Home » Essays » How The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization – torchbearers of anime in America in the 80s – was brought down

How The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization – torchbearers of anime in America in the 80s – was brought down

By Infinitus_Potentia (Reddit)

I’ve been making a list of notable people who had a hand in shaping the American anime fandom before 2000 (which you can read and comment here). One thing in common between these figures was their association with the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO), which was the forefather of the anime club as we know it today. For years C/FO fostered pockets of anime fans across America and shaped their taste, culture and creativity. C/FO however did not survive to see the millennium, and in this article we will explore why.

Disclaimer: A lot of information in this article is based on second-hand sources, and so if anyone reading it has actually lived through these events, I really, really hope you will share your experience down in the comment.

The birth

Fred Patten (full name Frederick Walter Patten) was a deeply influential figure in many fan circles in the mid to late-20th century. During his illustrious career, he had a hand in shaping the sci-fi and furry community as we know today. More interesting to us was however his contribution to the comic book fandom. His main job was a librarian at the Hughes Aircraft Company’s Technical Document Center. In his free time, Fred brought his archivist expertise to comic books, collecting, categorizing, and writing about them. He was one of the first to spread the gospel of Japanese manga (and anime) through the medium of fanzines. Eventually Fred gathered enough like-minded fans to establish the first C/FO in Chicago.

When the C/FO was founded in May 1977, its members included Fred, Mark Merlino (co-founder), Robin Leyden, Wendell Washer, and Judith “Judy” Niver (who gave the club its name and hosted its meetings.) There had already been anime series aired in the U.S. at that point, but there were not a lot of them, and these shows were edited pretty wildly for syndication. If you wanted the real stuff, you either had to live near any Japantown with an imported shop (a hit-or-miss prospect), had a Japanese pen-pal, or know anyone who traveled to Japan a lot to tape the shows for you. The C/FO helped out by allowing those with tapes to share them with those who didn’t. Furthermore, members who knew Japanese even translated the dialogues and gave out the copies to everyone else.

A few years later and the CF/O branched out all over the U.S. This was the era when Star Blazers (an “adaptation” of the perennial classic Space Battleship Yamato) was the new hot thing among sci-fi fans. Many sci-fi fans discovered anime through Star Blazers first, then they attended one of the sci-fi conventions in which the C/FO set up screenings of shows like The Castle of Cagliostro, Space Battleship Yamato, or Mobile Suit Gundam. They joined the C/FO and set up new chapters where they lived. Even one was founded in Japan (named Rising Sun) near Misawa Air Force Base.

There were even rival groups to C/FO. The Books Nippon Japanese Animation Fan Club was created by Books Nippan, the North American branch of the publisher Nippon Shuppan Hanbai. Members of the club were able to easily and legally purchase manga, tapes, and merchandise directly from Japan. While it did not last long, it helped to shape the modern perception of what an anime club ought to be.

It must be noted that during this period, Fred Patten already had a leg in the business side of things. Toei Doga and Tokyo Movie Shinsha tapped him to help test-market their productions at American SF and comic conventions between 1978 and 1981. Fred was also a friend to the legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka and helped Tezuka to understand just how much Americans were hungry for anime and manga. Tezuka visited California in 1978, during which he was shown around by Fred. Tezuka was so impressed that he convinced his fellow artists Go Nagai, Monkey Punch, and Yumiko Igarashi to visit the 1980 San Diego Comic Con.

Fred Patten’s professional activities drew the ire of some C/FO members. According to author Sean Leonard, who wrote two papers: Celebrating Two Decades of Unlawful Progress: Fan Distribution, Proselytization Commons, and the Explosive Growth of Japanese Animation and Progress Against the Law: Fan Distribution, Copyright, and the Explosive Growth of Japanese Animation, a power struggle happened at the top of C/FO. While Fred had always written for fanzines, his articles appearing on professional publications caused some people to accuse him of being a “traitor”. Anime being hard to get directly contributed to its appeal. The members of C/FO felt like they truly belonged to something exclusive and special. On Fred’s part, he thought his mission was to spread anime to as many people as possible and thus he deeply disagreed with the above opinion. In the end both parties parted way to avoid further drama.

The crisis

When Fred left, he was the president of C/FO California and generally regarded as president of the national network (C/FO national was a very loose organization in the traditional sense). His friend Ann E. Nichols succeeded him. Both had been friends since they met at the 1978 World Science Fiction Convention. In addition to being the president and translator of the club, Ann also took over Fred’s position as editor of C/FO’s fanzine Fanta’s Zine, which had been in publication since the birth of the club.

It was unknown when Ann E. Nichols stepped down, but she eventually passed down the position to Mark Keller. There was not a lot of information about Mark Keller from the people whom I talked to other than Mark was from C/FO Hayward before becoming the national C/FO president.

By the time the fourth president Randall Stukey took over, the situation C/FO found itself facing had changed. The primary reason people joined the C/FO was to get their hands on the tapes. You could just bring blanks to the meeting and copy the shows from others’ tapes by yourself. Sometimes fans traded tapes through Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (or SASE) mails. The sender included the blanks and a self-addressed padded envelope with postage already affixed for the recipient to return the tapes later. This was how children TV shows used to encourage their viewership to write in.

