Spotlight on Journal: Twentieth Issue Celebration

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This month we’re celebrating Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), the OTW’s international peer-reviewed academic online journal focused on media studies which has published its 20th issue. Don’t forget to join us on September 19th for our live chat.

Today we’re taking a deeper look at TWC’s history. Paul Booth and Lucy Bennett are TWC authors, frequently peer review for the journal, and have guest edited an issue together; Paul is also a TWC editorial board member. Amanda Odom is an author who has written two Symposium articles. All three were kind enough to answer some questions about their experiences with the journal and the field of fan studies.

The journal’s 20th issue is a major milestone. It’s been seven years since Volume 1 was published. Are you at all surprised that TWC is still going strong?

Paul: I am not at all surprised at the success of Transformative Works and Cultures. From its first issue, it has been putting out quality scholarship and rigorous academic work that has been a boon to fan studies (and fandom in general). I know that open publishing in the academic world – that is, publishing that does not reside behind paywalls and outmoded forms of siloed scholarship – is perceived in many quarters of academic life to be less valuable, but if anything TWC has proven the exact opposite. By publishing in a style that emulates fans themselves, by allowing anyone to access and learn from the journal, TWC has made fan scholarship more accessible to academics and to fans (and to aca-fans, and fan-academics, and fan-scholars, and scholar-fans, or whatever other appellations might be appropriate!). Fan studies has grown as a field precisely because of this open access – by offering insightful and grounded articles to people who might not normally consider themselves part of the “fan studies” academic discipline, TWC has actually opened up what it means to be an academic and what it means to do academic work in the 21st century. Transformative Works and Cultures has truly broadened the field and allows many people to access work that they might never have had the chance to do so before. They should be commended on their anniversary for all this important work! We all thrive because of TWC.

Lucy: Not at all! I think that the journal is an absolute testament to the vibrancy of the field right now. I feel that fan studies is at such an exciting moment in its development – new scholars are emerging and, quite importantly, the field is becoming more reflective towards itself, finding the gaps and omissions and attempting to bring them to our collective attention. The run of conferences this year (PCA [Popular Culture Association conference], SCMS [Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference], FSN [Fan Studies Network conference]) and the dialogue that flowed between them demonstrates the energy that has been building. I feel that TWC has developed in accordance with this, producing some incredible work, alongside very timely and important special issues. This encouragement for special issues in particular I feel has bolstered the energy and direction of the journal, in addition to its emphasis on the protection of fan work and sources – an extremely vital factor within fandom research.

Being an open access publication is also hugely important in the current academic climate, making this work more available and accessible to a more widespread readership. I think this is an extremely valuable asset of the journal.

I want to say too – I also think that the success of TWC has been hugely helped along by the strongly supportive editing practices of Kristina and Karen. As an author and also a guest editor, I can see how valuable their guidance is through the process. Their encouragement and support to new and established authors is the jewel of TWC.

So overall, I am not surprised at all that TWC is going strong. Reading the early issues, I had strong hopes for the journal and am very excited about the way it has developed and exceeded my initial anticipation.

Amanda: I would be very surprised if it were not. The film, comic, and gaming industries (to name a few) have been embracing more than ever fan cultures. We can see this in the types of films that are grossing highest at the box office over the last few years (including The Dark Knight, The Avengers, The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series). We can look to fan-favorite directors like Joss Whedon and James Gunn (who himself started out working with a longstanding fandom favorite, the Troma team) who have been given the resources to make those top grossing films. We can see it in the increase of “mainstream” authors who started out as and or continue to be fanfiction writers. In fact, several non-academic periodicals are considering the place that fanfiction holds in modern media (The Washington Post, Wired, and Entertainment Weekly have all had articles on this in the last year). The fact that Alternate Universe (AU) scripts are increasingly popular (Star Wars and Once Upon a Time come to mind) is another indication of the fluidity of canon texts.

What with novels like Grey and Twilight, the reworking of Star Trek and Star Wars, and the new prestige of cons like SDCC and NYCC, these last few years have seen a more widespread mainstream media focus on transformative works and fan communities. Have you seen a related increase in the quantity and variety of papers submitted?

