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[META] How much money do doujinshi creators actually make? Some statistics from Comiket

We’ve mentioned before how fanworks are often sold in large quantities in Japan and many other countries, mostly in Asia but also elsewhere. Japan’s doujinshi conventions are probably the most famous examples of “money” markets for fanworks.

How much money do doujinshi creators actually make, though? Does anyone turn a real profit from these fan activities? Let’s check out some statistics. (In other words, this is a data dump post.)

It’s hard to come by any vaguely reliable numbers about doujinshi sales, especially numbers that focus on the situation of individual creators instead of more general market size estimates. Doujinshi creators in Japan do have to pay taxes on any profits they make from doujinshi sales, because these profits count as income from “self-published works”. Otherwise, though, doujinshi exchange is pretty much a shadow economy that goes mostly unrecorded. It’s also a fairly complicated shadow economy, involving sales not just through the thousands of doujinshi conventions that take place every year, but also through mail order, online auctions, and especially doujin shops, physical stores in all major Japanese cities that sell new and second-hand doujinshi.

However, we can get at least a general idea about what a doujinshi artist may earn by checking out the statistics that Comiket has published about its participants. The twice-yearly Comiket is the largest convention for the sale of self-published works in the entire world, and it’s mostly devoted to doujinshi (details in this excellent PDF presentation). Comiket is one of the oldest and most influential of all doujinshi conventions in Japan, and a significant minority of Japanese doujinshi circles seem to sell their works exclusively at Comiket. So, while the data below are only for a single convention, they probably can give a general idea of how many fans can make what kind of money with doujinshi.[1]

The numbers below are from a 2009 survey that was held among circles who were applying to participate in Comiket. A circle is a unit of one or more fans that publish a doujinshi. In the past, making a doujinshi was too difficult and expensive to manage by oneself, but home printing technology and specialized doujinshi printing companies now enable many fans to publish doujinshi by themselves as single-person circles; at Comiket, these single-person circles now a comfortable majority. Circles with two or three members are still fairly common, but more than that is rare (says an older 2003 survey). Keep in mind that all the losses or profits reported for the surveys described below are per circle, not per individual doujinshi-creating fan, so both losses and profits will be shared by multiple people in many cases.

The survey was held among applicants for Comiket 77 and asked them about their earnings through doujinshi sales in one year, presumably 2008 (Note: the first version of this blog incorrectly said it was for one edition of Comiket only). Roughly 33000 circles responded to this survey.[2] The results were reported in December 2011, in the catalog for Comiket 81. Wherever it’s provided in the report, I’ll give separate data for circles with a female representative and with a male representative, a distinction that I expect will be of interest to a lot of people.[3] The number of circles with a female representative (about 21500) was roughly double that of the number of circles with a male representative (about 11500). There is some debate about what percentage of visitors to Comiket are male or female: there’s no registration for visitors, and surveys about the topic contradict each other, with some settling on a majority of male visitors while others report a female majority. In the case of circles, who do register and where reliable data is available, there are clearly more female than male creators participating.

Circles were asked how much money they lost or earned with their sale of doujinshi during one year. Note that the dollar amounts are based on a June 2012 exchange rate, and are only there for clarification.

Lost 50000 yen or more (lost $638-more): male 14%, female 16%
Lost between 0 and 50000 yen (lost $0-$638): male 53%, female 50%
Earned between 0 and 50000 yen (earned $0-$638): male 15%, female 17%
Earned between 50000 and 200000 yen (earned $638-$2553): male 8%, female 10%
Earned more than 200000 yen (earned $2553-more): male 10%, female 6%

The circles who lose money are clearly in the majority, with 67% (male) and 66% (female) in the red. Earnings of less than 50000 yen are probably negligible in a lot of cases: this would barely cover transportation and hotel costs for a circle that has to come from outside of Tokyo. 15% of circles with a male representative and 17% of circles with a female representative reported such limited earnings.

