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Cronin Theory of Comics – Fan-fiction is a Limited Critique

“It was like fan fiction” is not a good critique of a comic book writer’s performance.

My main (heck, I think it may actually be my ONLY) reason is that it is just too nebulous of a definition. Can anyone pin-point what it means to be writing comics like fan-fiction, with the inference being that it is a BAD thing? The way I have often seen it read has been more like “I just don’t like this writer’s writing, so I am calling it fan-fiction, because it sounds really dismissive.”

I don’t deny the impact of fan-fiction upon criticism. In fact, one of the most popular terms that I like to use COMES from fan-fiction criticism, namely, Mary Sue, which is when a writer literally writes themselves (or a avatar of themself) into a fan-fiction. Likewise, I asked you folks awhile back to help me with a new definition for an offshoot of Mary Sue, which is when a writer uses a “pet” character in much the same way that fan-fiction writers used characters based on themselves (and, of course, this doesn’t preclude the inclusion of a character based on the writer/writer’s significant other in the comic, either).

However, as a descriptive term, “fan-fiction” seems about as descriptive to me as “super-hero.” In other words, it is not very descriptive at all.

Especially in the post Roy Thomas era, where basically every comic book writer working was first a comic book FAN, so how could they NOT be influenced by their own fan experiences?

How is that a bad thing, per se? The problem to me doesn’t seem to be having fans of comics write comics, but rather fans of comics write comics poorly.

I mean, to say New Excalibur is “fan-fiction” seems odd to me, as writing about the characters that he wants to write about was basically how Chris Claremont wrote the Uncanny X-Men for seventeen years. So how is it “fan-fiction” now?

I get criticisms of writers like Geoff Johns who often appear to be a bit too concerned with continuity, so if that is what writing “fan-fiction” means, than I can understand that – but that isn’t how it is used all the time, right?

If someone could pinpoint what the term means so that we can apply it critically, that’d be great. I’d appreciate that.

But for the time being, it really appears that “fan-fiction” is just supposed to be universally reviled by everyone, so that just by using the term, a critic can express his/her displeasure with a writer’s work.

And that is not all that good of a critique.

62 Comments

I Agree.

I agree a lot.

I’ve pounced on people for using the word “Fan-fiction” at least twice on our board.

Basically, to piggy-back off your comments, I think most mainstream superhero comic writing IS, technically, fan-fiction. Fans of the genre crafting new adventures for characters they didn’t create.

The question is: Is it good or bad fan-fiction.

‘Cause I’m also annoyed by the inherent assumption from using fan-fiction as a pejorative that fan-fiction is bad.

It isn’t, at least not all of it. Occasional commentator Kurt Mitchell (who also co-wrote 2 of the 3 TwoMorrows Justice Society Companions) wrote Lash House, an alternate DC Universe novel, and it was better than 80-90% of all the professional superhero fiction I’ve ever read.

Banned CBR poseter chuckg wrote a very entertaining and completely competent Buffy fan-script.

Now I’m not an expert on fan-fiction, but there IS some good stuff out there.

Therefore, it’s critically inaccurate to passive-aggressively imply that all fan-fiction is incompetently written vehicles for twisted self-empowerment.

I’d say it’s a valid criticism if a writer makes bad plot choices for the sake of fan service.

MarkAndrew said pretty much what I wanted to say. “It was like fanfiction” is really no more specific a statement than “it was like fiction,” because the category was so broad.

Now, if someone were to say a story read like a particular piece, genre, or author of fanfiction, and provided a helpful link for context, that would be a useful critique.

Incidentally, there’s a wonderful piece on fanfiction.net about the proliferation of Lord of the Rings Mary Sue stories on fanfiction.net following the release of the movies. Using characters from The Silmarillion as sort of impassionate observers, it starts as a running gag of Sues dying in horrible ways as the world of Middle Earth rejects their illogical premises, and eventually evolves into an entertaining and thoughtful parable on the process of writing fiction. In this case, the fanfiction read rather like a Grant Morrison comic.

