Creative Expression in Fandom

It should go without saying that fandom and geek culture produces a lot of passion. Lately I have been writing about the down side of that passion. While I think it is important to bring those subjects to light, I do not want to lose sight of what it is I and so many others love that brings us together.

So I thought I would talk a bit about the artistic side of being in geek culture.

When you go to a fandom event one thing you will find is that at their heart they are a celebration of some form of art. Be it comic books, film, animation, or literature, they all are based on a form of creative output. And this will carry over to the fans themselves. So let’s take a look at the ways fans will find to express their creative side.

Before I go on I want to make one thing clear: this is more of an overview look at these different creative areas. Each one could support an entire article of its own. In fact I could very possibly do those articles in the future. I am just doing this an overall celebration of creativeness in our community and hopefully as a jumping off point for discussion.

Ok, with that out of the way here we go.

At many conventions there will be an art show, where people will display artwork they have created, usually a painting, often for sale, or as part of a charity auction. Now this art is usually geared towards the specific theme of the event, but not always. Some of it will be what is known as fan art, a piece that is based on an already existing property. Star Trek and Star Wars for years were the dominate fandoms for this, but today it could be anything that has any kind of fandom. While it is easy for some people to dismiss this kind of art since the artist is basing it on something someone else already created, that ignores the time, effort, skill, and passion that go into its creation.  Many successful artists got their start this way.

Fanfiction is another creative activity that is prevalent in the fan community. I know that it gets a lot of flak for the slashfic aspect of it, which for the uninitiated among you is where a story will focus on a romantic pairing, rarely one that appears in canon, and often homosexual in nature. Now a lot of people think Fanfiction is something born of the internet, however writing stories about a favorite character or franchise is a long standing practice. There were published Sherlock Holmes stories at the same time Arthur Conan Doyle was writing.  As for directly fandom based fanfiction, there were homemade zines about Star Trek as in the 70s. Like with the artists there are cases of fanfiction writers making the transition into published authors, and I am not just referencing 50 Shades of Grey. One year at San Diego Comic Con I heard Denny O’Neil say that he gave Devin Grayson a shot at writing for him based on her batman fanfiction.

A variation of fanfiction is the fan film. This is one area where thanks to technical advancements it is no longer the realm of the really passionate fans that can get the resources together to make a film. Now with digital recording, editing programs and the means of online distribution whole groups of fans can get together to make films. I would break fan films down to two categories. The first is the film based on a franchise. There are groups that are dedicated to making fan films based on Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly.  The other type is the film based on a geek friendly premise, such as Gamers: Dorkness Rising, or the Collectibles.  The advantage of the second type is that it is something the creators can generate income from. The first type on the other hand is something that gets made because the people involved love the franchise, love making films, and want to combine them. I will admit this one is near to my heart as I was involved with a group of fan film makers and made films based on Star Trek, Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The one creative area of fandom that has gotten a lot of attention lately is cosplay.  I sometimes think the creative side of this gets lost in all the discussion of how sexy someone is or if the costume was appropriate for the convention. Again cosplayers tend to take two forms. The first is the person who looks at a fan event as a chance to dress up and comes in a costume that was purchased elsewhere. Usually this is a store bought Halloween costume. The second type is the person who takes the time to research the character they are making a costume of, find or make patterns for the costume and then take the time to make the costume. Technically there is a third type, a person whose costume is made for them by someone else, but I tend to think of them as just a variant of the second type.

It should come as no surprise that there are people who are of the type two cosplayers that look down on type one as poseurs. I am of the opinion that if someone wants to dress up as a character and the only way they can do so is to buy from a costume shop, than more power to them.

Getting back to cosplay as art, just go out and look up cosplay and look at all the variations you will see. Sure you will have the faithful reproduction of a Wonder Woman costume, but you will also have steampunk Wonder Woman, Victorian Wonder Woman, or as I saw once, a hybrid Wonder Woman/Slave Girl Leia.

Despite the flak that cosplaying is getting lately, it’s creativity has always been appreciated at conventions through the costume contests. These are often a highlight of most conventions. And again people who are really good at it can go pro. Here in the Seattle area there was a costumer named Dragon Dronet, who use to do elaborate costumes with impressive props. Based on his work at conventions he ended up working in Hollywood and is now a respected Prop maker, having worked on various Star Trek shows, Batman Returns, Alien Nation, and even casting puppets for Jeff Dunham.

I would be remiss if I did not take some time to talk about filking. Filking, or filk music, is basically fandom folk music. While it has never been my cup of tea, it has a huge following. And by huge I mean that there are whole conventions devoted to filking. A filk song can either be a parody of a known song with a fannish twist, or an original composition.

A form of creative that often gets overlooked in fandom is crafting. This is just making things with a geeky slant. You see them in most convention dealer rooms, next to the book stores, and video vendors. These are the people who are selling things they have made themselves. And it can be so many different things. Jeweler, costume pieces and accessories, ceramics, t-shirts, art prints. My wife is part of this, she makes soaps shaped like gaming dice, gelatinous cubes (complete with finger puppet monsters inside), and gems.  I have also seen perfumers, corset makers, and fitted fang makers. Obviously crafters who are vending at a convention are hoping to make a profit and even a living from their work, but this does not take away from their creativity.

The last type of creativity is one that is so close to me that I almost overlooked it for this article. It is the one I practice myself. It’s the people who blog, or make podcasts, or online videos about geek culture. Sure there is an argument that it really isn’t that creative as we are just commenting on what is out there, or reviewing geek friendly media. However it still takes time and effort to put these things together and like all of the above it comes out of a love of the culture and wanting to find ways to participate in it. Again some people are able to take this to the limit and go pro, just look at Chris Hardwick.

One thing I have heard a lot is people saying “I wish I could do that, but I’m not good enough”, to which I so “so what”?

Honestly, I think people should at least give something they want to do a shot.

When I started Fanboy News Network it was out of a need for expression. I had spent some time away from the convention scene and had been working on Community Theatrical productions, mostly behind the scenes. Those productions were great, but I realized that I was missing something, my own voice. I decided to start writing as a creative outlet, and using the old saying “write what you know” decided to focus on geek culture. And let’s face it, there are a lot better writers out there covering the same things I do. But I do not let that stop me. I am doing this because I want to, and I want to get good at it. The only way to do that is to actually write.

In the year and a half I have been writing Fanboy News Network I have learned a lot. I have learned what many of my writing habits, both good and bad, are and am working to improve. I have been able to find a writing voice. I have also joined a writers group, and I am now working on projects not directly related to the site.

So if you want to try any of these things, go for it. Just do not be put off by the idea that you may stumble, or even fail at first. This is part of the learning process.

And go out and try to find other people who share your particular interest. You may find mentors or at least a support network. At worst you’ll make some new friends.

And never forget there is an aspiring writer in Seattle that is pulling for you.

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