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Cronin Theory of Comics – Fan-fiction is a Limited Critique

by  in Comic News Comment

“It was like fan fiction” is not a good critique of a comic book writer’s performance.

My main (heck, I think it may actually be my ONLY) reason is that it is just too nebulous of a definition. Can anyone pin-point what it means to be writing comics like fan-fiction, with the inference being that it is a BAD thing? The way I have often seen it read has been more like “I just don’t like this writer’s writing, so I am calling it fan-fiction, because it sounds really dismissive.”

I don’t deny the impact of fan-fiction upon criticism. In fact, one of the most popular terms that I like to use COMES from fan-fiction criticism, namely, Mary Sue, which is when a writer literally writes themselves (or a avatar of themself) into a fan-fiction. Likewise, I asked you folks awhile back to help me with a new definition for an offshoot of Mary Sue, which is when a writer uses a “pet” character in much the same way that fan-fiction writers used characters based on themselves (and, of course, this doesn’t preclude the inclusion of a character based on the writer/writer’s significant other in the comic, either).

However, as a descriptive term, “fan-fiction” seems about as descriptive to me as “super-hero.” In other words, it is not very descriptive at all.

Especially in the post Roy Thomas era, where basically every comic book writer working was first a comic book FAN, so how could they NOT be influenced by their own fan experiences?

How is that a bad thing, per se? The problem to me doesn’t seem to be having fans of comics write comics, but rather fans of comics write comics poorly.

I mean, to say New Excalibur is “fan-fiction” seems odd to me, as writing about the characters that he wants to write about was basically how Chris Claremont wrote the Uncanny X-Men for seventeen years. So how is it “fan-fiction” now?

I get criticisms of writers like Geoff Johns who often appear to be a bit too concerned with continuity, so if that is what writing “fan-fiction” means, than I can understand that – but that isn’t how it is used all the time, right?

If someone could pinpoint what the term means so that we can apply it critically, that’d be great. I’d appreciate that.

But for the time being, it really appears that “fan-fiction” is just supposed to be universally reviled by everyone, so that just by using the term, a critic can express his/her displeasure with a writer’s work.

And that is not all that good of a critique.