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Conventions have long played a vital and important role in fan culture, from comics to music to television fandom and beyond. They provide a space where fen can get together in person to chat, share fanzines, discuss various topics affecting their communities and more. Some conventions also provide a venue for those in various industries and professions to network, market their products, preview films and television series, and thereby decrease the gap between the fans and the creators.

Over time, there have been a number of conventions, both large and small, that have played a role in the fandom as it exists today. However, the internet, changes in the hotel industry and the economy as a whole has begun to affect the market for conventions in the 2000s. While the largest-sized, major events continue to thrive, many smaller conventions are suffering decreased attendance or difficulties in finding affordable venue space. As such the future for conventions as a typical fandom activity are in some question, as well as whether the model may begin to shift or be replaced in some communities by the BarCamp.

Features of a convention

The specific events held at a convention depend on the exact type of convention being held, but there are certain features common to many such gatherings.

  • Art show - Art shows feature a place where attendees can view (and often purchase) work related to the theme of the convention. At media conventions, art shows were in the past often a venue for fanzine publishers to purchase artwork for their zines. Certain artshows, such as the one at World Fantasy Convention, are viewed highly as places for professional artists to exhibit to gain exposure with book and gaming companies. An art show may feature a print shop, for purchasing art prints, and either a silent and/or voice auction for work for sale.
  • Artist Alley - A space where artists may create, display and sell their work outside of the artshow, similar to the dealer's room but typically less expensive and with a limited amount of space available.
  • Autograph sessions - For conventions featuring guests of some celebrity (actors, writers, artists), there are often sessions where attendees can get autographs (either included as part of their membership fees or for an additional cost.)
  • Banquet - Often an event which takes place for a separate fee, and may include a less formal environment for attendees to meet the guests.
  • Con Suite - Typically a hotel room or suite where convention attendees can relax and enjoy light food and snacks.
  • Dealers and/or exhibitors - Many conventions feature a designated "dealers room" and/or "exhibit hall", where attendees can shop for merchandise related to their fannish interests: books, comics, videos and dvds, memorabilia, fanzines, artwork, costuming supplies, jewelry. Hall dealers are also a feature at some conventions, where attendees sell merchandise out of their hotel rooms - although this process is frowned upon at other conventions where it is seen as unfair competition with dealers who have paid money for exhibit hall space.
  • Gaming - Even at non-gaming specific conventions, there are often designated areas or rooms for people interested in role-playing, strategy, card and other types of games.
  • Masquerade - Costuming is a popular activity at many conventions, including a masquerade "ball" or competition, where costume-work is displayed and judged.
  • Programming - Programming is often the heart of the convention for many attendees. Programming can include presentations and Q&A's with featured guests; readings by authors, workshops on writing, art, costuming; discussion groups and panels on topics of interest to the fandom; music performances; and interactive games.
  • Room parties - May be officially scheduled or impromptu. At large conventions, hotels often offer either "quiet" or "party" room blocks, to accommodate the needs and desires of different attendees.
  • Video rooms - Conventions often have rooms with scheduled screenings of television programs, movies, animes, etc related to the topic of the convention.


Because of the many different types of conventions, it is best to look at their histories individually.

Science fiction conventions

Though there is some debate, it is generally argued that PhilCon was the first ever science fiction convention, in 1936. That year, a half-dozen fans took the train from New York City to Philadelphia to meet in the house of Philadelphia-fan Milton A. Rothman. The group called themselves the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention and would begin to publish a newsletter. The first ever "convention report" was then published by John B. Michel in a New York fanzine.

These early science fiction conventions were primarily literary in nature, and set the model for many other literary science fiction conventions which would follow, such as Balticon, Arisia, LunaCon, and WorldCon. As film and television began to explore science fiction subjects, in particular with the phenomenon of Star Trek, science fiction conventions would expand to embrace and cover these subject as well, although some events remained primarily literary in focus and their could be tension and kerfluffles between literary science fiction fans and media-based science fiction fans.

Media fandom at science fiction conventions

There were several early media fan communities which had made inroads with conventions. One such community was the Star Trek community. Science fiction convention and Star Trek conventions were once used interchangeably. [1] However, because of the tension between literary and media science fiction fans - and that literary science fiction fandom was seen as highly male dominated while media properties such as Star Trek were drawing in more female fans, media conventions began to appear for those fans who wanted to focus specifically on certain media properties in science fiction fandom. The first ever Star Trek convention is generally held to be an event which took place in January of 1972 in New York City.

