18 July 2013

ID project: tom stidman's journey

I met Tom Stidman, the "Redneck Otaku," years ago. Like many on this project, I have NO IDEA where, or how. He's just been a part of my fandom circle for so long, it seems odd that there was a time I did NOT know him. 

For this week's ID project, Tom has contributed his thoughts on the fandom, reflecting back on his decade as a part of it. As with many who have written for this, he arrived here, sought to make a deeper contribution, and found his own place in an often hectic world. Here, he comments on his personal journey, how he has seen anime fandom change, and how change has affected his own fandom life. 


I am known in DC/Baltimore “fannish” circles as the redneckotaku.  Currently I am the Assistant Director of Programming for Anime USA in Washington, DC, but have worn many “fannish” hats over the years and have traveled a lot due to my love of it. Most people never run into me though, because I’ve never done security. I work behind the scenes, making things run smoothly. It has been an interesting journey for me, and one I hope to keep going for many years to come.  

Fandom is an ever evolving dynamic for me. My roots have been in Comics and Anime fandom, leaning more towards Anime fandom because the inherent conversation is a two-way process. Fans and Industry are talking on both sides. It happens on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and all sorts of other ways. 

We buy our fair share of things, but we also express ourselves through our costumes. We expect people to give something to the conversation, either “on-scene” at a convention or at via the internet at home. I see it more than ever in my current role in programming. There are people who want to talk about everything from “Intellectual Property and Anime,” to “How to Cosplay on a Budget.” It is the Anime fandom has such a deep conversation at many times during a convention. 

My fandom started out due to my enjoyment of superhero animation. In the early 2000’s, I was getting tired of things like X-Men Evolution on TV. A friend of mine showed something called Devil Hunter Yohko, and it got me engaged from it’s off beat take on the genre. It slowly built from there until I went to my first anime convention (Otakon 2004). I ended up volunteering as a gofer, and eventually found myself watching anime for 20 straight hours. I don’t even remember any of it now, but I do remember the beauty of what I saw. 

The second con I went to was Anime USA back in the days when it was at the Sheraton Premiere Tyson’s Corner. I enjoyed the con, but saw a massive back up in registration. After that con, I wondered how I could get on staff for a convention. That’s when I reached out, and said I wanted to help. I became the Assistant Director of Registration for a month, then found myself the department Director a month later, due to burnout. 

That was my first evolution. Con running has become as much a part of my life due to finding friends and wanting to do better than the last year. 

The third evolution in my fandom happened about five years ago when I became “industry.” My day job is at a comic distributor working with retailers on their issues. It means I am busy consistently during the week. It also means that I have to balance what I can, and can not, say. It doesn’t mean I can’t be honest on things in anime, it simply have to be smarter with regards to what I say. It has also made me more aware about what I do in my fandom. On the plus side, it also provides me with the flexibility to travel, and take time off for conventions. 

This has been a blessing for me that has allowed me to see places I never thought I would, and meet fans throughout the country. I have been to AnimeFest, Anime Boston, DragonCon, and many places over my years of active fandom. It has made me more appreciative of Japanese creators, and how much they can bring to the convention. A bedrock of a convention with significant size to bring is creators of these things.

I used to have a hard time appreciating this. I used to think that english voice actors were my goal in life, due to being a fan of dubbed series. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized how much animators matter. I have met some amazing creative minds due to the travel and opening of myself towards meeting creators. 

One of my greatest experiences in my “fannish” life was when I went to AnimeFest in Dallas, TX last Labor Day weekend. I met lots of great creators such as Dai Sato and Saya Yamamoto along with lots of “fannish” education. It was one of those motivating experiences for me in my “fannish” life. AnimeFest is an event every anime fan should experience once in their lifetime. It is well worth the distance and expense to make it out there.

The most recent change on this front is a move from a small suburb of Baltimore to Baltimore city itself. This has done a couple of things to my fandom that I’ve recently noticed: it has put me closer to fannish resources and events, such as allowing me to finally come back to my first Balticon (local science fiction convention) in several years; it also means that I have given up heavy travel to conventions. Keeping to local cons is how I am making sure I can live. 

The biggest change from this move is that I realize how much of an outsider I am to “mundanes.” I saw a MAGFest (local gaming convention) shirt yesterday and felt a little less lonely in the big world of Baltimore city. I haven’t worn anime, or other “fannish,” con shirts much since the move. I think the question I face most is whether I will fit into the urban environment.

In short, I think the biggest constant is change in a “fannish” life. It is a way to keep yourself engaged and excited about fandom. As I prepare to end a decade in fandom, It is seeing what is next for me that excites me the most about my “fannish” journey. 

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