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[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

On a more doctrinal level, respecting creativity as a human force should lead us to think differently about fair use, among other things, by encouraging us to take account of noncommercial motivations even in contexts current doctrine sees as commercial. Joanna Russ, the feminist science fiction writer, suggested that the“what if” of slash fanfiction was “what if I were free?” What would I read, what would I write, what relationships would I have with the external world and with other people? Asking “what if I were free”is very different from the claim-staking of the rhetoric of opensource software, which focuses on the idea that open-source software is “free as in free speech, not as in free beer.” That common phrase has always struck me as hiding within it many unexamined and problematic assumptions about what free is with respect to speech and how it relates to a commercial marketplace. What free is with respect to women’s voices, of course, has been fiercely debated at least since John Stuart Mill (and his wife) wrote The Subjection of Women. Slash and other fanworks come from a background of constraint, where acting as if we were free to write our own versions is a different kind of act than using our already-extant freedom to create open-source software instead of proprietary code. Women as writers have rarely had the luxury of exclusive control to give away.

One aspect of that unfreedom has been an inability to participate in the money economy on the same terms as men. Fanworks represent an alternative outlet for creative energies.

Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

[QUOTE] From Anna von Veh, What Can Trade Publishers Learn from Fanfiction?

Fanfiction sits at the margins of mainstream creative endeavour, and interrogates established views of what it means to be a writer; the meaning of intellectual property, creativity, originality, ‘ownership;’ and traditional boundaries surrounding these concepts, as well as the whole vexed issue of international rights. As a publishing person and daughter of an artist, I have an uneasy relationship with how fanfiction steps on these well-established fences, particularly with regards to the fanfiction based on novels, rather than TV or films. (The latter seems more ‘legitimate,’ but that might just be justification for my own interest.)

In many ways, fanfiction is, and has been for many years, ahead of its time in terms of its embrace of the possibilities and potential of digital technology, of community and niche interests, its very questioning of established domains of knowledge and ‘right/s,’ and its acknowledgement of the role reading plays in writing. As Saul Bellow said, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.” The leaching of boundaries described above is exemplified by the infinite trail of hyperlinks on the web (Derrida anyone?). It is therefore apt that fanfiction should exist online, and make use of the technology that allows deferment of meaning and certainty; a metaphorical and literal leaking of content from the container (…).

Anna von Veh, What Can Trade Publishers Learn from Fanfiction?

[META] Can Fandom Change Society? (by PBSoffbook)

Can Fandom Change Society? (by PBSoffbook)

Before the mass media, people actively engaged with culture through storytelling and expanding well-known tales. Modern fan culture connects to this historical tradition, and has become a force that challenges social norms and accepted behavior. Whether the issue is gender, sexuality, subversiveness, or even intellectual property law, fans participate in communities that allow them to think outside of what is possible in more mainstream scenarios. “Fannish” behavior has become its own grassroots way of altering our society and culture, and a means of actively experiencing one’s own culture. In a sense, fans have changed from the faceless adoring masses, to people who are proud of their identity and are stretching the boundaries of what is considered “normal”.


[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

Creativity, including remix creativity, is part of a good life. It should be valued for itself, not tolerated. Creativity should be a favorite of the law even if we do not need to worry about incentives or disincentives (chilling effects). Incentive stories, because they do not explain creativity, can mislead us about the value we want to protect. Under the First Amendment, we protect religious conviction not only, and not even primarily, because we worry about the chilling effects of religious persecution. Devout believers have been willing to go to jail and even die for their causes; they’re hard to chill. We protect religious faith because it’s so important, and a core wrong of suppression is its disrespect of the believer. Likewise, respect for creativity, and for the possibility that every person has new meaning to contribute, should be at the core of our copyright policy. Instead of monetary rewards or even artistic control of how works are transmitted to others as our highest value, we should aim for policies that maximize participation — even when that changes the mix of economic winners and losers. Economic reward and control rights are likely to be part of the proper balance, but only part.

Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

[QUOTE] From Lawrence Lessig, Remix

We’ve already seen a similar frustration brew in the context of “fan fiction,” particularly around the Star Wars franchise. As with the Harry Potter story, Lucasfilm learned early on that there were millions who wanted to build upon Star Wars, and few who thought themselves restricted by the rules of copyright. Like Warner, Lucasfilm recognized that these fans could provide real value to the franchise. So under the banner of encouraging this fan culture, Lucasfilm offered free Web space to anyone wanting to set up a fan home page.

But the fine print in this offer struck many as unfair. The contract read:

“The creation of derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, including, but not limited to, products, services, fonts, icons, link buttons, wallpaper, desktop themes, online postcards and greeting cards and unlicensed merchandise (whether sold, bartered or given away) is expressly prohibited. If despite these Terms of Service you do create any derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, such derivative works shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. in perpetuity.”

Translation: “Work hard here, Star Wars fans, to make our franchise flourish, but don’t expect that anything you make is actually yours. You, Star Wars fans, are our sharecroppers.”


But though the objective of profit is not a problem, the manner in which that profit is secured can be. The respect, or lack of respect, demonstrated by the terms under which the remix gets made says something to the remixer about how his work is valued. So again, when Lucas claims all right to profit from a remix, or when he claims a perpetual right to profit from stuff mixed with a remix, he expresses a view about his creativity versus theirs: about which is more important, about which deserves respect.


[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

Fanworks, as creative endeavors existing outside the money economy, are fundamentally based on the inexhaustibility of the imagination. Yet the creative desires fanworks express and satisfy are not alien to other, marketized creative works. Indeed, creators’ passions are strikingly similar across the boundary between “original”/authorized and unauthorized derivative works. That similarity has lessons for copyright’s incentivizing ambitions, as well as for a broader cultural policy that strives to allow people to express themselves creatively.


[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

(…) fan experiences of creativity are also incompatible with control-based theories of copyright positing that authors’ personalities are harmed by unauthorized uses. Julie Cohen has pointed out that the incentive model, in which copyright is a vital driver of creativity, “justifies drawing firm distinctions between authors, on the one hand, and consumers, imitators, and improvers on the other.” Once that move has succeeded, broad rights to control copying, public distribution, and derivative works follow as night follows day.


[META] Promising Monsters: Mutated Text 2012

I had the pleasure of participating in the Mutated Text workshop, celebrating “informal informalities, strange writing, and eclectic ties,” yesterday at Berkeley. As usual, going as a historian to anything even vaguely non-traditional — even as a historian whose heart is firmly in the nontraditional — and going as a fan to anything academic is always a bit of a dissonant experience for me, but my fellow participants were an eclectic bunch of brilliant people who instantly put me at ease, at least as an academic uncomfortable with, in the words of co-convener Martha Kenney, how the norms of academic writing “force self-severing and ignore our personal entanglements with our research.”

As I’ve learned just since my last post, part of the constraints I sometimes feel in academic writing are assuredly unique to my chosen discipline, and perhaps even to my own subfield — certainly my colleagues in Chinese history express a positive paranoia about using the “I” in text that, thankfully, my department head (a professor of premodern Japan) has never felt. English and critical theory, a friend of mine assured me after last time (“I agree with your general argument but I disagree with you on every particular!”), are perfectly comfortable with the personal interpolating into the scholarly. More power to you, my friends!

Part of what we talked about at the workshop yesterday, however — and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a practicing feminist sff writer (Naamen Tilahun, in this case) try to explain the concept of “meta” to a roomful of academics and casual genre readers — put me in the mind of Alex Jenkins’ last post, and her thoughts on the place of love for one’s work, and enthusiasm, in work. I commiserated with enough people at the workshop to know that the constraints people feel in academic work are real enough, even as we see more and more academic works that, as Mel Chen put it later in the day, “resist those constraints.”

