athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
Recently, I've had several conversations with different people about franchise fiction, why it becomes popular, and why so many franchises develop followings and fandoms far out of proportion to their literary merit (at least as perceived by the arbiters of such intangibles).

Since it's been a while since this (or any other) topic has come up in this venue, let's review (and rename, and renumber) Snark's Athelind's Laws of Fanfic Transformative Works:

  1. Athelind's First Law of Transformative Works:

    • A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

      • Corollary: Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market (see TV Tropes: Running the Asylum).

  2. Athelind's Second Law of Transformative Works:

    • The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.


Analysis:

Phineas & Ferb is a very good show, at least as good as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Both shows are smart, snappy, extol virtues of creativity, cooperation, diversity and enthusiasm without being pandering or insulting, and are packed full of Parental Bonus humor.  They have fluid, slick animation and simple, crisp, geometric character design (P&F's creative team have gone on record as saying that the distinctive designs of the cast were intended to make them easy for young fans to draw).

And yet, while Phineas & Ferb has a following, it doesn't have a fandom with the same level of ... devotion ... as the Bronies.*  I will note that it also doesn't really have a premise that lends itself gracefully to fan-made characters;  a neighborhood full of eccentric grade-schoolers with a penchant for Mad Science is entertaining to watch, but adding one more quirky personality to that particular mix isn't something that excites the imagination.  Sure, it would be a blast to be nine years old and live on the same block as the Flynn-Fletchers, but nobody fantasizes about being Elmyra to Pinkie and the Brain.**

This supports the Second Law: Given two shows of approximately equal quality, I submit that the factor that makes one attract a hard-core fandom is how readily one can inject one's self or one's own creations into its milieu.

Harry Potter, My Little Pony, Star Trek, superhero comics ... They're all setting with a "sandbox" quality to them.  They have or imply Loads and Loads of Characters, and lend themselves to letting you be one of those thousands.

People write Monk fanfics, but they don't drop personal alter-egos or original characters into the Monk milieu unless they're Mary Suing. I love Babylon 5, but it has a finite story arc all centered around a particular cadre of Important People. People don't make their own imaginary Earthforce vessels like they do Federation starships.

I think the two purest distillations of "Milieus You Can Become A Part Of" are Furry Fandom, which has actually dispensed with ANY central narrative or setting and revolves primarily around the fandom's own self-created personae more than any particular commercial work ... and superhero comics, where the entire process has long been a matter of dropping a creator's own ideas and alter-egos into the larger setting.


* It's hard to think of many fandoms as devout as the Bronies.  Not even the Beatles, and they were more popular than ... well, they were pretty popular.
** Almost nobody.


athelind: (Parallel Worlds)
Given:

Conservation of Surnames: If two people in a comic book setting share a surname, they must be related, no more distantly than first cousins.

The Arkham Hypothesis: Gotham City is smack in the middle of Lovecraft's New England. Arkham Asylum really is in the Gotham suburb of Arkham.

Then:

Iris and Wally West are therefore close relatives of Herbert West.


athelind: (Parallel Worlds)
The Legacies premise is pretty straightforward:

LIFE:
  • They Began When They Began. The characters of the DC Universe each started their active adventuring career on or about the same time as their first appearance on the comics stands in our world.1
  • Life Happens. They aged normally2 from that point, and had full lives. Many of them married and had children, sometimes with ordinary people, sometimes with other superhumans or costumed adventurers.
  • Dead Is Dead. If a character died in the comics, they stayed dead, even though the comics eventually brought them back.3 No miraculous resurrections.4,5

