Just how important are fans’ contributions to fandom? According to Katsucon, a 20-year-old DC area convention, they’re comparable to those of celebrities.
On the convention’s Guests page, you’ll find anime voice actors, directors, and musicians. But there’s one name that will sound familiar to local fans, even if they’re not expecting to see it. Tom Stidman has been a fixture of our community for more than a decade. He’s organized, directed, and otherwise volunteered for local conventions from Otakon to Anime USA.
Guests, who are invited and then compensated to attend and speak at conventions, are usually entertainment industry pillars with their own fandoms. But now, Tom Stidman is making waves as Katsucon’s first ever fan guest, who is being acknowledged for his humbler but no less important contributions.
I talked with Tom about his unique position and what it might mean for fandom:
Otaku Journalist: How long have you been involved in the fandom community, and how did you first get involved?
Tom: I entered anime fandom eleven years ago after talking to a friend on a comic message board. Having an interested in animated superheroes that wasn’t being fulfilled at the moment, I asked some people on their about where I can find them. They told me about anime and specifically Devil Hunter Yohko. I started watching anime with that and over the next year I found things like Akira and heard about conventions through the Baltimore Sun because T.M. Revolution was on the Live section front cover.
My convention involvement started ten years ago by attending and helping out at Otakon 2004. With money being tight, I found out about gofering [volunteering in exchange for a convention pass] and used that to help cover costs. Then, I put that money toward attending Anime USA just as a fan. I fell in love with that convention and have been part of their staff ever since.
What are some of the contributions you’ve made to the local fandom community?
Where I have made the most impact is my home con is Anime USA. Throughout my history with them, I have been a Director twice, an Assistant Director twice and a Coordinator multiple times. This has meant that I’ve made numerous contributions to DC fandom. Some are noticeable such as founding Anime USA’s current registration system. Others are not as noticeable, such as trying to leave things in better shape than when I started.
Two of the things most people don’t know about is that I enjoy doing are podcasts and panels. By talking about anime, I think it has broken a period of burnout as an anime fan. What makes it fun is just being more relaxed and under less pressure than a conrunner. If something goes wrong with panel or podcast, it is much easier to fix it on the fly than in event running.
Tell me about getting asked to attend Katsucon as a guest. How did they approach you? Were you surprised?
I was at Balticon last May when Katsucon’s Director of Guests said that the chair of the convention wanted to invite me as guest. Having heard of too many people who get say their invited and weren’t, I said that I needed a written invite before accepting. When I got the actual
invite and contract, that is when I was fully surprised and excited at this opportunity.
In a previous email, you told me, “most cons don’t think about what fans can offer as guests.” What will you offer to Katsucon while attending as a guest?
What I hope to offer to Katsucon is high quality programming. My plan is to bring four panels to the convention, three of which are new panels that haven’t been done in the local scene before. Besides my returning Go Nagai Panel, I am planning on doing panels on the current Winter Anime Season and how the characters evolved from Black Lagoon.
The other goal for being a guest at Katsucon is being a good representative to fandom. It’s why I have been reaching out to the media ahead of the convention to explain better about what a fan guest can offer. [Note: Tom reached out to me about doing this interview.]
Does Katsucon’s willingness to invite prominent fans as guests show a blurring of the line between fans and creators? Why or why not?
Not so much a blurring of lines, but a recognition that fans are part of creation and fannish culture. Cons have done fans as guests before, but they have been most likely cosplay or artist guests. This has been happening just in a specific niche towards fandom. Anime conventions have been pioneers in rewarding creation through mascot and other creation related contests.
Do you think more cons will begin to invite fans as guests, and what will this say about our community?
Hopefully, this is the start of more fans being invited as guests for conventions. In the social media age we’re a part of, fans opinions have more influence than ever before. Their creations are featured on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter all of the time. We are major influences on the industry. Look at a show like Space Dandy. A show that comes out in America first is a huge risk. It is paying off in the amount of people watching and talking about it. What it ultimately says is that fans are much more important of the anime fan conversation than ever before.