captures my generation’s feeling, back in the days of vinyl LPs and audiocassettes, that it was no big deal to make a mix tape and share it with friends. For that geeky subset of us who then flocked to the first personal computers — TRS-80s, Apple IIs, Commodore 64s and the like — it was easy to extend that empathic force field to excuse the rampant copying and swapping of five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks at local gatherings of the AAPC (Ann Arbor Pirate’s Club). And while many of us undoubtedly grew up into the sort of upstanding citizens who pay for every byte they consume, I remain to this day in thrall to that first exciting rush of infinite availability promised by the computer and explosively realized by the Web. While I’m aware that pirating content does take money out of its creators’ pockets (a point Green is careful to acknowledge), that knowledge, itself watered down by the scalar conceit of micropayments, doesn’t cause me to lose sleep over pirating content the way that, say, shoplifting or even running a stop sign would. The law is a personal as well as a public thing.

The other story in yesterday’s Times, though, activates the debate over shared versus protected content on an unexpected (and similarly public/personal) front: Star Trek. Thomas Vinciguerra’s Arts story “A ‘Trek’ Script is Grounded in Cyberspace” describes the injunction brought by CBS/Paramount to stop the production of an episode of Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II, an awkwardly-named but loonily inspired fan collective that has, since 2003, produced seven hours of content that extend the 1966-1969 show. Set not just in the universe of the original series but its specific televisual utopos, the New Voyages reproduce the sets, sound effects, music, and costumes of 60s Trek in an ongoing act of mimesis that has less to do with transformative use than with simulation: the Enterprise bridge in particular is indistinguishable from the set designed by Matt Jeffries, in part because it is based on those designs and subsequent detailing by Franz Joseph and other fan blueprinters.

I’ve watched four of the seven New Voyages, and their uncanny charm has grown with each viewing. For newcomers, the biggest distraction is the recasting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other regulars by different performers whose unapologetic roughness as actors is more than outweighed by their enthusiasm and attention to broad details of gesture: it’s like watching very, very good cosplayers. And now that the official franchise has itself been successfully rebooted, the sole remaining indexical connection to production history embodied by Shatner et al has been sundered. Everybody into the pool, er, transporter room!

I suspect it is the latter point — the sudden opening of a frontier that had seemed so final, encouraging every fan with a camera and an internet connection to partake in their own version of what Roddenberry pitched as a “wagon train to the stars” — that led CBS to put the kibosh on the New Voyages production of Norman Spinrad’s “He Walked Among Us,” a script written in the wake of Spinrad’s great Trek tale “The Doomsday Machine” but never filmed due to internal disputes between Roddenberry and Gene Coon about how best to rewrite it. (The whole story, along with other unrealized Trek scripts, makes for fascinating reading at Memory Alpha.) Although Spinrad was enthusiastic about the New Voyages undertaking and even planned to direct the episode, CBS, according to the Times story, decided to exert its right to hold onto the material, perhaps to publish it or mount it as some sort of online content themselves.

All of which brings us back to the question of Caveman Bob, Caveman Joe, and their cyber/digital counterparts. Corporate policing of fan production is nothing new, although Trek‘s owners have always encouraged a more permeable membrane between official and unofficial contributors than does, say, Lucasfilm. But the seriousness of purpose evidenced by the New Voyages, along with the fan base it has itself amassed, have elevated it from the half-light of the fannish imaginary — a playspace simultaneously authorized and ignored by the powers that be, like the kid-distraction zones at a McDonalds — to something more formidable, if not in its profit potential, then in its ability to deliver a Trek experience more authentic than any new corporate “monetization.” By operationalizing Spinrad’s hitherto forgotten teleplay, New Voyages reminds us of the immense generative possibilities that reside within Trek‘s forty-five years of mitochondrial DNA, waiting to be realized by anyone with the requisite resources and passion. And that’s genuinely threatening to a corporation who formerly relied on economies of scale to ensure that only they could produce new Trek at anything like the level of mass appeal.

But in proceeding as if this were the case, Green might suggest, CBS adheres to an obsolete logic of property and theft, one that insists on the uniqueness and unreproducibility of any given instantiation of Trek. They have not yet embraced the idea that, in the boundless ramifications of a healthy transmedia franchise, there is only ever “moreness”; versions do not cancel each other out, but drive new debates about canonicity and comparisons of value, fueling the discursive games that constitute the texture of an engaged and appreciative fandom. The New Voyages take nothing away from official Trek, because subtraction is an impossibility in the viral marketplace of new media. The sooner CBS realizes this, the better.