I’d say it’s a valid criticism if a writer makes bad plot choices for the sake of fan service.

Therein lies the problem, though.

That’s what you think the term should mean, and fine, that’s okay, but that’s NOT how it is always used. There is no consistency in the usage of the term, which is why it is a weak term for criticism.

What does “fan service” mean?

What does “fan service” mean?

Presumably, he means when a writer writes something with the intent of addressing fan requests, complaints, etc.

Well, “fanservice” actually refers to gratuitous panty and bust shots in manga and anime. But American audiences have adapted it to mean anything done solely to please fanboys. Of course, as used in America, it’s almost as nebulous and overused as the “fanfiction” critique.

Yeah, good point, Michael, “fan service” is most likely too nebulous, as well.

Better to just say “I do not think writer X should have done thing Y.”

I think “it was like fan-fiction” means that the characters are written to be far more powerful, cool, and all-around competent than they’ve been shown to be in previous continuity, and may include gratuitous sex scenes or themes or a Mary Sue character.

Generally, if characters are behaving out-of-character, for the purpose of getting into a fight, creating a romantic relationship, or powering up, that is reminiscent of fan-fiction.

I’m with you that it’s a limited criticism, but not an invalid one. I think we all recognize bad fan-fiction when we read it, and those traits sometimes manifest themselves in professional writers, too.

And, I forgot to add, I think it’s pretty obvious that if the comparison is being made in a derisive way, then it’s referring to BAD fan-fiction.

Well, “fanservice” actually refers to gratuitous panty and bust shots in manga and anime.

That’s what I thought.

I couldn’t parse any meaning from that, though.

Mark: Fan Service is ( I believe) originaly a manga/anime term applied to art elements that are in a story not for plot reasons but just to appeal to the fan…panty shots, lots of cleavage. Some series like Girl Bravo are built around fan service. Some series like Negima use the expectations of it in knowingly ironic ways…but are still using it.

On the review:
An example of fan fiction…Don Rosa’s entire body of work. Heck, it’s basicly Carl Barks fan-wank continuity porn to the extreme and it’s absolutely brilliant.

The problem with the term is like all things, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Panther/Storm wedding…is it like bad fan fiction? Maybe…characters suddenly hooking up…of course that ignores that Claremont and Priest had seeded the relationship over the past 20 years.

Batman as uber-hero who can beat everyone? Fan fiction, or Grant Morrison plot?

Spider-Man having Doctor Strange cast a spell so that he never married Mary Jane and can date again…some live journal story..or the plot of One More Day?

Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, and leisure suit Wonder Man as Avengers?

Everyone being a skrull, but no one who’s detected skurlls in the past noticed?

In the case of the 5YL/TMK Legion (which is the most frequent target of such criticism), it’s mainly because Goofy Fan Theories that ought to have remained, perpetually, Goofy Fan Theories got elevated to canon. (The Eltro Gand business, or the Protty-Lightning Lad same.) So it’s a case of simultaneously telling stories that really only make sense to people with exactly knowledge of the trivia and minutia of the story while simultaneously invalidating scores of stories, many of which anyone with that knowledge are going to have liked and cared about.

And, of course we’re only talking about BAD fan-fiction. (For one thing, there doesn’t exist a possible reasonable definition of fanfic that doesn’t include the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls as not merely being ‘like’ fan-fiction but actually being fanfic.

An example of fan fiction…Don Rosa’s entire body of work. Heck, it’s basicly Carl Barks fan-wank continuity porn to the extreme and it’s absolutely brilliant.

I actually addressed that exact point awhile back in a review of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck!

Perhaps what people mean when they say “it was like fan-fiction” is that the story in question seems amateurish. (“Amateur” comes from the same root as the latin amar [to love] and describes someone who does something for love, as opposed to for money. Sounds like fan-fic to me…)

It seems to me that the “it’s like fan-fiction” line is a sort of knee-jerk reaction to complain about a writer and/or storyline that one doesn’t like without having to go in-depth about why they don’t like it.

Sort of like the “Playskool” line that pops up a lot in certain action figure collector communities.