THE UNIVERSE:
  • The Gang's All Here. "Characters of the DC Universe" includes pretty much every character currently under the DC umbrella, including the original stable of National Allied Publications (Superman, Batman) and All-American Comics (Green Lantern, the Flash), Quality (Blackhawks, Freedom Fighters, Plastic Man), Fawcett (Shazam!), Charlton (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question), Milestone (Icon, Static), MLJ/Red Circle (the Shield, the Web), and Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
  • All This and Arkham, Too. In the Legacyverse, the traditional DC "fictionopoli" do not co-exist with the cities of our world; they replace them. Gotham City is Boston, Metropolis is New York City, Gateway City is San Francisco, and instead of Los Angeles, there's a big crater where Coast City used to be. Fictional locales from sources other than DC comics are likely to make an appearance; the suburbs of Gotham include Arkham, Kingsport, and Innsmouth.
  • "Guardians of the Universe" is a misnomer. Oan jurisdiction extends across the "region of dominant gravitational attraction of the Milky Way Galaxy", including the halo of globular clusters surrounding it. As far as is known on Earth, the Magellanic Clouds are "disputed territories". Just who would dispute such matters with the Oans and the Green Lantern Corps is a matter of endless speculation in xenopolitical circles.6 For the record, there are a lot more than 3600 sectors in the Oan Jurisdiction, though I haven't decided just how many there really are.

EVERYTHING:
  • Big Events Usually Happened. Events in the Legacyverse track the main DC timeline(s) fairly closely, right up until the Crisis of 2008 ("Final Crisis"). The various alien invasions, the Luthor presidency, the Gotham Earthquake, the destruction of Coast City -- they've all left their mark. Not all of them did, though, and they didn't all happen in the same way. There Will Be A List Later.
  • Yes, Virginia, There Is A Multiverse. It's ... wider, weirder and more diverse than the one we see post-52, though. Since the mid-1960s, the Justice League have had annual contact with a team from a parallel Earth that call themselves the Avengers ... .
  • Some Elseworlds are Thisworlds. Oddly, while John Byrne's Generations shares almost exactly the same premise, I wound up using very few of his plot twists. I'm using a few bits from Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier (especially Diana's costume!), and a whole lot of James Robinson's The Golden Age.
  • It All Started With K-Metal. This is important enough to give it its own bullet point: "The K-Metal from Krypton" is an unpublished Shuster and Siegel tale from 1940; Joe and Jerry originally planned to have Superman discover his origin and reveal his identity to Lois early on. Please read this; for one, it's a short, fun tale; for another, it's exactly the point where the published stories of the DCU diverge from the Legacyverse timeline.7



Footnotes:
  1. There are exceptions to all of these rules, of course. Green Arrow, for instance, doesn't put on a costume until the late '50s, while his comics counterpart first popped up in the '40s. His Bronze Age Road Trip with Hal Jordan and his relationship with Black Canary are just too important, and he needs to be the right age for that.
  2. "Normally" as modified by alien or metahuman physiology, of course.
  3. There will be exceptions here, too. Not every death scene "counts".
  4. Things like Lazarus Pits aren't "miraculous" if they're an established part of a character's background. Ra's al Ghul isn't known for sharing, though.
  5. Yes, this means that a lot of familiar young faces will be in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. More than one regularly-appearing character in the comics will be, well, just plain dead.
  6. For some reason, I never had to worry about stuff like this in Gotham.
  7. You might notice that "K-Metal" has properties not normally seen in the Green Kryptonite that later appeared; those properties may be a plot point.

athelind: (WARNING: TV Tropes)
What happens if the Doctor picks up a party of first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons player characters? It's guaranteed that at least one will have a Bag of Holding, and there might be a Portable Hole in the party, as well.

By the Narrative Causality Conventions of AD&D1*, bringing either of those into the TARDIS will result in some kind of Negative Space Wedgie that automatically kills the whole party.

By the Narrative Causality Conventions of Doctor Who, however, the resultant Very Bad Thing will result in Several Minutes of Tension and Possibly A Cliffhanger, but it will be resolved by the Doctor invoking technobabble, running around the TARDIS console, and possibly pulling out the Sonic Screwdriver.

Combining the Narrative Conventions, I estimate a 30% chance, +5% per Regeneration Level of the Doctor, that the Doctor will not only neutralize the Anomaly, but that the solution will also incapacitate or eliminate or eliminate whatever aggressor the party was confronting when the TARDIS appeared.

This assumes that this is the Doctor's first encounter with the party, of course. If he's established an emotional stake over at least the course of an episode, that probability will drop to 25% + 2%/Regeneration Level.

