For Love of the (Fan)art, And Of Its Subject

I must confess that I have been viewing anime fanart much more than I’ve been producing it in my time at deviantArt. In doing so, I’ve been trying to get a handle on what all these other fanartists are doing, and why. To be honest, I haven’t fully understood what I’ve been doing, and why. Perhaps all this consumption of fanart has helped me begin to figure it out.

I see all skill levels represented in those who like to produce fanart. I see light sketchy pencils, graphite and colored pencil work with meticulous shading, ink, markers, paints, and of course digital art. We can find anime characters alone, in pairs or groups, interacting with people’s “OCs” or original characters, wearing other clothes, advanced or regressed in age, gender-converted, and goodness knows what else. Some produce almost photorealistic versions of anime characters as if “brought to life.” Others use fewer lines, trying instead to capture the passion and gestures of the characters. Still others are content just to copy the authentic characters as closely as possible. Creating pieces of all of these types involves careful observation, a skill which (as a teacher) I am encouraged to see is still alive and well. And of course, in addition to anime fanart, there is fanart based on American comics, live action shows such as Harry Potter, games such as Legend of Zelda, and even Vocaloid.

What none of this descriptive prose addresses is why we do this. Why can the fanartist not resist picking up that pencil, brush, or tablet pen, and making his or her thoughts about this or that character visible? Certainly part of it is because making art is fun. At least, it had better be — if not, we’re probably doing it wrong. Part of it, I also believe, is because we are made in the image of one who is himself a creator, in fact of the Creator himself.

When even manga characters want to create manga characters, things are starting to get funky.

Being made in the image of the Creator means, among other things, that there is a part of each one of us that feels a satisfaction in making our inner thoughts outwardly available. We cannot all be artists or musicians or poets, which is why some of us express ourselves by making furniture, or knitting sweaters, or gourmet cooking. But though this may shed some light on why there are artists in general, it doesn’t explain why some artists like to create fanart in particular. Why can we not stop ourselves from drawing our favorite character du jour, whether Inuyasha or Hermione, Ichigo or Sakura, Superman or Sailor Moon, Link or Hatsune Miku?

The answer, I suddenly admitted to myself one day, is as simple as it was hard to admit. It is because we love these characters.

We love them. Don’t we? I sure hope so, or there is no excuse for all the time we spend producing fanart of them.

There seems to be something special about anime in particular, and the characters portrayed in anime, to capture our hearts and imaginations like this so easily. How is it that anime as a medium can elicit such strong emotional responses in those of us who view it? I’m not certain, but I’ve long suspected that anime is like a mirror, in which we see a part of ourselves reflected back to our minds. Another way of putting it is that in the magic mirror of anime, we see what we want to see.

Now this is difficult for someone who is not only a chemistry teacher, and thus deals in the realm of Right And Wrong Answers; but also an evangelical Christian, and thus believes in the existence of absolute truth, of a Being who is himself so utterly true that all other truth finds its place and meaning in him. In contrast, art either viewed or created is of necessity different from one individual to the next — even if the subject is the same. We see different things, are interested in different aspects of the subject, and depict differently that in which we are interested.

My favorite fanart pieces are those that do not look exactly like the original character, but retain somehow the character’s “spirit” as I call it, so that I immediately recognize the character anyway. I look for those pieces that show me that the artist has not merely seen the original character in action, but loved the character enough for it to have taken on a meaning. The character has become too large to be contained by the black outlines, and has become a concept.

That is how and why we love anime characters, I think. Looking in the magic mirror of anime, we see something in this or that character that inspires us so much that we feel our heart will crack if we don’t at least try to express it.

So what are you waiting for? Grab that pencil and get to it!

I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

R86 is currently in a “Vocaloid phase,” but hopes to move back into fanart of real live honest to goodness anime characters soon.


8 thoughts on “For Love of the (Fan)art, And Of Its Subject

  1. Beautiful, just beautiful. I am going to read every post of yours from now on. You seem really cool and inspirational.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and the encouragement! I’m kind of swamped this term, but there will probably be at least one more essay this calendar year. Hopefully things will be a bit more opened up next term.

      By the way, if you or anyone else reading this is on deviantArt, please do look me up at the link at the end of the essay. I always like to see what other people are doing in terms of fanart. 🙂

  2. Fascinating! I especially love your comment regarding creating fan art as a reflection of the Creator Himself. The desire to create things and to love the things we create – It is certainly something we share with our Creator, and a way for us to understand a bit of His thought for us. Therefore, I applaud you for writing this!

  3. Thanks! Although it’s nothing new, the idea that we create because we are in the image of the Creator is one that bears repeating.

    Where I feel I’m on less solid ground, to be honest, is on this whole idea of “loving” anime characters. The explanation is so simple and elegant that I can’t help buying it, but it is not something I hear a lot of people admitting so freely.

    As I’ve said to TWWK many times, I wish my background in psychology were stronger. My background in chemistry isn’t helping me at all here! 😉

  4. As you can tell from my account, I’m no artist (total pieces on my dA account: 0). But I can certainly relate to the idea of one loving characters. I feel like my favorite characters are, in a sense, alive. They are a kind of comfort – when I watch anime to relax to get away, it’s really the characters that provide that comfort rather than the plot lines. It’s like getting reacquainted with old friends.

    I also like that you mentioned the idea of our Creator as a creator. I think that the common image of God is of a stifling, old man who is all work and no play. But He’s an amazing artist – the Great Artist. Thanks for visiting that idea.

    1. Our favorite characters as a comfort item … that’s an interesting way of putting it. It affords us comfort to see our favorite characters being themselves, and interacting with each other while being themselves.

      Sometimes the degree to which we can’t get enough of it, even spurs us to make fanart and write fanfics?

      I think we’re beginning to get somewhere. 🙂

      >(total pieces on my dA account: 0)


      >So what are you waiting for? Grab that pencil and get to it!

      Fixed. 😉

  5. I would presume that the fan arts are another great way of bringing out some anime characters’ personalities more, and that we add more qualities to what is already there. And we get more antiquated with the characters themselves. ^_^

    As for original fan art, I think it’s really nice to see so much variety and creativity inspirations from the artists themselves. And we do create them, molding them to our own preferences or mood, to make a whole world for ourselves. That certainly does fits the idea of the Creator as you brought up.

    Nice reading your posts by the way ever since you came onboard this great blog! ^_^

    1. I would agree — this whole process of an established canon character “percolating” through the mind of the artist, and coming out expressed in a different way, is one of the things that most interests me. “Headcanon” is a word I’m reading a lot lately — making established characters one’s own by adding (hopefully consistent) ideas to their stories.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. I’m hoping for two more essays before the end of the year, but there is this thing called a day job. 🙂

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