sqbr: Nepeta from Homestuck looking grumpy in front of the f/f parts of her shipping wall (grumpy)
Sophie ([personal profile] sqbr) wrote2011-05-12 09:53 am

Political fanart

So, the politics of fanworks panel at Swancon got me thinking. I left a comment on cupidsbow's post on the subject with some further thoughts, and one of the things I noticed while writing that comment is that despite most of my fanworks being fanart I was having real trouble thinking of transformative fanart with an overt political message that weren't race/gender/etc swaps. (Not that's anything wrong with such swaps, but surely there had to be more variety I was missing)

Note! This is me rambling in an uninformed way about a topic I find interesting, not a definitive survey. I probably won't have the energy to edit in corrections if people point out my mistakes and omissions, but I'm sure there's lots, check out the comments (assuming anyone gets through my tl;dr). I haven't defined what I mean by "political", and I'm not sure I can. Hopefully it's clear from context? I guess I'm only interested in progressive art which questions the status quo, other sorts of transformative political art exists and is interesting but thinking about it makes me grumpy so I'd rather not.

I googled "political art" to get some ideas, and came across this post of 50 political artworks. And as I scrolled through thinking about what a transformative version of such art might look like I realised: many of them are transformative already. Conventional images of politicians, consumer culture, the military etc are subverted, cut up, combined and given new context. I'm not going to describe all 50, but for example in this piece of graffiti the famous image of soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima is turned into a stencil on a flaking painted wall with the flag replaced by a MacDonald's sign: two copyrighted images combined into a new image with a whole new meaning.

Now obviously this sort of political art isn't typical of the parts of fanart fandom I hang out in. The intersections of art, political activism and transformative works are complicated and blurry, but I would say that for the most part the works above are political first, art second, and transformative third, while fanworks tend to be the reverse (and tend to like the things they're transforming a lot more!) Still, I thought it was worth noting, if only to show the power of transformative work.

So! While there is definitely interesting things to be said about the broader use of transformation in political art, I'm going to ignore most of it and focus on my little corner of creativity, fanart (specifically, drawn art in DeviantArt and lj-clone based English language fandoms for Western media, anime/manga and computer games. Though if people have thoughts on other types of fanart I'd be curious to hear them)

Following on from what [personal profile] cupidsbow and [personal profile] chaosmanor were saying, here are some (overlapping) ways more typical fanart (made from within the fandom for a particular tv show etc) can be political:

  • Using canon characters/themes etc to illustrate a point about something else eg Avatar the Last Airbender Gagstrip 67 by Booterfreak (Sokka and Aang are surrounded by fireflies. Sokka says "They're called freedom flies not fire flies Ang. We don't support Fire Nation tyranny." Aang looks unimpressed. )
  • Critiquing canon, eg Glee art: Being a Part of Something Special (1.01 Pilot). Note that while gnatgnip is usually more of a traditional fanartist, like the political graffiti I linked above this is not at all celebratory of the source of it's imagery and is drawn in a similar stencil style, which I assume was a conscious choice on her part.
  • Celebrating marginalised people/voices, either highlighting the ones that exist in canon or creating new ones, eg all the women centric art posted to [livejournal.com profile] halfamoon, queering of texts into slash/femslash etc.
  • Creating a community and outlet for marginalised fans, eg the way female dominated fanworks spaces are a rare space in which women can feel free to express and bond about their sexuality etc.


The first two are the ones that more explicitly political, and are also harder to find examples of. The obvious example (often straddling the line between "There should be more characters like this in canon" and "Just imagine how much more awesome canon would be with these characters") is race/gender etc swaps such as Glockgal's Supernatural raceswap (where Jensen and Jared get deported to Mexico for driving through Arizona while brown) There's also examples of people using one canon to critique another, such as my own Dragon Age/Harry Potter comic The Society For the Promotion of Elvish Welfare.

I'd be curious to hear if people can think of any examples of these first two types of fanart that aren't swaps and don't have text/dialogue etc making their point more unambiguous, because I'm having trouble (not that text makes something Not Art, but it does make it easier to make an explicit point).

The second and third blend together any time someone creates an AU scenario that is more inclusive than canon, also see for example the Racebending fanart community.

The third and fourth blur together when canon is inclusive, eg the way that parts of Homestuck, Queer as Folk, Torchwood etc fandoms bond about and draw pictures of the canonically lgbt characters, though this can get messy when people who are members of the given marginalised group approach fanworks differently to those who aren't (eg male femslashers, white fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender etc) I get the feeling similar things happen with canons with large POC/non-white casts.

Something I find really interesting is human versions of non-human characters, as well as "realistic" depictions of very stylised characters. There can be a lot of interesting discussion about the implications of various choices, as well as what's plausible/supported by canon, with some fans showing their subconscious racism/fatphobia etc, and others poking at these attitudes on purpose, see for example this black human Rarity from "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic". This comes up a lot in Homestuck, where there are several different art styles (some of which make the characters look uniformly skinny and some of which don't), all the humans are drawn as literally white and there's a bunch of aliens in various shades of black, white and grey but also divided by blood colour in ways that can be read as a metaphor for racism. This 50s Homestuck AU art and accompanying meta is a response to some unfortunate implications in some previous AUs.

There's a lot of fancomics which use canon characters as the thinly veiled voice of the author, often commenting on fandom or other canons. This usually isn't political so much as just snarky, but see for example the many comics where the Avatar: The Last Airbender characters complain about the whitewashed movie adaptation.

Of course fanworks don't have the be explicitly political (or political at all) to have merit, I just find it interesting, especially since my art is often at least partly inspired by political motivations, even if it's just "I'm sick of mysogyny in fandom, I'm going to draw some ladies being awesome" :)

EDIT: Huh, so I got metafandomed. Alas I do not have the energy to reply to many comments, but I will read anything people have to say with interest (though note that I have a comment policy) Please take any drama elsewhere, I don't have the energy for that either :P
lea_hazel: Wonder Woman (Genre: Comics)

[personal profile] lea_hazel 2011-05-12 06:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Alien characters seem to bring something out in people. I don't know what it is. Homestuck and MLP are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. Other alien-including fandoms don't seem to have as much fanart of the characters as humans. Or maybe I just haven't seen it?

There is one other thing I can think of. In USian comics, a lot of the time characters who are supposed to be chromatic are drawn in an inexperienced manner, which makes them look white. Sometimes there's confusion about the character's ethnicity, and picking up a comic book for the first time, readers project their race-related assumptions. I've seen some fanart drawn to emphasize the non-white features of characters like (off the top of my head) Jubilee and Monet. Responses vary wildly, naturally.

I guess it's impossible to discuss character design in comics without raising issues of visual stereotypes.