These results emphasize how much doujin fandom is about being fannish, not about making a profit. The vast majority of creators will never get close to earning back even their printing costs, and they know it. When asked about what they liked the most about Comiket, “I can show my work to other people” was the top answer (41,5%), followed by “there’s a festival atmosphere” (21,3%) and “I can meet friends and acquaintances that I normally can’t meet” (13,1). Only 4,2% of circles chose “I can sell a lot of doujinshi there” as Comiket’s primary attraction.

However, there clearly are highly popular circles who do make a lot of money from their fannish activities. At the far end of the scale, between 50000 and 200000 yen could be anything from “covered the price of my Tokyo hotel room” to “covered the rent of my house for a few months”. Over 200000 yen is a handsome amount of money. In total, 18% of circles with a male representative and 15% of circles with a female representative made what I’d call a significant profit of more than 50000 yen. That may not sound like a large group of people, especially compared with the overwhelming percentage who make no profit at all, but a small percentage of 33000 responding circles still represents a large number of creators. Several thousand circles apparently made more than 200000 yen during a single edition of Comiket in 2009.

Evidently, the reason why so many circles end up in the red is because they don’t sell enough doujinshi to make up for the costs involved in creating them. The percentage of circles who reported selling a certain number of doujinshi during one year was as follows:

0-49 sold: 32%
50-99 sold: 20%
100-149 sold: 13%
150-299 sold: 14%
300-499 sold: 9%
500-999 sold: 7%
1000-1499 sold: 3%
1500-2999 sold: 2%
More than 3000 sold: 1%

Responses weren’t presented separately for circles with male and female representatives. However, a previous survey from 2003 indicated that there was very little difference in numbers of doujinshi sold between those two groups of circles.[4]

A third of all circles sold less than fifty doujinshi, and half sold less than a hundred. Given that a single doujinshi tends to cost somewhere between 300 and 600 yen when bought at a convention[5], less than fifty sold won’t get you very far. These data are for the total number of doujinshi sold by every circle, so they don’t show exactly which individual doujinshi sold how much.[6] However, more survey data emphasizes again exactly how influential really succesful circles are. It seems that roughly half of all doujinshi that changed hands during Comiket 76 were made by only 13% of circles, those that sold more than 500 works.

Even if most circles sell few doujinshi and earn nothing or next to nothing, it clearly wouldn’t be correct to characterize all creators in doujin fandom as just recuperating printing costs and absolutely not interested in making money. There have been some widely publicized incidents involving extremely succesful doujinshi creators, for instance one in 2007 about a Prince of Tennis doujinshi creator who neglected to report over 65 million yen in income from doujinshi sales to taxes. There are also circles who get accused by others of being in it for the money instead of out of fannish love for the source work. I’ve also heard several suggestions that these days, there are professional mangaka who prefer to participate in doujinshi conventions because they make more with doujinshi than with their commercially published work. There have always been many professional mangaka who also make doujinshi, so this is nothing new in and of itself, but people making more with doujinshi than with their professional manga sounds like a fairly recent development to me. It’s not surprising, though, given the long decline of the commercial manga market. If a mangaka sells doujinshi, at least they can keep all the profits instead of having to share with publishers, distributors, and so on.

This was a lot of data with little analysis, and again, these are only the numbers for one single convention. There are other ways in which circles sell doujinshi and potentially make money, so this picture is very incomplete. But in any case, it should be obvious that the “non-commercial” nature of the doujinshi market isn’t as clear-cut as all that. (Neither is the “non-commercial” nature of fanworks exchange in English-speaking fan communities, of course.)

Writing this, I wonder what I even mean by “non-commercial”. I think fans everywhere tend to characterize their markets as non-commercial not so much because money is absent, but because the intent to make money is absent. In and of itself, this is a meaningful and valid definition of “non-commercial”. However, it’s not a definition that everybody understands or agrees with.