For most of the last twenty years, the term “fan-fiction” meant a story using the trademarked characters of others – necessarily published online to preclude lawsuits – which was not published with the blessing of the entity whose trademarked characters appeared within.

Stories published in novel format involving Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty (there are lots of these) are NOT fan-fiction.

Stories published online involving (this is real) Gambit and Rogue using a dampener collar to negate her powers so that they could have sex ARE fan-fiction. (But seriously, why DIDN’T they ever?)

It has irked me ever since the term fan-fiction started appearing in comics criticism. If the story is published by the entity which owns the characters, then it, by established definition, is NOT fan-fiction.

Mary Sue-ing is something else entirely though, as when Devin Grayson created a character in Nightwing who was quite obviously supposed to represent herself. Still, this was signed off on by DC editorial, so it can NOT be termed fan-fiction.

It seems that nowadays, whenever a writer decides to take a direction with the characters or books they’re writing that a reviewer does not agree with (however justifiably), said reviewers often attempt to disqualify the work by terming it fan-fiction, or worse, continuity-porn – another term which must be addressed. Until recently, continuity was a major factor in super hero comics. It was important to readers to make everything being done nowadays by characters fit with their established histories. Recently, when writers attempt to do so, they are criticized.

In my opinion, this sort of name calling is nothing but sloppy reviewing. It allows the reviewer to denigrate the work being critiqued without having to explain to their readers what their actual objections to the work are. It’s akin to saying “this rubs me the wrong way”, which, in and of itself, is acceptable – because it applies a personal feeling to the critique. However, when critics use terms like those being discussed, it is basically taking a personal feeling and attempting to justify it via a logical argument. It’s a cheat. And it shouldn’t be done. Unfortunately, I see no signs of it stopping, nor do I envision it stopping. The most that can be done is for reviewers like ourselves to lead the way by refusing to use these terms, in favor of using logical arguments against works which we don’t like.

I’ve always taken the term to mean something written where it seems like the “inner fan” has won out over the “professional writer.” (If that makes sense to anyone besides me…) Of course, that is completely subjective and usually only applied to stories the reviewer/critic doesn’t like.

Mary Sue-ing is something else entirely though, as when Devin Grayson created a character in Nightwing who was quite obviously supposed to represent herself.

I dunno if I’ll concede that Tarantula was meant to represent Grayson. She was clearly a pet character, but I don’t think she was meant to be Grayson.

Otherwise, yeah, your comment I think was spot on.

I like it as a criticism. Once someone says it, I get a general picture of what the book must be like. It’s no worse than vaguely calling all those covers “creepy” in that post. If it was the substance of a whole review, I’d agree that it was poor, just like someone saying “it was confusing” or “it was misogynist” would be poor reviews if the reviewer went no further. Why was it misogynist? Why what is confusing? Same goes for calling something fanfiction – Why was it fanfiction? Did it have a lot of Mary Sues? Did it waste a lot of time clearing up continuity history that only an extreme fan would even care about? Did it waste a lot of time using conversation to establish how dear the characters are to each other, almost as a way to represent how the writer wishes he could talk to the characters if they were real (Loeb and Meltzer especially love doing this, particurly with their overuse of casual first names like “Bruce” “Diana” and “Clark” all the time). Fanfiction is a great starting point for criticism.

Not Tarantula – Sofia!

Basically, naming a work as “fan-fiction” is no different than saying “I didn’t like it. I don’t know why, I just didn’t!”

Well, considering we’re talking about comparing something TO fan-fiction, that post is pretty much invalid.

Critiquing a comic book by calling it “fan fiction” is like critiquing a film by calling it a “comic book movie.”

Aside from the amateur/professional connotations David mentioned, it says more about the reviewer’s prejudices than it does about the work being reviewed.

I’ve always taken the term to mean something written where it seems like the “inner fan” has won out over the “professional writer.”

I agree, but I think it has to be more than that as well. It also has to be amateurish, reveal some kind of bizarre relationship, overwritten purple prose and hangups between the creator and the material and make you somewhat embarassed for the writer when you read it.

