I think the point you make about how fans may perform in the way industry desires in certain spaces, but engage in different ways outside of those spaces is certainly an important avenue to explore. There seems to be, as Anne Gilbert pointed out in her conversation with Rebecca Williams, the risk of cultural sentiment moving toward “a generalized “everyone is a fan!” perspective, and the inevitable fallout from that – if everyone is a fan, then no one is”. In spaces like SDCC everyone is positioned as a fan because it’s a space aimed at fans. But the fans that space imagines are just one kind of fan. They’re the affirmational, consumerist fan, possibly seeking more knowledge about their fandom (or perhaps confirmation of their existing knowledge). But the kinds of fans actually in a space like SDCC, not least because it’s such a big con!, are multiple and varied. How much are the fans who engage in the more transformational aspects of fandom catered to? And where are the spaces for fic writers or filkers or slash fan artists? I’d argue that the only kinds of ‘transformational’ fan practices we see, like cosplay, are still bounded by the limitations of the space. And I think you’re right that industry tries to contain fans in the spaces of a convention, but as I’m thinking about this I think it’s also important to note the cultural and societal structures that also permeate fandom within those spaces, and which function to make fans fit into a particular mould within them. So we might see fan art for sale, but we might not see slash or femslash. And the fanwork is also there within this consumerist framework: the art is generally a reproduction of, not a reimagining of. It’s affirmational. Similarly we’ll see cosplay but it’s a replication of the characters on screen (or page) not a reimagining of them. We might see gender-swapping of characters, though that’s generally female versions of male characters not male versions of female characters. But it’s a mimetic fandom even if some of the details are changed. The cultural and societal structures at work reinforce those industry bounds to replicate the affirmational rather than transformational fandom in those spaces. We don’t get queer fan art for sale at cons because to a white, male, heterosexual identity that practice is Other, therefore not allowed. We don’t get male versions of Wonder Woman or Buffy because while of course women would want to be the Doctor, or Sherlock, or Thor, why on earth would a man want to be a woman (to say nothing of other gender identities)...?
What you say about the multiple and varied fans that inhabit the space of SDCC resonates with my own experience. While the overall tone encourages consumption of promotions and merchandise, my research at SDCC and other commercial conventions (NYCC and Rose City Comic-Con in Portland) shows that there is room for transformational fandom in these spaces, especially in the Artists Alley, where fans sell queer and slash fanart. Indeed, much of the fanart for sale in SDCC’s Artists Alley is transformative. I have observed that vendors in Artists Alley are aware of fandom trends and will have pieces for sale that cater to that year’s “hot” fandoms, featuring both canonical and non-canonical relationships. The vendor may not be a participant in that fandom, but they know what will sell and produce art accordingly. Even comics artists who offer commissions at SDCC/NYCC are often open to drawing slash pairings. You can also find self-published queer comics in Artists Alley. Also, at SDCC, Prism Comics, a non-profit organization that supports queer comics and creators, always has a large booth in the small press section of the showfloor. There are also multiple panels as part of the programming that reflect diversity in comics or address fandom issues, like the annual LGBTQ Geek Year in Review. In terms of cosplay, there is such a large variety at SDCC that it’s hard to categorize it as strictly affirmational or normative. Of course these aspects of SDCC do not get mainstream press coverage because they exist outside of the promotional efforts that dominate the industry and entertainment press discourse at SDCC and NYCC, so they are far less visible unless one attends the convention and seeks out the less normative and commodified aspects of SDCC.
If it doesn’t get coverage in the mainstream press, is it fandom? Okay that’s a slightly facetious question because of course it is, but it comes back to what you talked about in your opening statement about the normalisation of fan identities in and by the media, and the privileging of a certain kind of fandom and certain kinds of fans. The cons I’ve been to in the UK have tended to be relatively small (compared to NYCC or SDCC) or show specific (like Walker Stalker) with fewer vendors and panels. My experience of cons has been that there is less space for non-normative identities. There’s less queer fan art and I can’t recall ever seeing zines for sale, much less queer ones. The only exceptions were World Con (which was more comparable to SDCC in terms of size) and Nine Worlds, which was founded on the idea that fandom shouldn’t be restricted by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, or anything else. There are both fans and conventions pushing back against the kinds of fandom that the mainstream press focuses on and I’m curious at how the con bloggers you’ve researched challenge this as well as how they’re received by the industry. Recent work I’ve done looking at how James Frazier, organiser of the Walker Stalker conventions, polices fans suggests again that certain kinds of fans (respectful, enthusiastic, affirmational - in other words those modelling acceptable behaviour) are rewarded while those who question or criticise are punished. I’m curious about the other ways that industry might try to police these behaviours and approaches.
Con-bloggers are completely affirmational fans, as far as I can tell. Their knowledge production centers on providing advice on how to gain access to SDCC, so their own fannish investments rarely surface in these discussions--I barely know which comics or shows various con-bloggers like, and I have followed their blogs, tweets, and podcasts for years. Instead of debating favorite pairings, they discuss programming flow, room sizes, lining-up procedures, autograph lotteries, etc. I interpret this focus on procedure and space as side-stepping the engagement the industry most desires, i.e. with their products. Of course con-bloggers describe the end goal of all their efforts as buying merchandise and getting a seat in packed panels, but they also frequently emphasize that the journey there and the people they meet along the way are what matters most to them about SDCC. In this sense they are not the transformative or resisting fans that have been at the center of Fan Studies, but they are also not the industry’s ideal fan that has no agenda beyond consumption. The con-blogging scene is largely invisible to the industry and to CCI (Comic-Con International, the organizers of SDCC), but essential to many SDCC attendees.