A Return to Form

I started writing fanfic when I was 12. I don’t really know why; I always had an overactive imagination and a strong desire to escape the world I was in. It started, shockingly, with To Kill a Mockingbird because I guess I had some feelings to work out about a Southern boy and I quickly found myself inserting shades of myself into various narratives, mostly anime. The characters I created then were hollow; overpowered fantasies that were all beautiful, lily white and strong and always paired with whatever character I had some feelings about; that or they were some kind of estranged secret sister that never came up until now. We see these kinds of writings now and mock them but for formative youths, it was almost necessary to have a way to escape daily life. 

I did my school work and came home to write, then mostly on paper with pencil so I could always fix a mistake and I shared my work with almost no one. I was proud of my work but in the sort of way anyone is proud of a secret. It was something that I could keep to myself; a place that only I knew. 

I didn’t start sharing my work until I was 14 both physically with friends by sliding folders full of my unfettered musings between classes and on lunch breaks and later in the year online on sites like Quizilla and Xanga. I grew fairly popular because I was attached to a ship that was popular (mostly slash pairings with Envy from FMA and the occasional InuYasha piece). Typing made my work so much easier and I could spend hours in Notepad writing out my deepest desires for characters now in hindsight would start to shape nearly every part of me and my sexuality and orientation. Looking back, I had no idea what I was going; especially as I began to write out sex scene and explicit material. I was mimicking what others were writing; most of us also underage and hadn’t seen the anatomy of the other biological sex. We were all the blind being led by the blind but I don’t think we cared. We continued on as writers with the foundation we built together, as a community, and were prepared to go out into the sea with our headcanons, ships and shipping manifestos. 

I was 15 when I started my longest running fic, a Gravitation series I used to help work through some angst about my sexuality and gender and more importantly helped continue to hone in who I would become as a writer. Unreliable narrators, first person limited, lots of commentary from your main character and occasionally out of character behaviors but always rationalized and rooted with the canon lore of the series. This was also when I started writing to music, letting the beat and rhythm of each song carry my fingers along and focus the many noises in my already-filled brain. I’m listening to music now as I write this piece. I kept writing fanfic well through highschool, even writing some original fiction and taking commissions for pieces from friends where I was paid in favors, clout or money to write them a few chapters or scenes with a character they were particularly fond of with a character of their choosing either canon and original. I liked providing that for others, giving them an outlet, too, as I had given myself. 

When I graduated highschool, I gave up a lot of my anime and manga, assuming that I would grow out of this “phase” that had occupied nearly a decade of my life by then as my aunts had hoped. I didn’t. Within a year, I was back to writing and added roleplay to the mix. I thrived in large roleplay forums and with many partners in many series with OCs perfectly tailored for every situation. Again, this taught me a new skill: completing actions. RPs were based on making sure actions were closed and completed; if you left a door open within the RP, that open space could be used by anyone. You’ll notice that in my fiction that anytime a door is opened, someone closes it; if a product is brought into the scene, it is set down somewhere solid, rooms have depth and proportion and items because rooms aren’t blank slates and to this day I still draw out room layouts and home layouts for various works. 

I had a dedicated RP partner when I was in my third year of college; she was the most formative to my works and my continued dive into fanfiction. She was my muse, my everything. She helped me grow as a writer by giving me a challenge, something I rarely felt like I had. Not that I ever thought my skill was that grand but she was really someone who could keep up with me and could match my energy levels in a way that I could have only ever dreamed of. She continues to be my partner and I am grateful for that. 

I continued to roleplay and that kept me satiated as far as fiction came but it was when my then-girlfriend began to grow interested in my work that I returned to fanfic: picking up my Gravitation series as it was a series that helped bring us together. I would write mostly for her, because of her and at her behest and encouragement. I had a captive audience of one and it was more than enough motivation for me to continue to write. That strategy worked out perfectly until she broke my heart and left me. 

I lost my will to write. I lost my Raison d’être and I couldn’t stomach looking at my work again. While during that time I had another RP partner who kept me entertained from time to time, it was a time I mostly focused on non-fiction and getting this humble little blog up and running. My schedule then didn’t leave me with much time to think about fiction and my day job that also had me writing plenty didn’t leave me with the needed creativity once I returned home from work to want to write much else. 

