What Was It Like to Be an 80s Anime Fan in NYC?

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 16, 2011 in Animation, Fandom |

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

You know how when you go to a really popular anime convention that there might be say a 100 people waiting on line to get their badge? Well back in the 80s those 100 people would be pretty much the sum total of anime fandom in New York City! Thanks to Saul Trabal (show in the photo above) we have a wonderful little photo essay from that era when anime was limited to getting VHS tapes from friends of friends who had pen pals in Japan:

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

What you’re looking at here is a front row view of the hub of anime fandom in New York City: This is a meeting of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization which was the central meeting point for fans during that era. This is the moment right before a several hour VHS tape marathon was about to get started. The lights would dim and everyone would watch that television set — and standing next to it would be someone telling you roughly what was going on in the show being shown. That’s right this was even before subtitles (the tapes came from friends in Japan).

By the way that fellow on the left in the jacket and tie is James Kaposztas. If you ever watch an anime music video you owe Jim a bit of thanks — he invented them (and the first one was shown at one of these meetings).

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

The meetings during the 80s took place in the basement of the Polish Democratic Club which was located on St. Marks Place. In the back of the hall there were dealers who sold merchandise and fans often hung out and socialized. By the way the guy in the black trench coat second from the left is yours truly.

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

This is a close up of a dealer’s table from that era: While model kits are mostly shown here you could also buy manga and art books as well. To my memory fans didn’t sell VHS tapes during that era but traded them. In fact at larger science fiction conventions fans would daisy chain multiple VHS machines together and have dubbing parties.

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

There were many heroes of anime fandom in New York City during that era that every fan today owes a bit of thanks to. This particular hero is Patricia Malone who was President of the C/FO NY during the 80s.

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

Back then fans could go to the one or two Japanese bookstores to find manga — which were of course not translated! This didn’t stop anyone from buying them, and the many anime art books that could be found. This photo shows Lawrence Sufrin at Zen Oriental Books  in August of 1986. And yes he’s looking at Urusei Yatsura which was a fan favorite of that era.

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

Fanboys Michael Mozillo and John Cornetto are looking at a table of anime art books in August of 1986. It should be noted that fans of his era also went to Kinokuniya which had an amazing manga selection on the second floor of their beloved shine to Japanese books.

Anime Fandom in NYC during the 1980s

It took a damn bit of hard work to be a fan back in the day — you fought for every damn scrap of anime you could get your hands on. A number of fans took this love to the next level and wanted to create their own anime: Shown here are SVA students Pete Stoller and Brian Cirulnick. Brian is shooting a Super 8mm scene which he’d rotoscope for his animated short Kilroy Was Here which was an anime styles test film he started on in 1987. His project before this point was the epic Desslok’s Revenge — a fan film based on Space Battleship Yamato.

My deepest thanks to Saul Trabal for sharing these photos from his collection. It should be noted that these pictures only represent the slightest taste of the few brave souls who made that era of anime fandom so special. I’ll close with this quote from Saul who summed up the meaning of that time:

“I really do believe the CFO was one of the main reasons-if not THE main reason-that Anime became so widespread on American shores. Without the CFO, it would have taken a LOT longer, if at all.”

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