Possibly even more than on the question of enthusiasm and being personal, however, I left convinced that one vital feature of fandom, and part of why, as Alex Jenkins argues, it is such an important alternative sphere of pop culture criticism and enjoyment, is that fandom is much more process-oriented than academia may ever be. From the question of works in progress [WIPs] to vidders trading tips and gripes about software and vidding workflow, fandom offers an extraordinarily transparent view on the way the creative process works. I mean “creative” here in its broadest sense, because anyone who doesn’t think that scholarly writing is creative has clearly never cudgeled their brains to pull out the better sentence, thesis, structure, conclusion that you just know is in there somewhere, if you could only find it. Whereas academics frequently feel alienated from each other while working (especially, I daresay, during that dreaded period of time in which one writes a dissertation), fandom has a lot of mechanisms to make people feel that they’re not alone — indeed, I think part of why we as fans love fandom is that it shows us that we’re not alone in our improper informalities and eclectic enthusiasms. Even if no one else has ever heard of your tiny fandom, just about everyone can understand your undying love for it.

I think the other thing is that fandom is also much better at tolerating failure. Your WIP may break off mid-chapter, and people will still read and even recommend it. Your vid or your AMV may not be all that it was in your head, but people will watch it and love it anyway. Dead ends and loops and wandering pathways are a part of what it’s about — iteration and reiteration and obsessive reworking and rereading of trope, character, plot elements. We as fans eat it up with a spoon, whereas as scholars we’re supposed to get it right, right out of the gate, every time.

Co-organizer Margaret Rhee, in her opening remarks, expressed the hope that the workshop could offer participants a supportive space for experimental writing, and it certainly did that; for that alone, to know that I’m the only one who’s willing to follow her passion where it leads, both in terms of form as much as of content, Mutated Text was awesome. And it’s that aspect of fandom, ultimately, that the academy could most stand to emulate.

[META] Living in a Den of Thieves (Notes Towards a Post on Big Content)

Two weeks ago, in the wake of the hacker collective Anonymous shutting down U.S. government and Big Content websites in avowed revenge for the U.S. Attorney General’s taking down the upload service MegaUpload, I asked my Twitter followers (only half in jest) whether I would one day be writing an article about the Internet War of 2012. The consensus was “Quite possibly!” but even a cursory glance over the last two weeks or so of events around the Internet and the public domain reveal that the conflict between those who are advocating for more open laws and formats around content, and those who want to lock content down and throw away the key on “pirates,” is about more than one upload service, or even more than one frighteningly broad piece of “anti-online piracy” legislation (and no, that link isn’t talking about SOPA/PIPA).

Fandom intersects with all of these events in a number of large and complex ways, and as a global phenomenon, it’s no surprise that fans in different parts of the world have had different reactions to various recent developments. Just among my digital acquaintances, reactions to MegaUpload, for instance, have ranged from the general sentiment that its operators’ alleged violations were so flagrant that they deserved to be indicted, to noting the detrimental effect the demise of file-sharing sites has on emerging economies in particular, since people working in emerging economies literally cannot afford to legitimately buy the media that Big Content sells.

The rise of “intellectual property” rights over the past century or so is part and parcel of the neoliberalization first of so-called advanced industrial societies, and then the rest of the world; the shredding of social safety nets globally; the commercialization of scholarship and the reduction of the value of all knowledge to the price it is projected to fetch in the so-called “free market”; the patent-ization of scientific research part and parcel with increased corporate profiteering therefrom. IPR are used systematically to disenfranchise and disempower vulnerable groups at all levels of societies globally, and then, the disenfranchisement complete, to sell that content back to those groups at immense profit–but only at fair market price, of course.