Hungry for recognition

As usual, I can’t say to what degree the fast-moving currents of vituperation and one-up-manship on the /tv/ board of 4chan summarize the opinions shared by wider communities of fantastic-media fandom. The most one can safely conclude is that this anonymous posting culture, which despite its lack of identifiers screams straight-white-maleness, at least speaks from the heart; and amid the jeering homophobia, misogyny, racism, and antisemitism that function as a kind of chainmail for the ego, the collective seems to feel genuinely offended by the huge box office of The Hunger Games‘ opening weekend.

The gist of the complaints is that the new movie franchise and the books on which it is based borrow freely but without acknowledgement from other cherished fan texts such as Battle Royale and some of Stephen King’s early novels. I ran down this exact list in my post from last week on the icky and ironic parallels between the media makeover the main character, Katniss, receives in the story and the real-life glamorizing of the movie’s star, Jennifer Lawrence — but seeing the same litany of influences played out on 4chan in a more accusatory tone reveals a striking woundedness on the part of fans (and I think I’m talking primarily about fanboys) who feel betrayed by the explosive popularity of a story they believe they have encountered many times before. Particular ire is directed toward the trilogy’s author, Suzanne Collins, who is seen as not simply derivative but dishonest in sourcing her creation to recent developments in U.S. military adventurism and reality-television programming, rather than to Japanese pop culture and pulp dystopian fantasy of the late 1970s.

I suspect that the emotional stakes here are those of ownership as a byproduct of fannish familiarity and knowledge; /tv/’s readership feels sidelined by the mainstream success of material in which they were formerly the sole experts. It’s an interesting exercise in cult guardianship and the ethics of a citational economy in which Collins’s apparent refusal to give credit where credit is due flies in the face of fan practices predicated on the competitive display of intertextual knowledge. It’s another kind of hunger game, this appetite for the mantle of mastery, fought in the vertical arena of replies to replies on a website. Collins’s fiction and its cinematic adaptation commit the unpardonable crime of neglecting that arena outright, making up their own rules, and thinking outside the box, just as Katniss does to win her victory — and 4chan’s media fans find themselves in the angry position of Panem’s repressive government, fighting an insurrection that threatens to undo the grounds of its authority.

TWC: special issue on fan/remix video

Thrilled to spread word of this new issue, co-edited by two friends and featuring an interview by an old pal from IU, Brett Boessen! A call for my own guest-edited issue, on materiality and object-oriented fandom, can be found here.

Transformative Works and Cultures Vol 9 (2012)

“Fan/Remix Video,” special issue of TWC guest edited by Francesca Coppa, Muhlenberg College, and Julie Levin Russo, Brown University

Table of Contents

Editorial
“Fan/remix video (a remix)” by  Julie Levin Russo and Francesca Coppa

 

Theory
“Mashup as temporal amalgam: Time, taste, and textuality,” by Paul J. Booth
“Toward an ecology of vidding,” by Tisha Turk and Joshua Johnson
“The rhetoric of remix,” by Virginia Kuhn
“Remix video and the crisis of the humanities,” by Kim Middleton

 

Praxis
“Vidding and the perversity of critical pleasure: Sex, violence, and voyeurism in ‘Closer’ and ‘On the Prowl,’”by Sarah Fiona Winters
“Spreading the cult body on YouTube: A case study of ‘Telephone’ derivative videos,” by Agnese Vellar
“Fake and fan film trailers as incarnations of audience anticipation and desire,” by Kathleen Amy Williams

 

Symposium
“The two-source illusion: How vidding practices changed Jonathan McIntosh’s political remix videos,” by Martin Leduc
“Abridged series and fandom remix culture,” by Zephra Doerr
“The Star Wars franchise, fan edits, and Lucasfilm,” by Forrest Phillips

 

Interview
“Documenting the vidders: A conversation with Bradcpu,” by Counteragent
“Interview with Eric Faden and Nina Paley,” by Brett Boessen
“Desiree D’Alessandro and Diran Lyons bear arms: Weapons of mass transformation,” by Desiree D’Alessandro and Diran Lyons

 