It was in my late 20s that I decided that I was going to finish my Gravitation series mostly out of spite. I was tired of looking at the unfinished document and tired of feeling sorry for myself and my broken heart: I kept writing, sometimes manically and for hours on end late at night sitting on my bed in my shitty one-room apartment. I finished the series and was triumphant and elated; celebratory in a room to my own and then promptly began working on the sequel knowing that it was unlikely anyone else would see this work ever again. It was too personal, too old, too problematic and too close to my heart to share with others. It was my dirty little secret to be buried with me in death and rot with me for an eternity. 

It took me a long time to decide on posting fanfic publicly again: mostly a desire to reclaim a lost part of my youth and for the most part, my fiction slid under the radar. That was before I started working on a passion project: a MattxMello fic from Death Note that would later balloon to over 50,000 words and 40 chapters. For the first time since my teen years I had an audience, an upload schedule, comments and cliffhangers and fans. 

I had regained part of myself that I had shunned for years and now, it feels even better than ever to be back. 

Respecting the Bones of It

I have been writing fanfic since I was 12. Now, fanfic gets a bad rep because why not just write fiction on your own? Well, that’s hard. Creating entirely new worlds and new ideas is not easy to do and it’s beautiful when someone can create a sandbox that millions get to play in.

A sandbox is a great way to imagine a creative work. Since I firmly believe the author is dead, I imagine all works as being up for interpretation and reanimated as the reader so does wish. Now, can the author while still alive add to the work? Sure. I do think that’s possible but it is rare that truly something substantive can be added….wait, does anyone hear an elephant?

As soon as anyone mentions death of the author, we have to talk about Dear Auntie Jo. Now, if you read my column on Fangirl Nation then you know that my relationship with Jo Rowling is…icy. I have not found her Twitter musings helpful to the story though I am grateful to her giving me and countless others a fictional home in Hogwarts. Her recent transphobia made it even easier for me to like Napoleon claim ownership of this sandbox she built for us and I will continue to insist that Harry shouldn’t have married Ginny and that Draco has some feelings to work through when it comes to Potter. 

But while we’re on the topic of sandboxes and death of the author…I want to talk about a phenomena that I have recently been able to put words to that has been brewing in me for a while now as I continue my career as a proud fanfic writer. What do you do when you love the lore of a work but dislike almost every other part of it?

In an earlier post, I say that I write for revenge. Fundamentally, that’s what drives me as  fanfic writer. If I’m writing fanfic it’s because there’s a part of the world I want to see more of. I want more positive representation of Slytherins: so I write. I want to see a certain ship sail: so I write. I want to see a certain part of the galaxy that isn’t full of damn Skywalkers: so I write. 

And being a nerd: I love lore. I may not like Lord of the Rings but I love The Silmarillion. I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books( I love the movies up until the 4th one) anymore but Pottermore is incredibly important to me. I love reading the Forbidden Jedi Texts and the expanded comics in Star Wars but real talk, I don’t want to watch the movies again…

Speaking of Star Wars…let’s drop a truth bomb. I used to be a soft prequel apologist but after finishing the most recent trilogy and the old trilogy; maybe…the movies aren’t good? I mean the old trilogy is a classic but to me is mostly old men hitting each other with light bulbs.  The prequels are of course a nightmare and the new trilogy is a genderbent romp through the old trilogy if you ignore The Last Jedi where Rian Johnson knocked over all of JJ Abrams’ toys in his sandbox. At least the prequels tried to expand the lore, albeit, badly. And the new trilogy seems entirely unconcerned about lore and far more concerned with intertextuality and nostalgia. 

But you have already heard me rant about Star Wars and you all certainly have heard me rant about Auntie Jo Rowling. But there is something new that I find I love the lore but hate the series execution of the lore and for those close to me, this is not a surprise or if you listen to my podcast. But if you aren’t in either of those categories: it’s Game of Thrones

Now, let me preface by saying this. Yes, I know the show is a hot mess and yes I know that the books are “better” and yes I know that it’s a popular thing but hear me out. I still don’t think I like the show. I think the show is little moments of meme-tastic brilliance with some fantastic casting but overall, I still have huge problems with how the show and the show’s source material handles race, gender, violence against women and rape as plot points. I know this stuff happened in history but it’s a choice to make it so prominently in a not fantasy fantasy novel. 