Gail Simone made fun of fanfiction twice in her old column, and she nailed the style perfectly:
First spoof
Second spoof

When a professional work reads like those deliberately amateur spoofs Gail did, then it reads like fanfiction. Now I know Brian said that all books are written by fans now so they are all basically fanfiction. I disagree. Something can be done by a fan, and that reverence can be evident in the material, but if it reads professionally and well-crafted and never loses focus on telling a good story, then it doesn’t read like fanfiction. There are some fanfictions that read like professional competent writing. There are some professional writers who read like fanfic writers. Just because you are a fan does not mean your story necessarily has to read like fanfiction.

I’d say it’s a valid criticism, despite being vague and undoubtedly misused by many people. It’s also really hard to lock down an explanation for it, but I’ll do my best to describe how I use it.

I always make sure to use to term Bad Fan Fiction rather than just fan fiction, so as not to imply that fan fiction is bad, but a very specific style native to fan fiction is bad. That style being, a story that is amateurish and doesn’t seem to have any point other than presenting the characters in situations and/or speaking dialog according to the writers perceived sense of cool, despite continuity or character development.

Now what’s the difference between all that and Mark Millar? Well, Millar gets published.

Bazing!

Basically, naming a work as “fan-fiction” is no different than saying “I didn’t like it. I don’t know why, I just didn’t!”

I don’t think that’s true. Some of the best critiques I’ve read called a work fanfiction and they were very good, clear critique pieces. Your statement would be the equivalent of me accusing people who just praise a Morrison story for its “mad ideas” as meaning “It’s genius. I don’t know why, but it just is!”

Just because a criticism is used a lot doesn’t make it invalid. It may just mean the criticized behavior just occurs a lot, which actually makes it more valid.

I will say that the term only really works when everybody has a shared understanding of what amateur writing, cliche dialog, and out of character motivation, etcetera actually is.

In that sense the term could be conceived as perpetuating elitism.

See, BBH is able to qualify what he terms as “Bad Fan Fiction” in a few words. So why not use those few words instead of a term which is so opaque that we get these long discussions about what it actually means?

most people writing comics came in as fans.
so most of it is more or less fan fiction, ain’t it?
they just get to collect a check from the stuff they write.

I think calling something fan-fiction is a completely valid critique for all the reasons T stated.

When you read something like “Meltzer’s Justice League reads like bad fan-fiction” in a review, I’m sure most people who have read any issue of that comic know exactly what the reviewer is talking.

It is a very particular criticism, far beyond “I didn’t like it and I can’t be bothered explaining why.”

See, BBH is able to qualify what he terms as “Bad Fan Fiction” in a few words. So why not use those few words instead of a term which is so opaque that we get these long discussions about what it actually means?

Why not use both? Fanfiction as a broad term, then use specific terms to narrow down how it is like fanfiction? What’s so bad about that? That’s how we tend to do criticism already.

For example, is “fanfiction” any more vague or subjective than “unfunny?” Does that now make “unfunny” an invalid criticism? No, so long as you follow it with specifics. Maybe it feels like a 2 hour long SNL sketch. Maybe it tries too hard to be shocking and in your face. Maybe the jokes are hokey and corny. People define unfunny in a ton of ways and humor is subjective, yet that doesn’t make it unvalid. Same goes for criticisms like “it was genius” (another arguably overused term). On its own that could also mean anything and is totally subjective. But like “unfunny,” it gives you a vague idea of the reviewers overall impression of the work until he gets more into the specifics.

For most of the last twenty years, the term “fan-fiction” meant a story using the trademarked characters of others – necessarily published online to preclude lawsuits – which was not published with the blessing of the entity whose trademarked characters appeared within.

Hmm. Fair enough. That would exclude Don Rosa.

But I get the sense from reading old comic zines that this didn’t used to be considered a bad thing.

And I don’t think it needs to be today.

Some of the best critiques I’ve read called a work fanfiction and they were very good, clear critique pieces.

You got a link? I wouldn’t imagine that such a thing would ever exist.