Paul: I have to admit that while fandom itself is becoming a more mainstream type of identity – more people are identifying as fans, and more people are proud of their fannish identity – I haven’t seen an increase in the quantity and variety of papers submitted. Of course, I only see a very small percentage of the papers anyway – just the ones that I’m asked to review and the ones for my special issue. So I don’t have a view of the entire scope of the submissions. The papers and articles that get published today are just as high quality as the ones from 2008, and especially the general issues represent a wide variety of content about transformative works. If anything, what I’ve seen more generally in fan scholarship is a critique and re-reading of this mainstreaming narrative. Authors like Kristina Busse, Matt Hills, and Suzanne Scott are complicating this “mainstream” identity and illustrating that only particular identities are becoming mainstream, and only particular types of fandoms become exalted. Although we may have moved past the dichotomous perception that “sports fans are normal while media fans are Othered,” I think there’s a long way to go before media fans (specifically non-white, female, transformative fans) are perceived as equally valid as other types of fans.

Lucy: I do think that to some degree this more widespread focus on fandom has attracted more scholars to fan studies in general, and thus to the journal. It is difficult for me to gauge this in terms of overall submissions, but as a reader of TWC, and a reviewer, I have observed a wider scope of material being studied and published on. I find the mainstream focus from the media quite exciting in terms of exploring what this landscape means, both for fan studies scholars and fans. I think that TWC has reflected this energy very well, but it always has done, since its early issues.

Amanda: The discussion points from previous journals remain vital and relevant today as they did when they were originally penned. Looking back to the first issue, I note, for example, there was an article on “Participatory democracy and Hillary Clinton’s marginalized fandom.”

Interestingly, the article “‘Once more a kingly quest’: Fan games and the classic adventure genre” from 2009 is of even more relevance, as the Kings Quest series is adding a new game and both Gabriel Knight and Grim Fandango have had anniversary remasters, and many retro or small press game companies have turned to Kickstarter and other crowdfund campaigns to bring fan and creator dreams to life.

The definition of fandom is diverse. The journal has continued to embrace this diversity by discussing music, sport, novels, comics, films, and games, and in the way that it has explored history, considered future trends, and examined fandom “in action” by exploring current conventions and groups. Themes of the participatory experience, the issue of ownership (of bodies, of text), and of the social community of fandom have been refined in the mainstream. As the fan participation continued to evolve, the journal has been able to examine many micro and macro elements of the field.

Wearing your reviewer’s hat, can you tell us what it is about a particular paper that not only really grabs your attention but also makes that paper an excellent fit for publication in the journal?

Paul: For me, the most exciting papers are the ones that take me in new directions in fan studies. I think the power of journals like Transformative Works and Cultures lies in the forward-looking work being done in the journal. It’s pushing the field in new directions. A publishable paper has to be based in the literature but not so reliant on it that it just restates what was already found. It has to also demonstrate that the author has done his/her homework, that he/she knows the key works in that area of the field. As a field we’ve moved past just “Jenkins 1992” (although that is still important!): so much fan studies work has come out in just the last ten years that it’s important to recognize the key changes in the discipline. Of course, it’s also helpful that the field isn’t so large that this is an impossible task! But the key for me is always going to be finding original arguments. I love reviewing and staying at the forefront of the field – knowing what’s coming down the pipeline gives me a thrill.

Lucy: Personally, there are a number of areas that can excite me about a potential TWC paper. It can be a bold attempt at method, a strong argument, or just an exploration of an area that has not been covered extensively before. Studies that embrace literature that go beyond the usual vista can also be very compelling. I find the emphasis on transformative practices can attract some very dynamic studies, and those that cover new, or previously scantily examined, ground can really grab my attention at the outset.

Amanda: Any text should engage because it establishes an element of relevance to some larger picture. For fan studies, I love to examine connections between a text in specific and a greater genre, a genre and a readership, a readership and a community.

Can you tell us a little about the pre-production editing process? Does the editorial staff work hand-in-hand with the authors? In general, does a paper change much at all from submission to journal publication?

