Me: What does it mean to be a fan of something?
Christine: To be a fan of something is to participate in the culture surrounding a franchise or series. So if you say you like the show or a YouTuber that has a fanbase—or if you like anything that has a fanbase—[you’re] kind of just… engaging with what the fanbase has to offer, as well as what the franchise itself has to offer. So like, first and foremost, to be a fan of something is if you like a thing, obviously—you like the thing, you enjoy the thing, you seek out the thing—I think that’s what being a fan of something is. But then that also extends to looking into more of The Thing that you’re a fan of and then finding that there’s this culture behind it, and [joining] that.
Have you been part of a fan community? How so? Please describe.
Oh, man… (laughs) So, usually I’m—like, I don’t actively participate in fan communities. I kind of want to, but a majority of the time I’m just on the outside looking in. So like, say, on Twitter. I have a Twitter that I don’t really… it’s like a Twitter where I lurk and stuff, so when I’m on Twitter I’m just scrolling and looking and seeing everybody interact with each other, and basically people kind of freaking out about The Thing, and… I don’t really participate, but I plan to soon when I do my art account. But! As for fandoms that I’ve been in before and I’ve actively participated in, I was… I think the Free! fandom—the anime [Free! Iwatobi Swim Club] to specify for the audience (laughs)—I was active in that in the sense that I drew fanart for it, I posted it online, I was part of a calendar for it, where people from the fandom sought me out to draw for the calendar, and then they had a Secret Santa with fanart that you’d draw for somebody and they’d draw for you… Speaking of that, too—(laughs) for DRAMAtical Murder… I was in that, and I drew a little bit for that and I posted it online, and same for Homestuck, too. For DRAMAtical Murder, specifically, there was that Secret Santa thing—they do that a lot, I’ve noticed—and that was a little fun thing that I participated in. But generally, for Homestuck and [for DRAMAtical Murder] I would post a few fanarts, but Free! was where I posted a lot of fanart and saw things pick up with that.
How often and how long do you participate in these fan communities/fandom spaces?
Well, I would say every day… because if I’m on Twitter, what I’m looking for on Twitter is basically all the fandoms I’m in, so like… Demon Slayer—I’m on Twitter scrolling and looking for that. But, I mean, depending on who you follow on Twitter, too, you can get a little bit of everything, so I follow certain people for certain fandoms that I like, so I know this person’s gonna post a lot of this but I know they’ll also post some of something else. When I’m on Twitter, it’s mainly a mix of things, but mostly what I wanna see because I pick and choose who to follow to get mostly what I wanna see on my timeline. So, I would say every day, because usually I’m kinda looking for it. So just casual. Even on YouTube, I’ll go on and say… like… I feel like watching funny Inosuke scenes, like just type in “Inosuke funny” on YouTube and look it up—so like, random moments like that, where I’m like, “Oh hey, I remember that fandom, let me watch a YouTube video,” or something like that.
Please describe a typical interaction or experience within these spaces.
There have been a few times that I’ve interacted. Like, say if there’s—someone posts a character, and I’m like “I don’t know who that is,” and they’re someone that I follow that is a part of a fandom that I’m in. I’d feel more comfortable being like, “Hey man, random question but who’s this character in that picture?” and they’re like, “Cool, it’s this person. Check them out, they’re great. Very good boy. Go. I recommend,” and I’m like, “Yeah, cool!” It’s a short interaction, but it’s not a bad one. It’s generally like… I lurk and stuff, but I’m not uncomfortable with reaching out to a random person I follow and being like, “Hey! Who’s this character?” or “Hey, you posted this thing, tell me more.” Even on YouTube, too. I feel like in YouTube comments I’m more confident with asking that stuff, because say someone—there was one time this person had an icon on their YouTube, like they used a picture on their avatar and I was like, “Ooh, that character looks cute.” And then I commented and I messaged like, “Who’s that character?” and they replied right away like, “This one,” and I’m like, “Thanks man,” and it’s like—”Okay, bye.” (laughs) So like, very…
Random interactions, mostly?
Valid. So are you more comfortable interacting with someone that you already know over these social media spaces, or just a random person? Or does it depend on the situation?
I think it depends on the situation, but I think I’d be fine either way (laughs).
Fair enough! And you already kind of described your history with fandoms, but if you wanted to expand on that, please do so. But also: what made you join these fandoms and what made you stay?
