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12 May 2010 @ 08:35 pm
Writer's Block: Sheldon and Penny 4ever!  
Fanfiction: Do you love it or hate it, or are you totally indifferent? Why?

Fanfiction: Do you love it or hate it, or are you totally indifferent? Why?

Intellectually, I respect the concept of transformative art.

As a gamer, well, even if you're not playing in a licensed setting, that's all about pillaging pop culture and repurposing it.

As a creative impulse, though ... I just don't get it.

Let me clarify.

I grew up as a comics fan in the late '60s and early '70s, at the dawn of what the fandom calls The Bronze Age. In addition to everything going on at Marvel and DC at the time, it was also a period when a lot of books were coming out about the history of comics.

I didn't just grow up reading about Superman and Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk -- I grew up reading about Siegel and Schuster, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Stan and Jack and Ditko and Steranko, all these scrappy, struggling guys, exploding with new ideas as they struggled to create a whole new art form.

And I didn't want to write about their creations.

I wanted to create my own characters.

Am I saying that's somehow "better" than fanfic?

Hell, no!

I've got characters by the score. A lot of you know a few of them: I've roleplayed them, online and on the tabletop. Some of you have heard me kick around ideas and concepts for others. There's a passel of them that even I've forgotten about, or recycled into other characters.

What I don't have is stories, and that, arguably, is a lot more important if you actually want to write. scarfman has shown that it's not hard to take stories originally written as fanfic for licensed properties and turn it into something new and different by substituting different charaqcters.* If you don't have any stories, though, all you have is a bunch of people standing around, doing nothing, with no way to show how cool and exotic they are.

There's a connection to this line of thinking and the irritation that I feel about DC dragging its old Silver Age characters back into the limelight, but I have a beer in me, so that's going to have to wait.

... possibly until I have more than one beer in me.

*If you don't like that example, remember that Douglas Adams recycled a couple of his mostly-unproduced Doctor Who scripts into one of the Hitchhiker's books and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
... and who the heck are Sheldon and Penny?

Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on May 13th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
Have you had more than one beer in you, yet? I'm waiting for that second rant about DC bringing back the most boring ass characters ever to exist because Geoff Johns has decided to cripple his storytelling skills because he read a lot of Barry Allen and Hal Jordan comics as a kid.
Your Obedient Serpent: hoard potatoathelind on May 13th, 2010 05:02 am (UTC)
That one's been percolating in my brain for a while now. It may take a while to finally achieve coherence.

Until then, you'll have to settle for The Short Version.

You may also enjoy a rant about why turning Barbara Gordon back into Batgirl would be a wretched idea.

Edited at 2010-05-13 05:03 am (UTC)
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on May 13th, 2010 05:10 am (UTC)
God, yes, it would have been terrible to return Babs to Batgirl. I don't really much like Oracle as a person, but I love the character . . . sufficiently so that if I ever got the chance to write Bat comics that, well, Oracle would definitely be involved, shall we say. Yeah, as Batgirl Babs was the sidekick's sidekick. As Oracle, she's a might info-warrior. (But I love John Ostrander enough he can have my kids.)

I also got done reading The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling and . . . that . . . I've been feeling that, too. Watching interesting non-Eurotrash characters being edged out for Mighty Whitey. Do we really want to go back to the Bad Old Days with self-assured idiots just always knowing what to do? I don't.
Your Obedient Serpent: hoard potatoathelind on May 13th, 2010 05:45 am (UTC)
When Blackest Night started up last fall, I noted that, after two years of working in a comics shop, it was the one thing that was keeping me interested in superhero comics.

Well, it's over now, and, um, guess what?

They've done their best to roll things back to the Pre-Crisis Status Quo, but ...

Like I said in the link, Alan Moore didn't fridge Barbara Gordon at random, and he certainly didn't do it to spit in the face of a popular character -- because she wasn't.

Barry Allen? Same thing. Everyone remembers the spectacular heroic exit that Wolfman and Perez gave him in Crisis. Nobody remembers that his book had gotten canceled months before, and not to "pave the way" for the Big Event. Nobody remembers the years of tedium that were the last few years of his book.

Ray Palmer wasn't even that popular, and as for Happy Hal -- I spent ten years saying that if all the people who clamored for Hal's return had actually bought his book, it wouldn't have been getting constantly canceled and retooled through the '80s and early '90s.

Yeah, my M&M campaign has staked out its turf as fanfic, and I've fallen prey to the fan-writer's affliction of liking my own stuff better than the "official" version. But that's because I like the concept of Legacy Characters, and the idea of a setting that changes and grows and evolves* -- as opposed to the collapse into stasis and stagnation that's sucked DC into the event horizon.

