gave me the prompt "First online fandom, and first fandom overall (in case those are different replies.)"
(BTW, if you want to ask me a question or prompt me for the January Talking Meme, you can comment here
. Most dates are still open.)
I have always been a fan. I've been collecting comics even before I could properly read, and I can't remember a time before I self-identified as a fan. And I don't mean that I did fannish things and had fannish feelings while not aware of fandom, but I always knew that there were other fans like me.
My biggest early comic love were definitely Disney comics, in particular the Duckburgh ones, but I've always read and collected other comics too, like Yps, and a bit later I started reading Spirou and Tintin and all kinds of Franco-belgian ones, which my sister collected too, so once I was old enough not to destroy her stuff, I was allowed to borrow those, and of course I read comics from the library too. Though I soon bought my own copies, even if I had read them elsewhere, because collecting comics as physical objects has always been something I loved.
So well before I found internet fandom I was in offline comic fandom. I regularly went to comic stores and collector meetings, attended comic cons, bought zines, read books about drawing comics and comic history, went to open university lectures about comics, and drew comics and cartoons myself. I still have the comics I did in fifth grade. They aren't very good of course, but I was never a "drawer production" person, so I was showing these to my friends. Unfortunately even then I had trouble coming up with interesting stories. Worldbuilding I could do, but not plot. The results were best when I could collaborate with someone, so I did comics together with my older sister and with classmates, but it was hard to find someone wanting to write comics, have it be the kind of comics I'd want to draw and also have them happy with my drawings. I even met with other local teenage comic fans in a comic drawing workshop, but the others there were also into the art mostly, so that wasn't for collaboration. Also quite hilarious in retrospect, this comic drawing group for teenagers was actually some sort of thinly disguised city social work for drug and gang prevention, I think. Only at the time I didn't realize that I probably wasn't the target audience.
I mean, I was of course in the sense that I was a teenager and wanted to become better at drawing comics, and I had seen this offer advertised at the central public library, and went because it was a free comic drawing group. However, the group leaders were an artist together with some sort of youth social worker, and we always met in these youth centers in slightly dodgy places, first some mildly dilapidated building near the central station, then in some sort of anti-drug youth project thing, where I (as sheltered comfortably middle class girl) would have never gone otherwise. I was somewhat out of place, one of the few girls and among the youngest too, but it was quite fun, I learned a lot, and we did a fanzine together and had an exhibition at a local comic con (though I'm still disgruntled that I never got my original art back from that).
That was the only comic fanzine I've had my comics published in, though I also had my comics as serial in our school paper, and did some cartoons for that too.
The first times I ever used the internet were also because of comic fandom. I think it was in 1993 or 1994. My older sister had access through the university, and had told me about this, and I wanted to find what fan resources there were. So I visited her, and browsed newsgroups and FTP sites with FAQs about comics, using Lynx and Mosaic and Gopher for searching, and then printed the pages for reading at home. I still have a folder around somewhere with a stack of these printouts, I think.
But accessing the internet that way is rather inconvenient, so I didn't get to participate in online fandom yet. When my brother got a Compuserve account, I also visited him to use that, and I tried joining a due South mailing list, but the list traffic flooded his mailbox capacity, and it turned out to be totally impossible. But as you can see I was kind of trying to join online fandom before I was online, so as soon as I had personal internet access, even if it was dialup and cost me per minute, I was in online fandom. That was late 1997, iirc, and by then there were already many web sites and lists and lots of infrastructure besides newsgroups.
My first real online fandom was The Sentinel. As usual episodes aired here were much behind the schedule in the US and initially I just wanted to find an episode guide to see whether it was continued in the US, and I found Nightowl's Nest, and found much more than just an episode guide. I read my first fanfic then, and promptly wrote a squeeful email to the author how awesome it was to have found fanfic and their story (it was probably odd, I never heard anything back, and unfortunately a hard disk calamity destroyed my carefully hoarded early emails, so I can't reread it now with hindsight to check how it comes across). But as you can see I wasn't shy, and not even everything being in English could deter me (it certainly increased my English language practice a lot).
So soon after I joined my first mailing list (Senfic), didn't bother much with lurking there either, but started to participate in discussions. Of course I was reading lots of fanfic once I had found it, only gen at first, mostly because I was confused by all the slash warnings, assuming they were for violence (as in "slasher movies") rather than sexual content, though I couldn't quite put together why TS of all things would inspire so much gore, but that didn't misunderstanding didn't last long.
As far as online participation goes I was almost a monofan for my first years in online fandom, though I did read X-Files and Star Wars and some other fandoms too. I wasn't drawing fanart, because it never really occurred to me that I could. It wasn't a very fanart friendly environment. Part of it was technical, with it being on mailing lists and bandwidth issues on archives, but the bigger part was that there was little diversity in styles, and it didn't seem like fanart was welcome. What little fanart there was, were mostly just collage type photomanips (often not very good ones either, so I didn't like what I saw of that art form) and the few illustrations were all aiming for a very photo-realist style, which is not anything close to what I draw like. I know now that even at the time there had been other fanart styles around for tv fandoms, but I didn't know that then. Very few artists showed anything online, and zines were expensive, so I only ever ordered a couple, and even those often did not have any illustrations at all.
Anyway, I thought to be accepted as fanart in live action fandoms art had to try for photorealism. So at that time I didn't even realize that anyone might be interested in the kind of fanart I could do.
For full disclosure of my firsts in fandom, eventually there was a Sentinel fanfic for which I couldn't resist drawing an illustration, but the result was really quite bad. I was too embarrassed to attach my internet identity to that, and incidentally was also for a story I did not want to admit to have liked under my regular pseud either. These days I'm much less embarrassed about my kinks. Of course like I said above, drawer works are not my thing, so I actually posted my first piece of fanart as a sockpuppet (in a way similar to daring to post in anon kink memes first these days). The author didn't react at all though to getting my illustration for her story, so that rather confirmed my impression that fanart wasn't wanted.
Sentinel fandom quieting down coincided with the shift towards LJ, and I became more actively multi-fannish there, and I got drawn into DC fandom (against all my expectations, I never thought I'd like superhero comics in my first decades of comic fandom). Unlike the live action fandoms I was in, it seemed less daunting to draw comic characters than to have to try for a realist style, and there was more encouragement for it too, and with LJ it was easier to post pictures. So I posted my first proper fanart only after being in online fandom for over five years already.