But as a lore nerd, I love the bones of Game of Thrones. I love learning house symbols and house mottos. I love house colors and aligning yourself to a house (which does feel a bit like a race to the bottom as really everyone is awful but on what scale). I love learning the history of the different lands and how the Dornish are so equal with sex and gender because of their strong ties to marriage and their lack of desire to bend to the ways of the West. I love knowing that everyone makes fun of the Tullys for their dumb fish. I love that we all agree the Greyjoys are awful and that if anyone voluntarily aligns themselves with Lannisters, you probably need to back away. 

All of these things I love without really liking the show and the show’s intense violence, racism and misogyny. 

So what do you do when you come across a series that you like in theory but not in practice? Well…study. Do what I did for Game of Thrones. I ingested hours of media and study about the show and watched episodes as I could stomach and was honest when I couldn’t stomach them. I watched video essays (actually it was Lindsay Ellis’ video series on GoT that got me to finally watch it). I watched the video series where each of the house heads talk about their land and their land’s mythology. 

Write. For the love of all that is good: write. If there is a fictional world that you love: study it, master it, make it yours. The author is dead, long live the author.

I think that may be one of the reasons I’m so perplexed by the people who get so angry at media being bad that they have to attack actors and actresses online (which is never the answer). If you don’t like the thing…make something new. That’s way more constructive than being a troll. I also didn’t like The Last Jedi, so what did I do? Went back and re-read the now non-canon book series and comic books.

It’s okay if you don’t like the way a creator or director has taken something you love. It’s okay if you don’t like how a show or movie ended. It’s okay if you don’t like a certain actor’s take on a role. What matters is what you do with that anger and in my opinion, it’s way more healthy and way more constructive to do something with that passion than simply to simmer in sisyphean anger. 

On Stan Culture

There are very few pieces of music videos that really stick with me. I have favorites, sure, but very few feature imagery that haunt me. Stan is one of those distinguished few that have left me haunted and hollow.

Stan is a song written by Eminem and featured Dido and tells quite a compact and well thought out story of a man named Stan who is obsessed with the rapper, Eminem. Stan writes letters obsessively to the rapper and each one is a step further into madness and ends with Stan kidnapping his pregnant girlfriend, locking her in the trunk and driving his car into a body of water as his letters become increasingly desperate and angry at the rapper who by his own warped mind’s opinion is intentionally ignoring him. The video ends with the rapper finally writing back and saying that Stan was obsessive and to seek help only to realize that he’s too late and Stan has already done something unthinkable.

So let’s talk about Stan Culture. 

Stan as a term is now used as both a noun and a verb and describes a very obsessive fan of a particular person, genre or thing. I noticed it popping up in speech a couple of years ago and mostly ignored it because it didn’t connect immediately but then the hate mobs began to form.

And as a fan of many things, I’ve never seen people swarm in such a way over things that just don’t deserve it. If we focused half of the attention K-Pop stans put on their bands as we do on the fact that we’re a country that’s apparently okay with kids in cages and a border crisis then I doubt we’d be in the socio-political place we’re in now. I’m not here to tell folks they can’t like what they like: if someone insults my son, Jason Todd, I will fight them but at the end of the day I know that it’s a comic book and that never is worth calling someone a slur, doxing them or spewing just hateful nonsense at them. 

Y’all, I could do a whole other post on cancel culture but the stan mobs have turned cancel culture into a full on terror. Stans have an almost swarm-like ability to overwhelm a person who is “problematic” or threatened their hive and they attack without warning. Remember that whole Becky with the Good Hair- thing? Most stans were attacking the wrong person on the Internet, not even the true center of their ire.

Patrick Wilhems said it best when talking about Star Wars “this is a movie about space wizards meant for children”. He’s a fan and that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a fan, he’s just not so much of a fan that he’s willing to attack literal people over a space opera written by a man who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. 