*By the way, you mentioned your love of John Ostrander? Well, his current project is doing exactly that with Lucas's tragically-mishandled setting, in a Dark Horse comic called Star Wars: Legacy, set 150 years after the movies. It rocks, the way only Johnny O can rock.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on May 13th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)
I am nearly insulted that you thought I didn't know about Star Wars: Legacy! Oh, I know about it, all right. ;)

I don't think it's bad to like your ideas better than "official" ideas when they're better. I wish they had the courage of their convictions to let these old timer's die. DC is "about" legacy to a fair extent, but the reason legacy can be so meaningful is only true of . . . the mentors do, in fact, weaken and die. Death is a natural and necessary part of the legacy relationship. So preferring that to the official position just makes sense to me.

I agree about Barry and Hal. They were more interesting dead than alive, anyway, and in dying they made way for more interesting characters, like Wally and Kyle, Jon and Guy. Barry, in particular, was MUCH more interesting as Wally's image of perfection when he had, in fact, long ago surpassed his mentor.

It is disappointing, though. Geoff Johns has done some great work but he seems bound and determined to piss it away trying to breathe new life into rotten corpses.
Your Obedient Serpent: WARNING: TV Tropesathelind on May 13th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
I am nearly insulted that you thought I didn't know about Star Wars: Legacy! Oh, I know about it, all right. ;)

Well, um, Your Obedient Serpent didn't know about it until a year ago, when he got invited to play in a Legacy-era Star Wars Saga campaign.

My original reaction was "Eh, Star Wars. But any game with this group is going to be fun. I've seen the Legacy trades on the shelf at work; I should read'em to get a better feel for the game."

Of course, when I opened the first one up and saw the credits, I realized that this wasn't a George Lucas game -- it was a John Ostrander game, and that was a whole new playing field.

I should note that getting pulled into Saga has also influenced my attitude toward fanfiction. Perusing Wookieepedia introduced me to the better parts of the Expanded Universe (and is a much better way of assimilating the less-impressive parts than plowing through stacks of cheesy paperbacks), and I've discovered that I really, really like it as a game setting, far more than as a literary/cinematic creation.

My GMs, rikoshi and tealfox, have regularly asserted that they really love George Lucas' creations -- they just aren't thrilled with what George has gone back and done with them.

And that, I get.

I recently watched all six Star Wars movies again, in 1-6 order, and realized that, when all was said and done, after all the knee-jerk They Changed It Now It Sucks reactions were out of the way, just watching the prequel trilogy as movies on their own merit ...

... they're really bad.

There's a really good story in there, about Anakin's rise and fall -- and maybe, someday, someone will tell it.

So, yeah. I don't, on a gut level, "get" fanfic. But I'm learning.

And I've gotten to the point where I respect it as much as I do the commercial, official continuations of licensed properties that, because of the twisting and distortion of copyright law in the 20th century, may never make it to the public domain and the cultural commons in our lifetimes.
Your Obedient Serpent: facepalmathelind on May 13th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
Relevant to the above
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on May 13th, 2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
I sort of rediscovered Star Wars with the video game Knights of the Old Republic which is a very compelling video game. I've read a fair number of Star Wars comics. They've got a lot of what I'm looking for in a comic and they're often . . . surprisingly well done. I suspect because Lucas doesn't have that much of a hand in them, actually. Like your friends, I like a fair bit about Star Wars - I'm a sucker for sword twirling philosophical martial artists - because it can be exotic without being racist (though, as Lucas himself demonstrated, it certainly *can* be racist) and it's full of action with these well-understood constructs that are useful shorthand when building media (including RPGs).

I, personally, don't even like the term "fanfic". I prefer to think of it is, y'know, writing. Almost all the great literature of the world would qualify as some kind of fanfic, in the sense that it's a derivative work or a work derived from other people's work and characters. It's just that in the pre-modern world the idea of intellectual property didn't exist. So, y'know, when those dead Greek guys wrote a bunch of plays about what happened to people when they got back from the Trojan War, it isn't fanfic but the foundation of Western literature. So, before modern IP laws, if you were writing a story about, say, Gawain, that's what you'd say - "I'm writing a story about Gawain, except its told as if the people at the court of Camelot are as venal and petty as lords are in our world." If you write about, say, Harry Potter, it is "reduced" (and in the eyes of most people, fanfic is "reduced") to the status of fanfic, even if they're writing the Gawain and the Green Knight of "fanfic". So I dislike the term because it's a slur that has been internalized by a lot of the people in the fanfic community.

Officialness is no mark of quality, though big businesses have put a LOT of effort into making sure *we* think that's the case. I think it's an artificial position and . . . I've had a fair bit of direct experience with it. You've heard me talk about how hard it is to get my friends to try reading my stuff - my friends - when they almost constantly consume media that is, frankly, embarrassing in it's awfulness. But they're so invested with the idea that something it's really literature until it's been authorized by a print label that they can't think past this. This is even true when they agree with me, in principle, that this is clearly the case. But at this point we've had a century of this crap, so I'm not terribly surprised a multi-generational propaganda campaign has worked.