Randall Stukey was a by-the-book person, if you want to be generous. Anime piracy, especially those who copied the shows (and translated scripts—usually a member would translate the dialogues and then printed them out for everyone) from C/FO without going through the “proper channel”, did not sit well with Randall. He also scoffed at how decentralized C/FO was. National C/FO had a hands-off approach to local chapters, and its main role until that point was to produce newsletter and compile membership and their contacts.

Randall surprised everyone by relocating the C/FO headquarter from Los Angeles to San Antonio because he originally came from C/FO San Antonio. Then he passed a few new motions requiring local C/FO chapters to have at least a member of their groups in the national organization. Chapters also had to push more members to pay their dues—there were not a lot of local members who cared enough to pay dues to national C/FO.

These things rubbed a lot of local chapters the wrong way. While some made an attempt to maintain the organization, most thought that Randall was a stuck-up, and it was better to just cut their ties with national C/FO. Randall did not help as well because of his management—headquarters was mired in motions, elections, and a mountain of new laws that Randall came up with, which were really bad when you want to do things like writing newsletters or organizing cons, two important functions of national C/FO.

Randall Stukey also loved to rant. A lot. The first subtitled anime home release in America was Madox 01 by AnimEgo. While everyone celebrated, Stukey wrote three pages on how AnimEigo’s MRSP was too high and they were obviously ripping people off. AnimEigo responded with a three page rebuttal, and then both sides started a fight for several more issues of the CF/O’s fanzine.

And then the court entered the drama. Randall went on a rant about a San Francisco couple—the Hannifens, who were known to a lot of Bay Area anime fans back then—whom he described as “video pirates” in his newsletter. The couples then sued Randall. I’m not sure of the result of the court case, but at this point most local chapters saw that they had no need to associate with national C/FO anymore. They split into smaller organizations such as Denver Anime International and Fans of Anime in South Texas (formerly C/FO San Antonio), and C/FO Los Angeles which kept its original name.

The East Coast fandom, which before had relied on the West Coast fans for the shows and other materials, began cultivating their contacts in Japan helping them to import the tapes and laserdiscs.

The aftermath

The collapse of national C/FO did not come all at once. It limped on for a while longer. For a short period, Dave Merill of Let’s Anime and Anime Weekend Atlanta fame was the last national secretary of the organization.

As for Randall Stukey, the details were hazy, but it seemed like he remained active in the fandom after the end of C/FO. In 1991, he got into a feud with Lorraine Savage, founder of Anime Hasshin, which was another popular national anime fan club. Lorraine was also responsible for the club’s fanzine The Rose, which ran for 66 issues in 14 years between January 1987 and October 2001, coinciding with the club’s opening and closure.

Randall wrote an editorial on F.A.S.T.’s newsletter (F.A.S.T. was the former C/FO San Antonio branch) listed several anime clubs and their publications for their supposed flaws, including Anime Hasshin’s was failing to deliver their fanzine on time). Lorraine later found out the fanzine Randall referred to did not belong to Anime Hasshin the anime club, but Anime Hasshin the fanzine, which were two different entities. She and Randall then had an extended argument through mails, some of which were published on their fanzines for everyone to see.

(Coincidentally, Randall Stukey was the editor of the similarly-named fanzine APA Hasshin.)

Fred Patten wrote in a letter sent to Sean Leonard:

“I began writing articles about anime for general magazines around 1980, not as late as 1989, and had pretty much separated myself from the fan politics within the club by 1986; and I was never the club’s president so it was not up to me to “set up a clear line of succession”. I was sorry to see the C/FO tear itself apart, but not to the extent of giving up my professional anime writing to try to take the club away from the petty dictators who were throwing out any members they didn’t like, and to persuade the ex-members who were resigning in disgust to come back. Anyhow, it is interesting to find out after four years what happened to that November 2003 telephone interview. I don’t believe that I have ever been mentioned in a law review before.”

Patten’s assessment is fair, but it is also hard not to think that the end of C/FO was an inevitable one. As anime gathered more fans from the mid-80s onward, it became less of an esoteric art and more like a medium meditated by fansub groups, video stores and licensing companies. Several fanzines stopped publication, their role having been taken by rec.arts.anime. New anime-only fan conventions were founded by the same people who used to be in the C/FO. C/FO as a national organization simply had no more reason to exist. Randall Stukey only helped to speed up the process.

On the other hand, running a national organization was very hard, especially when you weren’t the type of the club that could demand members to contribute, whether it was in the form of dues or efforts spent on translating the scripts, making fanzines, catering to meetings, etc. It is the same story with any fandom nowadays. Only a few dedicated and talented fans can perpetuate the fandom. Once these people find it too tiring and quit, that is when the fandom folds.

Some organizations spawned from C/FO nowadays remain active fitfully. One such example is the Philadelphia Animation Society. Following the death of its president Bill Thomas in 2015, the club entered a slump, which was not helped at all by the pandemic. Considering the fact that the majority of anime discussion happens on Twitter nowadays, it is doubtful if a lot of anime clubs will survive in the foreseeable future.

Originally posted on Reddit in 2021

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