Multimedia
“Fred rant,” by Alexandra Juhasz
“Queer video remix and LGBTQ online communities,” by Elisa Kreisinger
“Genesis of the digital anime music video scene, 1990–2001,” by Ian Roberts
“A history of subversive remix video before YouTube: Thirty political video mashups made between World War II and 2005″, by Jonathan McIntosh

 

Review
“Television and new media: Must-click TV,” by Jennifer Gillan, reviewed by Lindsay Giggey

 

Franz Joseph and Star Trek’s Blueprint Culture

As part of a larger project I’m preparing on “blueprint culture” — fan subcultures devoted to drawing, drafting, charting, mapping, and playing the worlds of science-fiction media — here is a brief history, excerpted from my book manuscript on special effects and transmedia, of Franz Joseph and the Starfleet Technical Manual he created in 1975.

One man in particular would dominate Star Trek’s design-oriented fandom in the 1970s. Though not a fan himself, Franz Joseph Schnaubelt was the first to awaken a broad base of fans to the pleasures of charting and extending Star Trek’s diegetic backdrop. By the same token, Schnaubelt brought to the attention of the show’s license holders the enormous profit potential of Trek manufacturing: first through supplementary materials expanding on the Trek universe, then through relaunching Trek as a storytelling franchise.

Schnaubelt, who in his professional life went by the name Franz Joseph, was born in Chicago in 1914. A designer and draftsman, Joseph began working at the aeronautical and military research firm General Dynamics in 1941, drawing up plans of seaplanes and fighter planes. “For being a man who was vehemently opposed to war,” Joseph’s daughter Karen Dick writes, he “certainly worked on some of the most formidable war machinery of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.”[i] Laid off in 1969, Joseph entered an early retirement that ended when his attention turned to Trek – not as entertainment, but as intellectual exercise. During the original series’ run, Joseph and Karen had watched the show together, but her passion outstripped his (he considered Star Trek only slightly superior to Lost in Space). In April 1973, Karen took her father to the inaugural meeting of the San Diego branch of the Star Trek Association for Revival (S.T.A.R.).[ii] The fans gathered there brought with them homemade models of Trek equipment such as communicators and phasers. According to Joseph, the ersatz props “were made out of cardboard, balsa wood, tape, wiring, glue, and paint and, for college kids … the workmanship was pretty bad any way you looked at it.”[iii] A former Cub Scout director, Joseph told the amateur craftsmen he thought “they could do better.”[iv] When they asked for assistance, Joseph agreed to bring his own professional training to bear.

Working from more than 800 film clips Karen had amassed, Joseph began to draft blueprints of the props, basing his work on a principle of architectural draftsmanship in which schematic drawings are projected into 3D views. Joseph reversed this, moving “from picture to plan” rather than from plan to picture.[v] In this sense, he inverted the process by which Matt Jefferies, a decade earlier, designed Trek’s sets and spacecraft: Jefferies would prepare both top-down plans and elevations – 3D views, some in color – showing how the finished object would look from camera viewpoint. According to Joseph,

I could take a picture of an enemy airplane and, as long as there was something on the airplane, or in the picture, that permitted me to determine the scale or make a fairly good judgment of the scale, then I would simply reverse the procedure and draw the plans of the airplane in that picture. This is what I was doing with the Star Trek slides. I drew the plans of the communicator, and then plans of the hand phaser and the pistol phaser.[vi]

When Karen’s friends saw the drawings, Joseph said, they “went wild over them. They wanted a lot more. They wanted everything. They made a whole list of stuff they wanted to see and I decided, well, I would do it if there was an interest in it.”[vii] When Joseph examined the lists, he realized that the fans were asking for “a ‘technical’ manual,” and set to work drawing up a comprehensive mechanical anatomy of Trek’s diegetic contents (Figure 3).[viii] From Lincoln Enterprises, the memorabilia vendor run by Roddenberry and Majel Barrett, Karen obtained a set of Matt Jefferies’s drawings of the Enterprise, the Galileo shuttlecraft, and the shuttledeck. “From those sketches and those in Whitfield’s book [The Making of Star Trek],” Joseph “laid the drawing out, scaled and sized it, and made a drawing of the Enterprise.”[ix] He then departed for the first time from canon, extrapolating a new type of Starfleet vessel – a massive warship called the Dreadnaught, which rearranged elements of the Enterprise configuration. Joseph topped off this initial set of drawings with a pattern for the standard Starfleet uniform, again demonstrating the seamless slippage among visual effects and more concrete elements such as sets, costumes, and props.

