I’m sure you’ve seen the following sentiments on the internet before or have heard them in your daily life:

“Teehee. What a loser! She writes fanfiction!”

“When are you going to draw real art instead of that fan crap?”

You’ve seen the stereotypes all over the place. The fan creators are always maladjusted, socially awkward, and predominantly female (though males have been thrown into the mix as well). They’re almost always so unsatisfied with the way reality has been treating them that they’ve retreated into a kinder, gentler world of make-believe. They’re little better than children who have not yet put away their childish things. They’re pitiable, they’re mockable, and they are most certainly not mainstream at all, right?

Wrong.

Fandom as it exists today isn’t a new creation. Sure, it’s been helped a great deal by the growth of the internet. Instead of writing fictions filled with your favorite characters or drawing your imagination’s depiction of said characters and keeping it in your own collection or sending it out to the rare magazine that published such things, you can put your work up on your Tumblr, throw it at Archive of Our Own (Ao3) or Fanfiction.net. Or anywhere you feel like posting it, really.

The popular genre of slash fiction, which is defined on Wikipedia as “a genre of fan fiction that focuses on interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex,” is said to have gotten its start back in the late 1970’s with primarily women producing stories and art based off of the favored pairing at the time: Kirk and Spock from “Star Trek.” Shorthand for this pairing was K/S (the slash being what gives the genre its current name). Back then, there were some fan-run magazines that were a creative outlet for people in the fandom who wanted to share their work with each other.

It’d be easy enough to just say that fan fiction and fan art really got its start then, but that, too, would be a lie. See, if you really think about it, fanfic and fan art is as old as language and drawing. Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey? Yeah, that’s fanfic about the gods and heroes of that time. Sure, you can interpret it as a history, but at heart, it’s fanfic. All of the renaissance artwork picturing the saints and Jesus? The Last Supper? That’s fan art right there. Jesus and his disciples didn’t sit down and pose for Leonardo da Vinci. The painter pulled their faces from his imagination.

Do you see where I’m getting at here? Yeah, fan fiction and fan art aren’t new things. Some of the greatest works of art and fiction, like Shakespeare’s histories, are ultimately works of fan fiction. He wasn’t there recording every word that came out of Henry V’s mouth. He wasn’t at Agincourt documenting the great victory. To denounce modern day fanfic writers is to discredit the creators who had come before. To say that artists who draw new interpretations of their favorite characters are somehow creating inferior works of art is like saying that Michaelangelo’s David isn’t worth the marble from which it’s carved. Look, I’m not saying that every piece of fanfic and fanart is a masterpiece, but to ignore all of the works that fans have created because they aren’t “original” is doing everyone a great disservice.

I like to joke that there’s a fandom for everything, but it’s totally true. Did you know that there’s a lively community dedicated to researching and making fanfic and fan art about the Founding Fathers? I didn’t know that until I got into Tumblr (not my blog, but one I follow). I think it’s marvelous that people get inspiration from all kinds of things.

One of the other things that fanfic and fan art does is allow fan whose communities are underrepresented to find a way to fit them into the worlds they love. My friend and I were talking about an unrelated topic when it occurred to us that fanfic and fan art are a way of taking the crumbs of “straight fiction” and making them into a “gay cake.” It’s sad that this is what the minorities have. They have been struggling for ages to have their stories told in mainstream media so they’ve created spaces to call their own in fandom. I’m not just talking about alternate sexualities, I’m talking about races, genders, and those who are differently abled. I’m probably wording this section all wrong and I apologize, but I hope you get what I am trying to convey. In fan works, you can take a character you admire and use them to tell a story that has a deeper, more personal meaning. I think that’s extraordinary.

Of course, not everyone embraces fan works. There are a number of authors and creators who take issue with the figures from their imaginations being used to tell other stories not their own. I get that and I totally understand where they’re coming from. There are also authors and creators with a more lax view of fan works. They’re fine with it as long as it’s not sent to them for legal reasons. Then, of course, there’s the disturbing story coming out of China where women who have written homoerotic fan fiction and posting it on the internet have been arrested for their work due to its “obscene” nature. I could go on at length about how porn has existed for millennia and will continue to exist no matter how many times people try to ban it. Seriously, folks, people like drawing sex, filming sex, and reading about sex. That’s another post for another time, though. Probably.

One of the things that has been amazing about the internet and the rise of social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr has been the way fans can not only interact with each other but also the actors and other creators of the works that have inspired them. The internet has changed the way we deal and fully interact with media. I think it’s been a great tool for building a community of artists, writers, and crafters who can share their love with fellow fans across the world. I’ve gotten to see so much wonderful fan art, like the featured image for today’s post that served as the wallpaper for my laptop for many months. It’s called Dragon Effect by Andrew Ryan and it’s a mash-up (or combination) of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, where the characters of the former are put in the world of the latter.

Now, maybe one of these years I’ll finally finish a piece of fan fiction. Goodness knows I’ve had quite a few ideas for some rattling around in my brain.