As a historian, I’m painfully aware that today’s current, very stringent global intellectual property regime is very much a recent and contingent phenomenon, and as a classicist and a fan, I was particularly dismayed to see the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of copyright maximalists in Golan v. Holder, finding that works could be legally re-copyrighted and removed from the public domain. It would be foolish, as a historian, to claim that fandom predates the age of mechanical reproduction and the rise of seriality in storytelling, but one doesn’t have to be much of a literature scholar to see that creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that creative works have always been inspired by one another. If Vergil had had to pay money to Homer’s estate to use characters from The Illiad, there probably would have been no Aeneid, and that loss wouldn’t just have diminished ancient Greek and Latin poetry.

I mentioned my work for the Organization for Transformative Works to a mutual acquaintance (the business manager of a well-known fantasy author) recently, and it was almost comical how my interlocutor’s defenses rose the instant I uttered the words “fair use.” I understand, and absolutely support, the desire and right of creators to make money from their own creative works, but one of the things that I think tends to get lost in these discussions is the fact that overall creators aren’t being very well served by Big Content. In the first place it’s a myth, as someone on my Twitter feed observed, that content is only created by “professionals”; and in the second place, Big Content is not in the business of giving creators money: as an industry, it’s in the business of making money for itself. Advocates for SOPA/PIPA and ACTA like to position themselves as defending the rights of creators, but the current intellectual property regime is set up to favor corporations. Furthermore, the global scope of that regime, and the way in which restrictive additions in one part of the world tend to be taken up by the rest of its participants (Golan v. Holder was held up as an instance of bringing U.S. law into line with global practice, and actions in the MegaUpload case were taken as far away from the States as Hong Kong and New Zealand) only increase the margin of that favorability.

Fandom, to try to knit the two halves of this post into a coherent union, is very much somewhere in the vast creative territory between outright plagiarism–which no one, I think, would support or condone–and the avowed creative debt of explicit borrowing and that position has only become more difficult to maintain in recent years. The OTW’s work to extend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for vidding that we won in 2010 is an excellent example of how difficult it is to carve out a legal space for fair use fan practices even under current law (I invite you to sign the petition to uphold the right to create remix videos before February 10, 2012, cosponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation). I’m proud of the OTW’s past and continuing work in this area, but the events of the past fortnight are more than sufficient proof that the battlefield is anything but stagnant, and vigilance remains the price of the very limited liberties we now possess.

[META] Teaching Fandom, Revisited

Time to post! But I’m afraid that my brain is full of nothing but teacherly thoughts and I apologize for this. Once again, I am dwelling upon the challenge of bringing folks to acceptance of the fact that we are all fans. As some readers of this blog may remember, I set myself the task of teaching about fandom for the first time last semester. An entire course…but not a graduate or even upper level course. So there were limits to the depth of theorizing that could be accomplished.

Briefly put, there were times when I felt quite certain that I had made a mistake. I had endeavoured to get students to reason through things, to see what they have in common with those “other” people, the fans, the weird ones. I’m still not confident that I pulled it off. Some came in as fans and left as fans. Others…not so much.

But some amazing things happened towards the end of last semester. When I asked them to create a fanwork for their final project, there was love suddenly pouring out of them. Not all, of course. There were still a few resistant ones, but most of them astonished me. One girl painted a large, elaborate image based on the television show V. If I ever needed proof that every text has a fan community around it…!   Some kids made their first fanvids. Others did animations. One kid brought me a painted skateboard covered in images from his favourite bands.

In short, I was amazed by the degree of creativity and passion these kids could bring to a project. And it seemed to confirm what people like Henry Jenkins have been writing about participatory culture. He/they have been arguing that people, particularly youth, are increasingly accustomed to living their creative lives through media. Media are the matter and the tools that surround us, and we use them in the same way that someone generations ago would pick up a stick and whittle something out of it.

On the whole, I must say it was a rewarding experience. Well, it had better be, because tomorrow I begin teaching the same course again…to three more sections of 40 students each. I know one thing I have learned: keep the fanwork assignment, and make it earlier in the semester so these young fanlings can share and enjoy each other’s works!

