Episode 27: Fanart Insights
Flourish and Elizabeth talk to Leslie Combemale, proprietor of the Art Insights Film Art Gallery, about the role of artists in the entertainment industry (animation cels, movie posters, concept art…) and how fanart intersects with it. They discuss licensing, fanart contests, and limited-print runs, and they try and put their finger on what, exactly, makes fanart transformative.
For whatever reason there are very few show notes for this episode! Again. Are we just getting less referential episode by episode?
We searched hard to find an article that dealt with Leslie’s statement that English has way more words than French (definitely true—but there are interesting nuances surely!) and came up short. @allthingslinguistic, suggestions?
Speaking of which, @fyeahcopyright, you got a perspective on what we’re talking about with regard to “what counts as transformative in art”?
Our askbox is open! Anon is on! Who else wants to chip in?
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish.
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining! The podcast by, for, and about fandom.
ELM: That’s good, I see you took my critique from last time—
FK: It was a good critique.
ELM: —to heart, about how you used to be really really enthusiastic and now as the weeks and months wear on you’re just overwhelmed by despair.
FK: So this is Episode 27, “Fanart Insights.”
ELM: OK, but this, without context that probably doesn’t make any sense because it’s like a play on words.
FK: It’s a play on words because we’re going to be talking to Leslie Combemale whose gallery, she owns an art gallery and it’s called Art Insights and it sells film and animation art. And we’re gonna be talking about fanart and film and animation art and the way those things interact.
ELM: So it all makes sense.
ELM: So fanart, do you have any strong feelings about it?
FK: My strong feeling is that I enjoy it. I am pro-fanart.
ELM: Do you think fanart occupies a different place in transformative fandom right now with Tumblr and how it is a visual-first platform?
FK: That's such a leading question. I do, Elizabeth! [ELM laughs] Fanart has always had a prominent place in fandom but I think it's even more so now with Tumblr, yeah, just like you said, being a visual platform. I think it’s really central in a way it hasn’t always been.
ELM: So for the newsletter a couple weeks ago I did a little, I think ship manifesto would be misleading, that’s what it was supposed to be, but did you happen to read it, my little sad essay about Remus and Sirius? Sad, right? Sad stuff.
FK: It was cute.
ELM: Yeah, I talked about, what’s that phrase? Mono no aware I think? Even the happiest moments are infused with the sadness that all things will end and die. [laughs]
FK: That’s your shipping policy in a nutshell.
ELM: That’s my life policy. So I was googling, I was like maybe I should try to put some Remus/Sirius art in, and it was funny because it’s not a very active new works pairing right now. It was funny to see, it made me think about how scattered the fanart of 10 years ago is and how I see new fanart for certain pairings right now just exploding on Tumblr and getting a ton of attention, and it just shows that disconnect in an interesting way.
FK: At the same time I feel like fanart at one time may have been even more…valued isn’t the right word because I think people value it a great deal now, but it was less common and so it was more exciting, right? If you would have an illustrated fanfic or something like that, that was a big deal, in a way that now it’s like, well, there’s a lot of fanart out there.
ELM: Really? I don’t think that it’s less—I think it’s just the more the merrier.
FK: Yeah I guess—that’s why valued isn’t the right term. But maybe it was more surprising or special when you found something that was illustrated. As opposed to now where it’s more like, this is wonderful, there’s also a lot of it.
ELM: I also think now, not that lots of other visual fanworks didn’t exist, but I think—you know, I just lost about a half an hour of my life looking at someone’s aesthetic blog the other day. Aesthetics? You know aesthetics. For anyone who doesn’t spend time on Tumblr, those are like what’s usually eight or ten panels, very stylized—they might just be images that suggest the character the person is talking about, maybe they’ll be models that are supposed to represent them.
FK: Right, and I feel like there were things like this on LiveJournal to some degree, you could have photo sets or things but never quite to the extent that it is on Tumblr.
ELM: Just massive. And some of them are like—woo, wow! [laughs] I enjoy them but in a way that confuses me. Or just gifsets in general, Tumblr is such a visual platform.
FK: Or the idea of putting together outfits for a character, right. Here’s a bunch of outfits that so and so on Teen Wolf would wear.
ELM: I think that it’s interesting too because these are all shaped by the platform. Pinterest definitely shapes the fannish experience by the way it’s constructed, Tumblr shapes the experience a lot, and what’s trendy outside of fannish spaces on Tumblr visually crosses over pretty heavily. The aesthetics thing comes from outside fandom.
FK: Yeah, it’s very related to Pinterest—
ELM: Or the like, what’s the name of that hipster—
FK: What’s the name of the thing where you can come up with outfits?
ELM: Oh, what’s the name of that site! I know what you’re talking about.
ELM: We’re terrible.
FK: But I think it will be especially interesting to talk to Leslie about this stuff also because there’s also the fanart space of conventions and so forth which I am, as much as I love conventions the fanart side of that has never really been a central part, I’ve never been in a comics fandom which is more fanart-y. I don’t know as much about that side of things. So I think it’ll be interesting to hear her perspective as somebody who’s been involved with this for many many years.
ELM: Yeah, and one thing that I really really wanna know too is about the whole monetization thing. It seems very very curious to me. The fact that, like, when do you think you started seeing these people saying “I do commissions, $25 per character,” you know when they have the price structures where they have “Just one solo character, just a sketch, no color, $10,” and it goes up in increments. And this is something that I don’t remember from five years ago, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention.
FK: I remember it but I remember it very much in spaces, for “World of Warcraft” for instance, you could commission someone to draw your D&D character or your “World of Warcraft” character and people who did that kind of work would have that kind of price structure, but I feel like it didn’t really hit the side of fandom that tends into the transformative works. I feel it didn’t really hit there as much. There were a couple of people who would do it, but it’s exploded.
