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May 23, 2016

What’s the Deal with Fan Art?

So I started watching RWBY a while back.  I managed to catch up with it a while back, too -- but I didn’t have to sit through three separate season finales to know how I felt about it.  It’s a strong show, and I’ve got no problems admitting I’m a fan.  Now I’m just sitting here, waiting for Volume 4.

I should back up a bit and say that the show’s “seasons” are collected into volumes, with episodes typically ranging from 10 to 15 minutes.  Thus far, there have been three volumes (though there’s a super-deformed spinoff to sate the fans).  I’m at a point where I’m eager for news on the continuing adventures of Team RWBY and the other Hunters/Huntresses in the making, but there’s a problem.  See, when I jumped in, I dodged pretty much every connecting thread to the series vis a vis the fandom and general info.  I only learned about RWBY by watching videos on YouTube, not through the official website, news channels, and the like.  I’ve fixed that; once I finished the first three volumes, I subscribed to the subreddit in anticipation of news.

I haven’t gotten anything substantial yet on the news front.  But in case you missed the title, this isn’t a post about news.

The RWBY subreddit is chock full of fan art.  Absolutely full of it.  That’s kind of to be expected, though, because the dust has long since settled on Volume 3.  There are still discussions to be had, sure, but there’s not much point in talking about plot points that the dedicated fandom has committed to memory and/or argued into the ground.  So it’s basically about playing the waiting game and filling (or killing) time.

So, fan art.  There’s a lot of it.  Plenty of it is good, and plenty of it is entertaining -- though at this stage, no one’s shy about casually referencing some major spoilers.  In the absence of canon materials, it’s nice to see more of the characters I’ve grown attached to, in ways that I never would’ve predicted.  I guess that’s the optimal state, though; when you’ve created something, you want people to be willing, if not eager, to take your characters and toy with them at their leisure.  It’s a sign of loyalty as much as it is a sign of affection.  And who knows?  Maybe they can show off something that you never would have considered -- creator or otherwise.

For the sake of this post (and this argument), I’m going to lump “fan art” into one general category -- so I’m using it as a way to describe pictures, fanfics, videos, etc.  And I can tell you right now that when it comes to fan art as a whole, I’ve got no problems with it.  People are free to explore and interpret characters as they wish (like they need my blessing to do that).  It does beg the question of why fans don’t use what inspires them to create 100% original works, but that’s fine.  The important thing is that people can and will get more out of the things they love, even if they have to do it themselves.

I’ve only dipped my toe into the pool, but if there’s one thing that the RWBY fandom is nuts about, it’s shipping.  Granted that probably doesn’t make it any different from other fandom, but if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s pictures of the hunters and huntresses sharing some tender moments (of varying, shall we say, intensity).  The show’s provided plenty of fuel for that fire, with some scenes more blatant about it than others.  But again, I’m okay with that kind of fan art.  It’s not blatantly stated, but it’s not hard to see Yang and Blake as an item; Ruby and Weiss have some threads as well, alongside the blatant ones like Jaune and Pyrrha.  People are drawing meaning as well as enjoyment out of those bonds, and represent them with fan works. 

Honestly, I don’t blame them. 

Knowing what I do about Kingdom Hearts and the stereotype that its fandom is full of yaoi fangirls, it’s easy to lump everyone into a group that only gets their jollies from shipping and kissy-faces with what might as well be virtual dolls.  But think about it: if they don’t do it, then who else will? Not every piece of fiction out there is willing to dive into the nuances of relationships, no matter which genders come into play.  There’s a market for every kind of romance, though, even if a lot of stories aren’t so keen on touching something that might (to oversimplify things) “offend the masses”.

So in that sense, fan art is as much about expression as it is about release.  The canon may not have the time or will to explore certain aspects of its world, characters or otherwise.  So the fans swoop in to get exactly what they want, with evidence supported by the canon itself.  Are Blake and Yang going to rush out to tie the knot in the main story?  That’d be something I’d like to see, honestly (though there’s evidence against a hookup via Blake’s other relationships).  But it’s probably not going to happen.  So the fans make that happen -- and through their art, enjoy the catharsis of seeing the impossible made possible. 

And who knows?  Maybe that fan art will deepen the understanding and appreciation felt by other fans.  Maybe they’ll show you something you overlooked the first time.  Though given the canon, sometimes that’s not for the best.

Don't worry.  I'll get to said canon eventually.

That’s a really positive take on fan art, but it’s something I genuinely believe in.  Admittedly, I’m the sort that prefers original work and creations over fan productions, but it’s not as if the two can’t coexist.  It’s not as if fan art is inherently wrong. BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT(t) I’d be lying to myself, and to everyone reading this, if I said that it couldn’t go awry in a hurry.

