Location: West Midlands, England
When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. I remember quite specifically hating the look of The Littl’ Bits, recognizing that the aesthetic was different but having no ability to comprehend why the difference existed or bothered me (the triangular mouths were upsetting, idk why). I suppose I was about five?
Later I remember one or two older boy-men wearing shitty square Dragon Ball shirts in the village shop, and knowing it was some kind of something. Then when I was 11 or 12, I went online and discovered Harry Potter fan content and fan sites, which branched out into Sailor Moon Geocities pages with sparkly gifs and I was just… captivated.
I bought a Sailor Moon VHS from eBay when I was 14, saw Guyver in the specialist video shop but didn’t have enough money to risk buying it (there were so many), eBay’d [Mamoru] Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell at 15. Prior to that I’d just try to watch the anime-est looking cartoons when I visited my grannie, as she had more than the regular terrestrial channels. I scrabbled for dregs, really, no connection with any scene or fansub community. Went to my first anime con in my late teens, started finding DVDs, and by then you were just about able to get decent-length video on home internet connections.
How much were those VHS tapes on eBay, do you remember? I feel like they were around eleven to fifteen pounds. But that sounds so expensive now! I suppose I was pretty “desperate.”
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? Sailor Moon was for girls but it was in some way serious. The romantic elements weren’t apologized for. And I’d heard that “in Japan” comics and cartoons were “respected.” That was appealing. I wanted a part of a pro-drawing adulthood.
Did you have aspirations to make comics or manga? I wanted to draw comics. For a long time (basically as soon as I left school, although I followed the dream as it got smaller and smaller though four years of higher education) that seemed far too impossible a career, so I became a critic instead, and eventually realised that I wanted to make “art comics,” not career comics, which was partly why it seemed so overwhelming in the first place. So now I do and I love my life. It wouldn’t be worth it without knowledge of manga— knowledge of the stories available there, the attitude to layouts and lettering, and the women who’ve made professional lives for themselves as mangaka. The more egalitarian image of creatorship that one can see in Japan from the outside is a vastly soothing emotional agent.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? Sailor Moon. The Slayers?? I remember a lot of Slayers. I don’t know what Slayers is, though. It was just there a lot.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? Lonely as hell and intensely modular but better than nothing.
Why so? It was entirely online! And there wasn’t the chattiness of modern fandom. Everyone had their own page, it seemed, and I could make my own fansite (or shrine, as you say) and I could put a visitor’s book on it but… that’s not conversation, it doesn’t actually function as sociability. It’s more like a museum visit. There was some level of distanced intimacy, basic kinship, but i had no idea how to actually communicate, reciprocally, with my mutually interested peers. So when I say modular, I mean that while all of these sites and pages added up to a scene, the scene was more than the sum of it’s parts. I was nourished by the total, but found the trees, so to speak, rather too widely spaced.
I’d like to hear more about what Sailor Moon online fandom in particular was like. Did you read/create fanfic, for example? My participation in Sailor Moon fandom was entirely passive! Because I didn’t know who anyone was or what anything meant—even after that one VHS, all I knew was the first episode or so. So I couldn’t create any fan content; I could only consume it. And that consumption wasn’t educational, it was only atmospheric—I didn’t learn any facts from fansites, I just felt that Sailor Moon was… “it.”
Now I understand that it was possibly the only all-girls adventure story I’d ever seen admired and respected, and that I was just starved for the ability to choose WHICH girl I identified with instead of, wow, picking between pink or yellow. I hadn’t found that since Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s stories, and I’d never even known anyone else who liked those out loud. Seeing people revere it was enough. I do know that it was Geocities fanpages I was looking at, but beyond that it’s all lost by the mists of memory.
Do you remember what your first anime con was like? What was it? it was… hard to navigate? It was expensive. It was good, I enjoyed it, it reminded me of a village fete. But with anime screened in theatrical amphitheatres. The was quite a lot of titty anime, which I probably wouldn’t prioritise as a communal thing. There was a really good Iori Yagami cosplayer. Such a great outfit, so simple! And it was solidly constructed and looked very natural on him, more like clothes than a costume. There was a Lulu, too, and all the canteen workers were like “omg, it’s Lulu!” I only remember video game cosplayer from my first anime convention. I accidentally looked through the hentai box in the dealer’s hall, and again– that’s not what I was really looking for, at all, in my search for pro-creative community. The ability for teen girls to accidentally search through a box of fucktoons.
How did you transition from passive consumption to participation, for example, your Women Write About Comics position? How is your fandom different now? Harry Potter fanfiction. I was an avid reader, of stories and of “meta,” which is what we called critical analysis. As I moved into accessing manga and comics and eventually tokusatsu, I missed that aspect of fandom dreadfully. It had become second nature to me! It was normal to discuss character motivation and narrative implication, and because it was normal I hadn’t realised how vital it was to me to exercise that style of thinking and that sort of conversation, and be taken seriously by peers just as interested (in the in-world happenings and the creative decisions behind them) as I was. I couldn’t find many people who would indulge this kind of response, and it made me really cross, honestly. Which was pretty rude of me. But I needed it, I still need it, it’s just a part of how I function as a person.
So I joined a comics forum that was a bit more into that style than most, it was run by several people who had also been deep into Harry Potter fandom which might be a coincidence or might be something else, and when the opportunity came out of that film get involved with WWAC I was like, fate, try and stop me. Taking “fandom” seriously as response to art and craft, allowing enthusiastic or untrained scholarship and experienced critical response to be recognised as such, it’s necessary, and for me my position at WWAC is essentially an ongoing response to how keenly I remember that need for community and visibility and, I suppose, legitimacy of the idea that comics and women can both glitteringly matter, in great volume.
Claire can be reached on Twitter.