Paul: I can only speak to my own experiences with the journal: the articles I’ve published and the special issue that Lucy and I put together. In general the amount of changes that happens to an article can vary greatly from what was submitted and what sorts of revisions are necessary. The content revisions through peer review can be either laborious or minor; it really depends on how solid the paper is upon its initial submission. The first paper I submitted to the journal (for issue 9, “Fan/Remix Video,”) was extremely different from what was eventually published because of the exquisite peer review process. I got extraordinary feedback that helped the article become much stronger – but in the process it changed a lot! The other article I’ve published, in issue 18, didn’t require as much content revision. (This isn’t a comment about the peer reviewers or editors, who are consistently good; just a reflection of different articles written at different points in my career). Both articles as published were different than what were originally submitted – different and significantly better! This is one of the reasons I really enjoy peer reviewing articles: I find that my own writing has benefited so much from the quality peer reviews I’ve received, both in TWC and in most of the other journals I’ve published in, so I try to give back quality feedback in return.

Publishing a special issue has its own challenges and joys, of course – both Lucy and I worked more closely with the editors to provide feedback to the authors. I was able to follow the copy editing process more closely as well, and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the copy edits. It would never fail that Lucy, myself, and the author of an article would read through the article numerous times, feel as though it was perfect, and then get back a paper with lots of red marks! The work of copyeditors often goes unheralded, but it is never unnoticed – or rather, you never notice because they’re that good.

Lucy: The editorial staff at TWC are there throughout with their guidance and help, which is an extremely valuable part of the process. The guest editing and publishing experience for me has consistently been very smooth, mainly due to the editorial staff working hand in hand with the guest editors. Yes, a paper can change considerably during the process, although it does differ from paper to paper. The peer review process for TWC, in which I have been involved for a few years as a reviewer, is always a constructive one, with the feedback designed to help the author make their paper as strong and robust as it can possibly be.

One thing that authors sometimes overlook is not forging and explicitly foregrounding an argument in the introduction that unfolds throughout the article, or omitting a sturdy method section – a significant omission, as the journal stresses the importance of explaining methodology, especially if fan sources are involved. Seeing the transformation that can occur when this is revised can be a wonderful experience. Other papers may need very minor corrections, but I would say, from my experience, that very few papers are not improved to some degree by comments and suggestions from the TWC peer review process.

Amanda: In my experience as an editor and as a writer, I think this greatly depends. In some cases, essays may come in that just “sing”. They are well supported, relevant, and humming along with the theme of a particular issue, and these kinds of texts can be very exciting.

Sometimes, a researcher may be on to something but may have concerns about what should be explicitly defined or what needs to be developed or detailed based on the target audience or general purpose of the text. (Actually, with a journal that focuses so broadly on fandom communities, one has to be careful; some readers may be familiar with AU fanfiction but may be lost at Live Action Role Playing (LARPing).) Then, emails and correspondence can flow back and forth and suggestions, insights into interpretation, and sometimes sharing of research or resources occurs.

All three of you (Lucy, Paul, and Amanda) are journal authors. What is it about fan culture and media studies that really speak to your muse?

Paul: Oh, this is such a complex question! When I distill fan culture and media studies to what specifically attracts me to them, it’s the sheer impact of fandom on the world. I believe that fandom is one of the most important parts of our culture, and not just because (parts of) it has been mainstreamed in the past few years. We associate fans with media texts, especially in a journal like Transformative Works and Cultures, and there’s good reason for this. Fans are visible; they cosplay, they write fiction, they make videos. 130,000 attend Comic-con. Millions use Tumblr, Twitter, or Wattpadd to meet and talk about their favorite television shows, movies, books, etc.

This is undoubtedly important. People encounter almost 15 and a half hours of media per day, which means we spend more time experiencing media than we do dreaming. Is it any wonder that our favorite media is what we choose to concentrate on? Fandom is a visible representation of this interaction, and the way that fans critique the media and try to make it better (however that is defined) is a crucial part of our media lives. Fan studies, as a way to make sense of this action, and as a way of illustrating it to others, is equally crucial in demonstrating the impact of fans in our culture.

But fandom is about more than the media, and fans represent a much more universal feeling: of positive affect, of community, of engagement, or social change. We see fandom in religious rituals, we see fandom in campfire stories, we see fandom in political engagement. The emotional pattern of fandom can be extended to the most exciting and dramatic parts of our cultural life. Fan studies allows us to contextualize, historicize, and personalize the activities of fans today, and apply that to every other aspect of our life.

The best of fans represent the best of us.

(Please note, I’m not deliberately ignoring some of the more negative aspects of fans either—studying fan antagonism helps us see discord in other areas of cultural life as well. But fandom is such a positive experience for so many people, that’s what I find so refreshing and constantly generative of ideas).