In the course of preparing the technical manual, Joseph decided it would be necessary to map the Enterprise’s internal layout. This was because the fan community

wanted bridge stations and other things concerned with the interior of the Enterprise, which did not exist except in a book or in somebody’s mind as a throwaway line. So it became rather obvious that I would have to lay out the Enterprise far enough to get to those areas – to see whether I could make drawings. This is how the Enterprise blueprints came about – in the middle of making the technical manual – they were primarily an afterthought.[x]

In “lofting” the ship, however, he discovered several errors in scale and perspective, most stemming from the change from 203 to 430 personnel (and a corresponding change in length from 180 to 947 feet) made by Roddenberry and Jefferies during preproduction on the original series. He also noticed that the bridge was 36 degrees out of alignment with the rest of the saucer – throughout the series, Captain Kirk had been facing slightly to the left of the ship’s angle of travel, a mistake that had to do with the producers’ need to create dramatic visual compositions by placing the “turbolift” elevator so it was not directly behind the captain’s chair. Drafting the technical manual and ship blueprints was, then, largely a matter of reconciling the “imaginary” object of the Enterprise miniature with the “real” object of sets such as the bridge, sickbay, and engineering, explaining in graphic form how exterior and interior aspects of the Enterprise fit together into a coherent whole. In this sense, Joseph’s work might be described as operationalizing the Kuleshov effect, tying down and standardizing relationships created through editing. The technical materials upon which design-oriented fandom thrives – blueprints, models, hand-crafted props – thus serve an essentially conservative function, knitting together loose seams of an imperfectly-manufactured diegetic reality, as opposed to the exploding/perverting of officially preferred meanings that occurs in fan fiction (particularly slash).

Nevertheless, his technical productions did ultimately bring him into conflict with Trek’s legal authors. Interviews with Joseph demonstrate the care he took not to step on the toes of Trek’s copyright holders; from the start, he corresponded with Roddenberry and Paramount executives, sending them samples of his work. At the same time, Joseph’s encounters with the fan community convinced him there was substantial interest in his technical drawings, a site of imaginative investment as well as potential profit. By May 14, 1973 – only a month after the S.T.A.R. meeting that inspired the project – Joseph, having completed a dozen drawings, contacted Roddenberry and received a go-ahead. Roddenberry hinted that Lincoln Enterprises would market the drawings once Joseph completed them. For a brief time, Roddenberry even employed Joseph as technical consultant and designer on a new science-fiction series he was then developing, Planet Earth.

But months later, with a major Trek convention approaching, Joseph had still not received official permission to sell his work. Bypassing Roddenberry, he made a one-time deal with Paramount to sell the “General Plans” (the Enterprise blueprints) at the upcoming convention. Equicon 1974 took place in Los Angeles from April 12-14. Of the 500 copies of the General Plans Joseph had prepared, 410 sold immediately; 450 requests for additional copies were taken on postcards. Paramount, which received Joseph’s royalty check shortly thereafter, sensed it was on to something, and began negotiating for a mass-market release of both the General Plans and the still-growing Technical Manual. The results exceeded all expectations. The blueprints went on sale across the nation on May 24, 1975, selling out within two hours. By May 28, 50,000 additional copies had sold, prompting Ballantine to print 100,000 more. In July the New York Times marveled,

It lives! There’s one publication that’s been selling so furiously in book stores during recent weeks that it would be included on the list [of bestsellers] above except for one fact. It’s not a book. “Star Trek Blueprints” is a set of 12 reproductions by Franz Joseph Schnaubelt showing “every foot of every level of the fabulous starship Enterprise.” Since mid-May Ballantine Books has sold 150,000 sets, enclosed in a plastic and leatherette portfolio, at $5. This week it goes back to press for 100,000 more.[xi]

The blueprints continued to sell strongly throughout the summer, reaching 10th on the paperback bestseller list and receiving a fourth printing in October. Meanwhile, interest in Franz Joseph’s other creation, the Technical Manual, was growing: at a time when a typical first printing of a Trek-related publications might run 20,000, Ballantine Books planned an initial run of 450,000. Both the General Plans and the Technical Manual ended up as bestsellers.