ELM: I’m very curious about this, so I’m excited to talk to her.
FK: Well, shall we call her up?
ELM: Let’s do it!
FK: OK, so it’s time to welcome Leslie to the podcast! Hey Leslie!
Leslie Combemale: Hello, thank you!
ELM: Thanks for coming on!
LC: It is my pleasure entirely.
FK: So where should we start? Why don’t you tell our listeners about your story, what you do, because I don’t think that we can possibly have covered it as fully and wonderfully as you can.
LC: OK, well, I am a little bit weirdly diverse in what I do, but I own an art gallery. I started selling animation, original art of animation when there were only five galleries in the world that specialized in animation art, and that was in, well, when The Little Mermaid came out. So if you find Little Mermaid cels that are for sale, a huge percentage of them are pieces that I sold way back when the movie came out. So I started out doing that and back when I was doing that there were a lot more animators who were still alive and I’ve always been somebody who’s really passionate about learning everything there is to know about whatever there is that I’m doing, so I got to know a lot of these animators and became really good friends with them and it was amazing. And I was really lucky because I met all and got to know and become really close friends with some people who have since passed away.
So I did that and then I was working for someone else back then, and I left and started my own gallery, called Art Insights. We were selling animation art but we also sold interpretive animation art. Then I met this guy named John Alvin who is the movie poster artist for E.T., Blade Runner, Young Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and 200 other movies. I have always loved movies and I’ve always loved the art of film. Not only concept work that was used to make movies, but also the movie poster art. So I started working with John and we became really close friends and I started representing his work, sadly he then passed away, so then I represented his work and his estate, and I still sell that artwork around the world. We have a fan website that represents all of his artwork and I’m an expert on his work.
Then I expanded, once I got to know John Alvin and got to know his work, I started getting really interested in how it is that production artists and people that work on films or that work on the campaigns of films, created something that actually made people more passionate about these movies. They were making the art that actually got people to go see these movies and as John Alvin would say creating the promise of a great experience. So I got really interested in concept work for movies, new movies coming out, also campaign art for new movies coming out, but as I was becoming passionate and interested in that, it was the same time as all of the artwork was starting to be shifted into making art on the computers. So there was less and less art.
But also at the same time as that, the studios were clamping down on all the artists who were creating art for films and creating campaign art, and they were all becoming work for hire. So none of the work that they created in the making of the films or in the making of the campaigns for the films were allowed to be sold. They could keep, it got really crazy, they could keep the artwork themselves at their houses, they could give it to their friends but they couldn’t sell it. And what’s more is they couldn’t create it.
FK: So they couldn’t even give it to a friend and the friend couldn’t sell it.
LC: Well, that gets kind of—there’s so many weird little loopholes in all of this is the thing. I’ve certainly seen plenty of people who have been given art that wind up selling it, but they’re not supposed to. So…
FK: Could get you in trouble.
LC: Right! And the thing is, is that at this point now, just in the last maybe like 15 years or so, artists that create concept work, production work for films, special effects work, anything that relates in the making of a film, even the campaign work, you know the movie posters, they are not allowed to sell or sometimes even show any of the work that relates to the movies that they’re working on. So where this gets weird is the fact that in fanart all of the people who create artwork that relate to films that they love, they are out there selling it, showing it, some of them are getting really famous like with Mondo—all these people who have never worked on a movie. They have nothing to do with the films themselves. They’re just passionate people who love the movies, and so they create artwork that relate to the films, but they have nothing to do with the movies themselves.
So the reason I became so passionate about it is I was like, so wait, these artists nobody knows their names, they’re the reason we love these movies, you talk about for example there’s so many films that visually are so important—all the Tim Burton movies, what’s the director that's in Australia that’s so amazing—
FK: Baz Lurhmann.
LC: Baz Lurhmann! Right right, so his visual, all the production design, all of that has such a major impact on the way a finished film looks, and yet we have no idea who these people are. So I kinda wanted to give a voice to and promote the artists that had to do with the fact that we love these movies. But what I ran into was if I worked through a studio and I got licensed artwork, which I do in my art gallery called Art Insights by the way [all laugh] if I got artwork that was licensed, it would be pretty expensive because you’d have to pay the studios.
So then there were these companies that weren’t paying licenses and were creating kind of, you know the really graphic-y looking movie poster designs that aren’t based in traditional illustration? All of that stuff became really popular because they were not having to pay a lot to the studios. There are tons and tons of companies that create artwork based on movies that don’t pay license.
FK: So for instance if I go out and buy a Lord of the Rings poster that has a sort of 1920s graphic style, that might not be something that has anything to do with the studio, it’s a reinterpretation, they’re not paying license, so that’s why that’s cheaper than if I go and buy an official piece of Lord of the Rings artwork.
LC: Exactly. Because as you know there’s WETA that is at Comic-Con, and they have a lot of the official artists that work on all of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, and those guys are all licensed. So if you’re gonna buy something from them it can be pretty expensive. But to me, it’s so exciting to me—and I think there are a lot of people that, let me be really clear, I do not cast aspersions remotely on fanart. I think fanart is very, very important and has a really important role to play in a lot of ways for people artistically and as a voice and as part of fandom. There are lots of ways in which fanart is really important.
But I think also it’s important for people to respect, laud and celebrate the artists that create the work that bring to life these films, these visions that we’re all so passionate about. So anyway, that’s what my gallery does, I’m very involved in trying to as much as I can promote artists that are behind the films that people have never heard of. More and more lately I don’t worry about the aspect of trying to get a license or promoting, actually even selling the art, I’m just trying to promote them. Because the frequency with which I find someone who is either allowed to sell art or will not get in trouble or is challenged by being in the same marketplace as 20 other more famous people that have nothing to do with the film is so frequent, it’s so common that I just decided, I’ll sell what’s licensed, there will always be people that buy that, and then I’m gonna do as much as I can to promote what’s called “below-the-line,” which is people who are not the director and the famous people in films.