I think it is obvious that creating stories with characters and situations not of your own invention has been used at all times and in all places, creating most of the literature that people call "classic" - such as the Hellenic playwrights, the entire corpus of Shakespeare and certainly every epic ever put to paper. The denigration of literature that uses copywritten material outside of established publishing and distribution channels is a recent invention created to keep us buying material out of those channels.

I am *robustly* for fanfic. One could even say I like it so much I bought the company - Adrienne has jokingly referred to Simon Peter as my Jesus fanfic. What can I say? I have written an extremely derivative work wherein I seek to "fix" the problems I see with the Gospels. If I had written a book "fixing" Harry Potter or Star Wars instead of the Bible, it'd certainly be considered fanfic. And there are parts of Revolutionary Boy Martin that . . . I think Dumas would be able to sue, hehe, though he would not. (To quote: "I breathe fresh life into old stories and for this they want to call me a plagiarist?" I fancy that Dumas would approve of how I'm writing RBM.) I am quite consciously basing character attributes of various characters in RBM after The Three Musketeers (which might ITSELF be considered fanfic because it was a reimagining of d'Artagnan's fictionalized memoirs; there is no bottom to this rabbit hole).
Stalbonstalbon on May 14th, 2010 12:19 am (UTC)
I have to admit, I was likewise...unimpressed with Blackest Night's choice of an ending. There certainly was a lot to enjoy about it, and I still suspect that Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps will churn out interesting stories, but aside from Deadman, I kinda yawned at the 'revival'. I was trying my best to remember who Maxwell even was, and really, Captain Boomerang? I hope that Johns and his crew keep their heads in the game on the Corps, though, as that still has my interest. And incidentally, with Dark Reign ending over on Marvel's side, coincided with what seems to be an end to Greg Pak's Incredible Hercules for the time being, Marvel now lacks anything that can pull me in aside from Peter David and X-Factor. Care to guess what Silver Age hero returned at the end of Dark Reign, hrrrm? Or ye gods, who it's hinted at that Hope Summers is a reincarnation of? Both comic houses are dragging back dead headlines to sell comics while also putting an end to interesting runs. Sinestro, as a villainous leader, is one of the most fascinating characters I've seen in comics for a long time. His recent counterpart in Marvel, Norman Osborn, was incredible as the head of Dark Avengers. I loved every minute of seeing Norm mete out heavy-handed justice and slowly get in over his head, while still finding the wit to stay at the top. The supposed plan now for most of Marvel is just a return to the stale and oft-abused, and of course, Deadpool.
(Deleted comment)
Yasha-tauryasha_taur on May 13th, 2010 05:48 am (UTC)
Read your post, and the linked web page. And after a couple of minutes, I had a flash.... Could they be doing this 'devolution' as a way to make the inevitable movies of these characters more popular?
Your Obedient Serpent: Superboy Punches The Universeathelind on May 13th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
That's not a bad assumption, but so much of this has been writer-level rather than mandated from On High, and the writers themselves admit to being geeky fanboys. The last couple of years of Justice League, for example, have been a succession of writers undoing the last guy's work so they can showcase their OWN favorite Leaguers -- and the line-ups they choose tend to coincide with specific periods of the JLA comic.
scarfman on May 13th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)

The last couple of years of Justice League, for example, have been a succession of writers undoing the last guy's work so they can showcase their OWN favorite Leaguers -- and the line-ups they choose tend to coincide with specific periods of the JLA comic.

I liked it when Morrison did that ten or twelve years ago, but that's because I'm a Bronze Age fan who bought JLA when I was a kid because (not realizing there were two major superhero comics houses) I thought it was everyone important in the same place. I loved it when Morrison rolled it back to the original seven, but didn't keep up with it past Rock of Ages. Any rollback to a JLA from later than whenever Aquaman disbanded the League, I'm happy to have missed.

Your Obedient Serpent: Superboy Punches The Universeathelind on May 13th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
It's mostly been a back-and-forth between the fans of the Silver Age League and the fans of the Satellite League, with a few contributions from a DCAU writer or two.

Sigh. Dwayne MacDuffie writes the best superhero cartoons ever, and handles his own creations with aplomb, but his stint on Justice League of America meandered around aimlessly until he got to do a wholly-gratuitous story arc bringing his Milestone characters into the DCU proper, only not quite.

I'm still not much for storytelling in a traditional prose narrative, but I think I should give some serious thought to web-publishing my legacy2020 background material as a series of essays, or in something like a Wikipedia format, for no reason other than People Might Enjoy It.
Hafochafoc on May 14th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
But if all you have is a bunch of people standing around, doing nothing, you have Serious Literature, and an excellent chance to win the Pulitzer Prize.