[LINK] A Thoughtful and Well-Researched Article About Fanfiction

Yesterday a story by Lev Grossman appeared on the Time Magazine website, titled “The Boy Who Lived Forever” (soon to be available in print). The occasion of the story, of course, is the imminent conclusion of the Harry Potter saga, at least in movie form. However, the article is really all about fanfiction. Grossman is amazingly thorough. In his five pages he covers the various genres of fanfiction – including some of the ones that aren’t always mentioned in articles sympathetic to fanfic, like hurt/comfort, noncon, mpreg and incest – the breadth of fanfiction, the legal status of fanfiction, and even the occasional rants from published authors who feel offended or violated by the existence of fanfiction. He also touches on the aspects of fanfiction that express diverse sexualities and obsessions, and he manages it with wit and aplomb. It is obvious that Grossman did his homework and I really must commend him for it. Best of all, Grossman touches on the fundamental issue raised by fan fiction: What does it mean to be creative? He is aware (perhaps coached by some fannish informants, hmm?) that many more accepted and prestigious forms of literature resemble fanfiction in their taking up of previously existing characters and worlds to create a new work. I was very pleased to see him mentioning the fact that until the era of Romanticism in the 19th century, the prevalent cultural definition of “originality” had nothing to do with the creation of something completely new. In other words, the idea that valid artistic expression must aspire to complete originality is one of recent coinage – at least in the western context. Reading Grossman’s piece recalled the satisfaction I felt when reading a certain essay by Thomas Sobchack; how enlightening it was to learn that, before the Romantics, it was not only permitted but expected that a writer would work within previously formulas, structures, storyworlds, myths and histories! The artist’s goal was an original restatement, not a discrete new world. I’m pretty sure that if you look it up in the dictionary, the definition of creativity is “original recombination”. Sure, Grossman acknowledges the deep emotional connection an author may have with his/her characters. He can understand and appreciate the perspectives of the Anne Rices and Robin Hobbses and Orson Scott Cards out there – and so can many fanfiction authors. As someone who has written an original character now and then, I can also appreciate that rather irrational feeling of ownership. But as Grossman perceptively points out, if an author is like a parent to their characters, it is the wise parent who realizes that their children are going to go forth into the world to have lives, connections, even identities apart from them. In our current age convergence and participatory culture, this is not just a possibility – it’s a guarantee. “There may be hurt in that,” Grossman concludes, “but there is a great deal of comfort as well.” And it is a comfort to know that our stories go on and on (neverending, maybe?) – that Harry Potter will live and live forever, as will Frodo and Luke Skywalker and Buffy and the Winchesters and so many others. Note: Thanks to Baranduin for bringing this article to my attention

[META] Transformative Works, Transformative History

The latest issue of Transformative Works and Cultures has arrived, and it’s a special issue about “Fan Works and Fan Communities in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” edited by Nancy Reagin and Anne Rubenstein. There’s a lot of great material to sift through, so I’ll focus on the ideas that struck closest to home for me, particularly those articulated by Alexis Lothian in her symposium piece, “An archive of one’s own: Subcultural creativity and the politics of conservation.” But before I get to Lothian’s thought-provoking meditation on the politics of archiving fanworks, I will situate it within one of the major research questions posed by Reagin and Rubenstein in their introduction to the issue.

In this introduction, the authors explore the various points of connection between academic historical study and fan studies, noting that the two disciplines have not yet taken full advantage of the conversation made possible by their shared investments. Most importantly, they note that, rather than taking recognizably fannish subcultures and their associated practices seriously as exemplifying a particular mode of engagement with the phenomena of media history,

“historians have tended to analyze audiences and consumers as though they exemplified historical processes unrelated to media…it can be difficult to uncover what audience members or fans themselves thought, while many sources document the ideas, emotions, and intentions of the producers of commercial entertainments. “(4.2-4.4; emphasis mine)

In other words, historians have often used media artifacts and the traces left by their producers and fans as undifferentiated evidence of larger socio-historical phenomena, rather than zeroing in on what attentive fans may always have known, which I will summarize in quick shorthand as the intellectual pleasure of engaging with media artifacts on their own terms, and within dynamic interpretive communities, which in turn establish their own meta-level investments separate from the media artifact. Of course, this is by no means true of all historians — there are plenty of social historians who are deeply attentive to the history of interpretive communities and “schools of thought,” although in my personal experience, these are as likely to be found in an English or Sociology department as they are in a History department.