In any case, a bad roll will, of course, result in the restoration of the full AD&D1 narrative conventions.


*In particular, unlike most forms of narrative (including later RPGs), AD&D1 eschews the principles that the narrative must continue to a dramatically satisfactory conclusion; in other words, Total Party Kill is not only an acceptable outcome, but, in extreme examples, a desirable one.

Desirable to some participants, that is.

athelind: (hoard potato)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Fanfiction: Do you love it or hate it, or are you totally indifferent? Why?

Intellectually, I respect the concept of transformative art.

As a gamer, well, even if you're not playing in a licensed setting, that's all about pillaging pop culture and repurposing it.

As a creative impulse, though ... I just don't get it.

Let me clarify.

I grew up as a comics fan in the late '60s and early '70s, at the dawn of what the fandom calls The Bronze Age. In addition to everything going on at Marvel and DC at the time, it was also a period when a lot of books were coming out about the history of comics.

I didn't just grow up reading about Superman and Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk -- I grew up reading about Siegel and Schuster, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Stan and Jack and Ditko and Steranko, all these scrappy, struggling guys, exploding with new ideas as they struggled to create a whole new art form.

And I didn't want to write about their creations.

I wanted to create my own characters.

Am I saying that's somehow "better" than fanfic?

Hell, no!

I've got characters by the score. A lot of you know a few of them: I've roleplayed them, online and on the tabletop. Some of you have heard me kick around ideas and concepts for others. There's a passel of them that even I've forgotten about, or recycled into other characters.

What I don't have is stories, and that, arguably, is a lot more important if you actually want to write. [livejournal.com profile] scarfman has shown that it's not hard to take stories originally written as fanfic for licensed properties and turn it into something new and different by substituting different charaqcters.* If you don't have any stories, though, all you have is a bunch of people standing around, doing nothing, with no way to show how cool and exotic they are.

There's a connection to this line of thinking and the irritation that I feel about DC dragging its old Silver Age characters back into the limelight, but I have a beer in me, so that's going to have to wait.

... possibly until I have more than one beer in me.


*If you don't like that example, remember that Douglas Adams recycled a couple of his mostly-unproduced Doctor Who scripts into one of the Hitchhiker's books and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
... and who the heck are Sheldon and Penny?

athelind: (Warning: Group Intellect)
J.K. Rowling is getting sued by the clueless again. Yes, yet another plagiarism accusation. Making Light goes into great detail about the spuriousness of the claim, and the wretched quality of the claimant's allegedly-plagiarized work.

You don't really need to read all that. You'll find the meat of the whole issue before you even have to scroll down the page, when Ms. Hayden points out three things about such lawsuits. Her second point addresses something that comes up a lot in pop culture conversations:

“Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.”



I submit this as a Law of the Internet, on a par with Godwin's and Poe's: "Hayden's Second Law".

As I said, this comes up a lot. "Plagiarism", per se, is seldom invoked, but milder euphemisms abound: "derivative" is a popular epithet, and to many, "originality" seems the highest criterion for literary merit.

The career of the Gentleman from Avon indicates otherwise.

I should note that I'm guilty of this, myself; I've repeatedly tabled my own flailing attempts at writing because my characters, settings, or plot seem "derivative".


Addendum: just a few hours before I made this post, [livejournal.com profile] foofers provided a technological example of "it's not the ideas, it's the execution" -- in this instance, whether the ideas got executed at all.
athelind: (Default)
J.K. Rowling is getting sued by the clueless again. Yes, yet another plagiarism accusation. Making Light goes into great detail about the spuriousness of the claim, and the wretched quality of the claimant's allegedly-plagiarized work.

You don't really need to read all that. You'll find the meat of the whole issue before you even have to scroll down the page, when Ms. Hayden points out three things about such lawsuits. Her second point addresses something that comes up a lot in pop culture conversations:

“Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.”



I submit this as a Law of the Internet, on a par with Godwin's and Poe's: "Hayden's Second Law".