[1] Off topic, but I’ve always found this interesting: you can also tell Comiket’s dominance from the publication dates of all doujinshi in Japan. Of a hundred Harry Potterdoujinshi I selected for a research project a few years ago, 31 were published in August or December, and virtually none in July or November. This baffled me until I realized that August and December are when Comiket is held, and July and November is when everybody’s scrambling to get their newest work finished before Comiket. Very many circles try to have their new works “premiere” at Comiket, where the pool of potentially interested fellow fans is so large.
[2] 35000 circles participate in every edition of Comiket and around 50000 apply to for one of those 35000 slots, so 33000 respondents is probably a fairly representative number. People could skip questions on the survey, so the number of respondents varied per question. I’ll skip the precise number of respondents for each question to keep the post a bit simpler.
[3] There’s not necessarily any sort of hierarchy inside circles that have more than one member; it’s just that one person needs to act as representative when the circle applies for conventions and such. According to the 2003 survey, about 70% of circles with a female representative consisted of only one person, while 47% of circles with a male representative were actually just one fan. No data seem to be available about the genders of the non-representative circle members.
[4] But just to back that up, here are the numbers from the 2003 survey, which was published in this book.
0-49 sold: male 38,3%, female 34,2%
50-99 sold: male 21%, female 20,9%
100-149 sold: male 12%, female 12,9%
150-299 sold: male 11,2%, female 14,2%
300-499 sold: male 6,4%, female 7,6%
500-999 sold: male 5,5%, female 5,9%
1000-1499 sold: male 2,2%, female 2,1%
more than 1500 sold: male 3,6%, female 2,2%
[5] Prices can be cheaper when a doujinshi is sold second-hand in a doujin shop, or sometimes more expensive in the doujin shop if the work is a classic by a famous artist. They can get a lot more expensive in online auctions, especially for buyers outside of Japan.
[6] Circles usually bring several different titles to Comiket, a mix of old and new work. The 2003 survey showed that three to five new titles per year is a common output for a doujinshi circle, although quite a few circles publish more than that, especially circles with female representatives. Sales figures from one convention are an indicator of popularity, of course, but they don’t give a good indication of the actual number of individual fans who read a particular doujinshi. Second-hand doujinshi are often resold through doujin shops, and like any other print medium, doujinshi are shared among friends, sometimes scanned and distributed over the internet without the knowledge of the circle, and so on.

[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] Harry Potter, History, and Endings