As to the second part of the quotation, about the tendency of historians and academics in general to privilege the producers’ interpretations of their own work over those interpretations, regardless of how loving or critical, put forth by fans, this reveals a more unfortunate power dynamic replicated by mainstream historical narratives of the relationship between media artifacts and social movements and worlds. And in order to address this power dynamic, the authors turn to the great thinker Walter Benjamin, who theorized a more intimate connection between media artifacts and the specific historical moments in which they are produced and are read (paying particular attention to the fact that these moments are not the same, that is, that media artifacts age according to a logic all their own, distinct from mainstream historical logic).

Lothian, in her symposium piece, takes on the French thinker Jacques Derrida, whose ideas were deeply influenced by Benjamin, especially when it comes to taking reading seriously, and thus, by extension, taking the archival act seriously. While Benjamin’s work speaks explicitly to questions people have about the first half of the Twentieth Century, especially regarding how film came to dominate visual culture, Derrida’s more recent work speaks even more closely to the New Media landscape fans now inhabit, making his work more relevant for pressing questions about the emerging shape of the contemporary archives of fanworks. While Benjamin’s politics remain difficult to translate onto the contemporary sphere, Derrida’s assessment of the power imbalances made visible by emerging archival practices speak closely to the concerns articulated by Lothian in her piece.

Lothian’s piece nicely delineates the ways in which fans are currently disempowered by media owners and U.S. law (ways likely familiar to anyone reading this post), and then goes on to speak to the specific and strategic value of the Archive of Our Own and the Organization for Transformative Works. Particularly in a historical moment in which the institutions that chronicle and archive our cultural moment, especially libraries, are under attack, it seems to me to be an awfully good idea to take control of our own desire to organize and collect those fanworks that we have produced and loved and learned from. But I also admire Lothian’s insistence on registering what may be lost in the process, according to the current logic of the archive.

This is the kind of rhetorical move of which Benjamin is fond — to take note of, and pay attention to, what seems to be fading, or shifting away from the center, precisely at the moment that it loses its power. Lothian’s discussion of Fandom Wank, and the way in which it represents what would be difficult to archive under the AO3′s current system, is really interesting in this regard — it reminds me of various homages to Geocities and Friendster, although perhaps it’s better compared to current conversations surrounding 4chan as the lingering anti-Facebook part of the internet, insisting on the ephemeral as a much-needed antidote to the implicit ban on anonymity from that site.

I want to emphasize the political undercurrent of Lothian’s argument at the end of the piece, where she states that “if we want to take seriously the possibility that ephemeral conflict and online sex might function to undermine dominant sexual, gendered, racialized, and economic ways of being, both on- and off-line, we cannot restrict fannish politics to the easily archivable.” Again, the difference Lothian carves out between strategic political action at the de facto “public face” of fandom and the messier, recognizably queer, politics of and within specific fan communities, is crucial to this argument. I know that I am invested in preserving the genuinely transformative energy of these more interpersonal kinds of politics, but I also think that there is a real need for nonprofit organizations like the OTW to balance the increasingly commercial rest of the internet.

Issue 6, people! Check it out!

