I have no idea when I met James Bacon, feels like I have known him for as long as I have been active in international SF fandom. Although I do know I must have met him sometime after I started going to British and US cons and Worldcons, since I do vividly remember being told that, had I met James, I would certaintly not have forgotten it. 😉 And that does describe him in a nutshell – if you see him IRL, you remember him.
James is an active part of fan funds and I was particularly impressed by his quick reaction to fan funding planning and issues for the upcoming Worldcon in Dublin, as I am sure he has his hands full with chairing the Irish Worldcon. He also found some time to answer a couple of questions for my famous fan series.
How did you discover SF?
I was a comics reader from a young age. Early on I was focused on war comics, especially Battle, but I read all kinds of comics. Eventually I started reading 2000 AD, a science fiction weekly anthology, and in my teenage years that I really embraced that comic.
I also really enjoyed films such as Flash Gordon, Star Wars, and The Last Starfighter; and TV series like Space Battleship Yamato, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and The Incredible Hulk. The closing theme song from Hulk, ‘Lonely Man’, still makes me feel so sad for David Banner, as Bruce Banner was called in the show. At the end he was thumbing a lift to try to escape from the destruction outside and inside himself, and there was just this emotive piano music playing. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno were amazing.
I walked into Phantasia Comics in Temple Bar in Dublin in 1989, when I was 15. There I met a generous, kind and caring bunch of older Irish fans. They were amazing. Mick O’Connor was working in the shop part time, recovering from a bike accident. Others I met included Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Gerry Doyle, Anna Casey, and Phil O’Connor. They encouraged my interest in comics and soon I was going to pub meetings of the Irish Science Fiction Society.
What’s the best thing about SF fandom?
The friendliness. The passion. The late nights laughing and cheering and dancing and the fun of it all, away from reality. The company of other fans really does create a world of its own. You’ll be standing outside a convention centre in Melbourne with no one from nearby and wondering is there a way that you can just get a bus home, because you can’t believe you’re now halfway around the world, or standing in a comic shop in Johannesburg chatting about comics and again wondering whether it is really more than a walk home.
This sense of community doesn’t happen by itself, of course. A large number of fans work really hard to help celebrate and share their passion, and this is an incredible cultural achievement. There are hobbyists who produce websites, fanzines, and conventions, often at semiprofessional and professional level, and then there are world class events that are spectacular and unique.
Recently my focus has been on running conventions. I always look forward to going to other people’s conventions to see how they do it, as well as of course going to panels to hear about exciting new stories and chatting with like minded people. SF fandom is highly organised when you consider what is achieved, but it remains very open and anarchistic in certain ways. There’s little or no peer pressure – you can vote with your feet to go to events or not. Equally, if you get the idea to run a Twin Peaks convention or a Black Panther convention, you can do it and people will come and celebrate your enthusiasm with you. That is amazing.
What was your first convention like?
A wonderful experience. It was Octocon, the National Irish SF convention, in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. My friends spent a year encouraging me to go and finally the second year I did it. I got a student rate and arranged that I would stay with my grandmother on Saturday night. When I got there, I already seemed to know so many people. When I wasn’t hanging out with them, I was encouraged to help, and being energetic and youthful I did that with a carefree determination.
I soon found out about the 24 hour video room where you could ‘crash’ overnight. I remember calling Mom on the pay phone and asking her if I could stay over, and she said I could. So I got to go to the disco and the Masquerade. I was drinking at a slow pace and dancing and having a terrific time, and I did end up in the video room with dozens of others all sleeping or watching a 2 am showing of Excalibur.
I helped as a Gopher, running around doing errands. I thought it was good fun, and I got so many comics given to me, including signed editions and books, I was loaded down. At the closing ceremony I was given the ‘Golden Gopher’ award. That was an amazing baptism by fire and then an incredible experience to win an award.
At my second con, Steve Dillon and John McCrea drew me many sketches, while Garth Ennis encouraged me to buy Hellblazer. The artwork for the comic was beyond my expectations and it gave me an extraordinary appreciation of what I was being given – artifacts straight from the hands of the genius artists who drew stories I loved. Such kindness and generosity.
Which is better: fan funds or fanzines?
Star Wars or Star Trek? Books or comics? Marvel or DC? San Diego Comic Con or Damn Fine Con? Starbuck or Ripley? Ireland or Croatia? Cider or rakija?
These things are woven through each other. Historically, the fan funds came from the desire of US fans to meet and see a fanzine editor from Ireland. This editor, Walt Willis, got the funding to attend Chicon, the 1952 Worldcon. So you see the connection. Many fannish endeavours provide outlets that allow us to celebrate different yet similar things.
It’s not just fanzines these days, but blogs and other websites, podcasts, vodcasts, theatre pieces, interpretations of film onstage – many of them are brilliant. The fan funds allow fans to meet new audiences, and I find it fabulous fun, ejecting a fan on poor unsuspecting people in a far-flung place and then they do a great job sharing their interests and connecting. Both creating new material and managing fan funds involve considerable amounts of work, that is for sure
How did you get sucked into organizing fannish activities?
With conventions, I was just helping out and doing more every year. At Octocon, the Irish national convention, it was Gopher, then Gopher Control, then being on the committee by the time I was 18. By 21, I was co-chair of Octocon and making my way with pals by rail and sail to the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow in 1995.
As for fanzines, I was involved with fan publications in the Irish Science Fiction Association, in the sense I submitted things to the newsletter and was published. Then I edited the Brentford Mercury. Much later, around 2002, I was so annoyed with negativity about the second Worldcon in Glasgow (2005) that I wrote three consecutive pieces for Tommy World. That got me going in fanzines as a writer
On fan funds, I helped Tobes, whose mundane name is James Shields, set up an amazing website for his Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund trip to Worldcon in San Jose. We helped support him, and afterwards, we utilised some interesting techniques, which I term electro-motivational recall, to help Tobes create his report with the support of loads of fans and lots of booze and electricity. This took place at Eastercon, the largest British convention
After that I won TAFF in 2004 and was proud to represent Ireland and Europe in Boston. It was an incredible experience and I made great friends. I always expected I would go back for another Boston Worldcon and never dreamed that I would get to go to a Dublin Worldcon before that. During my tenure as administrator, with help from Claire Brialey, we set up a bank account for TAFF. I got the talented Anne Stokes to create a logo for us and worked very hard to promote it. But you are only administrator for a certain amount of time and after that, it is someone else’s tenure. I think that each admin needs to find their own way. This years fan fund races are exciting, as we will welcome the successful delegate to Dublin 2019.
Having done that, what con-running job do you hate the most, and what do you love the most?
There have not been that many disappointments. There have some really low moments, usually when I was let down by something, but I am so solution-focused that many of those resulted in a success somewhere, or we just got on with the next bit. So they are not moments I hate. I seem to possess a determination, fearlessness and bloodymindedness that helps me get through things.
It is hard when the unforeseen happens and you have to let people down on something, but fans are forgiving, I have stood at the door of a programme item and said it was full, or that it was cancelled, and those are tough moments, but no one has ever been nasty about it.
What is special about Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon?
Bringing the World Science Fiction Convention to a new country is in itself a very special thing, especially since the convention has been running since 1939 and it has already been to so many cities. It has been an honour to work with so many people, over thirty on the committee, hundreds of staff and some 600 volunteers so far, all labouring so hard to make this big celebration of the fantastic work. I am proud that we will have fans and professionals from all around the world coming together in Dublin and hope that the vast programme and wide variety of elements will entertain, enlighten, educate and excite people.