Like much of the rest of the world, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 last weekend. The Harry Potter books, and fandom, hold a very special place in my heart, and the seventh book in particular holds a very special place in my reading experience as well: namely, it’s the only book I can recall in years that, while reading, I deliberately forbade myself from flipping to the back of and reading the ending. Just about every other book I read, especially fiction, after about twenty pages I find myself turning to the ending and reading the final chapter or so. I’ve gathered from people’s reactions that this is something of an odd reading practice. The only other person I’ve met who does make a habit of it, actually, is a professor in my department, and we had a satisfying moment of solidarity when we discovered that we both read the endings of books before reading the rest of the book. I’m frequently asked why I read this way, and I often answer that, for me, the plot of a book is often the least interesting aspect. Did I suspect that Harry would (eventually) vanquish the Dark Lord when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997? Yeah, I had an inkling. Whether or not there are only seven stories in the world, there are certainly a limited number of plots; for me, how the author gets there–language, characterization, style, subject matter, setting–is usually far more important than the actual ending itself. My professor, however, told me that I should be taking the same approach to academic works that I do to fiction: namely, reading the introduction and the conclusion before the actual core of the book, to see whether an author actually fulfills the claims they make. This is certainly good advice; I’m constantly surprised at how many scholars’ introductions and conclusions don’t quite match what their books actually say. But, as is perhaps inevitable, the entire conversation got me to thinking about fanfiction. To wit, part of the pleasure of fanfiction in general–and Harry Potter fanfiction in particular, because there are oceans and oceans of Harry Potter fic out there, as befits a rich, sprawling, transcendently popular canon–is how much we as readers and writers already have in common when we come to the text: we’ve read the books, we’ve seen the movies, we’ve sampled the Chocolate Frogs and Every Flavor Beans and we’ve listened to our wizard rock. So we’re free to focus our attention on other things: characterization in light of whatever canonical aspect has been transformed, whether the fic is critiquing or celebrating a particular aspect of the text, the hotness of any included sex scenes. No matter how many brilliant fics I read, I’m never unhappy to read another fic covering the exact same emotional territory or scenario, for the pleasure of getting a new spin on a concept I love. All this being said, I’m glad I didn’t spoil myself for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I first read it, though I hardly wept any less in the theater than I did at the resurrection stone scene in the book. Just as in fanfiction, one of the pleasures of the Potter films has always been the simultaneous impossibility and possibility of spoiling them. We walked into the movie theater already knowing the plot every time, and yet how the filmmakers would transform the books into movies remained a mystery. And even in this final film, which only covers the last half of the final Potter book, my friends and I were quite happy to be unspoiled about just how the filmmakers would interpret everything. (We were, on the whole, quite satisfied.) I’ve come to believe that this same fascination–not what but how, not actual events so much as means, causes, and consequences, hidden realities within familiar stories–is part of why I enjoy studying history. History too offers us a closed, finite narrative that most of us are familiar with at some level of detail; it’s the historian’s job to dig in to the inner workings of that narrative and explicate how events took the shape they did, to excavate forgotten, actual and possible pasts while illuminating possible futures. Lacking a Time-Turner, a Pensieve, or a position in the Department of Mysteries, more often than not for my own research I’m following Hermione Granger’s lead to the library, but even magic takes effort and study. We in fandom know well that canon is only one possible version of any given story; similarly, just because the past worked out the way it did doesn’t lend that past any authority beyond that of the actual. Both are crying out to be disassembled, remixed, and transformed.

[META] A fan fiction controversy: More questions than answers

Within the last year, scholar Catherine Coker and writer Jim Hines both looked into the legendary controversy surrounding the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, her uncompleted Darkover novel “Contraband”, fan writer Jean Lamb, and her Darkover-verse fan novella “Masks.”

Hines and Coker report that for most of her long and prolific career, Bradley was well known for her encouragement of and interaction with fan fiction authors, until her confrontation with Lamb ended that practice in 1992. (Bradley died in 1999.)

I had heard about this controversy for years, and eagerly read about it wherever I found it mentioned, but I confess I’m still left with more questions than answers. Might be the journalist in me!

Coker interviewed Lamb and Lamb’s former beta reader (fan editor), Nina Boal, and wrote about her findings in an article for the latest issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures.”

Hines researched the controversy and wrote about his findings in his blog and mirrored the post at his Livejournal in May 2010. (The blog post garnered 23 comments; the LJ post 157, for whatever that’s worth.)

I can do no better for conciseness here than to quote Hines’ conclusions after his interviews and research:

“As far as I can tell, the following is not disputed.
1. Bradley originally encouraged fanfiction.
2. Bradley read Jean Lamb’s story “Masks” in Moon Phases [a fan zine].
3. Bradley contacted Lamb, offering payment and a dedication in exchange for rights to use the ideas from “Masks” in the Darkover novel “Contraband.”
4. Bradley and Lamb were unable to reach an agreement, and “Contraband” was cancelled.
5. Bradley changed her policy on fanfiction, stating that she would no longer allow it.”

In his post, Hines asked the same questions I want answered, questions that in my opinion the Coker article does not answer, one of which is: Why exactly was “Contraband” cancelled, and by whom? Hines says that DAW, the publisher, did not cancel it. Coker apparently did not try to get a statement from DAW, which is a big gap in her information-gathering.

Coker did not interview writer Mercedes Lackey, either, though Coker states that before her death, Bradley gave the unpublished notes for “Contraband” to Lackey.

