This is going to be a difficult post to make, and one that I am fairly sure will get me a fair amount of flack. But over the years, I’ve learned that if I don’t stick to my guns, I’m not being true to myself. So I’m going to start by painting you a little picture.
I became a part of geek culture when I was 16. A boy I dated was into Dragonlance books, and handed me one on the pretense of talking to me by saying “you like books. I think you’d like this.” Now, it may have been my infatuation with the guy at the time that persuaded me to give the book a shot, but I became engrossed in it quickly, and before long I was borrowing the entire collection of Weiss and Hickman books from him. I began playing the Star Wars RPG with his friends, playing Magic the Gathering in the little Dunkin Donuts down the road until they would kick us out for loitering, and frequenting my local comic shop to the point where the owner, Mark, knew me by name and special ordered stuff from Japan for me.
I remember feeling ashamed of this geek culture I was becoming rapidly involved in, trying to hide the fact that I went to a Vampire the Masquerade LARP from my dad, or trying to discuss the finer points of Canterbury Tales with my parents (fascinating as it was) while all I really wanted to do was ramble on about how cool R.A. Salvatore’s writing was. I did book reports on fantasy novels, but also tried to keep up the non-geek front. Until after high school.
When my husband and I started dating, I dropped the pretense of hiding my geekery, mostly because he worked at a gaming store, and when a man comes home with a CASE of first run Pokemon cards and says ‘I have to run tournaments, so you are going to learn how to play this with me”, you kind of have to own it. So I learned to love my geek side, attending conventions here and there, role playing, and freaking out at the Burger King drive through over the fact that I got the stupid Pikachu gold collectors card.
I started doing artwork in the anime style and this further engrossed me in geekdom. But I started making friends, some of whom I still know, and still consider the closest friends of my life. I met my best friend through a role playing game message board, and you have to understand, there are few things I would not do for this girl. I did some artwork for a small gaming company and started meeting folks in the industry, going to GAMA and Gen Con as a demo runner and table lackey, and finally getting my first Artist Alley table at Acen. It seems like ages ago to me. I have to remind myself that I’ve been doing the art thing over a decade now. Scary.
I have learned over the years that geeks can be some of the most nurturing and caring people in the world. They would give you the shirt off their back, help fund major medical work (as they did for my husband), and they have a want to do good. They are giving, caring, and lovely people, and I love my friends. Hell even since moving to the Twin Cities, we’ve forged friendships with some people here that we met through the convention circuit, and I would do anything for these friends. These are people that my quality of life would be poorer without, and I love having them around. I love table top gaming nights with the boys. I love hanging in Kale’s basement watching Walking Dead and Doctor Who. I love love LOVE my Geek Slink classes at the GPS building. I love geek trivia night with Gifford and Marion, New Years Eves at the ‘Raddishtree’, and all the lovely dork things that have become my life. I am blessed.
But there are parts of fandom that have started to piss me off. Maybe I’m just old and jaded now at the tender age of 33. Maybe I’m more susceptible to anger because I’m an artist. I don’t know, but I think I need to point a few things out.
Very recently, sites like Buzzfeed have posted articles about how Fox is starting to come down on makers of Firefly “Jayne” hats, serving cease and decist orders. This comes in a time of numerous companies doing the same, such as the recent crackdown on behalf of Hasbro on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic crafters and creators. The fan community is pissed. The fan community is outraged. The fan community thinks this is stupid.
Well hold on to your hats. Because I don’t.
When I started learning to draw in the anime style, I was self taught. And I learned by emulating the creators that I adored. I spent ages drawing Sailor Moon and Ranma 1/2, the X-men (which always looked goofy), and other characters. However, I never SOLD these drawings. I did them to learn. I would take commission artwork, but most of the time, even to this day, my commission work is rarely fan based. I get a lot of the ‘draw my WoW character’ or ‘please do a sketch card of me as an anime character’ etc. I am more than fine with this.
Now, this isn’t to say that i have a problem with fan art or fan created product. I get a lot of crap for this, since I’m so outspoken about my stance on the mass producing of fan art, and people just assume that I am against fan art. I am going on the record here: I am not against fan art. But I am against someone making the majority of their money off of anyone else’s intellectual property.