Which is why I became a film critic, why I started doing panels at Comic-Con which I’ve been doing for more than 10 years, I kind of split who I became so I could still do what I felt really passionate about. Because I started getting really bad about when I saw people online selling their fanart, artists that would, you know, it wasn’t enough of a reinterpretation or transformative enough, I felt like—see, my belief is if you’re at a con, and you’re standing in front of two tables of artists, and one artist has created something wholly unique and original, and the person next to them has created fanart of Iron Man, and you buy the Iron Man because you like Iron Man, you’re not supporting the expansion and creativity that is our future as artists and as lovers of film and pop culture. So I don’t think there’s a problem with buying the Iron Man art, I just hate to imagine all these people trying to create original characters and stories and worlds and then they can’t survive because people are doing images—if it’s not transformative, that’s when it becomes an issue with me.
So like if you do Iron Man that’s a girl, I love that. If you do the, you know when you mix different fandoms together and create artwork that says something socially, says something politically, has a quality that is unique to you artistically, that isn’t just about trying to sell something Iron Man, that makes my heart sing. I love that. But it’s not always like that when you go to a con.
ELM: This is really—I wasn’t expecting it to be so complicated so fast.
LC: Word, sister! Flourish and I have talked about this so much!
ELM: All right, Flourish, you were making a thinky face. Do you want to try your thoughts first on this one?
FK: Sure! I mean I think that this is something that Leslie and I have sort of argued back and forth with a lot because it seems like there’s this question of what is transformative enough.
ELM: That was exactly my question!
FK: And it’s tough, because it seems like there’s all of these artists who are laboring in the service of movies who are often pretty poorly paid, they’re doing work for hire, sometimes some of them are probably remunerated well but some of them are not and certainly they don’t have the opportunity that other artists have to potentially sell that original work and become famous in their own right because they’re never gonna be promoted by the studio, because they aren’t above the line. It seems like that’s really the core problem here, much more even than the transformative works aspect, right? That’s part of what makes it so sticky. If these people were famous and successful, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if there was somebody who was also being really successful doing something that wasn’t very transformative. But they’re actually contractually prevented from getting any of the glory, basically. That’s what it sounds like your argument is to me. That’s what I want it to be, anyhow.
LC: That is the argument, and what’s also interesting about that is if you go a few steps backward, with John Alvin, he was so famous for doing what he did that he could create anything he wanted and sell anything he wanted. And there are a few artists still working today who are so successful and so well-known in their name for how much they’ve influenced the look of a number of films that they’re able to do that. But the large percentage of artists, that’s not the case for them. And it really to me, what the line is for me is how far is transformative? Here’s what I think the line is: if someone’s buying it merely because it’s Iron Man, it’s not transformative enough. If it’s Iron Man in a twist, that gives it something that someone who loves Iron Man but also loves…you know, uh. Architectural Digest, is into architecture, [all laugh] and somehow they’ve taken Iron Man and turned it into a building, right?
So if they do that, that’s amazing. And exciting. And it enhances the fandom, it enhances pop culture, it creates a conversation. That’s exciting to me. And also as an artist, I think that’s important. Don’t speak someone else’s voice. Take the voices you’re hearing around you and speak your own voice within the context of what you’ve heard. And I think that’s also part of the conversation: not just what’s transformative, but why do you not want to enhance what you love with your own voice?
ELM: This is a much narrower—all my perspective on this is gonna be coming from fanfiction, right. Which I think has some similarities but a lot of differences. But that's a much narrower definition of “transformative” than the one that we would use in fanfiction. You could have the most tonally, what’s the word, reverent, I could write Game of Thrones—oh, I probably shouldn’t use that one because that makes him nervous. I could write Harry Potter fanfiction that imitates her style to a tee, and I would still say that the very act of me writing it still makes it a transformative work.
LC: Right. I hear ya. And that would be the case for musicians who love Led Zeppelin, and then write a song trying to sound like—cause I’m a musician. So if I try to sound like Led Zeppelin, it’s still gonna sound like Leslie. It’ll have a Led Zeppelin quality but it’ll still sound like Leslie. So I hear what you’re saying. But I think with visual art it’s different.
ELM: That’s interesting.
LC: Because visual art, I feel like with words it’s very different. You have red and there are different tones of red. But words are like having 2,000 tones of red, whereas red, people are gonna see it and they’ll see about 20 tones of red. And when you’re dealing with words, and this I speak as someone who speaks both French and English and French has far fewer words than English has. So I know that in France we have the same word for maybe 10 words that Americans in English have, but in the context of how you use it it means different things. And I feel like when you’re talking about words in comparison with visual artistry, that’s very different.
And also, you’ve got the whole slash thing, you’ve got—there’s so many aspects of fanfic that kind of automatically make it transformative. You’re not telling the same story. Yeah, they’re buying it because they love, they’re reading it because they love Harry Potter. But it’s not like it’s gonna go “Oh, there’s this little section of Azkaban and there’s this chapter and there really should have been this one paragraph of that chapter that they didn’t write, so I’m gonna write that one paragraph.” You know what I mean? That’s not how fanfiction writers write. They write because I love this, I’m gonna take it, I’m gonna use my voice to enhance and expand—which is exactly what I'm talking about about fanart.
FK: It seems like one of the aspects of it is that fanfiction is often, it’s often switching the medium. Harry Potter fanfiction there are books and there are movies but even if you, if you take a television show you’re switching the medium from a television show to a written work, right? If you’re talking about Harry Potter there’s this interplay with the movies which is different. And even if you’re writing, fanfiction authors will often do things like write from a different—write in first person when the author wrote in third, right.