Hines, on the other hand, links to a comment Lackey made in a discussion hosted at the SFF blog “Making Light” back in 2006. In this comment, Lackey states that Bradley “liked the ‘take’ a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn’t have to, after all, you can’t “own” an idea). However in this case, the next party heard from was the author’s agent, who demanded cover credit and co-authorship, or there would be a lawsuit.”

Hines, like Coker, quotes Boals.

Neither Hines’ post nor Coker’s article quotes anyone from Bradley’s estate.

Another problematic element of Coker’s article was the quotes she chose to include from fans who responded to the controversy in the nineties on newsgroup threads. They seem to be stating their own opinions or impressions of the controversy, but as they are using fannish pseudonyms and are not otherwise identified as being directly involved, it’s hard to understand why they were included at all in Coker’s article, and impossible to evaluate their credibility. I found myself, as a journalist, questioning why Coker allowed them space in her article.

Personally, I would love to hear from Lackey in more detail, because she could apparently document how much of “Masks” was actually going to be in “Contraband” as Bradley envisioned it at the time “Contraband” was cancelled.

I’d also like to hear more concrete information from DAW, and from Bradley’s estate. It seems to me that the facts regarding what Lamb actually asked for and the substance of her threat to sue are documentable at this point, but neither article has complete information about that. Coker in particular talks her way all around this very important point, going so far as to include hearsay.

Coker concludes her article by talking about how the incident has been “spun” in fandom, which to me is much less important than the facts of what happened.

Hines concludes by talking about what pro writers can learn from this incident in regard to interacting with fan writers and reading fan fiction.

I think it’s important to remember that Bradley harmoniously interacted with fan writers for more than 20 years before “Masks” and “Contraband”. But it seems to me simply a wise choice for pro writers to adopt a policy of benign neglect toward whatever fan fiction is created for their canons.

[META] The Social Network Fandom: RPS of Professional RPF?

Over at Obsidian Wings, Doctor Science has posted an analysis of The Social Network using a fannish vocabulary. I’ve been overwhelmed by the range, quality and quantity of fan activity surrounding the film, and I thought that Doctor Science’s post would provide me with some great material to discuss in my first post for the Symposium Blog.

The idea that The Social Network can, strictly speaking, be understood as as Real Person Fic (RPF), is, in the words of Doctor Science, complicated. The argument in favor is fairly common, and can be a frustrating conversation to have with outsiders to fandom: there are discrete traditions of professional fiction written about real people and RPF; this film belongs to the former, hence the easy and ubiquitous comparisons to Citizen Kane. I don’t say this to undermine the extent to which the film’s depiction of real situations made Doctor Science “uncomfortable,” but surely there is a difference between this huge-budget Hollywood film and the fanfiction inspired by it, only some of which is, strictly speaking, RPF. (And much of the Social Network RPF is actorfic, e.g. Jesse Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield, rather than RPF about the real people behind the real facebook.)

The author nevertheless points out an interesting irony in Aaron Sorkin’s decision to write a kind of story that could be understood as more properly belonging to female-dominated fan communities online, considering the writer’s fraught history with online media fandom. I wasn’t a West Wing fan myself, but the story of Sorkin’s reaction to the TWOP messageboards is widely-circulated as an example of why creators shouldn’t crash the party. Doctor Science is shrewd to draw attention to the connections between the sexism of the film’s narrative of the founding of Facebook and Sorkin’s history of misapprehending the gender politics of digital space.

Unlike the real Mark Zuckerberg, I was not concerned with the movie’s refusal to display the actual mechanics of building Facebook, although I would have liked to see more from the perspective of users, particularly female users. Certainly, as Doctor Science outlines, the film represents female characters as more interested in actually using the site than male characters — it’s not LiveJournal/Dreamwidth, but certainly women are at least as active on the site as men.

But I’m less interested in critiquing the film in this post than I am in drawing out this connection between the gender politics of the film and the gender politics of storytelling in the age of the internet. I don’t believe that it’s helpful to label The Social Network as RPF, because it does a disservice to the thriving RPF being produced in response to the film, and thus inadvertently discounts users once again.