As I said, this comes up a lot. "Plagiarism", per se, is seldom invoked, but milder euphemisms abound: "derivative" is a popular epithet, and to many, "originality" seems the highest criterion for literary merit.

The career of the Gentleman from Avon indicates otherwise.

I should note that I'm guilty of this, myself; I've repeatedly tabled my own flailing attempts at writing because my characters, settings, or plot seem "derivative".


Addendum: just a few hours before I made this post, [livejournal.com profile] foofers provided a technological example of "it's not the ideas, it's the execution" -- in this instance, whether the ideas got executed at all.
athelind: (caustic)
The news in my last post has a lot of people worried about Marvel getting "Disneyfied". Funny, that hadn't really occurred to me.

I'd hate to see the intelligent, thoughtful storytelling of recent years compromised by a company who didn't respect the years of development and history of these characters. I'm not sure the store where I work could survive without merchandise aimed at the mature, sophisticated sensibilities of the modern comics audience.

I know, I know, when people hear "Disney", they still automatically think of the "wholesome" Mouse Factory of fifty years ago, as if the company had no idea how to tell exciting, entertaining action-adventure tales. But, seriously, folks: the modern Disney megalopoly has its tentacles in a lot more than happy, sappy, saccharine kiddie stuff. When I hear "Disney", I don't hear "Cartoon Company" anymore. I hear "Entertainment Powerhouse".

When I mentioned the effect this might have on the Marvel Studios movie series, it was almost entirely wondering if that side of the business would see a cash infusion that would re-accelerate the filming schedule (which has been pushed back a couple of times from the original plan of two big-name superhero pictures a year for three or four years).

Edit: [livejournal.com profile] cpxbrex pointed out that Marvel owes its recent barrage of movies to "complex financing", and that this may have something to do with the acquisition deal.

A lot of folks, on the other claw, are worried about them somehow compromising the integrity of the properties.

Personally? I think that the megacorp that gave us movies like No Country for Old Men and Miracle at St. Anna won't bat an eye at Tony Stark's antics.


Edit: Since none of the other comics blogs I read have mentioned this at all, I've combined the last two posts into a single post on my comics blog, Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons. Scooped! You are all so totally scooped! Like Raisin Bran, you're scooped!
athelind: (Default)
The news in my last post has a lot of people worried about Marvel getting "Disneyfied". Funny, that hadn't really occurred to me.

I'd hate to see the intelligent, thoughtful storytelling of recent years compromised by a company who didn't respect the years of development and history of these characters. I'm not sure the store where I work could survive without merchandise aimed at the mature, sophisticated sensibilities of the modern comics audience.

I know, I know, when people hear "Disney", they still automatically think of the "wholesome" Mouse Factory of fifty years ago, as if the company had no idea how to tell exciting, entertaining action-adventure tales. But, seriously, folks: the modern Disney megalopoly has its tentacles in a lot more than happy, sappy, saccharine kiddie stuff. When I hear "Disney", I don't hear "Cartoon Company" anymore. I hear "Entertainment Powerhouse".

When I mentioned the effect this might have on the Marvel Studios movie series, it was almost entirely wondering if that side of the business would see a cash infusion that would re-accelerate the filming schedule (which has been pushed back a couple of times from the original plan of two big-name superhero pictures a year for three or four years).

Edit: [livejournal.com profile] cpxbrex pointed out that Marvel owes its recent barrage of movies to "complex financing", and that this may have something to do with the acquisition deal.

A lot of folks, on the other claw, are worried about them somehow compromising the integrity of the properties.

Personally? I think that the megacorp that gave us movies like No Country for Old Men and Miracle at St. Anna won't bat an eye at Tony Stark's antics.


Edit: Since none of the other comics blogs I read have mentioned this at all, I've combined the last two posts into a single post on my comics blog, Kirby Dots & Ditko Ribbons. Scooped! You are all so totally scooped! Like Raisin Bran, you're scooped!
athelind: (hoard potato)
That headline again:

Disney. Buys. Marvel.


