Back in the day, I like to think I was something of a cult classic on fanfiction.net. I was an acquired taste. I wrote a Chase/Cameron fanfic for the House, MD fandom that had Chase (or maybe it was Cameron?) getting shot at the end of the second chapter for literally no reason. I think I was just fourteen and I just desperately wanted to daydream about hospital sex.
But, I digress. Fanfic took a backseat for me, at least writing-wise, for many, many years. I rode through a lot of lonely high school nights on the accolades of strangers in the form of FF.net comments, but I eventually managed to broaden my horizons a bit. I also managed to convince myself that fanfiction was stupid, and that I was stupid for writing it, and that I really ought to be giving all my time and energy to my original works. At first, the sad “plz update!” reviews on my various incomplete projects made me guilty enough to occasionally crawl back and add another chapter on one of my CSI Snickers fics. But then, even the adoring commentary of my readers couldn’t pull me back. I distanced myself from the world of fic, and ventured in again only when I found a new fandom or pairing.
And then I discovered comic books.
My first comics were the small, rectangle Archie books they used to sell at the grocery store checkout. They were about the size of a mass-market paperback, though much thinner, and the paper was newspaper-quality — that kind of paper a good, inky pen will sink into. I think it was my mom who bought me my first comic, probably from some kind of Archie-fueled childhood nostalgia. And I followed the adventures of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the kids of Riverdale religiously. I got a new book whenever we went to the store. I snuck the comics into the shower or the bath and propped them up on the caddy to read while I bathed, in a misguided attempt to keep them dry (it never worked). I brought them on vacations. I fought to read them in the car, though car-reading has always made me violently ill the moment me eyes hit the text.
I wasn’t aware superhero comics beyond the vague cultural understanding of Superman and Batman that seems to come with being American. My dad was a huge comics dork back in the day (he’s always talking about the boxes of stuff that are still waiting at his mother’s house, and how he wishes he could steal them all back for me), but I guess he thought I was a girl and I wouldn’t be into it.
Something must have snapped within him one day, though, and he brought home the first X-Men movie, either from the local library or Blockbuster — the memory escapes me. All I really remember is, suddenly, we were watching X-Men, and suddenly, I was in love.
Cut to me today. I follow several comic titles consistently, from both bigger and indie houses. I’ve read a bunch of Important with a Capital I issues and graphic novels. I know more about Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular than most people I know. I wrote my senior honors thesis — the one I needed to write to literally graduate college — on the cultural importance of comic books in American society. And while I’ve always known I wanted to write, and I’ve more recently realized I want to work in publishing, I’m actively working to figure out how to transition all the prose knowledge and skills I gained at school into a career in comics.
Oh, and I write fic again.
And as I’ve been working on what I think might actually look like real comics scripts, I’ve come to realize that writing for comic books — the established ones, with characters who have been around for decades, that whole shebang — is basically writing fanfiction. You have to take characters others created and slowly molded and defined over the course of many, many years, perhaps even years before you were born, and you have to make them believable. You, as a fan, are probably well aware of the core values of each character you’re writing, and you have to stick to those, or risk the wrath or your readers (and the letters page). Some titles have a solid canon to be followed and some allow you to double-back and right wrongs.
Some are meant to be insane. Some are the dumping ground of ideas deemed too far out there to come anywhere near any of the many universes that exist. And at that point, you’re basically just writing an elaborate AU for well-known and beloved characters — until someone breaks the multiverse again and everything falls apart (*coughcoughMARVELcoughcough*).
Of course, there are always new characters to be created and there are always original outlets for you to explore. It’s the same in the life of any writer who has an interest in both fanfiction and the creation of original works. You balance the new voices in your head with the pitch-perfect phrases and moments that crop up in the course of watching your favorite show or reading a new book. You can’t help but imagine Character A ending up in X Job in the year 2095, or Character B living life as if they’d never met Character E in episode six of the fourth season. You make your own adjustments and edits. And sometimes you edit it enough to make an original story. (We are not discussing Fifty Shades here, go away.)
I think this is what has drawn me to the idea of writing and editing comics. I have a ton of original ideas I’d love to explore, and I really wish I had any semblance of artistic talent. And I could talk your ear off about the blend of text and visual art that makes the comics medium unique. But I’d also love to headline a new Rogue solo title for Marvel. I’d love to be asked to take over a flagship book. I don’t think I can go full Claremont and handle every single X-title at once, but I’d be willing to try. In my early fanfic days, I prided myself on my ability to capture a look, a voice, a moment. I was glad when people wrote to tell me they’d enjoyed my story, but the most gratifying comments were the ones along the lines of, “That sounded just like her!” and, “I can totally see him saying that!” That meant I’d done my job.
I have big plans, is what I’m saying. And some of them are all me, and some of them are based in being given the change to emulate my heroes and take on the personas of my favorite characters. I want to re-examine canon and make my fanfic-worthy dreams reality. I want to use all the colloquialisms I’ve gathered up over the years and craft the exact voice for the right character at the precise moment. I want to be the go-to comics guru, who can spout facts and stats at you to defend my editorial choices.
I want to be able to make art in all the forms the comic book medium will allow me. And I think I’d like to become famous enough to write fanfic of my own creations.
But that’s the stretch goal.