Every month the OTW hosts guest posts on our OTW News accounts to provide an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom. These posts express each individual’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy.
ArmoredSuperHeavy is an amateur archivist of queer fiction and erotica. They have hand published 100 fanfic projects over the past two years. Their bookbinding can be found on Tumblr, writings on Dreamwidth. Today, ArmoredSuperHeavy talks about bookbinding and their fandom experiences.
How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?
While I spontaneously wrote a couple of self-insert fics earlier, I first discovered fandom and fanfic as a thing other people did in the late 90s, the era of web rings. I was a teenager.
What made you first decide to start binding fanworks?
It’s been a bit of an evolution. The Vampire Chronicles was one of my first fandoms, and the infamous cease & desist letters were happening at the same time I was getting my feet wet. The fic writers were terrified and so much fic was lost at that time. So pretty much immediately I developed an awareness that fic’s existence is tenuous online. Though I’m a compulsive art/image collector, it took me a few years to get to the point of printing written works. I’m kicking myself that I never mass-archived the Slash Cotillion site before it went down in the early 2000s.
Around 2003-05, I would print and compile short fics into a stack and it take to a print shop to be bound up. A very utilitarian solution. But I discovered it’s no fun to curl up in bed with a plastic binder.
In 2017-18 I reconnected with fandom and found myself very deep into the Star Wars fandom. I felt the old urge to get the stories in print again after being terrifically disappointed by some published fiction I read in-between the fanfics. I thought, “why is this miserable book in print, but that brilliant fic from last week only digital? I want it on my shelf, in my collection of LGBT+ fiction!” So to a certain degree, it started out with me just wanting to read a great fic in bed, and smell the paper, and have that experience as if it were any other novel, and to have the books that really deeply spoke to me.
But immediately as I started working on the first books, I realized the opportunity before me to give back to the authors. Fic authors pour years of heart and soul and research into their fics. I didn’t feel right just printing things for my own shelf — it felt selfish (shelfish?) and I decided that I would offer a copy to the author. I’m terrible at writing comments on fic, I’m more of a grand gestures and gifts person.
Obviously this doubles my effort and expense. But giving the author that copy, getting back their incredulous words of thanks and seeing how validated it makes them feel, that’s the biggest payoff and I don’t regret doing it at all. Many of them had never seen their own work in print before, hadn’t had any idea how their creations stacked up against mainstream published fiction (“It’s so many pages! How did I write so many pages?”). A lot of the authors keep their books by their writing desk or their bed and other places of honor.
Occasionally an author will decline, due to being in a precarious living situation, closeted, and the book would be incriminating. This is a heartbreaking situation but it strengthens my resolve that this work needs to be in print, it needs this demonstration of resistance and resilience. It needs this proof that it existed.
Tumblr’s announcement of the NSFW content purge (2018) and the subsequent fandom diaspora event occurred just a few months after I began binding. I experienced a sudden loss of access to not just queer porn but erotic fanart and curated fic rec lists. This was hugely disruptive of my own fandom experience, and a lot of people I know personally were impacted socially and financially by the purge. This sharpened my desire to preserve things that I saw as valuable in print.
Generally I think of it as a human right, that consenting adults be free to create and consume erotic art and writings. Every effort to censor this free expression only hardens my resolve to keep going and preserve as much of it as I can. The more under attack a work or author is, the more interested I am in binding it.
What gives you the most satisfaction with this practice?
The most satisfying thing I’ve gotten out of binding fanfic isn’t the row of books on my shelf. It’s the number of connections I’ve made around the world with fic writers, artists, and other fans. The best expression of this is my refrigerator, which is completely covered with the authors’ selfies, posing with the books I made for them. A wall of huge smiles I made happen. This is my most valued fandom object, and it’s something I can’t post online! It symbolizes a community I am part of, and motivates me to keep going.
As the collection has surpassed 100 volumes, I’ll admit it’s pretty satisfying to look over and see that too. It’s priceless and rare, the only one in the world.
In 2019 I wrote a painfully detailed step by step document of how to get a fic from AO3 into a book, start to finish. I made that available freely to fandom in the hopes that others would take up the cause and try making a few books. In May 2020 I dashed off a post explaining my rationale for making books. I’ve had two years to think about it, after all. The post took off. People started looking at the How to Make A Book document.
A month ago, to better connect all of the aspiring bookbinders and people in my asks submitting advice to each other, I opened up a bookbinding Discord chat server. Over 50 people have joined already, of varying skill levels and diverse fandoms. A lot of fics are being bound right now. The timing was right, with everyone locked away in quarantine. This is a really exciting development. Some people are looking to me as the OG fic binder, taking my lead on gifting to authors and asking my advice on the ethics of fic binding. I’m honored. I’ve wanted for some time to expand the knowledge and this practice into a fannish movement. I’m not doing commissions — I want to teach others the skills and revitalize the spirit of the fannish gift economy. Zines, booklets, fancy tomes, together we will not be erased. We will publish ourselves when no one else will.
What do you wish other fans knew?
I wish for other fans to come away with the awareness that fic, fanart, and the wonderful worlds we inhabit in fandom will not just preserve themselves. The online world is vulnerable and ephemeral. Queer and sex-positive art is forever on unsteady ground, be it from lack of financial resources, conservative social media terms of service, or respectability politics leading to self-censorship.
In fandom I believe we are generating and expressing the modern day queer culture, especially for women and AFAB people. The world is indifferent to those voices. None of the monetized structures we occupy online are going to go out of their way to support or enable our community. If we believe our voices hold some value for our cultural descendants, then it is incumbent upon us to preserve something of it. I’m interested in seeing these brilliant and imaginative voices being around for future generations.
How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?
I ambled back into fandom several years ago. AO3 was well-established and clearly the site to browse. The tag filter system meant I could effortlessly find the types of fic and the fandoms I was interested in reading. An incredible step up from other sites and mailing lists etc. of yore.
A bit later I realized that OTW had a lot more going on. I think OTW is incredibly vital, central to fannish life. Its continued existence is essential, and not just to read fics, but also to continue to have a stable, trustworthy place to post it. Everyone who can, should donate. The Legal Advocacy efforts alone are enough to convince me of OTW’s necessity, not to mention the projects to rescue older internet archives from oblivion.
OTW is essential, but we cannot take for granted that OTW is going to single-handedly save fandom from otherwise inevitable erasure. I think it’s healthy practice to diversify, especially online vs offline. This home publishing movement fits into that. Redundancy and tangibility are keys to long term survival. OTW can’t do everything alone. We as fans have a part to play too.
What fandom things have inspired you the most?
The spirit of collaboration, and the self-determination we all discover through using our own voices, whispering secrets through stories and finding ourselves and each other.