Tempting as it is to just follow that with "'Nuff said", I have to wonder....
  • How will this affect Marvel Sudios and their ambitious "Avengers Cycle" movie plans?
  • Will Disney cancel the Gemstone Comics license, and start releasing Disney titles using Marvel's production and banner?
  • Conversely, will that matter if both companies continue to ignore newstand and grocery store distribution in favor of the hard-core fandom's boutique market?
  • What does this mean for Kingdom Hearts and Capcom vs. Marvel?
  • Will there be an even more vigorous crackdown on Marvel fanfic and games with "Character Creators" that let you "duplicate Marvel intellectual property", like City of Heroes and Champions Online?
  • Will Howard return to his original character design? Will he turn out to hail from Duckburg? Will he lose his pants?

If this doesn't fall through, it'll bring a symmetry to the comics world: both major comics companies will be owned by massive global media juggernauts.

Strange days indeed.

athelind: (Default)
That headline again:

Disney. Buys. Marvel.


Tempting as it is to just follow that with "'Nuff said", I have to wonder....
  • How will this affect Marvel Sudios and their ambitious "Avengers Cycle" movie plans?
  • Will Disney cancel the Gemstone Comics license, and start releasing Disney titles using Marvel's production and banner?
  • Conversely, will that matter if both companies continue to ignore newstand and grocery store distribution in favor of the hard-core fandom's boutique market?
  • What does this mean for Kingdom Hearts and Capcom vs. Marvel?
  • Will there be an even more vigorous crackdown on Marvel fanfic and games with "Character Creators" that let you "duplicate Marvel intellectual property", like City of Heroes and Champions Online?
  • Will Howard return to his original character design? Will he turn out to hail from Duckburg? Will he lose his pants?

If this doesn't fall through, it'll bring a symmetry to the comics world: both major comics companies will be owned by massive global media juggernauts.

Strange days indeed.

athelind: (hoard potato)


Mallett just crammed so much about pop culture, high culture, and transformative art into four panels that I'm nigh-speechless.

Just as a single example: Hollywood gets lambasted for "running out of ideas" whenever they remake an old movie or adapt a TV show, but I don't think I've ever heard the same accusation when we see Yet Another Movie about King Arthur, Robin Hood, or Sherlock Holmes.


athelind: (Default)


Mallett just crammed so much about pop culture, high culture, and transformative art into four panels that I'm nigh-speechless.

Just as a single example: Hollywood gets lambasted for "running out of ideas" whenever they remake an old movie or adapt a TV show, but I don't think I've ever heard the same accusation when we see Yet Another Movie about King Arthur, Robin Hood, or Sherlock Holmes.


athelind: (RPG: Retcon)
(Cross-posted from [livejournal.com profile] legacy2020)

The Batman Timeline is probably going to be the longest and most involved entry in the [livejournal.com profile] legacy2020 blog, because it is, for now, a Gotham-centric game.

That doesn't mean the commentary on it is gonna be SHORT, though. )
athelind: (hoard potato)
After a few months of hiatus, I've resumed updating [livejournal.com profile] legacy2020, the journal for my Mutants & Masterminds campaign set in an alternate DC Universe.

As I've mentioned in the past, it's given me an insight into the "fanfic" impulse. While most of it's just fun, I've found that the wholesale rewrite of 70 years of comic book history makes a good springboard for analysis of the original source material. Those interested in comic books, gaming, and fanfic might find it amusing; I'd rather enjoy getting some discussion going about timelines, characters, and story decisions, both in my game setting and the original "canon".

Unfortunately, since I also plan to use the journal to communicate information to my (only) player, I need to friends-lock posts that might reveal key story elements (including the two most recent ones). If you want to read the Sooper Seekrit Spoilers, please drop a comment in the introduction post, so I can add you!
athelind: (Default)
After a few months of hiatus, I've resumed updating [livejournal.com profile] legacy2020, the journal for my Mutants & Masterminds campaign set in an alternate DC Universe.

As I've mentioned in the past, it's given me an insight into the "fanfic" impulse. While most of it's just fun, I've found that the wholesale rewrite of 70 years of comic book history makes a good springboard for analysis of the original source material. Those interested in comic books, gaming, and fanfic might find it amusing; I'd rather enjoy getting some discussion going about timelines, characters, and story decisions, both in my game setting and the original "canon".

