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The Wednesday Waffle - Issue Two: Fandoms

Whether it's actors being hounded off social media because some folks don't like that they've been given a role in a movie or TV show, or female creators getting harassed online for daring to be working in comics at all, "Fandom" has developed something of a toxic reputation. But it isn't always like that.

Let me give you an example. As regular customers will know, I'm very old. Which means I remember a time when you couldn't just go online and meet other people who were into the same things you were into. We didn't even have email, let alone websites and stuff.

So instead we had fanzines. In my late teens and early twenties I subscribed to a couple of these hand produced fan magazines, but by far the most important to me was Dream Lovers, a fanzine for readers of Neil Gaiman's Sandman - something I've been thinking about since the recent release of Sandman Universe.

If you're unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman's masterpiece, you should probably check it out, but really all you need to know is that it was one of the greatest comics series of the nineties, much beloved by slightly pretentious goths across the English speaking world*.

Dream Lovers began with a letter on the Sandman letters page. A guy wrote in with a story about how much the world of The Dreaming meant to him, and invited other fans to get in touch. I did. So did a bunch of other like minded people from around the world. For a year or two we made new friends, went on scavenger hunts, shared stories, thoughts and articles - it was a lot like a Facebook group, but on paper.

Eventually the whole thing ran out of steam. The guy that set the group up found that it had grown to a size that was unmanageable and he wrapped it all up. But the effect the members of the group had on each other was profound - nearly a quarter of a century later I'm still in touch with a few people I met back then. I know of at least one couple who met and married through the pages of this remarkable fanzine.

As I said, these days it would be a Facebook page, but somehow - in much the same way that making somebody a mix tape is soooo much cooler than sharing a playlist on Spotify - there was something special about getting those airmail packages through the door loaded with the latest issue of the fanzine and whatever cool goodies the group's founder chose to share that looking at comments on a screen in no way replicates.

But the internet did come along, and fandoms would never be the same again. My first taste was in 1999, when I got my first PC and regular access to the internet for the very first time. This was a heady time for the internet. Everything was much slower back then - dial-up was still a thing and you couldn't use your house phone and the internet at the same time**.

Obviously the first thing I did was seek out things to do with comics, and one of the first things I found was the "Yahoo Group" for Comics International, which was then the publication of record for the UK comics scene.

It's hard to explain Yahoo Groups now. Basically in those pre-social media days they were email based networks which allowed you to send messages to everyone in the group.

It was a vibrant little community, and much more interactive than the old fanzines. Some of that old fanzine focus on a particular thing began to disappear as mass conversations began to develop and in-jokes, cliques, feuds and rivalries began to develop.

But while there were some bust-ups between members, the whole thing remained, on the whole, positive and civilised. Small press creators began to promote their work (under the agreed heading of "Blatant Self Promotion" or "BSP") and friendships were formed that survive to this day - it was there that I first met Antony "Atomic Blonde" Johnston, for example.

Elsewhere on the web, the Warren Ellis Forum, or WEF was becoming a place where many of the creators you know and love today were meeting up, sharing ideas and making contacts. The place positively pulsated with positive energy.

The internet has changed a little since then. The arrival of social networks - My Sp