Although he found the widest audience, Joseph was by no means the first or only producer of design-oriented Trek material. In addition to the substantial body of such work that went on unremarked in bedrooms and basement workshops, many fans printed blueprints and manuals and sold them at conventions and through mail order. Geoffrey Mandel’s Starfleet Handbook, for example, came out in September 1974 and featured “schematics of the phaser, communicator, tricorder, and shuttlecraft.”[xii] Nevertheless, Franz Joseph’s creations inspired numerous others throughout the mid- and late 1970s to map the fantasy world of Trek in exacting detail through blueprints of the bridge, K-7 Space Station, and Klingon and Romulan cruisers. The success of the General Plans and Technical Manual led to a string of similar publications at the mass-market level, and constituted an access point for fans wishing to join the ranks of professionals: The Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual, published in 1977, featured the work of Geoffrey Mandel and Doug Drexler (who would later go on to create Christopher Pike, Commanding and other imagery for the “Ships of the Line” calendars). The popularity of Joseph’s technical materials arguably influenced the development of the “Star Trek Poster Magazine,” whose first issue came out in September 1976, and the Trek “Fotonovel” series, both of which showcased Trek’s spectacular visuals through color reproductions of film frames.[xiii] This trend would eventually lead to a series of official Trek publications such as Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise, as well as technical manuals for spinoff series The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.[xiv] With the growth of the personal-computer industry, software products such as the Interactive Guide to the Enterprise and Starship Creator joined the lineup.

Franz Joseph himself, however, did not go on to do more Trek projects. In part this was due to a series of illnesses affecting both him and his wife; but the larger obstacle seems to have been caused by Gene Roddenberry and Paramount themselves, who, during Trek’s pop-culture renaissance, were hard at work on relaunching the Star Trek franchise. In the early 1970s, Roddenberry assured Joseph that development of the General Plans and Technical Manual could continue unimpeded because Trek was, to all intents and purposes, a dead property. “Before I started seriously on the Manual,” Joseph said, “I had talked to Gene, Paramount, NBC, and Ballantine Books, and they all assured me that the Star Trek TV series was dead, it would not go back into production.”[xv] But the show had left a uniquely profitable corpse in the form of “the seventy-nine jewels,” as industry insiders called the original series, which continued to earn revenue through constant rebroadcast. The syndicated series was profitable in a secondary, subcultural sense, as Joseph himself acknowledged: “the reruns were maintaining continued fan interest, and gaining new fans every year. So I felt it was all right if I made the manual. It was something the original series never had, Gene wanted me to go ahead and finish it, and Ballantine was interested in publishing it.”[xvi]


[i] Greg Tyler, “Karen Dick” (June-July 1999 interview), <http:www.trekplace.com/fj-kdint01.html>, accessed 18 June 2005.

[ii] Paul Newitt, “An Interview with Franz Joseph” (June 1984), <http:www.trekplace.com/fj-fjnewitt01.html>, accessed 18 June 2005.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Gerry Williams and Penny Durrans, “These Will Be A Reality Sooner than You Think” (October 1976 interview with Franz Joseph Schnaubelt), <http:www.trekplace.com/fj-fjwilliamsint01.html>, accessed 17 June 2005.

[viii] Newitt, “An Interview with Franz Joseph.”

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Gerry Williams and Penny Durrans, “These Will Be A Reality Sooner than You Think.”

[xi] “Paper Back Talk,” New York Times (13 July 1975), 210.

[xii] Joan Marie Verba, Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History, 1967-1987, 2nd Ed. (Minnesota: FTL Publications, 2003), 17.

[xiii] Lynn Simross, “Fotonovel: The Movie-Picture Book,” Los Angeles Times (18 September 1978), OC_B1.

[xiv] Shane Johnson, Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989); Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991); Herman Zimmerman, Rick Sternbach, and Michael Okuda, The Deep Space Nine Technical Manual (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998).

[xv] Newitt, “An Interview with Franz Joseph.”

[xvi] Ibid.

Fan studies network

Passing along this exciting announcement …

We are pleased to announce the formation of The Fan Studies Network.

Open to scholars at all levels, the FSN is concerned with bringing together those interested in all aspects of fandom, in order to engage in discussions and make connections.

We welcome scholars to join the network by signing up to our Jiscmail mailing list: FanStudies@jiscmail.ac.uk.