Unfortunately, since I also plan to use the journal to communicate information to my (only) player, I need to friends-lock posts that might reveal key story elements (including the two most recent ones). If you want to read the Sooper Seekrit Spoilers, please drop a comment in the introduction post, so I can add you!
athelind: (clobberin' time)
I should note, incidentally, that some people assume that the term "fanfic" is perjorative. That is not my intent in this matter.

When the Second Law says "indistinguishable", it means indistinguishable -- functionally identical in all important respects.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a superhero story of unparalleled excellence.

It is also pure, unadulterated fanfic, in all but a single respect -- and that respect is that Moore recieved a paycheck from the corporate entity (a legal fiction of no literary relevance) that the copyright (another legal fiction of no literary relevance) to the characters upon whom the graphic novel was based.

EDIT: Thinking about it, with the possible exception of V for Vendetta, all of Moore's major works are fanfic.
athelind: (Default)
I should note, incidentally, that some people assume that the term "fanfic" is perjorative. That is not my intent in this matter.

When the Second Law says "indistinguishable", it means indistinguishable -- functionally identical in all important respects.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is a superhero story of unparalleled excellence.

It is also pure, unadulterated fanfic, in all but a single respect -- and that respect is that Moore recieved a paycheck from the corporate entity (a legal fiction of no literary relevance) that the copyright (another legal fiction of no literary relevance) to the characters upon whom the graphic novel was based.

EDIT: Thinking about it, with the possible exception of V for Vendetta, all of Moore's major works are fanfic.
athelind: (hoard potato)
The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.
athelind: (Default)
The popularity of franchise fiction rests not only in the stories that are told, but in the stories that could be told in the franchise's setting. The more fertile the ground for exploration, extrapolation and personal interpretation, the more enthusiastic and enduring the fandom.
athelind: (Superboy Punches The Universe)
I've realized that "Running the Asylum" is really Snark's Second Law of Fanfic. The first dates back thirty years:

"Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market."

The previous entry has been adjusted accordingly.

On the other claw... is that just a specific example of the "Sufficiently Established Franchise" rule? It certainly set the stage for the incorporation of fan writers into the Official Canon.

On the gripping hand, it could be said that Star Trek fell prey to the Second Law in the second season of the original series, when they accepted a script from an unpublished college student who sent in a pile of unsolicited script submissions...
athelind: (Default)
I've realized that "Running the Asylum" is really Snark's Second Law of Fanfic. The first dates back thirty years:

"Star Trek novels exist because Paramount realized they weren't getting a cut of the fanzine market."

The previous entry has been adjusted accordingly.

On the other claw... is that just a specific example of the "Sufficiently Established Franchise" rule? It certainly set the stage for the incorporation of fan writers into the Official Canon.

On the gripping hand, it could be said that Star Trek fell prey to the Second Law in the second season of the original series, when they accepted a script from an unpublished college student who sent in a pile of unsolicited script submissions...
athelind: (hoard potato)
From FurryMUCK, this morning:

[livejournal.com profile] normanrafferty tries to remember the review he read of 'Torchwood'. "I think it said, 'Is it possible for something to be new material and fan-fiction at the same time?'"

Oh, you betcha. Let's codify this, in fact:

Snark's First Second Law of Fanfic (a.k.a. "Running the Asylum"):
A sufficiently established franchise is indistinguishable from fanfic.

When a fictional franchise has lasted long enough to induct its fandom into the ranks of its professional creators, the distinction between Canon and Fan Fic erodes. The new wave of creators start sneaking Fanon into official sources. Ret Cons abound. Writers will revisit old stories, instilling far more self-indulgent detail into the retellings than ever appeared in the original.

In short, the Inmates are Running The Asylum.

Sometimes, this can bring fresh, new life to the franchise. Other times, the same kind of in-fighting that erupts in fannish circles will play out between creative teams -- but now, the factions are all armed with Canon.

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