Thoughts on Fanfic in Comicson June 17, 2014 at 12:51 pm
I cannot deny it any longer. Like every mammal on earth, I am excited about the new Star Wars movie. But really what am I excited about? George Lucas has just packed up his personal artistic vision that he’s devoted his entire life to and handed it to the Disney corporation. Do I hate Jar Jar Binks that much? I guess I do, because I was doing a little jig along with the entire internet when I found out that Michael Eisner finally had his bloody talons wrapped around the saga. It’s ridiculous and it doesn’t make any sense but in the end what I’m excited about is seeing really expensive Star Wars fanfic.
I’ve been on the other side of this myself, recently. A few months ago, I got the opportunity to work on an X-men comic for Marvel. It was an amazing experience and really really fun. The senior editor sent me 2 sheets of Bristol with the Marvel logo branded in blue lines in the corner, a script by Brian Michael Bendis and next thing I know, I was looking down at a drawing of Wolverine that I made. I was behind the curtain so to speak. What’s behind the curtain? Nothing!!! Even while I was drawing it, I couldn’t really help but think that in a sense it was really just Wolverine fanfic. I’ve had friends who have drawn Hulk fanfic or Rogue pinups for fun. And honestly, when the ink touches the page, it doesn’t really feel all that different. You could even go a step further and say almost everything Marvel and DC make now is fanfic.
Of course, once your head gets in this mode, you start seeing fanfic around every corner like tootsie rolls. Game of Thrones is Lord of the Rings fanfic. Firefly is Star Wars fanfic. Family Guy is Simpsons fanfic. Sherlock, James Bond, and everything Alan Moore has ever made is fanfic.
It’s stupid to dismiss great art by calling it fanfic. And I think the first 2 seasons of Battlestar Gallactica rise to the level of art while at the same time being undeniably fanfic. To come up with a less pejorative term, I think almost every artist works within some sort of framework. Speaking from my own experience, artists just starting out especially like working in narrower frameworks: parodies, fanfic, mashups. I think it’s an important step in the development of an artist. Dr. Who characters re-imagined as zombies but drawn in the style of Calvin and Hobbes or whatever horseshit these kids on the internet like these days.
A slightly wider framework might be genre: Superhero stories, detective or sci-fi stories. I think the common view of genre is as a crass marketing tool. But it’s super useful to creators too. I LOVE the idea of genre and hope my career lasts long enough that I can do a story in every genre and sub-genre ever created. Where do these genres even come from? Who knows? It’s like asking who invented Indian food.
I envision the entire medium of comics as frameworks within frameworks that keep going up and up until you get the idea of narrative itself. Over the course of a cartoonist’s life, we try and claw our way out of one framework only to find ourselves contained within another one. It’s the answer to the most commonly asked question of cartoonists: where do you get your ideas? The answer is that we don’t. We usually just come up with variations on a theme within a framework. I don’t know that anyone ever escapes the infinitely nested frameworks but to me some of the most exciting work in comics today comes from the combination of two or more existing frameworks (ie. Scott Pilgrim mixing alternative relationship comics with fighting manga).
Of course, some cartoonists do escape the framework model so to speak by not even playing the game. When I was an Ignatz judge a good 20% of the books I read, abandoned the idea of traditional narrative altogether and just presented me with pages upon pages of melty faces, open wounds and various other stream of consciousness style scribbles. But who wants to read that nonsense!? Even if I did like your book, I wouldn’t know how to nominate it because it didn’t have a legible title. Why would you subject me to reading this!? Bastards!
Anywho, getting back to my point, these frameworks at their best, they can provide readers with the comforting and time tested conventions that make for a satisfying story as well as the expectations that in the hands of a master can be used to completely blow a readers mind when defied. Fanfic, genre, and other frameworks within comics are not just a great tool for creators. They’re the tool.