ELM: Flourish, that’s not switching the medium.
FK: No it’s not, it’s not changing the medium but it’s changing things in a different way.
LC: It becomes a different voice.
FK: But if you draw Iron Man and you’re drawing him based off of a comic book, then it’s within the same medium, but maybe there’s other ways…Leslie, would you have a problem with it if somebody drew Iron Man in a way that was a perfect aping of a famous, another famous artist’s style, but put Iron Man into a situation that that artist never would do? Like drew, I don’t know, Science Bros, Iron Man and the Hulk kissing, but in the style of a famous comics artist? What would that be?
LC: That’s transformational, absolutely. Transformative. But I also think that, and I have to be very—cause I didn’t mention this with Elizabeth and this is another aspect of it—so you can do original art till the cows come home and you can go to a con and sell original art till the cows come home, although I will say that Marvel and Disney will have an issue with it, but a lot of other companies are cool with it because really, legally, you should be able to create an original piece of artwork for anything ever done, if you do one and it’s original, that legally you should be allowed to do.
My issue is when you’re making limited editions of them. So you’re not only are you, A you're not transformative, B, you're printing them. Jesus Mary and Joseph. So all right, you’re not transformative. You love Iron Man—I’m just using Iron Man cause it’s consistent. So you do Iron Man and you’re gonna do the one and it’s gorgeous, it’s glorious cause you’re an amazing artist. And so somebody comes and is like “Oh my God, I wanna have that,” and it’s not that much money or maybe it is, who cares, they want it, you sell it, Bob’s your uncle you’re good to go. But if you start printing them out then that means, OK, to be fair—and I am so not a corporate fucker [all laugh] I am not a fan of big corporations! But at the same time, I mean I’m really not, but at the same time, OK, Iron Man was created, has like five companies involved with it, and if you make it with Robert Downey Jr.’s face, now you’re dealing with the movies, plus you’ve got Marvel, plus you’ve got the original creator of Iron Man, you’ve got all of those people and none of them are reaping the benefits of that creative brain trust.
And you know here’s the thing too: a fanartist who also creates their own characters, and they create something amazing, say it’s like Cinema Siren cause that’s my moniker as a film critic.
FK: Now you’re a superhero, Cinema Siren.
LC: Right, right. So now they decide Cinema Siren, I’m gonna turn that into a superhero, she’s not just a film critic, she’s also a mermaid but she’s doing blah blah blah—whatever it is she’s doing, and they put her in a bunch of different situations, she’s awesome, she has big flowing red hair which I do, my icon has big flowing red hair, and that takes off. That’s awesome. Go them. We’re gonna say it’s a girl that made it cause why not. It becomes a huge thing, they make a movie, she makes all this money from it, it's awesome, now she goes to the con and there’s 25 other people doing fanart of Cinema Siren and she’s not making any money on any of it and it’s not benefiting her in any way. And she started out sloggin’ away, figuring out how to—so that’s the thing. We want the people who create these inventions to continue to benefit from them as well. I feel like that’s an important thing to have happen. I always want Andy Warhol’s estate to benefit from Andy Warhol’s work.
ELM: This is interesting though because one thing that I’ve observed as someone outside the art world, and only encounters fanart directly though fandom, there’s such a still nasty stigma against monetizing fanfiction. But somehow while I was looking in the other direction people started charging money for fanart, and I never see callout posts on Tumblr saying “how dare you.” People don’t say what you’re saying in fan spaces. They don’t say “You’re taking away money from the rights holders” the way they do when they talk about fanfiction being monetized.
LC: Yeah, no. Totally not.
ELM: I don’t feel like it was always like this. I feel like there’s been a shift.
LC: Absolutely a shift.
ELM: I wonder about your perspective on this? Because you’ve probably been paying a lot more attention than I am to this over the last few years.
LC: Well, I think what’s interesting about this shift is the spectrum is so wide in terms of what properties are really tight about it and what properties don’t worry. I will use this as an example because I think it’s really telling and interesting: I love Doctor Who, I’m not somebody who’s a huge Doctor Who fan, I’ll give you an idea of it, I probably watched 12 episodes of Doctor Who?
ELM: You should watch more! But not Moffatt ones.
LC: I know, I know, I know! I’m a film critic, I have to watch like 20 movies a week as it is. But I love, everything I ever watched of it I totally love. So the thing about Doctor Who that I thought was really interesting was when I was at the height of my being really adamant about exposing the bigger world to artists that actually worked on TV shows and movies and stuff, I went to BBC and I was like “OK, I want to buy the license for Doctor Who.” And I want to say, because I really want to put a shout-out to someone, there is a woman, she is Bob Clampett’s daughter, Ruth Clampett, Ruth Clampett has had the license for DC and for Harry Potter. Now she’s a Harry Potter fangirl, big time. When the books came out, before the movies, she was like “I love this, these are gonna be a big thing, amazing, I’m going to represent the art.” And her dad was a really famous Looney Tunes artist so she already had Looney Tunes art and then she was also doing DC, she was doing Warner Brothers stuff, and then added to that she started doing Warner Brothers.
Well. When she started doing Harry Potter she said, and so did the people who are Harry Potter related, Jo included, they said “We only want artists that actually worked on either the films or the books. No one else. We will not take interpretive artwork here. We only want art done by people who actually worked on it.” Which I thought, all right, it seems a little tight-fisted but whatever, and since then I am so happy that that was a decision that they had made. And it’s not just with that, she does it with everything that she ever works on. It’s always only people who work on the films, TV shows, properties that were—she only ever works with—so I took a page from her book, I said “I’m gonna go to BBC and I’m gonna say I’m only gonna work with artists that actually worked on these episodes. And I’m gonna go to them, I’m gonna get them to create artwork, and that will be what I sell.”