Lucy: For me, I would say the elements of fan culture that fascinates me the most are the passion and power that can be found within – two areas that can often be interlinked surrounding the fan object and affect. I hugely enjoy attempting to unravel a fan culture in order to explore its key areas, and the notions that can provoke pleasure and conflict. There is so much that can be explored within fan studies – I find it hugely inspiring.

Amanda: I am a fan myself. I love Batman, Sandman, Silent Hill, Alien… I’m excited to read/watch texts from my favorite series, and I am lucky to have a profession that allows me to explore this further. I love reading about how people react to and in fan communities. I love seeing what artists come up with to expand, redefine, or deconstruct canons. Exploring text as transformation, one always feels one is in at the ground level, even when a core text is a five hundred years old or more.

Where do you see the journal in another 20 issues? Where do you see transformative works in another seven years?

Paul: Forecasting the future is fraught with failure. That being said, I would hope that TWC is still going strong and still publishing innovative work. I’d love to still be associated with it – I don’t see that changing anytime soon! And in seven years, I think transformative works will be just as cool, innovative, and invigorating as they are now. I suspect there’ll be a new queen of social media to share them on (Tumblr…your days are numbered) but they’ll still be awesome. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lucy: I see it still going strong – perhaps even going to more issues per year, if that would be possible! In seven years transformative works could be hugely expanded by the changes in technology (and how these tools are responded to), and also perhaps by the further integration with objects of fandom themselves. Orlando Jones (who I interviewed in 2014 with Bertha Chin for an article in TWC Vol. 17) is a compelling example of how an individual with a fandom can richly (and also sometimes controversially) engage with their online networks and communities.

Amanda: Certainly, the academic fan (acafan) is not a new phenomenon; researchers have a tendency to explore what they feel is relevant and interesting as it relates to their fields of study.

Organizations such as the Fan Studies Network have been introducing new research based communities and publications similar to the Journal of Fandom Studies, so there is an expansion of the discussion, while institutions such as the University of Iowa are also helping to ensure fanzine history is preserved by establishing archives of fan publications for future researchers and fans.

As a part of the spectrum of fan study, the journal will continue to have a place in the discussion specifically because, as I noted, it allows for fluidity and diversity in its investigations.

As to where transformative works as a field of study or field of public interest will be, that is a very broad query. Classics, characters, tropes, etc. will continue to be reconfigured; I look forward to seeing what becomes the next new thing, and what becomes popular (again).

And finally, what moment are you most proud of in your association with TWC?

Paul: I am incredibly proud of all the work I do with TWC. I think the special issue on Fandom and Performance that Lucy and I edited was an amazing experience, and I learned so much from doing it. But I think I was the most proud when I got my first article into TWC. I’m not thrilled with it now (I don’t think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done), and I’m more proud of other things I’ve done since – but at the time, publishing in TWC was a major achievement for me; it was one of my academic goals. So while I think I’ve exceeded the quality of that article in more recent work, it remains one of my proudest moments to have been accepted to Transformative Works and Cultures.

Lucy: There are two moments that really stand out for me.

Firstly, getting my article printed with them! It was my first submission to any journal, and an article based on a chapter of my PhD thesis that focused on R.E.M. fandom. The article took two rounds of peer review, and I learnt so much during that time. I almost gave up at one point, but Kristina and Karen gave me further encouragement. And I did it, and have not looked back ever since. This process was invaluable to me and my future work. Seeing the article finally published was a very proud moment and delivered me a message I would recommend to others: keep going, and don’t give up!

Secondly, the special issue on performance and performativity in fandom (Vol. 18, 2015) that I edited with Paul was another very proud moment. The original editors dropped out, and we stepped in at a very late stage. We managed to pull together a fantastic range of authors and topics in a very short time. When I stood back and viewed the final version of the issue, I was so pleased by the breadth and quality of the work within. It is always such a privilege and joy to work with Paul, so it was also a very enjoyable process. Kristina and Karen are also incredibly supportive and helpful and I feel extremely proud of the authors in that special issue. I hope for many more opportunities to work with TWC and I look forward to another twenty issues at least!

Amanda: When I was asked to peer edit an article for the journal, I was personally proud to join the role of reviewer. However, I think knowing that Transformative Works and Cultures is at its 20th issue anniversary is the greatest cause for pride.