Need some clarification?
Let’s say you come to me and ask me to draw you a Pony. Let’s say Applejack, since she never gets enough attention. I say sure. You pay me, i draw you a picture of Applejack, sign and date it, credit Hasbro with ownership of the character (or Lauren Faust, since she’s kind of one of my idols), I hand it over, and it never gets used for profit again. I don’t keep it. It’s yours. THIS IS OKAY. Commission work is legal, and a standard for artists, because they are paying you for a one time service and skill. Money is passed, the customer goes away happy, and I never see the drawing again. I never re-post it, print it, or do anything. Done.
Now let’s say that I like Pinkie Pie (shocker, right?) and I decide to do a drawing of her, make tons of prints, sell them, and put the image on pencil cases, t-shirts, etc. Guess what, folks. I just broke the law, and technically, this is considered bootleg. People do it all the time, but of late, this is exactly the kind of thing companies are coming down on folks for.
Now’s where the angry artists all close this browser and send me hate mail.
Mass producing something and selling it while using someone else’s intellectual property is illegal. Folks can justify it however they want, but it isn’t something I would ever engage in again. I’ve had folks IN the comic industry question me on this stance too, as many mainstream comic conventions allow artists to sell prints with Wonder Woman or Superman, etc., because these books don’t have just one artist. EDIT: While the western comics market may handle this a certain way, most of my experience is in the anime industry. I’m doing C2E2 for the first time in a couple of weeks, so we will see how that goes. I’m interested, since there is such a push on original art.
Now this isn’t to say you cannot find creative ways around it. For instance, I dig ponies (as you may have noticed). I do stylized pony prints where I spoof other series. I did a series based on famous princesses and another on their villains, and I may be working on one containing an homage to my favorite Brian Lee O’Malley project. But these are NOT the exact characters from Scott Pilgrim, nor are they the exact characters from My Little Pony. They are original characters, done in a style that is reminiscent of the show. They are limited, signed and individually numbered, and when the limited number sells out, it’s gone. I never reproduce them again or print them again. You buy them when they are available, in a limited quantity with a max of 100, or you miss out. And if Hasbro hit me up and said “yo, knock it off,” I would. Because i respect them.
And that is where I think the big problem is. RESPECT.
New fandom feels entitled. They feel that they are owed things for free, or that they are allowed to break the laws because they can. They mass produce hats that have an OFFICIAL licensed version for sale and then leave hate speech on Think Geek’s website. They download anime for free when there is a shit ton of it available LEGALLY for free elsewhere, because they say it ‘takes too long’ despite not even beginning to comprehend the amount of legal red tape associated with the licensing and distribution of the medium. They torrent episodes of a show that they could have a friend DVR and have a social gathering to watch, and bitch about the American release of the show. They find scans of monthly comic books because they don’t want to drop $2 on an e book version through Drive Thru Comics, but they can justify spending that $2 on smokes. They trash convention hotels, ignore rules, and make money off of someone else’s creation, taking bread off someone’s table.
And that table is sometimes mine.
So let me spell it out for you folks. YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL. You have to live by the law and the rules, just like the rest of us that do. And every time you break those rules, I want you to remember that you are impacting several things. You are impacting someone’s wallet, someone like me who doesn’t make a shit load of money in a year and yes, relies on the money she makes to keep her studio running, to keep her projects printing and to feed her cats. You are taking money from the voice actors that I am friends with, people like Chris and Greg and Carrie, and Josh, and any number of people I know. Directors, translators…you name it.
You are single handedly ruining the BEST thing about being a geek; our warm and welcoming culture that invites everyone to be a part, and our generosity.
Stop bitching, start putting your money where your mouths are, and stop being entitled little shits. Because when I was your age, I paid for everything legally, and I got a THIRD of what you get. I paid $45 for a fucking VHS of Blue Seed with two episodes. And I LIKED it.
Now get off my lawn and start being creative on your own. If you are that talented, you should be standing on your own merits and putting your own creativity out there instead of ganking someone else’s.
I look forward to your letters. ;)