Do you recall the moment when you first realized that you have fans? Like, what was the sound in your head when you became aware that people would read things that you wrote entirely because you wrote it? This occurred to me as I bought the Dark Angel one-shot, seeing as I've never head of the character before.
This has been sitting on the inbox for a while, as I sort of promised to do a serious answer, and wanted to try to talk around the topic properly. I suspect I’ll fail. I may just delete this all and write “Yes, I do.”
But first, a ramble.
What I’m talking about in follows is about the more extremes. Not the (wonderful in and of itself) people who dig you and read your stuff, which is one thing. It’s more the sort of “fans” I write comics about.
Being a fan and fandom and being a creator is something that obsesses me. You can see it in Phonogram. You can see it in Young Avengers. You’ll see it in The Wicked + The Divine. You can see it smaller degrees in almost everything. Our relationship with the art that inspires and creates us, and the relationship with the humans involved in its creation and the ethics and responsibilities and all that.
I’ve been a fan. I’ve been a serious fan. I’ve ran websites. I’ve ran fanzines. I’ve written more criticism than most people have read. The latter is why I tend to be more pro-critics than most comic creators. I get it. I tend to think creators who are down on critics’ existence don’t understand how much their work means to people, or grasp why anyone would write so much about a piece of art. Art changed my life. Art is important to me.
(That this isn’t an unreserved good thing is also fairly brought forward in the mix in what I do. Phonogram is about many things, but in part it’s about the behaviour of addicts.)
So when going into this, I was hyper conscious of what it all meant and where it would lead.
The line I always dropped when talking about Phonogram was “We want to make art that means as much to other people as the art that inspired us meant to us.”
There is a problem with that aim. If we succeed in it, we’d become to other people what the creators who created the art meant to us. That means, we were going to have fans.
Not that we wanted fans. It’s that they’re the necessary by-product of doing what we wanted to do, the odd vocation we felt drawn to. If we were as good as we wanted to be, inevitably some people are going to reallllly get it because the art that inspired us was the art that we reaallllly got and changed the way we thought and walked and dressed. The art we loved was some-fans-get-tattoo art.
So when that happens… there’s the two sensations at once.
One: oh good. It’s working.
Two: oh god. Why the fuck is anyone listening to me?
The second is the one which almost all creators have. It’s the impostor syndrome, which you get, as much as everyone knows everyone feels like an impostor.
I suspect the first is the part of me which writes the dual-edged stories about art.
Both reactions have to be squashed.
As I said, I’m very conscious about what this all means going in, my reaction is always to send the super-ego to work. I’m very super-ego-y as a person (until I’ve had a few drinks, at which point I lock myself off the Internet.)
Someone being a fan isn’t really about you. It’s about the art, and what the art meant to them. It’s about where they were in their life and what that art allowed them to access or reflected or whatever.
The tattoos are almost a small thing. When you meet someone - and I’ve met those blessed someones - who have changed their way of life due to the experience with your art, that gets you. It’s humbling and scary, because you meet someone you saw a year earlier, and now they’re doing their best Emily Aster, you’re aware that as - say - KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND was to you, PHONOGRAM was to her.
You squash it all those “you” responses, because as you *do* understand, you have a responsibility. If someone is in that state, they’ve made themselves incredibly vulnerable to you. You could say the wrong thing, and crush them, because their love for the art has got all mixed up with a person, and if art is transformative, you’re in a position where you could cruelly poison it or debase it or whatever, and if you think art is holy - AND YOU DO - don’t do that, just don’t do that.
But it’s not about you. That’s what keeps you grounded. There’s other ways of doing it - the people who don’t really get why Fans get the way Fans get - but for me, with my background my - I’ve been there. I’m you - I can only play it that way. Ideally, I try to step past the me-as-midwife-to-stuff-you-love and creep into actual human stuff, but that’s not always going to be possible or even desirable. But you can be nice. You have to be nice.
But I think that’s the responsibility I owe fans, and that’s what I try to keep in mind. Because in that chain-of-people-across-the-years-making-art-to-inspire-people-who-make-art, the way you act when reaching across generations, to other-yous in other-lives is as close to holy as it gets.
You know Galaxy Quest?
I love Galaxy Quest. One day I’ll write an essay about Galaxy Quest. The first time I saw it, on a VHS tape in a Girlfriend’s bedroom, she was laughing at how I just b-e-a-m-e-d through the whole thing. Not laughing constantly, but just radiating a big fucking glow of this-is-a-chunk-of-how-see-pop-and-art on the screen, as shamelessly major key as it has to be, because to do it any other way would be a betrayal of how this stuff works.
In short: we’re all Thermians, and you better treat those lovely, doomed, humans right, not because you’re fucking yourself across time, but because it’s right. If you get into art, you are making Thermians and you need to understand what that means.
To be more prosaic, I’ve been aware of having fans since my first year or so of being a games journalist. That maybe sounds odd to American readers - probably less so when a bunch of personality-lead-techniques crossed the pond - but there was this odd thing in the UK of idolatry (both as heroes and demons) of game writers. Me? I was a total fanboy of writers in both the game and music press. So when I started doing it, and doing it in the way I did, and the letters and odd fan art and bloody puppets of my head arrived in the mail, I had the aforementioned dual “Oh good, it’s working” and “OH GOD! IT’S WORKING!” response.
(The thing with being a pop critic who hits people in the guts in that way? For people who are new to the world of art, it’s basically that you’re expressing things other people are feeling about their art and they don’t quite have the vocabulary or framework of thought to express for yet. It’s the FINALLY! THIS IS HOW I FEEL! response that you get when you see yourself in art. I’m very much in the school of criticism is art.)
Oddly, when I saw all that happen, I didn’t think of it as fans. I thought of it as the thing that would happen if I was any good. It was only when talking to one of my editors in the pub that he thought the response was really quite something that I realised that the word for that is “Fan” isn’t it. I was sort of in denial about it.
It’s basically jumbled along as a background hum since then. I still get recognised on the train or in bars as Kieron Gillen, wanky games critic. In other words, I’m used to it by now, except you’re never really used to it, as it’s always weird. Weird, but necessary and holy.
This is less of an argument than a string of concepts. But this is actually one of the conversations I tend to have with new creators and people who discover they’ve an audience quite a lot - how they really have trouble processing how people now see them. And I basically tell them some of the above.
Nick Fury is always late to the weekly SHIELD briefings that they hold in the big auditorium and so to cover his ass Victoria Hand always does her own little “pre-presentation” as a warm up, she’s got slides and everything
Except that her presentation always starts with “The…
“Sometimes, interacting on the Internet can cause a kind of “Social PTSD.” Things feel faster, and negative stuff hits quicker and in greater number. This can be an anxious place. The Internet can be a watercooler for fun chatter, but it can also be a watercooler filled with urine surrounded by bitey goblins.”—