Aaron Sorkin made specific decisions about his representation of the founding of Facebook , presumably in collaboration with legal advisors with experience in communications law, intellectual property, and libel. Fic writers are beholden to a different set of standards, and thus, produce a different kind of work, a kind that, it should go without saying, is at least as addictive as Sorkin’s dialogue. One of Doctor Science’s critiques of RPF in general, here referring to the larger concept of stories based on real life, is one that has been voiced repeatedly by critics of the film; the Doctor describes the erasure of Mark Zuckerberg’s real-life long-term girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, from the story as “cringe-worthy.” In the context of the film, this erasure was necessary for Sorkin to tell his story about the palpable connection between Facebook’s surveillance culture and the anxious masculinity that he believes drives innovations in tech.

But the critique has been made in the context of RPF proper, too, particularly RPS (Real Person Slash, e.g. Mark/Eduardo). There are those in fandom who find it just as cringe-worthy that primarily female fic writers would repeatedly produce situations in which real-life wives or girlfriends are erased in the name of two (or more!) attractive men finding True Love with one another. There are few enough complex female characters in mainstream media, the argument sometimes goes, and fic should serve as a space of rectifying mainstream media’s oppressive erasures, rather than taking them to their logical extension by erasing the women altogether. Of course, many fans take the opposite approach: fic should be a space of exploring the fullest possible range of ideas excited in readers by the media texts we love, and there’s no reason to regulate anyone else’s kinks.

After all, there are no limits on the amount of fic that can be produced from a sourcetext: if you want to read more about the women of The Social Network, write more. While it’s true that, in some fandoms, certain slash pairings come to dominate, I think that it’s up to members within those fandoms to articulate their own values about what this means, rather than anyone from outside. RPF/RPS writers understand that they are producing fiction, rather than producing an idealized social world. Particularly because RPF/RPS is controversial even within fandom (perhaps especially, because only within fandom are people aware how much of it there is!), I think that it’s fair to assume that writers are aware of potential objections readers might have. This doesn’t mean that one has to like or actively support it, but rather that it deserves to be understood on its own terms, in its own context. As one might criticize Citizen Kane‘s representation of media history, so can one criticize The Social Network‘s. But RPF proper must be understood in the context of other fannish productions, not in comparison with Hollywood films.

[META] Slash does not equal porn

Science fiction author John Scalzi and TV star Wil Wheaton are getting a lot of blogospherical mileage out of their commissioning of a piece of art by painter Jeff Zugale featuring them as cracktastic SF or fantasy characters, and their asking for “fan fiction” based on the painting. You can read about their event on Scalzi’s blog, Whatever.

It’s for a good cause, the Lupus Alliance, and they are going to pay the winner of their fiction contest.

But they made a mistake that a lot of not-inside-fandom people do. They conflated slash (romantic or intimate stories about two male characters) with porn, and then when commenters objected, they realized the mistake and corrected their terminology, and also linked to the Wikipedia entry on slash.

I see this mistake in mainstream culture all the time — anything with a gay or lesbian or queer theme is automatically assumed to be Adults Only. Which is very limiting and also not true.

One antidote to this attitude is, of course, reminders like the ficathon community known as queerlygen on, which features fan fiction about queer characters doing stuff that doesn’t involve an intensely romantic or sexual plot. Characters who happen to be queer, having adventures, being in a relationships, fighting aliens, caring for aging parents, having a bike wreck, whatever.

Its user profile page states, “We want to create a space where people can tap into the rich range of experiences that queer and genderqueer people have, which extend far beyond simply who we fall in love with or who we take to bed. We want to challenge the idea that works featuring people who aren’t heteronormative or cisgendered are automatically ‘adult’ or unsuitable for some audiences.”

Not that erotic fiction isn’t a big part of fandom. Of course it is. But it can be slash or femmeslash and G rated, and not about romance. In 2010, this shouldn’t be news.