Friday, March 29, 2013

The Fine Line of Fanfiction

Ah, fanfiction, that nebulous concept that is the domain of people who want to be more than just the audience of their favorite stories.  I've written a few in my time, I won't comment on the quality, but let's just say, not great.

In many ways, fanfiction is a great way for young writers to flex their writing muscles.  In other ways, they're the worst kind of vanity projects, often resulting in self insertion and magnifying the worst aspects of the piece they're based on.   Young artists, likewise, will copy their favorite character designs or styles, giving that pen a good workout, but they also tend to emphasis specific assets they find most appealing (I'm talking about boobs here kids).

As a general rule, fanfiction isn't that good.  Of course, fanfiction can easily become official, after all I'm fairly certain the future Star Wars Episode 7 will be a piece of "fanfiction" that becomes official.  Once out of hands of the original creator, it's fanfiction.

There are a LOT of fanfiction comics out there, but I really don't read many.  They just don't appeal, and I think a lot of the issue is the classic issues of fanfiction as a whole.  That said, when something is done WELL, I pay attention.  That doesn't happen often.  But what makes a good piece of fanfiction?  Well, it comes down to knowing the source material, but not adding the unnecessary.  Exploring beyond the source without making breaking it.  It's hard to do, very hard, but there are a few comics that do/did it quite well, for very different reasons.

The first, is Legend of Zelda:  El Rey.  It's Zelda, it has the standard Zelda characters, mostly their Ocarina of Time incarnations, but it's not quite what Zelda.  They are familiar, yes, but not what is expected from them.  Zelda isn't a damsel in distress or a wise ruler, but a stuck up drunk.  Gannon seems far more reasonable than he ever should be and Link, well, he's about the same, but filled with a lot of self doubt and guilt.  They have made these characters their own while still making them similar enough to know who they are.  The story takes them down a different path, and while there are similar elements, it is a different adventure, with additional characters from other Zelda games (and at least one Final Fantasy reference).  This is what I call doing a fanfiction very, VERY well, capturing the nature of the original while telling a new and very interesting story.  It also doesn't lose much as many of the events that happened prior to the story are the same as the source, building a new story on the old foundations.  That alone makes me curious what the specific change was that twisted the world it's new direction.

What happens when the source doesn't have much in terms of foundations to begin with though?  The result is something more like 8-Bit Theater.  As anyone who played the original Final Fantasy will know, the original game didn't have that much of a story.  The player characters were nameless cyphers that could have been anything.  So 8-Bit turned it into a comedy.  Talk about influence though, even today, the personalties that were created for this fanfiction comic have come to dominate the sprites they were attached to.  With so little to build on, it's surprising how filled the comic became by the end, with a dozens of different characters, convoluted plots and wild antics.  It took everything that was great about those old games, and made them about as funny as possible.

Somewhere in the middle sits No Rest for the Wicked.  On one hand, the characters and stories it's based on are pretty well established and well known.  On the other, there's plenty of room in those characters and stories to expand and play with.  The real trick is the melding of all these very different stories and worlds into a single piece, and building on the concepts of the characters already in existence to create a greater story.  It's fanfiction, for sure, based on the original fairy tale works, but it takes them in a new, unified direction.  I covered most of this last week, so I won't go into more here, but know that I think it fits right in with the other fanfiction pieces listed here.

Of course, there is one other branch of fanfiction I won't cover today, the parody.  Maybe some other time.  Until then kiddies.

1 comment:

  1. Eishtmo,

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your writing, and I appreciate your insightful webcomic reviews. It's people like you who keep us webcomic authors honest. Happy to report that I'm back on a weekly schedule with my own comic (count on it), and that it's people like you who keep me motivated and excited to keep plugging along. Thanks for that, and all the best.

    -Bob K.