Well obviously I’m gonna have to pay a fair amount of money to use the license, right? So there’s that money. But in addition I have to pay the artists of course, I don’t wanna not pay the artists, so I have to pay the artists for signing and for creating artwork and all of that, and all of that was fine, but it meant that the artwork was gonna be between 200 and 400 dollars. Now, let’s be honest. People buy TVs all the time. If you really care about a piece of artwork, and you don’t have a ton of money, you can still buy it, lots of people can afford a piece of artwork if it’s the most important thing to them. OK? So people who come into my gallery and say “Oh, I wish I could afford them,” I’m like, “Well, how often do you go to Starbucks? If you buy Starbucks twice a week for an entire year, you can buy two pieces of artwork in my gallery.” So the argument that people can’t—and there are plenty of people who can’t afford it, certainly!
FK: It’s just that it’s more affordable than a lot of people would like to—
FK: Cause it’s about your priorities. Maybe I like Starbucks more than I like art! I don’t know. I don’t, but.
LC: Or maybe you like cars more than you like art! There are plenty of things people think are important. Art is in your house, so that isn’t about outward perception. That’s about something that fills you up in your own space. So there tends to be a really clear delineation between people who don’t give a fuck what other people think and they want something beautiful in their house, and people who are like “Hey look at me I have a BMW, aren’t I the shit.” So those are two very different groups of people.
FK: Say it how you really feel, Leslie. Just say it, say what you think!
LC: There was never an issue of me not saying what I think, as you know! You guys are gonna get so much–people are gonna write in and be like “I hate that girl!” So I wanted to do this project, right, but then I went online and I saw that there was so much art that people had created in limited edition form, quite creative, quite interesting, some very transformative, some not so much transformative, but so much art based on Doctor Who online, I was like, “I can’t spend money to buy this license if I know there’s so much art and they’re not controlling it at all.” Again, I think there’s a place no matter what the fandom is, I do believe there is a future where it could be very delineated between fanart, what’s allowed to be created as fan interpretations, and what is kept pure, pristine for the artists that actually created the original project. I don’t know what that would look like, but I do believe it’s possible to do that.
FK: That’s really interesting because I feel like I often assume that nothing a fan does can ever have any monetary impact on people who are involved in the production, even though maybe I should know better than that. But this is a very direct relationship where artists who worked on Doctor Who who maybe don’t have the ability to sell their concept art or whatever could be rewarded for this, essentially. And you’re not, there's not a—
ELM: I think that’s assuming that…I don’t want to keep bringing this back to fanfiction, but that’s the one I pay more attention to, so—
LC: No, it’s your experience so I think—
ELM: Is that OK? It’s not deeply annoying to you?
ELMb OK, so you know, I saw someone complaining on Twitter the other day in a thread that was getting a lot of traction in the books space, in the YA space, saying her daughter was 14 and doesn’t read books. She only reads fanfiction. And they were complaining that she was a lost customer to the YA book scene. And you know, every day—not every day, that’s an exaggeration. Often I feel like I see posts also on Tumblr of people being like “I would never read a published book. I only read fanfiction. Fanfiction is all I want.” Some of this seems to be working on a presupposition that if I’m a fan of Doctor Who, then I just want Doctor Who art. But maybe I just want Doctor Who fanart. Maybe if I, does that make sense? I feel like I’m mangling this analogy I’m trying to make. Flourish, you’re nodding so maybe you can help me here. But I don’t necessarily think that they all exist in the same broad spectrum. Sometimes I think for some people they actually are separate.
FK: Well one thing that I think actually maybe is different here—
ELM: Can you interpret what I just said to myself?
ELM: Thank you.
FK: I think what you’re saying is that within fanfiction one of the things about consuming fanfiction is there’s a community of fanfiction writers, so by reading fanfiction even if you’re not talking within the community you’re part of sort of this community thought and the way this works. And if you’re reading published books, there may be a community of published book people, but it may feel less accessible to you, it may not be your thing. If I’m interpreting you right, if I’m interpreting the people I see saying “I only want fanfiction” right, then they’re saying “I just want this thing that feels like it’s made for me, it feels like it’s part of my community, it feels like it’s this.”
And I think maybe part of the difference is what Leslie is talking about with fanart is the sort of more broad “I am a person with a booth at Comic-Con and I am selling this limited edition art to people who don’t know who I am, don’t know who my community is—”
FK: “—is not part of this group.” So maybe if you are, maybe it’s different—I’m not sure that it is different but maybe it is different if you’re like, “I am a fan, I’m involved in this fanart space,” it’s “not very transformative,” maybe not as transformative as putting Legolas in a Pacific Rim style mecha—
ELM: I was wondering where Legolas was going to go into.
FK: —so that he can bond with Gandalf [all laugh] or somebody, right—I don’t think they’re actually drift compatible but we’ll move on—maybe it’s not that transformative but you’re still involved in a community? And that’s one thing maybe? Which is maybe what Leslie was getting at with if you make a single piece of art and sell it that’s one thing but when you’re selling it mass-produced to lots of people who aren’t part of that community…I don’t know, this is tough though!
LC: That’s a really really good point, that’s an amazing point! Because from my experience they don’t know, they’re not aware of fandom really. They’re just, they love the characters or whatever. I’ll use an example of someone coming into my gallery, there’s a guy named Roger Kastel who did the movie poster for Jaws. He’s an old guy, he also did Empire Strikes Back, his work is amazing, Jaws is a really—the minute I say that, you guys know the poster, right? It’s a famous poster. Well, somebody somewhere did an interpretive version of the Jaws poster and when the guy came in and he said “I’m looking for Jaws,” like a piece of art that looks like the Jaws poster, I’m like “Well, I know Roger Kastel and I’m sure that he has something that he can do. It’ll be like 5 or 600 dollars, I don’t know how much it will be—”
FK: But I know the guy who did the poster! I can talk to him for you!
