The Fandom Cascade: How Being a Fan Can Gain You a Following

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Nearly every show, movie or game, however big or small, possesses some level of fandom, and the main mediums fans use to show their affection are fan art and fanfiction. But an interesting development in recent years no longer lets these expressions of love sit idly by or waste away into the archives of the vast internet. Because of the increasing presence of social media in people’s lives, and their heavy usage to make popular media and their respective fan creations more available to a wider audience, artists creating magic with their paintbrushes & tablets and writers weaving epic new tales with their words are now gaining fans of their own.

Now, I might get arguments from people saying that this tiered effect — I’ve dubbed it the ‘Fandom Cascade’ — isn’t anything new, and that this phenomenon has, in fact, been occurring since Jane Austen was first published, but the global exposure provided by the internet and social media outlets is still a fairly new thing. Think about it: Tumblr isn’t even a decade old.

But already, notables have turned the love of their favorite stories and characters into successful and profitable ventures thanks to the exposure social media has provided and their unwavering dedication to their craft & fandom. Let’s explore a few examples of this strange effect in fandom:

Fan Art

Fans sometimes use fan art as an extension of storytelling, a way to bring more life and deeper meaning to characters’ story arcs, or to make moments that only occur in people’s dreams and imaginations real. And occasionally, these artists get the chance to paint their own strokes on the imagined world’s canvas. One such artist is Alice X. Zhang, a freelance illustrator and designer from New Zealand who, at the age of 27, has brought her vibrant, painterly digital illustrations to the covers of Doctor Who comic books and exhibitions in New York. Her primary subject matter? Pop culture — some of her most recognizable works are beautiful character portraits from Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as movies like The Avengers and Lost in Translation

Artist James Hance has gained similar recognition with his Relentlessly Cheerful Art, covering everything from Doctor Who and Star Wars to the Muppets and classic movies like North by Northwest and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial with his mood-altering styles. His most recent works, however, have been storybook illustrative with his “Wookie the Chew” series, a mashup tribute of Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh, whose first book has been published. 

And while some creators attempt to stand in the way of derivative works finding its way to the masses, others not only allow it but encourage it. MTV series Teen Wolf hosted a fan art contest in 2014 for its following, inviting artistically inclined viewers to submit their works, including slash-oriented pieces, for display in MTV’s offices. Framed and hung with accrediting placards in a reserved area they call the ‘gallery,’ the show’s post-production team commented that, “We did this for ourselves originally, (we were tired of looking at bare walls), but realized it was a great way to simultaneously honor the fans and artists out there.”

Fanfiction

The medium of fanfiction is where writers most heavily encounter resistance from the original content’s owners — writers like Diana Galbaldon, author of the “Outlander” series, and George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones’ mastermind, have voiced their resentment of the practice. 

However, some have taken their intricately woven tales, altered any details that tie it to the original world on which they’re based, and put them out there into the world. The biggest example of success found in this method is, likely begrudgingly to many, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. The novel, detailing the evolving dominant/submissive relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, has sold over 40 million copies since its 2011 publication, and it initially started as an exploration into the relationship between — drumroll please — Bella and Edward from Twilight. Some Supernatural fans have also experienced the fanfic-turned-professional author transition: Jen Archer Wood turned her tales of Dean Winchester and Castiel facing the Mothman into published works after readers from Tumblr and AO3 convinced her of its quality as a proper novel

The Fandom Cascade: How Being a Fan Can Gain You a Following - Image 1

From left: © Summit Entertainment; Universal; fictionfriend; CW

Many, however, keep their stories attached to their original worlds or alternate universes therein (AUs) and still find an expansive and loyal audience craving more. Communities of fanfiction writers posting their works on the web continue to expand rapidly – Fanfiction.net sports millions of tales from everything that could possibly have a fandom, from TV and movies both young and old, books, games, anime, radio shows, and even ancient mythologies and the Bible. But for those seeking a closer-knit, likeminded community, specialized communities like Twilighted and HarryPotterFanFiction.com exist to directly connect authors to the audiences they seek for their stories.

Fan Games

Because of the increasing availability of game-making software and engines to consumers, a new trend has popped up in fandom: fan-made games. Though not yet common among the fandoms of more commercial media like TV shows and movies, the trend has exploded heavily within the fan communities of YouTube entertainers. Download hubs for independently released games like GameJolt are flooded with cleverly crafted game dedications to popular YouTuber gamers like PewDiePie, Markiplier and Tobuscus. 

Irish gameplay commentator Jacksepticeye (real name Sean McLoughlin) is one of the most popular subjects of YouTube fan games, having over 70 game dedications on GameJolt and making appearances in several more. And the tributes haven’t gone unnoticed: to show appreciation, McLoughlin, more commonly known as Jack, has recorded commentated gameplay videos, or Let’s Plays, of several fans’ creations, like “Jack to the FUTURE!” an RPG Maker-developed game produced by Ryan Murphy (who makes appearances in the game under his username Acidhedz). The three video series Jack recorded of the game has collectively amassed over 3.5 million views on the YouTuber’s channel and has helped the game conjure nearly 8,000 plays on GameJolt since its July 2015 release.

Screenshot from 'Jack to the FUTURE!' by Ryan Murphy (Acidhedz)

Screenshot from ‘Jack to the FUTURE!’ by Ryan Murphy (Acidhedz)

The cascade effect has already continued from several fan-inspired works — Fifty Shades of Grey already sports over 2,500 new works of fanfiction on Fanfiction.net alone. But derivative works, as aforementioned, have been created since ink began to meet paper, and even before then, through new endings and interpretations added to tales told by campfires. Now, the internet, alongside the old tried and true storytelling methods, will hopefully continue to inspire the next generation of writers finding a future best seller in today’s long-forgotten novel, designers seeking the newest groundbreaking gaming experience in last century’s pixelated adventures, or artists deriving inspiration for the next Mona Lisa from a Destiel digital illustration.

Okay, that last one is a long shot, but you never know.

If you’ve made a fan game that you’d like TDF Gaming to cover on The Daily Fandom’s official YouTube channel, click the ‘Contact Us’ link on the right and drop us a line! We are always looking for fandom-inspired games to check out and play, so let us know about your game!

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Graphic designer/photographer/illustrator. Staff writer & YouTube content creator for The Daily Fandom.

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