Another community involved with conventions in the 1970s was the Dark Shadows fandom. In 1975, ShadowCon was held. It was the first national Dark Shadows convention and was organized by fans of the show.

"Fan Fiction on the Net discussed some of the history of fan fiction of popular TV shows and its future on the Internet." -- Necronomicon 98 was held on October 9-11 1998

Media conventions

As noted earlier, the first Star Trek convention is noted as having taken place in January of 1972. A group of fans calling themselves The Committee who pooled their money to rent a ballroom space, hoping to get enough like-minded fen to attend. Joan Winston, who was responsible for the dealer's room, wrote about the experience in her book Star Trek Lives!, and how thousands showed up when only a few hundred were originally expected to attend.

Thus the long-standing tradition of Star Trek conventions began, as separate from literary science fiction conventions, and other media properties would follow through the years, creating their own features, events, and awards. In 1977, Sharon Ferraro and Paula Smith created the Fan Quality Awards (FanQ) awards in conjunction with SeKwester*Con Too. The original categories were Star Trek fandom awards for Best Writer and Best Artist.

In 1977, Starfest was started in Denver, Colorado as a media convention. [2]

By 1984, Blake's 7 conventions had become a fandom mainstay. At them, actors would interact with fen and fan fiction would be shared. Interaction at these conventions led to a number of friendships between fen and the actors on the show. These interactions extended to correspondences, personal phone calls, and general chit chat. (Langley) This practice would last well into the late 1980s, although the close interactions between the fen and the series cast would also lead to major kerfluffles, which still haunt the fandom to this day.

By 2005, traditional media fan fiction conventions had become friendlier to Real Person Fic (RPF)[3]

Redemption '05 - Blake's 7/Babylon 5/Beyond - 25-27 Feb 2005 had several fan fiction related panels including one named "Turkeys of non-SF fanfic." The convention report by Anna Simpson located at says of fan fiction discussion at this convention:

"Then we had Jane Carnall's second slash history panel, during which I was rather loud due to G&T and the bottle of wine with dinner. It was still, however, very interesting, although we probably spent too much time on first time stories and not enough of 'developing a gay sensibility, which the organizers had changed to 'Realism in slash'." ... "After that, I stayed in the same room for a debate on 'Is Slash Canonical', which was another panel with a lot of different view points and thoughtful debate, and no shouting."

2000s VCon had a panel listed as follows: "PENTHOUSE 686 -- 'ADULT FAN FICTION ON THE NET' -- (Panel moderated by Jo McBride with Alyx J. Shaw) - Smurfgasm? G.I. Joe? All your favourite characters bed wrestling? Say it ain't so! The phemonena of adult fiction written by fans of assorted media. You'll be amazed!" and another panel with the following description: "PENTHOUSE 686 -- 'THE PHENOMENON OF SLASH FICTION' -- (Panel moderated by Alyx J. Shaw, with Jo McBride, Michael Walsh and The Graeme) - Homoerotic Fan fiction involving Star Trek Characters (Spock/Kirk, Sulu/McCoy, Spock/Kirk/Sulu/McCoy/Scotty! Etc.) The origins. Is it really exclusive to women Fan artists and Writers? Is it a feminist phenomena? A healthy outburst of women's erotic fantasy? Or what? Sit in and find out more about this unusual genre."

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter fandom doesn't like to call its conventions conventions. Instead, they try to define them as conferences like academic conferences. This was a conscious decision on the part of early organizers in order to gain more credibility and main stream acceptance for their fandom. The organizers wanted to disassociate with some of the perceived craziness that was reflected on other convention running fandoms like Star Trek, Star Wars and furries.

House M.D.

House M.D. fans created their own conventions. There was some wank regarding this.


Supernatural fans were creating their own conventions early in the fandom's history. They would later be joined in their efforts with commercial type conventions run by Creation.

Anime conventions

The anime community's convention history also dates to the mid 1970s. In 1976, the first Comic Market was held in Japan as a backlash to company sponsored and national sponsored manga. Harada Teruo was the event's first chairperson. It was the first fanzine convention in Japan.

In September of 1991, AnimeCon '91 was one of the first conventions dedicated to anime and manga in the United States.