LC: He was like, “Well I saw it on Pinterest and it’s $50.” I was like, “It's $50, it looks just like the poster by Roger Kastel who did the poster for Jaws in 1975, don’t you maybe wanna support Roger Kastel and the poster from—” You know what I mean? Why are you—it’s a weird thing because it’s a weird inversion of “I’m a fan and I love this movie as a fanartist and someone supporting fanart,” if we’re paralleling it with fanfiction, if I’m putting something on one of the fanart sites like Deviant or whatever, and a lot of other people see it, and there’s a lot of connection, and I’m expressing myself in a way that I feel like not a lot of other people heard me, but I was able to create something where other people understand me and hear me in a way I felt like I haven’t been heard before. That’s the beautiful aspect of fanart that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and that's the power of it, and I think that’s really important.
When it’s in that context. But when it’s in a context of “I’m an artist creating art that’s derivative of another artist who was actually responsible for connecting people and exciting people about the original film,” then it gets dicey. Then it gets funky. Then it’s a different thing. Because we’re not talking about a community of fans that are connected with each other and having a conversation. We’re talking about people who don’t know. They don’t know, they don’t frankly give a fuck, they want to spend $50 instead of $500, and the artists themselves should be saying “I don’t want to create something that’s gonna take away from the person that actually worked on the original poster for the original film.”
I feel like there should be some kind of integrity around that as well, but that’s tricky, because even fanartists often don’t know the derivation of the work that they’re creating, because the studios aren’t telling anyone! They’re not teaching anybody about who’s worked on it! So it’s this weird catch-22. Certainly plenty of people come in who love these films who are creating fanart and they’re like “Oh my God, who did that? Who was that? What is that? I had no idea!” Let me just throw another wrench into this whole situation…
ELM: Another wrench!
LC: One of the strange things about this environment now that I haven’t even mentioned yet is the fact that there are artists that are posting images online that make it look like they’re actually working on a movie or working with the studio to create artwork that’s an alternate version of a movie poster and a lot of them have nothing to do with the studio. But Twitter is such that maybe James Gunn will retweet something for Guardians of the Galaxy because he thinks it’s cool. But then it’s not actually licensed and it’s not authorized so it’s confusing, and there are certainly plenty of people who are making themselves look like they’re licensed official artists for studios but they aren’t.
So we’re adding to the picture: there are people with integrity that are fanartists that just love the work, there are people that actually work on the films themselves or on the campaigns that have integrity, there are people that have nothing to do with it that just make it look like they’re working on it, and then in addition to all of that we have companies that are putting out contests to get people to create alternate movie posters for free, as a contest, so that they can get images from artists that want to be working on the project and they sign away all their rights in order to be part of a contest. Then these people may or may not wind up winning, but everything that they do gets—they’re signing away to whatever the studio is that’s working on whatever the movie is that’s coming out. And that’s really not cool.
ELM: Yeah, seriously.
LC: It’s like asking someone to write—“Here, we want 2,000 people to write Harry Potter fanfic and we’re gonna publish one of them, but we have the rights to all 2,000 of the ones that were created for the contest.”
ELM: This is one of the, in the visual space that’s one thing that has been extraordinary to me, the work for the chance of exposure thing. The contest where they’ll say “Who wants to design our new logo” or whatever, “one of you will win a prize.” I don’t think you see this very much in the general writing space. They’re not like “Write us a tagline and maybe you’ll win.” Do you disagree Flourish?
LC: Can you imagine?
FK: Well, I think there is something complex. Actually it’s funny because there is a thing where people send you spec scripts, you have to be able to prove you have never opened it.
ELM: Wait, I don’t know what a spec script is, maybe you should tell our listeners.
FK: This suddenly became a problem because recently my company was featured in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of times [sic: it was Deadline Hollywood] [Leslie whoops] Yay! We are a thing, we’re real!
LC: You are a thing! You are a big thing.
FK: We were a thing before, but now we’re a real thing that the public knows about. So that’s great. But the problem is that meant for the first time ever some people started sending me unsolicited scripts. And that seems like it’s cool—
LC: For what?
FK: For movies.
ELM: Just like random scripts.
FK: Right. And this is a common thing which I had not entirely realized because it’s never happened to me before because I work in fandom and not in a position where people think I can do much with their scripts [all laugh] but suddenly people think that, and so I found out after talking with my lawyer extensively that I need to be very careful and log every script that has been sent to me and prove that I have not looked at it so that if somebody happens to have an idea and a script I can prove that I didn’t look at it.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: I can prove that I didn’t steal their idea. And I’m sure many of them are great ideas!
ELM: You think so?
FK: Maybe! I don’t know! Dr. Seuss had to send his work to like a hundred publishers before he got something published! I’m sure that there’s many a person who’s wonderful! But point being that actually this is one of the things about those contests is sometimes they’re shady and sometimes it’s like, if I’m gonna hire a writer I have to look at a thing they’ve written in order to know if they’re a good writer. But I also don’t want to be on the hook for if I ever come up with—I don’t want to accidentally lift something from their thing, so…
ELM: Are you defending these contests right now?
FK: I’m not defending contests necessarily. I think a lot of them are bad deals. But there’s also an issue where if you’re gonna go to, like, a scriptwriting residency, and someone asks you for a sample scene, I think there can be reasons why someone would say “We want you to give up the rights in this.” Not because somebody’s gonna steal it, but because they don’t want you to be able to sue them if they receive 400 sample scenes and one of them has an element they use someday, right?
