Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Fanfic is about wish fulfillment for folks who become very submerged in a fictional world, Buffy and Star Trek being, apparently, the foremost example. A lot of fanfic appears to have grown out of sexual fantasies about characters, fans wanted to imagine sexual or romantic scenes between, for instance, Kirk and Spock. There is nothing inherently wrong in the concept of fan fiction except that there is often a dichotomy between the fantasies of fans and professional writing where characters remain true to themselves. With fan fiction the characters often behave out of character.
By now you're probably wondering what this is about. Well I was thinking about the amount of "professional" fanfic writers now working in my favourite medium, comics. Up until the end of the 60's comics were written by writers. Good or bad, they were writers first and many in fact despised the medium. At the end of the 60's, with the arrival of people like Roy Thomas, you had the arrival of fans turning professional and a mammoth change in the nature of Marvel and DC comics. As a fan you often wonder, who's stronger Hulk or the Thing?, what would happen if Robin left Batman and so on. The first generation of fans turned pro were still firstly writers but with succesive generations these ideas have become primary over writing professionally until you're faced with Mark Millar, the confused Superman reboot (more of the stuff that was written out is written back in again) and Spider-man; one last day. Each of these, as placed within the Marvel and DC universes, is about fan wish fulfillment. Millar will happily twist a character's nature to serve a plot point, Superman was last coherently dealt with in the John Byrne reboot, which like it or not, stayed true to the character even as it played fast and loose with the story dressing and One Last Day is the ultimate wish fulfillment of one particular fan and sadly there is one major cause. The age of the toys everyone is playing with. Millar, the writers who've worked on Superman and Joe Quesada have all created interesting, well written and well told stories that are true to their characters, away from the Marvel and DC sandbox. Yet Superman, Batman, Spiderman, the Avengers and more have been central to the childhood or youth of many of these writers and they feel they have a right to warp and twist them to their hearts content. There is nothing wrong with rewriting the cluttered history of a character, over 40 to 60 years a character collects an awful lot of dross, but the best work remains true to the character and accepts that, after a period of time, the character takes on a life of it's own. I read "One Last Day" and it was a travesty, an abortion, but I also read "Brand New Day" and despite incorporating things I hated, it was a fine Spiderman comic, true to the core of the character.
I love this medium but I find it harder and harder to read the characters of my childhood because the writers writing them are trying to answer all the questions the fascinated me as a fan but I knew should never be answered. I still dip a toe occassionally but in truth I haven't bought an extended run of a Marvel or DC comic for over 10 years apart from the odd event comic. The money I would have spent on these companies is still spent on comics but on much younger characters or independent comics, graphic novels and collections from Image and Dark Horse and Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and others. I'm lucky in that something that was such an integral part of my childhood has grown with me.

1 comment:

paulhd said...

Although I'd agree that post-Roy Thomas (and including, obviously) we now have fan-fiction authors, I'd argue against the point that they deviate from the original characters. Although the characters seem to have altered ridiculously it's often the result of terrible plots that stretch the credibility of the characterisation. Off the top of my head Peter Parker is a good example of this; he get's the girl, yet he still complains, the plots have 'progressed' but the authors are still attempting to write the character as he was.
Kirk and Spock may get it on in a fan's world (slash fiction I believe it's called) but apart from this, um, oddity, they generally behave in much the same manner.
It all boils down to the same thing, someone has a 'neat' idea and wants to see how their favourite character behaves in certain circumstances.
Fan-fic (of the Millar kind you're talking about) is amazing for the slavish adherence to not changing a thing, maintaining/correcting/explaining continuity, and all this in the face of messing with the original version.
Um, no idea why this post set me off! Maybe because I don't like fan-fic, and because I hate the constant cycle of reinvention robooting of characters/titles that borders on systematic abuse!
How I tell you a funny fan-fic story? A friend of mine who is a huge Doctor Who fan met up with someone after length forum chats, this person brought along their sulky dyed black hair in a pony tail long leather jacket wearing drip of a boyfriend who dominated proceedings by not talking. My friend finally asks this goth-jockey if he likes Doctor Who too and then has to keep a straight face when he's told "No, I'm into Quantum Leap. Actually I'm writing a novel, Sam (time traveler from said show), leaps into the body of Frodo in Lord of the Rings."
My friend never got in touch with the internet couple again. For the best I think.