Last month I talked about a series of interviews I’d done with a group of people who identify as fans / belonging to fandoms. The two questions I focused on last time were: Why do you consider yourself a fan? And: What do you feel like you get out of belonging to a fandom? This month, I’ll move on to the final three questions that I asked my Fan Sample (that seems like some kind of box of chocolates).
The first of these questions falls into what I consider a tricky realm. That is—The Realm of Fan Art. Many people, I think, feel less forthcoming when talking about Fan Art. And much of this comes down to the negative connotations often associated with Fan Fiction. In the coming months, I’ll be doing many features on Fan Fiction, but take these answers as an entryway to this realm. All of my interviewees were wonderfully forthcoming about their art, and so again I thank them wholeheartedly!
The exact question I asked was this: Do you make any sort of fanart/ fiction? And, if so, how did you become involved with this aspect of fandom? I was surprised that, of the people I interviewed, all of them stated that they had at least dabbled in some sort of Fan Art. I wonder if many writers began this way: by locking into a world that you already loved and creating something original within it? I know that, as a young writer, I wrote at least one spec script for The X-Files. It felt like an obvious stepping stone when I had become interested in writing screenplays. I loved The X-Files and I’d read pieces of their scripts, so why not explore something like that when I was trying to get form down? And now? Now I’m working on a thesis for grad school that is a poetry collection which is in some ways inspired by Supernatural.
Of my interviewees, many stated that Fan Art was a gateway to their own writing/ art. MJR said:
“Well, here’s my story for you. I began writing (I was like 8?) what is known as fan-fiction before I even knew what fan-fiction was! I started writing before I was part of any Internet community or realized such things even existed! Actually, it’s because I was a fan that I began to write at all! I just imagined all these scenario and scenes and started jotting them down. Guiltily, I will admit there was a lot of Mary Sue happening at the time, but that changed as I matured (and as I came to realize how “bad” such a thing is viewed in the fandom…although sometimes it can be hilarious. However, when does one realize there is a difference between a Mary Sue or an Original Character in a fanfiction? There are usually red flags…but really? What is the determining factor?).“
(CC: “Mary Sue” is a term for an idealized character in Fan Fiction, who is often—though not always—an author stand-in. In future columns, I plan to explore not only these sorts of terms involved with Fan Fiction, but also hopefully work towards answering MJR’s question!)
Another commonality between the interviewees was how much belonging to a fandom encouraged their art. As JB stated: “I write fanfic. Constantly. I currently write for three fandoms, though I have some small stuff for others. I got involved in the creative part of fandom after a long, long night of playing rummy with a friend and a few too many energy drinks and lemon poppyseed muffins. I wrote down two ideas on the back of a napkin and said ‘I’m gonna do this, and I don’t care if I get someone to read it or not.’ Over 60 stories over many fandoms AND a multi-chaptered behemoth that STILL isn’t done after how many years later, here I am, a relatively popular writer with followers and my own little fandom and haters. I have arrived. And thanks to the girls and boys on chat and my cheerleaders, I have continued writing.”
My next question delved into particular fandoms (I very rarely have found people that only belong to a single fandom). The fandoms belonged to by my interviewees ranged from Doctor Who to Supernatural to Sherlock to Vampire Diaries to various types of Anime. The question was this: What do you think draws people to fandoms? And to your fandom(s) in particular? MJR said:
“I really think camaraderie really is the pull. It’s pretty rare to have real life friends that are fans of the same thing as you. I also think people are drawn to fandoms because of who they identify with in their shows/books. It’s all about validation in your insecurities, isn’t it? That you are not alone in how you think, how you feel?”
TW said something along the same lines, but went a step further: “I think people are, at least initially, drawn in by a need to interact with the media they love rather than just passively consume it.”
And my final question delved into something that is important to talk about: the negative views many have of fandoms. This ranges from “fangirl/ fanboy” being seen as insults to the demeaning way that fan fiction authors are often portrayed by the media. The exact question was: “How do you think fandoms—and yours in particular—are viewed by people outside of them?”
KT said: “Depends on the person. My parents thought my fanart was endearing, but they weren’t condescending about it […] Right now, they might think my involvement is childish, but not surprising.”
MJR said it quite eloquently: “I know that a lot of people who hear that you are a real part of a fandom and they immediately think of the word ‘obsessed.’ I prefer ‘aficionado,’ but to outsiders they tend to see it as negative. I think it’s because they don’t see any positive or gain from becoming so involved with something that is generally fictitious. I use my free time to read interviews, comment about actors, share details of behind-the-scenes or trivia. An outsider would look at that and ask, ‘What’s the point? You’re never going to get paid for knowing this. You’re never going to meet the actor. Your theories are never going to be implemented into the plot!’ And a smarmy reply would be, ‘No, but maybe it will one day.’ But an honest reply would be, ‘You’re right and I don’t care.’ I don’t care that you think I’m wasting my time, because it’s my time. It’s an outlet for my imagination. It’s a way for me to make new friends. Why do some people collect stamps? Why do people collect comics? So they can turn a profit on one someday? Maybe. But what are the odds? Does that matter? Me being part of a fandom is like having a hobby.“
JB said: “All of my fandoms, save for the Bond fandom, have been called anything from ‘stark raving lunatic fangirls’ to ‘a danger to ‘true’ authors and artists.’ We have been side-eyed a lot because of our sheer tenacity and zeal, our attention to the details that are (and aren’t) there.[…]We have been called out in public and made fun of, made fools of, and have been turned on each other by certain people. People simply don’t understand what it’s like to love something so much that you devote time, money, and energy to it…oh, wait. They do. Well, at least they should. (ahem*sports*ahem) The main stereotype that I keep running into, especially in the fanfic-writing part of fandom, is that fanfic writers are jobless 30-somethings living in our parent’s basements off of coffee and cigarettes and pornography. Which might describe a scant few of us, but is mostly and horrifically not true. We are teens-to-60 year olds with jobs, lives, children, school, and we survive off of coffee, tea, cigarettes […] Stereotypes are mostly false. And for the fandom in general, we are not the freaky zealots that most of the world sees only because the zealots happen to be Tumblr-famous as well. We are well rounded individuals with an obsession with pretty men and women. Who can fault us for that?“
So what do you, dear readers, think of this? Have you come up against stereotypes as a member of a fandom? What do you feel you gain through your fandoms? Let me know via Twitter @lunaquarterly or @PintsNCupcakes with hashtag #ghostsandfandoms. Next month I’ll be back with a a look into how “genre” is perceived inside (and outside) of academia. Is it an important distinction to make? Or is it a load of—-well, ahem, you get the picture. Until then, Keep Fannin’ On!