Being a fan doesn’t mean having to be cruel to others. I am very passionate about anime and comic books and movies and literature and that never results in malicious attacks against others. Sure, it may have resulted in a off-hand comment occasionally but never targeted attacks against others.

I think what bothers me about Stan Culture is the lack of self-awareness when it comes to the name. I would pack away all of my official and unofficial merch if someone called me a “stan” because to me that means I have crossed a damn line. It’s almost like people have forgotten that this term is not positive or endearing. It’s taken from a song that’s literally about an obsessive fan killing himself, his unborn child and his girlfriend because of a fandom. It isn’t a good thing and it’s certainly not something I’d ascribe to myself. 

Now, because it’s in the popular lexicon, a lot of people use the term ironically. I know Contrapoints has and other Youtubers and personalities have and I want to think that such a thing is okay but in my heart I just can’t. I just see that music video all over again and remember how much sadness and pain that song brought to me. Do I think there’s room for casual use of the word? Sure, I’m not a fascist, I’m not going to police all language. But I do think there has to be some awareness of the roots of the term and that it is not something good, positive or light. 

Where do we go from here? Well, I think fans of all genres and types can benefit from a little come to Jesus about how we talk to each other and other people in general. That doesn’t mean you can’t be enthusiastic but just because someone doesn’t like an anime I do doesn’t mean we’re going to go to real blows or that I’m going to encourage my friends/fans to send that person hate over not agreeing. Fandoms have always been a little hostile; we defend ships with canons (yes, it’s a nautical pun) and we spend a lot of time explaining why something is as we think it is. But it rarely delved into name-calling and undeserved cruelty. It’s easy to spew venom from a keyboard and with the bonds we continue to form online, it only gets easier to say whatever your mean lizard brain can come up with when someone even so much as dares to threaten their ship.  We can understand that at the end of the day, the thing you love is just a thing. Anime is not a replacement for people, it is a bridge to connect to others. And being a fan doesn’t absolving figures who have definitely done something wrong of their sins. Tarantino is a monster for how he treated Uma Thurman and Diane Kruger but that doesn’t mean I don’t love his films. I can admit he did something bad and still say I think most of my top 10 favorite movies are his.

Stan culture confuses me. On one hand I want to let people like what they like but on the other…it’s a word so rooted in and involved in people at their worst. There are better ways to be a fan. 

There are better ways to be a person. 

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.

 

The Case for Gatekeepers

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. (1).png

I come from a darker era for comic book fandom and really, general nerd-kind. I remember being told over and over again that I wasn’t a real fan because I was biologically female. I was told that I couldn’t be that into comics. I was clearly just doing it for attention. I was clearly just there because I only thought the covers were pretty. And psychologically, that’s really hecking damaging. It’s frustrating having to constantly prove that you are a fan of something. I was quizzed, questioned and dismissed so many times that I just came to accept it and now that we are in a halcyon era of comic book movies and nerd acceptance but maybe… just maybe gatekeeping wasn’t so bad in places.

Let’s take a minute to go over some vocabulary. Gatekeeping is a sociology and recently appropriated fan term that essentially means more “experienced” fans act as, well, gatekeepers and use their knowledge in a certain property or fandom to keep novice or newer fans out. We see this sort of phenomena in a lot in the cringe-inducing comic book guy in most television shows. Think The Simpsons or the literal entire cast of The Big Bang Theory or literally any other popular thing. They all have the same comic book dude who can’t hold a conversation about anything real but will be mad at you if you don’t know exactly what shade of pantone pink the Star Sapphire uniforms are. The normal avatar for this sort of person is usually a white, cis, hetero male and because of that, the view of any other fan that is of color, queer, or female (or a combination of any of those things) is somehow immediately less of a fan. This is also sometimes called fan-gating but that term makes me giggle so I’m just going to use gatekeeping.

The problem is that Gatekeepers think they’re doing a good thing. They think they are protecting their beloved media and often times, they are. Comic books were not always as mainstream as they are now and the knowledge so many comic book fans had (have) was not always valued and was often a source of ridicule and persecution. I was often teased for being able to recite Etrigan’s spell from memory. (I still can, don’t judge me.)