I might be a little bit prejudiced here, ’cause I tend to see the use of the term as a red flag for “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

But there’s a good reason for this – I read a bunch of message board criticism by people who used the word
that was just REALLY poorly thought out.

Professional reviewers (even Wizard, I’d bet) and the bloggers I read regularly won’t use the term because of, well, what Cronin said.

Even “bad fanfiction” is very imprecise. Bad HOW! I am sure that fanfiction has a staggeringly broad range of ways it can be bad.

I could see, like, “Mary Sue based fan-fiction” working as criticism, but then you’re requiring a lot of technical knowledge on the part of your audience – we couldn’t really get away with it here without causing some confusion.

When you read something like “Meltzer’s Justice League reads like bad fan-fiction” in a review, I’m sure most people who have read any issue of that comic know exactly what the reviewer is talking.

If you have to read the comic to know what the reviewer is talking about, it’s not good criticism.

I’d say it’s a valid criticism if a writer makes bad plot choices for the sake of fan service.

OK. Given my revised definition of “Fanservice” I think this should be called “Scott Pilgrim syndrome.”

“OK. Given my revised definition of “Fanservice” I think this should be called “Scott Pilgrim syndrome.””

Works for me.

“For example, is “fanfiction” any more vague or subjective than “unfunny?””

Yes, because at least “unfunny” is at least a general indicator of quality. “Fanfiction” is completely neutral without a more specific context.

Yes, because at least “unfunny” is at least a general indicator of quality. “Fanfiction” is completely neutral without a more specific context.

Yes, fanfiction is indicative of quality. Fanfiction is usually amateurish and masturbatory. If you are a professional and someone calls your work fanfiction, it means that your work comes off as the work of someone who should be writing insular stories for themselves and a small group of fans than a professional writing for the masses. Fanfiction is not completely neutral, if it was professional writers would use it to positively describe their work from time to time. I’ve never seen it used as a compliment.

I’m guessing this post originally came about from me calling Dwayne McDuffie’s work extra-competent fanfiction in the Declarative Rabbit thread, so I elaborated on why I apply that label to his work in that thread.

Yes, because at least “unfunny” is at least a general indicator of quality. “Fanfiction” is completely neutral without a more specific context.

Yeah, good point.

I think a worthwhile review should do three things.

(A) Give a general, fairly objective analysis of what the work is. What’s it about, what are the themes, what styles from within a specific medium does it use. Stuff like that.
(B) Tell whether or not the reviewer likes the work.
I thought the first volume of Scott Pilgrim was fairly entertaining, to keep hammering an example, but really poorly written.

(C) Analyze the craft of the work. In comics this is basically “Is it well drawn?” “Is it well written?” “Does the writing mesh with the art?”

“Unfunny” is a category “B” description. (Or SHOULD be.) It means the reviewer didn’t like it.

“It’s like Fan-Fiction” is craft analysis. It’s comparing the craft of whatever’s being reviewed to the general level of a whole sub-category of writing. That’s just… sloppy. It’s like “JLA sucks. It sucks like Pre Raphaelite architecture, that’s how much it sucks.” Even changing that to “bad Pre Raphaelite architecture” isn’t going to make that into a worthwhile point.

Or substitute “rock music” or “mystery movies” or “chihuahua breeding manuals” in the above if you want. Still doesn’t work.

You can be more general in your language when you’re talking about whether you liked something, but should try not to be nebulous when discussing specific elements of craft.

“It’s like Fan-Fiction” is craft analysis. It’s comparing the craft of whatever’s being reviewed to the general level of a whole sub-category of writing.

Something can both categorize something as a whole subcategory of writing AND say whether a reviewer liked it if said subcategory is one that is usually held in low regard. The two methods of reviewing don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I can say something reminded me of a direct-to-video B-movie or I can say a comic reminded me of a snuff film and even though I am relegating works to a whole subcategory of writing, it’s still recognized as me saying that I didn’t like those works, since most people view direct-to-video B-movies and snuff films as subpar and awful. Same for fanfiction, I’ve never seen it used as a compliment or a tone that a professional writer aspires to. I think it’s universally regarded as the domain of overeager hobbyists.