[META] Pop! Goes the Fanart

This guest post by fanartist Betty Anne expands on comments she made to a recent OTW news post regarding Salon’s coverage of fanart. One of the prevailing problems fanartists run into is acceptance of their art by the mainstream art world. Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for, attempted to bridge this gap with his article, “The most extraordinary movie fan art.” Unfortunately, the article fell a bit short. Along with focusing exclusively on art created by men and related to movies, the article and slideshow tried too hard to fit fanart neatly into the Modern view of pop art. Fanart is certainly pop art, but “pop art” (as an umbrella term) isn’t limited just to that found in the works of 1950s-1970s America, which is what a lot of the works and artists selected by Seitz resemble. The difficulty in categorizing fanart is that there isn’t even a good definition for most art being created today — labels like “post-post-modern,” “contemporary art,” or “new modern” are just that: labels intended to help people niche themselves. (Artistic genres are generally defined after the art era has passed — otherwise you end up with very old art still being called “avant-garde” or the like.) A particularly problematic segment of Seitz’s article is:

But there’s a thriving subcategory that could be called “amateur professional art”: work that’s created by people with serious aesthetic and technical chops — graphic artists, Web designers, filmmakers or former art students whose day job has nothing to do with movies. The purpose of the second kind of art is much the same as the first: to communicate enthusiasm for, and understanding of, favorite films and filmmakers, and perhaps indulge the fantasy of being the person who’s paid to create the real thing: the posters and teaser sheets and DVD box art and tie-in book covers that you see in the marketplace.

In particular, the use of the term “the real thing” suggests only paid graphic designers in employ of the movie studios are real artists — everyone else is an imitator, or in Seitz’s words, “amateur professional.” Artists, Seitz suggests, are not professional professionals until they are under the heel of a studio or PR head who dictates what their art looks like and conveys. This is the antithesis of fanart. Fanartists create art that conveys their vision and their thoughts about their chosen source medium in their manner. (Yes, there are also plenty of fanartists who are just copying manga covers or screencaps for kicks and to get e-applause from their friends. The article briefly touched on that, in a somewhat disparaging comment: “crude but endearing work that’s personal, private and not intended to impress, much less sell, but merely to amuse.” It is a separate type of fanart, not something less worthy, as the Salon article insinuates.) On a broad spectrum, fanart falls into four major categories. These categories can overlap (but don’t have to) and have further nuances within them, just as any other broad category of art does. By exploring within these categories, it is possible to see that fanart really covers any and all of the range of other types of art. Art That Fleshes Out the Unseen Fanart allows many artists the opportunity to flesh out existing narratives. No story, completed or otherwise, can ever give every detail a fan may want or think of. This is where fanartists frequently step in and fill the gaps. Meliza (taichikun14) fleshed out the original story of Dragon Ball Z with an image that fits directly into both the style and the narrative of the series. This is one of those special family moments that are frequently left out of shonen (boy-oriented) series to keep the focus on the good vs. evil action dynamic. By working with simple scenes such as this one, fanartists bring attention back to the understated interactions of characters and their stories. Other works in this category include:

Art That Explores “What If” In some cases, a fan just isn’t satisfied with what the canon of a given story provides. Problematic storytelling issues, such as sexism, can arise, or the original storyteller might have a weak grasp on a concept the fanartist knows well. In other cases, the story might be left hanging, the story could take unexpected turns, or — in the case of The Dark Knight‘s Heath Ledger — tragedy can strike and interrupt a story. Perhaps a fanartist just has a different vision of the characters or plot. Some artists wonder about how the narrative would be if one or more of the characters were gay. In these instances, art becomes a venue for exploring “what if” something were different. The Joker and Harley Quinn have been a staple couple of the Batman fandom nearly since Harley’s creation as a character. It’s no wonder, then, that many fans were disappointed to discover that Harley didn’t have a role in The Dark Knight. This impact was only deepened when Heath Ledger passed away suddenly, leaving the movie franchise not only without a successful Joker, but without any hope of ever seeing that Joker with a Harley Quinn of his own in the future. This is another place where fans such as Brianna Garcia (bri-chan) step in. Garcia’s art speculates on story/continues the universe of The Dark Knight, both by direct art and by pairing the art with fanfiction that fulfills the same purpose. Other examples of art that tackle the “what ifs” of their fandoms include:

