Fanzine Topic Analysis Through Graphs
The following is a sample analysis of twenty issues of two early Star Trek Fanzines, Spockanalia #1-5 and T-Negative #1-15, published from 1967 to 1972. The focus of this analysis is of topics and content within these fanzines, and the frequency with which these topics occurred. The goal is to examine if fanzine topic content changed over time, if sections on fictional elements of fanzines were more numerous than fandom and real life-focused sections, and if, within sections on fictional elements, there was a greater predisposition to focus on the Enterprise Crew, or alien races.
Note: Within the Graphs and Datasets, “Fanfic” is shorthand for “fanfiction.” Also, regarding the graphs, the number in parenthesis besides the year is the number of examined fanzines which were published in that year.
Data Collection & Analysis:
Data collection for this analysis came from the twenty physical fanzine issues. During examination of each fanzine issue, the individual sections of the fanzine were categorized by broad theme (what the section was about) and by content (approach to that theme). These categories were then counted and combined by year.
Themes: This line graph focuses on the broad topics of individual fanzine sections, based on what they are about.
Real Life & Fandom: This category focuses on aspects of the fanzines which do not involve fictional elements (characters, worlds, technology, races, etc) within the show Star Trek; instead, these fanzine sections focus on the creation of Star Trek, the actors of the show, or on aspects of the Star Trek fandom itself.
Enterprise Crew: This category contains any fanzine content focusing primarily on the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Aliens: A category for any fanzine content primarily dedicated to alien cultures within Star Trek. Most of these are various studies of the Vulcan race, but there are also some Klingon pieces as well.
Note: A fourth category, the combined occurrences of fanzine sections dedicated to the Enterprise Crew or Alien races, was added to better visually represent the difference in frequency between fanzines providing content about Real Life and the fandom, versus focusing on fictional elements within the show itself.
Content: This line graph is a different approach to the same data set, but instead of focusing on the topic of the fanzine sections, it is dedicated to how these topics were approached.
Filk/Songs/Poems: This is a combined category of all short-structure works within the fanzines, including Filk songs (fandom folk songs, often about the fictional elements of Star Trek, but sometimes about the fandom itself, or specific events in fandom, such as conventions), songs, and poems. This is due to the ambiguous nature with which these fanzine sections are presented. Rarely did a song include music notes, and many times authors did not specify if their writing was intended to be a poem, or sung. As such, it was best to combine these sections into one category.
Fanfic (fanfiction): This category focuses on extended written sections of the fanzines which focus on creating a narrative of either the canon characters of the show experiencing fictional events, or the creation of new, non-canon characters experience fictional events within the universe of the show. This category includes long and short fanfiction, parody stories, play scripts, fictional letters, fictional newspapers, and fictional briefing documents.
Studies: This is the category of all fanzine sections focusing on critical studies of elements within Star Trek. This includes studies of characters within Star Trek, studies of alien anatomy, history, and culture, and all fan speculation of any element of Star Trek.
Actor Interviews/Reviews: This category is a combination of fanzine sections devoted to the actors of Star Trek. This includes interviews with these actors, and also reviews of their work in other movies, television shows, albums, and plays.
Fan Interactions: This category is devoted to all sections of fanzines which are not devoted to the fictional universe of Star Trek or to its actors and creators; instead this category focuses on the fans themselves, and how they interacted with one another. This includes fanzine sections of fan latters, editorials, ads, news bulletins, rumors, fanzine specific activities (such as checklists and crossword puzzles), reflections on previous fanzine issues, fanzine reprint notes, editor brags, and fan conventions
The goal is to examine if fanzine topic content changed over time, if sections on fictional elements of fanzines were more numerous than fandom and real life-focused sections, and if, within sections on fictional elements, there was a greater predisposition to focus on the Enterprise crew, or alien races.
With these two graphs, it is possible to see several trends in theme and content within the Spockanalia and T-Negative fanzines. Within the Themes graph it is clear that despite the early dominance of fanzine sections devoted to fictional elements of Star Trek (Enterprise Crew and Aliens), eventually sections about the show’s actors and creators and the fandom itself became more prevalent. It should also be noted that there is an overall upward trend in fan interactions over the years, as over time more and more people sent letters to these fanzines to discuss theories, provide news and rumors, and also to give their opinions on the contents of previous fanzine issues. This data is also highly reflected in the fanzine content graph and corroborates my overarching theory that fanzines were the hub of pre-internet fandom.