I was actually gonna point this out earlier, but decided my post was long enough as it was.

I’ve never seen it used as a compliment.

If it was, that would probably be good writing. Taking a cliche and subverting it. I could see describing something as “cheerfully exuberant, like Fan-Fiction.”

“I’m guessing this post originally came about from me calling Dwayne McDuffie’s work extra-competent fanfiction in the Declarative Rabbit thread”

Hmmm, talk about damning with faint praise :)

In any case, I think the reads-like-fan-fiction critique can cover a lot of ground: It could mean the work was overly obsessed with the minutae of contiunity. It could indicate that a writer penned a lengthy multi-part story solely to resolve two stories published years in the past that happen to contradict one another. It can certainly mean that a writer is telling a Watchmen-style tale featuring long-established characters who have their own ongoing titles, and who are left damaged & difficut to use after the fact (i.e. Iron Man after the events of Civil War). It can mean the overuse of pet characters and Mary Sues, especially at the expense of the established cast.

Reads-like-fan-fiction covers a hell of a lot of ground. I think it is a valid criticism, just so long as you then take the time to explain why you think a story is fan fiction-ish.

“I’m guessing this post originally came about from me calling Dwayne McDuffie’s work extra-competent fanfiction in the Declarative Rabbit thread”

Most of the post is actually from a post I did last year.

When I saw MarkAndrew point out his complaint about the use of “fan-fiction,” I thought, “Oh hey, I did a whole post on just that topic!” and saw it wasn’t on the current blog, so I figured I’d re-write the original piece as a “Cronin Theory of Comics.”

So I don’t mean to come off like I’m just busting your chops with this piece.

I totally get the criticism with “fan-fiction” as a criticism, but I don’t think that it’s a complete critique in and of itself. You need to go well beyond and talk about how it operates like fan-fiction, what kind of fan-fiction, and why that’s a good or bad thing.

The simple use of the phrase doesn’t really mean a whole lot, because it’s become a cliche, and cliches are absolutely useless for providing practical details.

I tried to think of comics where the cheap dismissal of them as being like fan-fiction was heavily bandied, and the Dreamwave Transformer comics sprang to mind. The opening story-arc of their ongoing title was centred entirely around a new character who was the ‘brother’ of a main cast member and who proceeded to extravagantly trample all over about two dozen other, pre-existing characters for six issues; that kind of thing is something reminiscent of certain kinds of fan-fiction, I think?

‘Continuty porn’ is one I wouldn’t mind clarified. In the very same TF comics not one issue would go by without at least a half-dozen callbacks to previous TF moments. The thing is, none of those had happened in the title’s own continuity, they were all from other things (the movie, etc) and had little or no relevance to the plot; they were put in simply to stroke the fans. Sounds like something the phrase continuity porn might apply to, but I know from the context of reviews using the phrase it doesn’t. The only other phrase I’ve ever seen used to describe such gratuitous winks to the fanbase was the rather coarse ‘fan-wank’.
In that regard, ‘fan-fiction’ doesn’t seem quite so bad.

The problem is that, as pointed out by some, “fan fiction” characterizes an entire genre of writing. (One could go so far as to say that ALL comics are fan fiction, since they are written by fans, and that if the writers AREN’T fans, then they have no business writing! – Take, for example, many of the Pre-OYL Batman and Superman books, especially Batman, which read as if the writers actually HATED Batman’s guts, not to mention those of his supporting cast.)

There’s good fan-fiction and bad fan-fiction. Many of today’s writers got their starts because someone noticed their personal fan-fiction and thought that it was good enough to pay them for it. Devin Grayson is a very clear example, whether you like her work or not.

Then there’s bad fan-fiction. This type of work can often characterized as pieces which are rife with misspellings, poor grammar and syntax, many internal contradictions, and a disregard to established characterization or continuity.

To say that something is reminiscent of “fan-fiction” says nothing of one’s opinion of the work. It is indeed similar to comparing the work in question to “pre-Raphaelite architecture”.

