by Katie Behrens

Disclaimer: this is a HUGE topic.  I’m only barely scratching the surface.


Remember that Teen Read Week™ art contest we hosted a month ago?  Since I’m the one who coordinated it, I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!

Sketching by deviantArtist Irrel (inspired by Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series)
Sometimes fanart seeks to capture the quiet moments that would be downright boring to read about in books.

What I didn’t realize when we began was that we were unwittingly embarking on a journey into fandom, specifically fanart.  I attended YALSA’s Young Adult Literature Symposium a few weeks ago, and fandom was also a central thread (possibly an answer to the symposium’s theme. Q: Hit Me with the Next Best Thing / A: Fandom).  Fandoms generally arise out of a shared love of a particular story, whether that story is told through television, cinema, video games, and most importantly for librarians, books.  There are strong fandoms for The Avengers, BBC’s Sherlock and Doctor Who, the Final Fantasy game series, and of course, Harry Potter.  Fans (of anything – there can literally be a fandom for anything) converse and share mostly online, across many cyber venues.  Fans are different from the average reader/watcher/gamer, though; they are not satisfied to just passively consume media.  A fan of Harry Potter doesn’t just read the books penned by Rowling herself – oh no, she climbs right into the world and plays there.  This fan might write fanfiction using some of the established HP characters, she might draw a scene with some steamy Harry-Draco action, or she might knit herself a Ravenclaw scarf.  Fans actively participate with stories.  They pick up the conversation where the author left it.

My favorite fanart – “The Lady of Shalott” by William Holman Hunt, inspired by Tennyson’s poem of the same title.

Fanfiction is a topic unto itself (I’ve provided some article titles below for further reading), so I’m going to try to stay broad when I talk about fandom.  The thought process behind participatory fandom is simple: “I really like X, I want more of X, I will create more stuff about X!”  At its core, fandom is creative.  Fans are inspired by stories to create.  Any naysayers who talk about fans not creating their own content should be promptly shown an art history textbook and told to zip it.  Artists have always taken inspiration from literature, and fanfiction is as old as the hills (Jane Austen sequels, anyone?).  Clive Thompson refers to the activity as creating “paracosms”, and he brings in interesting evidence that such imaginative play as a teenager leads to heightened creativity and problem solving as an adult.

Draco and Harry by deviantArtist gemiange

Teens make up a huge portion of fandom creators and consumers, and the teenage years are when a person is most likely to find the world of fandom.  A fandom is a community – a group of people who all love the same thing(s).  Online fandoms are often safe spaces for teenagers to explore identity and sexuality without the fear of ridicule from peers.  A fan can “ship” characters together (short for “relationship”), or create a homosexual relationship between two straight characters (usually men) for “slash”.  Lots of queer teens find refuge in fandoms, seeing representation in fanfiction that is measly at best in published trade books.

While some question the legality of fanfiction and fanart, it’s more or less protected under the Fair Use clause in copyright law.  The fanfiction/fanart has to be transformative rather than just derivative; in other words, there has to be a good amount of original creativity added to the copyrighted story.  Since fanfiction/fanart is usually free, it’s not often taken to court over copyright.  If you’re curious about this aspect, visit the Organization for Transformative Works.

Fandoms are creative, supportive, inspiring, instructive – all things we love here at Library as Incubator!  While we appreciate all sorts of fandoms and fans (the fact that we’re huge nerds should surprise no one), we have a special place in our hearts for book fandoms.  The teens who participated in our TRW art contest were all inspired by books to create incredible works of art.

Hosting a teen fan art competition in your library is totally do-able and absolutely worth exploring!  Even if teens aren’t active in online fandoms, chances are good they’ve read something awesome lately and have that creative itch to make something.  All you need is a way to display artwork, a voting system or selected judges, and enthusiasm to get teens creating.  We ran our contest entirely online, but maybe you can do it IRL (in real life).  A lot of libraries have hosted fanart events, so look around to get ideas.

Fault in Our Stars – Hazel by deviantArtist Leabharlann (inspired by John Green’s book)
Not all fandoms are based in fantasy or science fiction

Don’t dismiss fandoms as creatively-lazy just because they use the worlds and characters of another.  Writing or creating in a pre-established world is more difficult in some ways, because there are rules and character identities to maintain.  Fanfic writers can write in the voice of another author – that deserves some respect!  Fans make content because it’s fun; it’s a natural reaction to something you love.  If you’re unfamiliar with fandoms, drop into DeviantArt or or some of the other links below to see what it’s all about.  These people are simply bubbling with creativity.






Resources for Further Reading

Articles (for those who have access)

  • Griffis, Kimberly and D. Yvonne Jones. (2008). Readers’ advisory 2.0: Recommending fanfiction. Public Libraries, 47(6), 62-65.
  • Kennedy, James. (2010). Fandom 2.0: A celebration of the reader. VOYA, 33(5), 412-414.
  • Moore, Rebecca C. (2005). All shapes of hunger: Teenagers and fanfiction. VOYA, 28(1), 15-19.
  • Schaffner, Becca. (2009). In defense of fanfiction. The Horn Book Magazine, 85(6), 613-618.

A Smattering of Fan Sites

Katie Behrens is a graduate student in Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  She is currently serving as an intern for the Library as Incubator Project.  Though she hasn’t written any fanfiction in a LONG time, she’s fairly sure some bad teenage Tamora Pierce and Harvest Moon 64 fanfic is still hiding under her bed.

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