The likely cause for these shifts is that much of the later fanzines (1970 on) were far shorter in length than earlier fanzines. These shorter fanzines could contain as few a three sections (for example, an editorial and review, and one fanfiction about the Enterprise); if two of those sections were categorized as Real Life & Fandom, it skews the data in that category’s favor, even if the single fanfiction in the hypothetical issue was forty pages long. As this is a graph showing frequency of topic and not length, it is understandable to see such skews.
The graphs also show a preference for fanzine sections that focus on all elements of Star Trek in general over fan interactions, until 1971 when fan interactions begin to gain dominance. There are several potential explanations for this change.
First, there are simply a finite number of topics. Eventually every character has had a critical study, the alien races have been well analyzed, and the complete filmographies of the actors have been reviewed. While there could easily be infinite poems and songs dedicated to fan adoration of Spock, it is unlikely they would all be published. Though fanfiction provides limitless potential for fresh content from and for fans, the fanzines themselves have limited space in which to showcase them. It is easier to publish numerous fan letters to advance discussion than it is to publish multiple lengthy fanfictions in a single issue.
The hand of the editors for these fanzines should be noted as well. Assuming these editors received more content than they could completely publish, it was ultimately their curatorial decisions as to what was and was not published. In earlier fanzines it was likely more gratifying and worthewhile to publish many fan poems, songs, fanfictions, and studies devoted to their beloved Star Trek than letters or other interactions.
This trend toward the prevalence of fan interactions in later years of the fanzines studied could also be indicative of the growing sophistication of the Star Trek fandom. Fans could have been more eager to interact with one another than rehash topics covered in studies and poems. The year 1972 was also when the first Star Trek-only convention took place, three years after the cancellation of Star Trek. The convention was a massive success, and it is possible that fans, having experienced the joy of their fannish passions in close proximity during the convention, were eager to continue long-distance contact through fanzines.
The Themes graph also shows that, while early Star Trek fanzines (particularly Spockanalia) had a slight preference for sections focusing on alien races, ultimately content about the Enterprise crew gained dominance. Even when alien themes had higher frequency, it was only slightly. This is likely due to the timing of these early fanzines. Spockanalia #1, which has dominant alien themes, was published shortly before the premier of Star Trek Season 2, and Spockanalia #2 was published shortly after its completion. In both cases, fan speculation on all aspects of the show’s alien races, especially the Vulcans, were at a fever pitch. However, after the show’s completion and the mysteriousness of topics regarding the alien races dwindled, fans turned their love to the Enterprise crew, which comprised the main cast of the show, rightly earning the bulk of their adoration. It should be noted that in creating these categories, sections about Spock specifically, were included in the category of the Enterprise crew. This is due to the importance Spock himself places on his role on the Enterprise and his relationships with his fellow crew. Sections that included alien races, but focus primarily on the crew of the Enterprise were also included in this category.
While these graphs and the dataset are an excellent example of the potential for data analysis of fanzines, this exercise does have several shortcomings, which bear detailing.
First, no fan artworks were included in the dataset. The primary reason for its exclusion is primarily due to the dominance of fanart over all other forms of content in these fanzines. It exists on most pages, and would frankly be an unnecessary section to categorize; furthermore, it would be another dataset that could impact the legibility of the graphs. This being said, were there another attempt at these graphs, fanart should be included.
Second, as far as data analysis goes, examining only two fanzine series of the hundreds that were published is an incredibly small sample set, and does not even remotely begin to accurately express overall trends in the fandom. Also, it only includes the first 15 issues of T-Negative, which had a total of 35 issues. Both problems are the result of a lack of time and availability of fanzines for examination.
Third, the methods of categorization are entirely author preference. While a serious effort was made to categorize these fanzines as objectively, the author bias is impossible to deny. For example, a fanfiction about the Enterprise crew and Vulcans could be categorized on the Themes graph either as “Enterprise Crew” or “Aliens,” and which category it is placed into is entirely subjective based on how the author perceives it.
Having listed the various shortcomings of these graphs and the dataset, it is appropriate to discuss potential improvements that could be made.
The primary improvement would be greater transparency with the dataset. Rather than provide a list of simplified terms which were categorized for the graphs, it would be far better to provide the fanzines themselves. In the ideal scenario, these fanzines would have their pages digitized with text recognition software, which could then be used for word searching. Readers could search specific terms and manipulate the available data themselves to draw their own conclusions. Overall, a more interactive graphs would be an improvement (these graphs are interactive on their excel spreadsheet, but unfortunately that couldn’t be carried over to the website)
Data analysis of fanzines for trends in fandom topics clearly shows great potential, these graphs are but an example of how the data could be used.
Spockanalia was created by Debra and Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford. T-Negative was created by Ruth Berman. All contents within these fanzines belong to their respective owners.