In order for a reviewer to use the term as a criticism, he must first explain what he considers to be BAD (about) fan-fiction – at least once – and then contrast the work in question to said fanfic. Otherwise, usage of the term tells the reader nothing concrete – it can be construed in many different ways. So, sure, some readers may get it – but only those who are extremely familiar with the reader’s likes and dislikes. Those who are not on such intimate terms with the reviewer are more likely than not to feel lost and confused.

Case in point: “McDuffie though, has all the bad aspects of fanfiction, except it’s competently executed enough that the laughably bad elements of fanfiction are eliminated.”

What does that mean? All the bad elements of fanfiction except not? Most of the problems with fanfiction are competency issues – basically people who, pardon the expression, can’t write for shit.
But since T states that McDuffie’s work IS competent, what exactly does he view as negative about it? What additional elements does he view as negative about fanfiction in general? This is what is not clearly elucidated and become difficult for the casual reader (which, I’d venture to say, most readers are,) to penetrate.

I’m not going to read all the 46 posts now, so if it has been said before I apologize.
I think the basic connotation with Fan-Fiction is the amateur writer. The writer of a fan fic gets no payment for it, and does it for his or her own pleasure. More often than not they have had no education in writing either. So saying “Geoff Johns writes like fan-fic” is like saying “Johns writes like an unschooled amateur”. The fact weither he is a fan or not is out of the question.
Although I don’t think it will be this bad anytime soon, imagine if Superman would be drawn very stiffly, with no sense of composition to the image and with poor anatomy. People will say it looks like webcomics, even though it’s a print comic and not available legaly on the web.
Same thing.

“Yes, fanfiction is indicative of quality. Fanfiction is usually amateurish and masturbatory. If you are a professional and someone calls your work fanfiction, it means that your work comes off as the work of someone who should be writing insular stories for themselves and a small group of fans than a professional writing for the masses.”

What he said.

Here’s why the fan-fiction comparison, without any explanation, doesn’t work as criticism:

1. Not everyone agrees with, or is even aware of, the claim that all fan fiction is bad. Yeah, we can assume you’re talking about bad fan fiction when you use the critique negatively, but by that logic, we can compare anything to anything. (“This comic reads like a TV show. By which, of course, I’m referring to a bad TV show”)

2. Fan fiction in and of itself is criticized for so many different things, using it as a comparison could mean almost anything. Call a work “fan fiction”, what does it mean? Poor dialog, amateurish grasp of plotting, overly flowery descriptive passages, characters acting out of character, too much emphasis on obscure continuity, Mary Sues, everybody suddenly fucking everybody else, what?

The term fan-fiction is brought into question (appropriatly) but people have been throwing around “Mary Sue” and “Pet Characters” like there is no tomorrow.

I’m sorry, but if we had no “Pet Characters” than we would have no NEW characters correct? Was Hercules Roy Thomas’ pet character in Avengers? Or Hawkeye Stan Lee’s? I don’t think so, I think they were just NEW characters.
“Mary Sue” seems to be used by at least someone for every new character and I don’t think its apt. Yes, if your new character comes along, and is outrageously overqualified for their age or experience, is extremely powerful and the main character falls in love with him/her then yes, that is a Mary Sue. If your character is just tough, or particularly evil, then no, that is NOT a Mary Sue or even neccesarily a ‘Pet Character’, its just a NEW character. And frankly, in some books, we NEED new characters.

I don’t think new characters are necessarily synonymous with pet characters or Mary Sues. It all depends on whether said new character is portrayed ridiculously awesome, often at the expense of older, more established and more experiences characters. Look at Karl Kesel and Superboy for example. He didn’t work Superboy into every book he wrote. He didn’t try to portray him as perfect. He was even writer on Adventures of Superman at the same time he was writing Superboy, yet he still didn’t make guest appearances.

Here’s why the fan-fiction comparison, without any explanation, doesn’t work as criticism:

Well, no comparison without explanation really works as criticism. Naming it is only part of a critique. You should also explain how you came to that conclusion.