Fans are free to represent and reinterpret canon characters however they want, but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.  It’s not as if there are any laws or whistleblowers out there, of course.  Still, unspoken lines of decency are everywhere you look.  There are just certain things that fan artists shouldn’t do, especially if they plan to pay tribute to their favorite works.  What do I mean?  Well, in order to explain that, we have to switch from the Huntresses to a certain Umbran Witch.

Anyone who acts like sexuality isn’t a part of Bayonetta’s character is kidding themselves.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek version, and not the only part of her character, but this is a character who revels in being able to do poses that’d make a stripper go bug-eyed.  Even so, “sexuality” isn’t just some catch-all concept that means everything is fair game.  Hideki Kamiya, one of the guys behind the character, has implied as much.  In the past, he’s expressed distaste over artists using the character in some erotic art, and it’s not hard to see why.  Is Bayo the sort of character who’d shy away from sex?  Probably not.  But it’d have to be something that suits her, which I doubt that fan art has captured -- and since we’re talking about a Platinum character, she wouldn’t do the horizontal tango unless it involved a kiloton of dynamite and Saturn’s rings. 

That’s not the only example out there (the Faith “redesign” inspired similar feelings once upon a time).  But it does suggest where and how fan art can go awry: done poorly or recklessly, it goes from a representation of a character to a rejection of one.  And this is part of the reason why I skew toward original stuff; if you’re going to take a character and put them into a situation that they would never, ever be in (and should never, ever be in, depending on the character), then is it really fan art?  Or is it just snapping a character over your knee, and doing whatever you want with the pieces?

Obviously I’m not talking about all fan artists, and they have a right to do what they want without someone telling them they’re wrong.  In the end, it all comes down to personal preference, so it’s kind of a moot point when you get down to it.  But there’s some distressing art out there that crosses a lot of lines.  It’s like, what’s the mentality behind some of the decisions these guys make?  “I like this character, but I think she’d be better if she barely looked like she does now.  Strip her of her clothes!”  Or “This is a really good story, but you know what would be better?  If the canon was utterly rewritten just to make me happy, even if it means taking a sledgehammer to whatever point it was trying to make.”

Ever hear of the cat keyhole bra and boob ribbon memes from a while back?  Probably not, because I assume you’re a well-adjusted individual.  But there’s a deluge of fan art out there that puts ladies in those infamous clothes and accessories.  Now, I’m not going to automatically say it’s wrong and should never be done, because I’ve argued in the past that there are aspects of a character us plebeians may never learn about.  So maybe you could argue that someone like Samus would put on something even slinkier than the Zero Suit.  But it begs the question: if you’re just putting a boob ribbon on a character because everyone else is doing it, what are you really expressing?  What are you bringing to the table besides showing that you’re fast enough to capitalize on a meme?

I know Rule 34 is a thing that exists, and has probably existed since the concept of art was born.  But I personally can’t get behind it.  Like, I wouldn’t mind popping over to DeviantArt and looking for some sick Overwatch art, and to be fair I’ve found some real marvels.  But then I see one with Mei in a state of undress and striking a sultry pose, and it leaves me going “Come on.  Seriously?”  Or “That’s not Mei.”  It seems to me like the sort of thing that’d devalue a character, not prop them up.  My understanding of Mei in-universe is that she’s a well-meaning, if unlucky, idealist -- someone who wants to do the right thing for the sake of a better world.  How do you reflect that when she’s basically made into a pinup model?

Done right, fan art is truly an amazing thing, a way to maximize the majesty of a character that’s already earned a fair bit of love.  Done poorly, it might as well be a betrayal -- paring down a complete character or property that someone’s toiled with for months (or years) to a bunch of parts.  And sure, sexuality isn’t bad in its own right, but it can be bad if used improperly.  If there’s a purpose behind it in art, or if it’s something that’s thematically fitting, then that’s cool.  If it’s just slapped on?  Think of it this way: what would happen if a fan artist asked Shigeru Miyamoto to sign a hand-crafted picture of Princess Peach in a micro-bikini and thong?

You have to show respect to the character, the story, and especially the creator.  If you can, go full tilt.  If you can’t (or won’t), then maybe think before you start even the simplest sketch.

Or go ahead and do it anyway.  Maybe it'll end hilariously.

Well, those are my thoughts on the subject.  What are yours?  Love fan art?  Hate it?  Have your own?  Feel free to comment as you see fit.  It’s a wide world out there, so there’s something for everybody.

Also, aren’t you proud of me for not going into the dark abyss that is Sonic fan art?  I sure hope so.  I know what Sonic Dreams Collection is, and that’s as far as anyone should ever have to go.  With anything.  Ever.

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