You can also visit our website, which features CFPs and events of interest at http://fanstudies.wordpress.com, and our Twitter account @FanStudies.

We look forward to making connections with new members: please circulate this message to anyone you think might be interested.

All the best,

Lucy Bennett and Tom Phillips

The Fan Studies Network

http://fanstudies.wordpress.com

@FanStudies

FSN Team:
Lucy Bennett
Tom Phillips
Bethan Jones
Richard McCulloch
Rebecca Williams

CFP: Materiality and Object-Oriented Fandom (March 2014)

I’m excited to be guest-editing a special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures on objects and artifacts in media fandom! The CfP follows.

Alongside its consumption and transformation of texts, media fandom has always been marked by its consumption and transformation of objects. From superhero figures, model kits, and wargaming miniatures for sale at hobby shops, to costumes and props worn at Comic-Con, material objects and body decoration have functioned as displays of textual affiliation, crafting skills, or collecting prowess, reflecting a long history of fan-created and -circulated artifacts around popular media fictions. While “mimetic” and “affirmational” practices seek to replicate the objects of fantastic media as faithfully as possible, other fan creations result in material mash-ups, expressing transformative impulses in artifact form. Regardless of orientation, object-oriented fandom represents a distinct strand within old and new activities and cultures, one whose intimate and often friendly relationship with corporate branding and ancillary market exploitation make it of central interest to an emerging body of scholarship on transmedia, convergence, and the franchise.

This special issue seeks historically and theoretically informed essays that explore the role of objects and their associated practices in fandom, as instances of creativity and consumerism, transformation and affirmation, private archive and public display. We are particularly interested in work that complicates or transcends the binaries of social vs. solitary, artwork vs. commodity, and gift vs. monetary economies to engage with object-oriented fandom as self-aware and playful in its own right.

We welcome submissions dealing with, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • creating and collecting, buying and selling fan artifacts (production artifacts, memorabilia, reference materials, models, material fan art, and fan crafts…)
  • cosplay (creating costumes and other artifacts, performing cosplay, competitions…)
  • fan enactments, events, and embodiment (Renaissance Fairs, Quidditch competitions, re-enactments, fannish tattoos…)
  • fan objects as paratext and transmedia extension
  • dissemination of skills and abilities (workshops, online blogs, fan meetings…)
  • object marketplaces (con, comic-book store, ebay, etsy…)
  • evaluation and valuation of artifacts across the various economies of fandom
  • impact of digital technologies (including social networking and 3D printing) on object creation, collecting, and cataloging
  • new debates over authorship, ownership, and control

Submission guidelines

TWC accommodates academic articles of varying scope as well as other forms that embrace the technical possibilities of the Web and test the limits of the genre of academic writing. Contributors are encouraged to include embedded links, images, and videos in their articles, or to propose submissions in alternative formats that might comprise interviews, collaborations, or video/multimedia works. We are also seeking reviews of relevant books, events, courses, platforms, or projects.

Theory: Often interdisciplinary essays with a conceptual focus and a theoretical frame that offer expansive interventions in the field. Blind peer review. Length: 5,000–8,000 words plus a 100–250-word abstract.

Praxis: Analyses of particular cases that may apply a specific theory or framework to an artifact; explicate fan practice or formations; or perform a detailed reading of a text. Blind peer review. Length: 4,000–7,000 words plus a 100–250-word abstract.

Symposium: Short pieces that provide insight into current developments and debates. Non-blind editorial review. Length: 1,500–2,500 words.

Submissions are accepted online only. Please visit TWC’s Web site (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/) for complete submission guidelines, or e-mail the TWC Editor (editor AT transformativeworks.org).

Contact

We encourage potential contributors to contact the guest editors with inquiries or proposals: Bob Rehak (rehak.twc AT gmail.com)

Due dates

Contributions for blind peer review (Theory and Praxis essays) are due by March 1, 2013.

Contributions that undergo editorial review (Symposium, Interview, Review) are due by April 1, 2013.