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way advocating for the gatekeeping of ye olden days. That gatekeeping meant to keep women, queer folks, POCs and others out of comic books, videos games and the like because it was a white man’s hobby. And while, no, that isn’t the view of every comic book fan or generalized nerd human it certainly was the driving force for many of them in the comic world in the 90s and early 2000s (when I was a young impressionable comic book reader). To this day, there are still men who insist that girls only read comics for cosplay and that POCs simply don’t read comic books (It’s almost like black people didn’t make their own comic book line or anything like that…).

Here is also where I’ll pause for all the folks who think that me being quizzed over the canonical order of the Robins in Batman is a valid thing to do as I try to purchase a comic book from a store. (Real thing that happened: ask Carlos.).

I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back. This chapter in Moon Knight was getting a little intense.

So after all that talk about how dehumanizing, exhausting, racist, sexist and miserable gatekeeping was and is…why would I possibly ever say that maybe it isn’t so bad?

Remember that statement I made about comic books and other geeky, nerdy things now coming into mainstream popularity? That was not a thing even 10 years ago (back when the first Avengers movie was barely a concept and we were all still angry at Joel Schumacher for ruining Batman.). And there were plenty of people (me included) who have now found themselves in a curious place. Suddenly, the things we love(d) are now very popular. And that means those folks that teased many of us (me included) now suddenly very en vogue. I’ve had old high school friends suddenly claim that it’s so cool they know a cosplayer: the same folks that 10 long years ago was a sore subject and the butt of many jokes towards me. Now the jock that used to make fun of me for liking The Green Lantern is very excited about Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Now, can people change? Sure. Am I being a little petty? Always. But I think it brings up a valid point. With the influx of new fans, the conversations can be a little strained now. Now we have plenty of folks who say they know comics based on the movies but likely couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Now, casual fans are fine and I love them but most casual fans don’t claim to be experts. It’s the folks that will step to other fans and say they know comics but only do because they’ve seen Captain America: Civil War three times. In so many other fields, I am a dirty casual. I’m a casual gamer, pretty novice with RPGs and while I used to be a strong tournament contender in a few things, I’m by no means as good at Street Fighter as I used to be.

“Stay in your lane.” is a shorthand for that kind of thing I use a lot and a few of my friends have picked it up, too. When Carlos and Ricky are talking stats in Tekken, I tend to shut up and let them. If they ask about stitches, well, it’s my time to shine then.

Another aspect of gatekeeping is one close to my heart and a topic we’ve tackled before. It’s the topic of having convictions, discussions and not being reduced to name-calling when someone doesn’t agree with your ship. During many a gatekeeper’s conversation, I’ve had to defend which Lantern Corps I was in. Which Harry Potter house I was sorted into. I had to explain why I liked a comic and had to prove my knowledge of it frequently. And sure, it was demoralizing and exhausting but it made a fan with iron-clad convictions. When I was on my dear friend Heather’s show ( seriously, listen to it and enjoy several minutes of us fangirling over each other. ) we discussed this sort of phenomena and it comes down to attachment styles. Because I had to constantly fight and prove what I loved an why I was a fan: I have now been able to form secure attachments to my fandoms. Newer fans that have not had to constantly prove themselves have formed insecure attachments often times because they are not being challenged. Because of that, any challenge is perceived as a threat on their person rather than an often times valid criticism of the piece of media they wish to defend.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I wish for the same horrible experience I had as a fan to happen to newer and casual fans. No, not at all. But there is something to be said about challenging a fan. I have this problem a lot with recent film criticism where Internet critics will bash a thing from a comic book movie even though it is likely the most authentic part of the film.

There’s something to be said about being challenged from time to time. There’s something to be said about having to defend your ship. There’s something to be said about being proven right or wrong. And there’s always room for a good, spirited conversation that doesn’t devolve into racial slurs and casually calling someone a homophobe.

In the comments: I’ll be answering questions and ranting about how amazing Damien Wayne is.

Thanks for reading!