ELM: I feel like…cart before the horse isn’t really the expression I’m looking for, but I think Leslie and I are both critiquing the—
FK: Yeah, yeah, that's a thing too! I’m just saying it’s tough because it’s hard to know—
ELM: You’re defending the terms of service of, like, a shitty proposition to begin with.
FK: All I’m trying to say is there’s people who are taking advantage of folks, and then there’s the other way you can be taken advantage of, and I think it’s hard to tell which is going on sometimes. Not, like, the “make a logo for me,” because that’s obviously a shit deal, don’t take it.
LC: But the same shit deal of “make our logo for you” is really the thing of “make an alternate movie poster for this movie.” But I think in the case of, for example with Star Wars they just did that. They had a contest and they had a bunch of people create artwork and then people got to have their artwork used or shown. But nobody got paid. Nobody got paid. And that’s messed up.
ELM: The pleasure of providing them with…and they’re taking advantage of people’s passion, the same stuff they’d be doing for free as fanart now they’re doing essentially to create revenue that they see none of.
FK: It’s also different to saying I’m running a scriptwriters’ residency, I need sample scripts to determine who will get this residency, and presumably somebody or several somebodies get the residency and actually get paid and have time doing it. And maybe not everybody does, but you know going into it that this is effectively the application fee is I have to write a scene or whatever it is and then somebody gets paid at the end. As opposed to make our logo and then have bragging rights. Which doesn’t lead you to any professional development.
ELM: Yeah. In journalism people often, when they’re applying for a job, will often do an edit test. Which means they basically do the job and they write in the context in which they would write. And they’re paid. They’re always compensated a fair rate, because…this isn’t about an audition. You’re not auditioning to be the logo creator or the movie designer of these studios. This is literally just they want your content. That’s it.
FK: Yeah, which is different, very different, cause one of the is a future work possibility and the other one is just a bragging rights.
LC: And the thing too about artwork is these studios aren’t hiring artists to create alternate posters so it’s not like there’s a chance in the future for them to create artwork for them! So what are, you just want—and I completely understand, if I were an artist I would love to have Marvel say “Yes, I want that to be the thing that we use.” Let me also say there are studios that do create alternate art and pay the artists to create interesting illustrated art or alternate posters, they’re still out there doing that, there are people doing that and paying for it. But there are certainly plenty of studios and production companies that do it without paying anybody for it.
ELM: It’s a shame because actually you would want someone who was enough of a fan who loved the thing so much they wanted to create art for it, that would be an ideal person to be creating. I remember I saw, to talk about Doctor Who actually I saw some people who did the Doctor Who tie-in novels who had written them and they were talking about who was creating them and the line was something like, “I would rather hire a fan and teach them how to write than hire a writer and teach them to care about this universe and write from the ethos of Doctor Who.”
FK: And that happens all the time I think in tie-in novel space. The Quantum Leap tie-in novels, when I was at Boskone [says it bos-kon]—excuse me, I shouldn’t say that, that’s not how it’s said, it’s said “boss-cone”—it was my first Boskone—
ELM: You’re gonna get voted off the island, Flourish. [LC laughs]
FK: I’m gonna get voted off the nerd island. Anyway when I was at Boskone I was on a panel with the woman who ran the Quantum Leap tie-in novel publishing program way back when Quantum Leap was a thing and her entire thing was, “Yeah, I went and found fanfiction authors and was like ‘Do you want to write me a novel?’”
ELM: That is so interesting. OK, but actually you guys I think we have to wrap up, looking at the time. Leslie, will you promise us that you’ll come on and talk about art many times in the future?
LC: I would love to and I certainly am particularly interested after your readers and listeners come with all of their questions and attitude and thoughts about it! As I’m sure they’re going to, because one of the great things about your podcast is you have a really active group of followers who have really strong opinions, so I’m excited to hear what they have to say about what we’ve been talking about.
FK: [laughs] That was the official “Come at me, bro”
ELM: Really though!
LC: I’m fine with that though! It’s not like that’s ever bothered me.
ELM: Do you, is there a place people can find you directly or should they contact us and we’ll pass it along?
LC: [laughs] Yeah, they can, they can find me…well, my art gallery Art Insights, but I’m also Cinema Siren so you can go on cinemasiren.com, which is my website that has my film reviews…I’m very very accessible online. Certainly.
ELM: Awesome. We’ll put that in the show notes, so send your hate mail—
FK: Or your love mail!
LC: Love mail! No one should hate me because I never said anything but how much I love fanart. It’s just a question of expressing yourself in the most powerful, authentic, and expansive way as you can. And to me that’s the most important message that we’re talking about today.
ELM: I think you saved it. That was a really positive end.
FK: We’ll talk to you later, Leslie, I’m sure.
ELM: Thank you so much for coming on.
LC: Thank you guys!
FK: That was incredible to hear from Leslie. I feel like we were unprepared.
ELM: All right, [doubtful] I don’t think we were unprepared, but it was not what I was expecting, so…maybe that’s unprepared. [all laugh]
FK: Definition of “unprepared”: not what you were expecting.
ELM: [laughs] It was very very interesting! Maybe surprised but not…what’s the distinction I’m looking for here? You don’t know.
FK: I don’t know. I don’t know. Surprised but not what.
ELM: There was a phrase I saw someone use when they were talking about Brexit.
FK: Surprised but not…
ELM: It was like “shocked but not surprised.” But that’s too extreme in this situation. Leslie didn’t shock me. It’s that kind of thing where you’re like “Ooh!” and then you’re like “Oh, yeah, OK!”
FK: So tell me about that!