New Works in Fan Studies

It’s always nice to see friends doing well, and in the case of Kristina Busse, there’s an added reward — seeing her name in print always means that something new and interesting is being said in the world of fan studies. In this case, it’s a double-header: the latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, the online journal Nina edits with Karen Hellekson, is up; and there’s a special section of the new Cinema Journal entitled “Fandom and Feminism: Gender and the Politics of Fan Production.” Both are well worth checking out, but I’m particularly excited about the CJ piece, which collects a number of writers I count myself lucky to know — among them Julie Levin Russo, Louisa Stein, and Alexis Lothian — and focuses a critical lens on exciting areas of creative practice in new media. Tables of contents are quoted below. Well done, Nina, and keep up the great work!

Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 3 (2009)

Editorial

Extending transformation HTML
TWC Editor

Theory

The labor of creativity: Women’s work, quilting, and the uncommodified life ABSTRACT HTML
Debora J Halbert
Sex detectives: “Law & Order: SVU”‘s fans, critics, and characters investigate lesbian desire ABSTRACT HTML
Julie Levin Russo
On productivity and game fandom ABSTRACT HTML
Hanna Wirman

Praxis

Sites of participation: Wiki fandom and the case of Lostpedia ABSTRACT HTML
Jason Mittell
Identity and authenticity in the filk community ABSTRACT HTML
Melissa L. Tatum
The Web planet: How the changing Internet divided “Doctor Who” fan fiction writers ABSTRACT HTML
Leora Hadas

Symposium

The magic of television: Thinking through magical realism in recent TV HTML
Lynne Joyrich
The future of academic writing? HTML
Avi Santo
Repackaging fan culture: The regifting economy of ancillary content models HTML
Suzanne Scott
Snogs of innocence, snogs of experience HTML
Dana Shilling
Playing [with] multiple roles: Readers, authors, and characters in
Who Is Blaise Zabini?”
HTML
Anne Collins Smith
“A Jedi like my father before me”: Social identity and the New York Comic Con HTML
Jen Gunnels
The Hunt for Gollum: Tracking issues of fandom cultures HTML
Robin Anne Reid
Pattern recognition: A dialogue on racism in fan communities HTML
TWC Editor

Interview

Interview with Verb Noire HTML
K. Tempest Bradford
Interview with Mark Smith and Denise Paolucci HTML
zvi LikesTV
Interview with Chris Bouchard HTML
Emma Dollard

Review

“Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks,” by Theresa M. Senft HTML
Adriano Barone
“Introduction to Japanese horror film,” by Colette Balmain HTML
Alessia Alfieroni
“Pride and prejudice and zombies: The classic Regency romance?Now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem!,” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith HTML
Craig B. Jacobsen

Cinema Journal 48.4 (Summer 2009)

A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness – Francesca Coppa

A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture – Karen Hellekson

Should Fan Fiction Be Free? – Abigail De Kosnik

User-Penetrated Content: Fan Video in the Age of Convergence – Julie Levin Russo

Living in a Den of Thieves: Fan Video and Digital Challenges to Ownership – Alexis Lothian

Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 2

The second issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, an online peer-reviewed journal devoted to popular media and fan communities, is now out — another splendid and substantial package of theory, praxis, and reviews. The theme for Volume 2, which was guest-edited by Rebecca Carlson, is Games as Transformative Works.

My favorite piece of the bunch is probably an essay by Will Brooker, “Maps of Many Worlds,” on computer-game fandom in the 1980s. It’s smartly written and full of insights, as one would expect from Brooker (whose work on Star Wars fandom has been enormously productive for me), but it’s also unexpectedly — and rewardingly — personal, recollecting his own imaginative engagement with the graphical realms of games played on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. My own U.S.-based cognate for this was the Commodore 64, but Brooker’s observations hold true across the cultural and commercial borders of computer culture. I’m currently working on an essay about retrogames for an upcoming MIT Press collection on “Spreadable Media” (if you’re reading this, Henry and Sam, don’t lose faith! the piece is on its way), and so found Brooker’s discussion of, and evident reverence for, 8-bit graphics not only entertaining but useful. I highly recommend it, along with the rest of the issue.

Regarding upcoming volumes of TWC, I quote below the words of co-editors Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson:

We are soliciting and reviewing for our general issue No. 3 (Fall 2009) at the moment, as well as two forthcoming special issues, one on the CW show _Supernatural_ (“Saving People, Hunting Things,” edited by Catherine Tosenberger; see CfP http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/announcement/view/5) and one on history and fandom (“Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” edited by Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein; see CfP http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/announcement/view/6). If you have any questions, please contact us or the special editors directly.