Art That is Eye Candy Aesthetic appeal has long been a driving factor in the production of art, and even among art that carries an inner meaning for the artist, many works are admired solely for their exterior beauty. These works function to entertain viewers and bring a sense of life, vitality and decoration to the world. Among eye candy art, the classic pinup is probably the most famous of the modern era. Fanartists also work in this genre of art, as demonstrated by Ty Romsa’s (Overlander) art that pleases the “male gaze” with a classic female pinup of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has long been a staple of this type of art, and Romsa’s work incorporates the contemporary medium of digital painting to convey it to a wired audience. Other samples of aesthetically-oriented art include:

Art That Keeps Context But Changes Styles A challenge many fanartists undertake is conveying popular characters and narratives in their own style. This pairs the struggle all artists go through — finding one’s self in art — with the need to communicate the fandom effectively. Li Kovacs (Pikmin Link) is well-known in the Legend of Zelda fandom for bringing the game franchise to life through cosplay and photography. This type of art breathes new and exciting dimensions into a fandom, both for the artist and the viewer. Other art forms that pursue this end include:

Once fanart is recognized as a legitimate form of art, it is not difficult at all to discover the true range fanart covers. Individuals from hugely diverse backgrounds all over the world become fanartists, and many of them produce large bodies of fanart over the course of their careers. Even a basic search for the word “fanart” on Google produces thousands of hits for fanart collectives and archives as well as individual images. Being an artist has never been primarily about making money or creating commercial products; it has always been first and foremost about the artist’s vision and the passion for art. Fanartists incorporate their passion for their fandom(s) into that drive toward art to produce unique creations of their own.

[META] Existing settings, existing characters

We are all familiar with the elements of fiction: plot, character, theme, setting, point of view.

When a writer decides to set a story in San Francisco in 1980, or in Bonn in 1950, or in her home town the year she was twenty, there’s research involved. What did the place look like? What were the landmarks? What was the weather like? What was under construction? What blooms in which seasons?

The more familiarity the writer has with the place, the better and more vivid the story.

And, no one thinks it’s cheating if a writer uses a real place for the setting of a story. Quite the reverse.

No one thinks it’s “better” or “more creative” to make up a setting from scratch instead of using an already existing city or countryside. (In fact, the genres where making up a setting from scratch is normally necessary, like SF or fantasy, are often dissed by lovers of literary fiction.)

A large part of the joy of reading, say, Robert Parker’s Spenser novels is enjoying Boston through his eyes. The entire genre of travel literature lets us all explore, fictionally and nonfictionally, places we already know and love.

Fan fiction does exactly this same thing, but with character instead of setting.

The last go-round, this spring, regarding the legitimacy and definitions of fan fiction (and this is a topic that comes around a lot on the guitar) seemed to be very focused on copyright restrictions and authorial control. The fantasy author Diana Gabaldon, in blog posts that were mostly, alas, deleted afterward, took serious offense at fan fiction and was soundly and elegantly rebutted by another author at Bookshop,, May 3, 2010.

Then, in related developments, the well-known blog BoingBoing listed a bunch of Pulitzer Prize winning works that can be defined as fan fiction, prompting cofax7 to offer a definition of the genre (, cofax7, May 28, 2010). If you read her post, do read the comments too, for more nuances and discussion. On the other hand, the BoingBoing comments are pretty funny! In the “oh no” sort of way.

(As a tangent: Bookshop also links to one of her own comments where she addresses succinctly what is one of the biggest misunderstandings in this perennial discussion: Many people seem to keep going all bzuh at the idea — central to fan fiction — of writing something and sharing it with a community, with no intention or desire to sell said piece of writing for money.)

Like Bookshop, I’m kind of bemused every time I have to have the conversation about why fan fiction is way okay. Aren’t we there yet? So maybe I can offer yet another way of making the argument: Any writing textbook lists those five elements of fiction. Why are the anti-fan fiction critics so hung up on the presumed necessity for original characters in the best-quality fiction, but see no necessity whatsoever for original settings?