Not everyone agrees with, or is even aware of, the claim that all fan fiction is bad.

It doesn’t matter, though, because that claim doesn’t have any bearing on the criticism. I’ve never heard someone make a comparison to fan-fiction in a complimentary way. Even Brian’s initial post against the use of it describes it as a derisive remark.

And most people understand the concept of bad fan-fiction.

Yes, because at least “unfunny” is at least a general indicator of quality. “Fanfiction” is completely neutral without a more specific context.

Uh, no. “Fan-fiction” is completely derogatory, regardless of howmuch you read or write.

most people writing comics came in as fans.
so most of it is more or less fan fiction, ain’t it?
they just get to collect a check from the stuff they write.

Well, that’s actually exactly what makes it NOT fan-fiction. If you’re hired to write that story, then it’s not fan-fiction. It may still resemble it in style, but that’s the integral identifier of fan-fiction.

Non-professionally written.

Actually, a more basic identifier of fan fiction is UNAUTHORIZED. There are fan fictions out there by professional writers featuring their favorite characters, but if it’s UNAUTHORIZED, it’s fan fiction nonetheless.

No, my definition still covers that. Notice how I said “if you’re hired to write THAT STORY”.

God help me…I agree with Apodaca!!

Yes, if your new character comes along, and is outrageously overqualified for their age or experience, is extremely powerful and the main character falls in love with him/her then yes, that is a Mary Sue. If your character is just tough, or particularly evil, then no, that is NOT a Mary Sue or even neccesarily a ‘Pet Character’, its just a NEW character.

Right.

The terms are designed just for the characters who fit the “outrageously overqualified for their age or experience, is extremely powerful and the main character falls in love with him/her” stuff.

God help me…I agree with Apodaca!!

Funny, I’ve thought that a few times when I’ve agreed with you.

I guess even us broken clocks are right twice a day.

Late to this I know, but…
Greg: “I don’t deny the impact of fan-fiction upon criticism. In fact, one of the most popular terms that I like to use COMES from fan-fiction criticism, namely, Mary Sue, which is when a writer literally writes themselves (or a avatar of themself) into a fan-fiction.”

Well, no, that’s not what Mary Sue were, at least originally. It was someone inserting themselves into a story… which entirely breaks the universe it’s based in. The presence of the Mary Sue makes everyone else act out of character. In Lord of the Rings, the Mary Sue would make – say – Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli and whoever else all fall in love with them. Fundamentally, it is *impossible to have a good story with a real Mary Sue in it*.

Conversely, weakening the definition to be an Author insert it BY DEFINITION makes author-insertion a bad thing, from mere levels of aesthetic disgust rather than the effects it has on a narrative. This is an absolutely loathsome position, which – if expanded into general fiction as people try to do – rejects everything from Dante’s Inferno to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

(Even with Fanfiction, it’s entirely possible to author-insert a character into even fanfiction without it being a Mary Sue. You just have to write it well. There’s all sorts of satirical or meta-analytical reasons a writer may try to do.)

It’s a bloody useless phrase. It’s always been a personal bugbear and makes my palms itch.

KG

Are there a few good bits of fanfic out there? Yes. Do they represent the majority of fanfic? Hell no. Fanfiction sucks, as a body of work. As someone said earlier, it is best described as amateurish and poorly thought-out. It’s usually just some loser living in his mom’s basement who thinks it would be totally sweet to see Batman vs. Peter Griffin, or whatever. So when a comic is derided as being like fanfiction, I think the meaning is pretty clear, and the word is pretty well employed.

Marvel Civil War: It’s like Stan Lee-style fanfiction. See there? It perfectly communicates my conviction that this is just another, albeit glorified, example of a long Marvel/Stan Lee tradition of pointless, unjustified hero-fights, just to serve the all-powerful Comparative Heirarchy, and the entire concept (DOoD! all teh Marvel charcters fiting!) sounds like really bad fanfiction.

Mychael Darklighter

July 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

but they’re fighting over something, at least. it makes story-sense, it’s not just the classical lee ‘misunderstanding’.

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