There's been some interest recently about the impact that fan communities can have on the work that they like. It's cropped up in the light of how subsections of fans of games and comics have threatened the lives of people involved in creating what they want because of a game being late, say, or a comic featuring a hero doing something they don't believe he should do. And some are speaking of fans who want to see more representation of LGBTQ characters in the same breath, packaging all of those examples under the heading of entitlement.
The way the word 'entitlement' works, it's clearly a bad thing. But that doesn't necessarily square up with what fans believe they're entitled to. When it comes to greater representation of minorities, fans are typically way ahead of the people making decisions about the properties that attract their interest. The recent Star Wars movie had a female lead, but no merchandise for her - a decision made by the middle-aged guys whose tendency when making such choices is to look backwards for precedent. A few years back, something similar happened with the popular animated show Static Shock, which had a black lead - but again, no toys of him for fans to buy.
Part of what's going on then, is that fans are seeking acknowledgment and representation. In a consumer society, is it any wonder that activism takes the form of demanding that products reflect the world fans inhabit, within the context of the storyworld that they enjoy? To that extent then, it's possible to see both rage at late shipping of computer games, and anger at Captain America apparently being a Nazi all along, as examples of what happens when you use social media to deal with consumers in a new way, and then get surprised when they use the same channels to communicate their frustration. Entitlement is more complex when the flow of communication from entertainment franchises to fans shares or at least emulates their passion, and is more responsive than older more monolithic forms of corporate engagement. None of that excuses death threats etc, but once the dynamic of social media became that of a flow between apparent equals, there were going to be consequences. We're reaping them.
Another strand to all this is the belief that art is purely the concern of the artist. And I'm not sure that's the case. Particularly when you're looking at global brands. But even in my much smaller experience, the idea that stuff emerges fully formed from my head just doesn't capture the reality.
I wrote a short science fiction film, White Lily, which is close to finishing post-production. And when director Tristan Ofield and I did some online rehearsals with our actors Siddhii Lagrutta and Dave McCaffrey, Siddhii made an interesting suggestion. She wanted to swap characters with Dave, which meant a gender swap for the roles. As soon as they did, something new emerged from the dynamic of those characters. The words were the same, but all of a sudden they had a different spark. That's what you'll see when the film is finished.
The comic Dadtown is written by me, with art by Raben White and colour by Jess Parry. Initially, I'd imagined the setting to be a kind of southern gothic on another planet. But Raben's experience growing up in Hong Kong instead shaped the look of the city where some of the story happens. And the meetings the three of us have, where we come up with all kinds of unprintable stuff, are core to the way the story has gone - once we've identified 'the right kind of wrong', then it becomes part of the comic, by which point it's impossible to know where the ideas came from. It emerges from our conversations and interactions, not from any one mind. It comes from practicalities too - we realised we were taking on something bigger than we could deliver, and I had to work out how to condense the story. It's much better as a result.
Actually, the idea that concepts shower full-formed from the mind is part of the problem with the vision of the singular creator. We are not minds. We are organisms that eat and cry and fuck and run out of cash and fall out with friends and can't find notebooks we'd scribbled killer ideas in. All of those things affect the art that emerges from us. And that's before we get into the considerations of working on a property that's intended for a large audience of young people, which is the case with another project I'm working on.
In that project, we actively welcome the input of people with insights into the cultures of the characters we depict, because as open minded as we like to think we are, we haven't had the experience of growing up in another culture. We're in our forties plus, so when we get the chance to work with a 20-something costume designer who can have input into the look of our characters, we welcome it. And we're thinking ahead to merchandise, because that could happen, and we want it to be stuff that we'd have loved as kids, or that parents we know would like their kids to have.
Besides, people engaging with creators or the companies that represent them at least says they care. OK, some of them care too much and about things those creators and companies don't value in the same way, but that can be a case for learning on both sides. Henry Ford was steadfast abut only offering cars in black. It took General Motors to offer a choice of colours, and we haven't looked back. I suspect that one way to look at the current situation is that we're going through an equivalent period of adjustment.