ELM: About Brexit, okay, so…
FK: Nooooooo, not Brexit! My God! Not Brexit! [all laugh] Tell me about your feelings with Leslie about your surprise or shock or however you’re—
ELM: Well it’s interesting! I’m doing this thing that I did the whole time where I’m trying to draw analogies between the fanfiction world and the publishing world because I’ve spent so much time talking to people who are coming from the side of the rights holders within the publishing world whether they are people who make books or write books or someday hope to write books and so then have a lot of strong feelings about fanworks. But it wasn’t exactly analogous and I’m not sure if that was just her perspective or that it’s a different space with different rules.
FK: I think it’s probably both, but I do think it’s different as maybe the closest comparison to somebody who’s doing concept art or animation or whatever would be somebody who was writing Baby-Sitters Club books under someone else’s name, right?
ELM: Are you saying Ann M. Martin didn’t write all those books?
FK: I don’t actually know whether she did or not. I’m assuming R.L. Stine didn’t write all the Goosebumps books but I don’t know that either.
ELM: I recently purchased a 1992 Baby-Sitters Club calendar and then I wound up Googling her, finding out about her life. And I don’t think she wrote all of them.
FK: But you see what I’m saying, right?
ELM: In case you were curious. I met her when I was eight.
FK: Oh my God I would have been so jealous when I was eight!
ELM: And I was only supposed to be on the line once to get one book signed, and I got off the line and got back on the line and got two books signed.
FK: I’m still jealous even now.
ELM: You should be, it was incredible. Book number one and book number one hundred.
FK: Well, anyway, but you see what I’m saying, right? The way that concept artists work in movies they’re vital to the existence of the movie, but it is true that most people don’t know who they are and their work is done for hire, they don’t get to be recognized for that, their vision is obviously a collaboration with a director but the director gets a lot of the attention, which may or may not be good. But in publishing there’s not really anything that’s quite like that, not even being a ghostwriter I feel like.
ELM: Well, if I’m a ghostwriter for a franchise series, and someone says “Well, this is the finest book that’s ever been written in the history of this series,” this is the finest John Grisham novel ever written—I don’t know I’m trying to think of someone who would have a…James Patterson novel that’s ever been written. How would I feel? I don’t know. If I would have made a nice paycheck…
ELM: I did some lifestyle journalism was it two years ago? And it was a magazine that no one on the newsstands will read, it goes to a specific group of people, I’m never gonna see these words. They actually rewrote them so it sounded like they were written by a bro. But I don’t care because I was paid a nice rate and I did the work, you know, and I think of it as something different than something I really want my name on and want to share. That’s hard. But I still put all my writing chops and my feelings into it, it’s not like I treated it like it wasn’t something that I was creating.
FK: It’s complex! I wonder, I’m sure there’s different perspectives on this from different artists as well. So.
ELM: Yeah. It’s hard. Even if you’re doing work for hire…this was the whole critique of Kindle Worlds, one of many when it came out, was actually, didn’t have anything to do with fanfiction, it was going to be taking work away from the commercial tie-in novelists. You want Vampire Diaries fanfiction, when really you’re just taking work away from people who are commissioned to write Vampire Diaries novels.
FK: Right, right. Part of that is there’s a very very strong argument that fanfiction and tie-in novels are very different things.
ELM: Right, but Kindle Worlds was not fanfiction.
FK: Right. It was tie-in.
ELM: It was another way for people to enter the tie-in space while kind of screwing the people who were already in there because this would allow the rights holders to have a better deal.
FK: At the same time I don’t think there was anybody who was actually getting famous within the Kindle Worlds space, whereas there are definitely fanartists who do become famous. So it’s weird and complex, I don’t know. I’ll be really interested to hear what our listeners have to say about this.
ELM: Yes please! People who have feelings. We would like to hear them. So would Leslie! If you don't know, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org and our Tumblr, which is our main site, fansplaining.tumblr.com. Our ask box is open, anon is on, in case you want to leave us—don’t leave us an angry anon, I shouldn’t have said it that way, but we have actually have people say “can I leave an anon,” you can.
FK: Yeah leave an anon, it’s fine.
ELM: Don’t be mean, please. And then you can also leave us a Facebook comment or tweet at us, Fansplaining at both of those.
FK: Comments are also on on Soundcloud, if commenting on Soundcloud is your jam.
ELM: Cause then you can leave the comment to the exact second you have a feeling.
FK: It’s really delicious actually. You can annotate our, if you.
ELM: And it’ll pop up!
FK: We’ve had one person do this and it was so satisfying when they did! So listeners, please.
ELM: And while we’re talking about comments, not to shamelessly turn this to self-pluggery, but you could also leave us a comment on iTunes and a rating because we’re not saying no to any one of those.
FK: And what else? Is there anything else?
ELM: It’s almost our anniversary!
ELM: What are you gonna get me? It’s our first anniversary. It’s like, paper. Will you buy me a newspaper? [FK laughs] It’s paper, right? The first one? I’ll get you a book!
FK: I will fold part of my Comic-Con program into a little hat for you.
ELM: A hat!
FK: A little hat.
ELM: Actually our anniversary has already passed, because I had to pay to renew fansplaining.com.
ELM: Cause Comic-Con was several weeks earlier last year, so we’re actually more than a year into it. But this will be a—
FK: It came up on Facebook for me. It came up on Facebook! It was like “remember?”
ELM: Remember when you met this person? Yeah good times. So we’ll be doing an anniversary episode in conjunction with our time that we had at Comic-Con. And I don’t know! It’ll be exciting. I don’t want to oversell it. It’ll be something.
FK: [laughs] Don’t undersell it either, Elizabeth!
ELM: It’ll be good.
FK: The episode’s gonna be awesome, we’re gonna have a lot of people on it, it’ll be fun, you should listen to it, and it’s gonna be next.
ELM: It is gonna be next! That’s a true fact about it.
FK: All right! I’ll talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: Yeah, I look forward to it!
FK: All right, bye.
FK: [over the music] The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.