Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Fascinating World of Fan Art - Why Creative Fans Do What They Do

The internet is a free space, and there are people with very diverse ideas and interests.

If you ever came across Harry Potter having SM sex with Draco Malfoy in tight leather underwear and your only reaction was to roll your eyes and say you've seen worse then you truly know what creative fans are capable of. I love fan art, I've been a fanfiction writer for over 10 years, and as an operator on, a German fanfiction community, it's actually part of my job to struggle through really disturbing texts. And considering some rather traumatizing experiences I really understand why Anne Rice, the author of The Vampire Chronicles, used to forbid her fans to write fanfiction:
"I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes."
There are also copyright holders who generally don't mind fan art as long as it respects moral values. For instance, the example above isn't something Joanne K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, and Warner Bros. like to see, since the series is targeted at a younger audience that should be protected from adult content.

This issue exists for drawings and paintings as well. As a matter of fact, I've even stumbled over My Little Pony porn games! Generally, if there are creative fans of an artwork there's also smut in all forms and sizes. It can't be helped. The internet is a free space, and there are people with very diverse ideas and interests.

However, it would be unfair to say that smut is the only thing fan art is about. All those years I've spent in the company of fanfiction authors who were just as annoyed about all those badly-written, nothing but pornographic stories as me. Where there's crap there are also real masterpieces. There are many texts and drawings made by fans of different franchises I genuinely love, and I wouldn't say they are worth any less than original artworks.

Personally I was always interested in fanfiction that explored the inner worlds of the characters. - There's an interesting side character in an original piece and you want to know how they became who they are? Then welcome to the world of fanfiction! If you're willing to ignore the masses of smut you'll discover deep, well-developed explorations of the characters' past and future, totally new perspectives on an original story that may change the way how you understand it and exciting "what if?" speculations.

As Josh Wattles, advisor in chief to DeviantART, points out, fan art is a way to say: "I love you." Me currently working on a fan drawing of Souji Okita from the Hakuouki franchise is my way to express how much I like the series and the character in particular. Souji doesn't really exist, and consuming the franchise over and over again becomes repetitive. So fan art is the only way to make new experiences with your beloved characters and franchises. And this is important, because love needs to be cultivated.

There's also another thing about fan art: It helps us to improve as artists and writers. Many fan artists also do original works and many artists do fan art. Among the members of our community there are also published writers, and we often have reports of members who finally managed to publish their first book. As for me, I see fanfiction as some kind of practice. Sure I've written and read many Lord of the Rings fanfictions because I'm a Tolkien fan since 1995. But there's also the aspect that people who like the same franchise as me often have similar interests and a similar taste. So joining a creative fan community isn't only a way to make friends but it's also a way to find stories I like and to find readers and feedback givers who might be interested in what I write. Fan art and fanfiction generally get more traffic than original pieces of yet unknown artists and writers and thus are a great way to test your skill on a larger audience and get more feedback. Being a member of a creative fan community is the best way to learn I can think of.

We all learn from each other. We all borrow ideas from each other. Our own art is always influenced by other artists. This is why I don't see anything wrong with fan art. Personally I do both fan art and original drawings, fanfiction and original stories ... And knowing both the good and the horrifying side of fan art I think I will definitely allow it if my stories ever become a larger franchise.

I already did, actually. After I published the last chapter of my Lord of the Rings fanfiction Als Ilúvatar sich erbarmte (When Ilúvatar Showed Mercy) one of my readers asked me whether he could write a sequel to it. I allowed it. He wrote it and it was great. It's a bit like watching your child grow up and become an autonomous adult ... Currently I have a poem that got second place in a contest, a Lord of the Rings fanfiction that got a Fanfiction General Award (it used to be the largest award in German fanfiction), I won another contest with a Lord of the Rings drabble, this year a My Candy Love fanfiction of mine is nominated for a fanfiction "Oscar" and there are a few more awards I usually don't mention. But even though these texts got the appreciation of readers and juries I still consider Als Ilúvatar sich erbarmte my greatest creative achievement. Simply because it became more than just a story that exists only by itself. It is a story shared with another creative person.

The best creative ideas are infectious. Even though I understand why some copyright holders don't want their fans to use their ideas I don't think that sitting on one's own intellectual property is what art truly is about. As long as we don't make money with other people's ideas and give credit to the respective copyright holders I don't see a problem.

For art is life, art is love, and art is sharing.

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