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Fred Patten, Noted Anime and Manga Historian, Dies at 77

Prolific writer and collector was a pioneer in U.S. fandom, helping introduce previously obscure Japanese animation and comics to a new generation of consumers. 

Fred Patten, noted writer and historian, whose encyclopedic memory and passion for knowledge crisscrossed fandom worlds of animation, science fiction, anime, manga and furries, passed away November 12. He was 77. Though wheelchair bound since a 2005 stroke, Fred nevertheless stayed current in his collecting and research, reviewing books, films and shows up until the time of his passing.

As ubiquitous as anime and manga are in the U.S. today, it wasn’t long ago that only the most fervent fan could find copies of Japanese comics or anime videos, usually bootlegged, at obscure comic shops or through shady mail order outlets. Fred was a fandom pioneer, most prominently in anime and manga, though with equal fervor in science fiction, animation and furrydom, writing, publishing, translating and curating going back to the early 1970s. He brought a sense of order, precision and most of all, appreciation to the growing community of anime fans. Read the touching and insightful post by Jonathan Clements in his All the Anime blog, who shares wonderful details about Patten’s early career and lasting impact.

Though he’d spent more than 20 years ardently active in numerous areas of fandom, Fred didn’t get directly involved in anime as a career until he was 50, leaving his “real” job at Hughes Aircraft to join producer Carl Macek and Streamline pictures in 1991. He spent over a decade with Macek, licensing and producing English versions of anime titles for distribution in theatres, on TV and for home entertainment.

Fred began writing for AWN when the site first launched in 1996, covering what was for our readers the unique, mysterious and foreign world of anime and manga, sharing his tremendous knowledge about films, TV shows and comics that for the most part were completely unknown to mainstream animation communities outside Japan. His writing and advocacy provided not only proper detailed accounting of titles, plots and characters, but important context and perspective, helping readers gain a better understanding of the growing but still highly obscure world of Japanese animation and comics. In 2004, many of his essays and articles were compiled into a book, Watching Anime, Reading Manga – 25 Years of Essays and Reviews. From 2012-2015, Fred reviewed dozens of books for AWN, his matter of fact style often chiding writers of big studio art books for what they didn’t, but should have, included in their work.

Click here for a list of over 150 articles Fred wrote for AWN.

By the time I first met Fred back in AWN’s early days, with his Coke-bottle thick glasses and ubiquitous striped short-sleeve shirt, I had heard quite a bit about his vast and impressive knowledge of all things anime. Over the years, I’d quizzed animation historians whenever possible, searching for information on an anime series I had seen, ever-so-briefly, on KCET public access TV as a little kid back in the 1960s. This was back when our black and white TV had rabbit ears that demanded a proper angle to keep the UHF snow at bay. I faintly remembered the title treatment and catchy tune of a show featuring a boy who chewed gum that allowed him to breathe underwater. No one had a clue what I was talking about. So, at our first meeting, I asked Fred, who without hesitation replied, “That was Marine Boy. Originally ran in 1965.” The case was solved. Finally.

Fred’s younger sister, Sherry Patten, shared with AWN some details of his early life. He was a lifelong fan and collector of science fiction and fantasy. He joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1960 and was an active member all his life. Fred graduated from UCLA, where he also received a master’s degree in library science in 1963. While working as an industrial librarian for the Hughes Aircraft Company (1969 – 1990), he was also a partner with Richard Kyle in the Graphic Story Bookshop (later Wonderworld Books), which introduced Japanese manga to the English-speaking world. Fred joined anime distributor and producer Carl Macek at Streamline Pictures, working there from 1991 – 2002, licensing Japanese animation for theatrical, TV broadcast and home video release. He was a freelance writer specializing in Japanese anime and manga from 2002 – 2005, when he had a major stroke. Since 2005, paralyzed and confined to a convalescent hospital bed, he remained active with his laptop computer, writing and editing books as well as posting book reviews and articles on AWN and many other industry websites. Fred would travel in a wheelchair to see visit theaters, local conventions and Hollywood studio screenings for new animated films.

For his various and prolific contributions to these different areas of entertainment, Fred received many awards. His vast lifetime collection of science fiction books, art, and related material, and books on Japanese animation, and furry fiction was donated to the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Literature at the University of California Riverside, in 2005, where it is organized as The Fred Patten Collection. He continued to donate material to his collection at UCR, until the time of his death.

He is survived by sisters Sherry and Loel Anne Jones.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.