Comics conventions

"Comic-Con International: San Diego, commonly known as Comic-Con or the San Diego Comic-Con, is an annual multigenre fan convention founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention and later the San Diego Comic Book Convention in 1970 by Shel Dorf and a group of San Diegans." [4]

"Piazza San Romano, launched in 2001 to celebrate the best Italian comic characters and authors." [5]

By 2005, Comic-Con International had become one of the largest and most influential media related comic conventions held in the United States. Companies would premiere new television shows and comics there. It had a large amount of press coverage. The sheer size of it makes it impossible to ignore as in 2008, 126,000 people attended this convention. [6]

Minicons and relaxacons

Minicons, sometimes known as "relaxacons", are another long-standing fandom tradition. One example is 1997's Bridging the Knight which was a Forever Knight mini-con. Minicons generally feature small attendance and limited programming and features; there may or may not be a dealer's room and artshow, for instance, and there usually is not a big-draw or large named guest of honor. Minicons are generally chances for a small group of fans to get-together for a day or two to talk about their fannish interests without all the surrounding activities and events of a larger-sized convention.

"In the early 1980's, HeroesCon founder Shelton Drum, still in his tender twenties, was running the Charlotte Mini-Con, a one-day show taking place in a local mall. Shelton had only two years earlier opened Heroes Aren't Hard To Find, and the mini-con was a chance to provide area comics fans with exposure to local comics industry professionals, as well as other area dealers--which at that time mainly consisted of individual comics fans selling portions of their own collections." [7]

Slash conventions

Because of the often controversial nature of slash in media fandom, conventions began to spring out of media conventions focused on or specifically friendly to slash fan-fiction, art, and discussion. Many slash fans have preferred going to slash-specific conventions (such as Bascon, ConneXions, and Escapade) over more general-audience conventions like MediaWest, because there is less tension and arguments to deal with over the subject at these events.

In February 1990 Escapade a long-running slash convention was first held in Goleta, California. It reached its 19th year in 2009.[8]

Conventions outside the United States


Traces of comic art first showed in Lucca's DNA in 1966, when the city inherited a cartoon fair started the previous year in the Ligurian seaside resort of Bordighera. When the event was transferred to Rome in the early Nineties after almost thirty years, Lucca had positively become addicted to comics, and launched its own event dedicated to comic art and illustration: 'Lucca Comics'. Soon followed 'Lucca Games', dedicated to gaming including role games, board games, collectible card games and 3-dimensional wargaming. [9]

"Piazza San Romano, launched in 2001 to celebrate the best Italian comic characters and authors." [10]

Professional vs. fan run conventions

There has been a lot of historical tension between professionally run conventions versus fan run conventions that comes out of people's conceptualizations of how fandom should be operate. describes this in the following way:

If {Media <--------> written sci-fi} is one axis along which you can define a partilar convention, the other one is: {Professional <--------> Fan-run}
A professional science fiction convention is almost always a media convention, but fan-run conventions are not always written sci-fi cons.
A Pro-con is just what you'd expect it to be - a convention run by a corporation in order to make a profit. They are typically at hotels in cities or good-sized college towns, and can afford to draw relatively big names in the media sci-fi world.
Fan-run conventions can take place anywhere, and typically are run on a shoe-string; they are mainly concerned with covering expenses and having a good time.
Pro-cons are typically better organized. Although some of the larger, longer-running fan-run cons have impressive committees that have organizing a convention down to a science, most fan-run cons can be pretty chaotic.
Pro-cons can be slickly produced yet feel like 'processed cheese food'; empty calories. The goal often is to run as many fans through an autograph line in as short a time as possible, and the convention can have all the personality of a feedlot. [11]

Some of the more well-known organizers of pro-cons in media fandom are Creation Entertainment and Vulkon. While fan-run conventions are preferred by many fans because of the (often) lower expense to attendees and the ability to discuss, share and sell merchandise such as fanzines and fan art of debatable legality (and adult content), they can be a high financial risk for the individuals organizing the event.

Promoting conventions on-line

In the past, promoting conventions was largely accomplished through advertising in fanzines or adzines, as well as flyers at other convention events. As the fan community has moved online to a large extent, conventions have begun to use the Internet more and more as a way of promoting their events, as well as in planning. Attendees also use the Internet as a way of organizing get-togethers at conventions. Today, many conventions have specific mailing lists, forums, or journal communities devoted to discussion and planning of the events, as well as there being many open forums for listing and promotion of conventions.

Mailing lists

On March 2, 2004, a mailing list was created for "those planning to attend DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. and for those who love the Convention lifestyle." [12] The mailing list saw its peek activity in September 2004.

LiveJournal communities

This section needs more information.

External links

See also


  • Sam Moskowitz, The Immortal Storm, A History of Science Fiction Fandom, 1st ed.,1954, The Atlanta Science Fiction Organization Press, Atlanta, GA, page 82.
  • Gray, J., Sandvoss, C., & Harrington, C. L. (2007). Fandom identities and communities in a mediated world. New York: New York University Press.
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