Generally I think it’s my love for the content that the fandom’s stemming from, so for Free!, I really loved the anime, and I guess in a way the fandom keeps it alive after. Because the series ends, but the fandom is still making fanart and is still going and there’s content every day—the content like AUs, fanfictions… that makes you see the content in a different light, in a way. It’s interesting to see the different kinds of ways that the fans can use the content and portray it in different ways. So, I would say that it’s my general love for the content but also what the fandom can do with the content to keep it alive, in a sense. One [anime] fandom, Prince of Tennis—it’s very old—generally, I feel like no one knows about it, but there’s this small circle of people that are like, “Yeah! TeniPuri! It’s still alive! We’re this little circle! It’s alive with us!” I can be like, “Hey, Prince of Tennis!” and most people would be like, “Oh, is that that old tennis anime?” but then there’s this circle of hardcore people, and I’m like, “Yes! They give me life. Thank you for being so hype about it, because I thought I was the only one.”
If you knew then what you know now as a fan in this community or these communities, would your fan experience be different?
Probably, because… This is me talking about old fandoms, like when I was in middle school, high school. Fandoms back then were BLEACH and Macross and all the older animes, and I feel like being in fandom at that age… I guess that age in time for fandom communities on the internet specifically was more… I don’t know how to describe it… I would say… more carefree. I don’t know if that’s more so because I was younger and I, myself, was more carefree and kind of… I don’t want to say ignorant, but I was less aware of other stuff. I was more like, “Yay! I like The Thing! It’s great! Convention! This and that!” but now there’s more attention to the darker side of fandoms and stuff like content creators being called out for stuff—bad stuff like being sexual predators—[as well as] “Cosplay is not Consent.” When I was younger, I never thought about that stuff, but I feel like it’s more… I don’t want to say it’s more prominent now, but I feel like there’s more attention to it. So, back then in fandom, I was just this small kid that was like, “Oh, cool, I’m going to this thing, I like this thing, there’s nothing wrong here,” but now there’s more precautions with what is behind the fandoms that you enjoy. Sometimes you’re in a fandom [that you enjoy], and then say you have a favorite artist or something, or a favorite cosplayer, then the next day it’s like, “Ooh, there’s this thing that happened at BronyCon,” and then people start associating the whole fandom with that incident, and then it’s just… a lot of drama. But those are certain situations, so I wouldn’t really say that that would affect how much I enjoyed fandom back then, but it would be a different experience, I would say. A little bit different.
Would you join it again?
Yeah, I mean, I’m in it now (laughs). So if I know what I know now, and I’m still in it, then back then… [I would, too.]
Valid (laughs). Okay! How important are your fandoms to you? Why are they important?
It is important because I find comfort in them, and I find that I can express my creativity through them in art. If I didn’t have fandoms, I feel like… yeah, I could draw that tree out there and it’d be nice, but there’s just so much you can do with [fandom] and I think that’s really cool. So, expressing myself through art, getting myself to meet people at conventions, going to cosplay meetups, and meeting people that like the same thing as you that won’t judge you. Generally when we look for new friends or people, we gravitate towards people that enjoy the things we enjoy.
Has fandom experience played a part in your identity/how you identify yourself today? How so?
I don’t think so, because… I don’t know how to word this, but… anime and video games have been a constant in my life—I’ve liked [them] since I was young—and… I don’t wanna make it this example, but… You know Normie Twitter?
… I do not, please explain. (laughs)
(laughs) A person on Normie Twitter is technically your average college student that doesn’t know anything about fandom culture. I think the extent to what they know is, “Oh yeah, I watched Game of Thrones once”—like that, kind of. Basically, like, your standard person that doesn’t engage in fandom. Your basic person who’s on a platform. But then you have people who like anime that are always posting about that one specific thing, and K-Pop, too. They’re always posting about that one specific thing. In a sense, liking something so much and having it be a big part of your life kind of feels like it’s part of your identity—not even a specific anime, like I wouldn’t say, “Oh, Demon Slayer changed my life. I identify with—” You know how some people kin anime characters?
No, please explain. (laughs)
(laughs) Okay, so some people will highly identify with a character. So, say someone is like, “Oh… Tanjiro from Demon Slayer—I feel like I have a connection with him and I feel like we have almost every single similar attribute, and that means I ‘kin’ with him,” and that means they identify through this character. They essentially are this character. I don’t understand it 100%. I know some people make fun of them like, “Oh, I kin a sunflower,” or “Oh, I was born on an asteroid as a flower and I descended onto Earth and once the asteroid landed I sprouted out of the flower as an alien.” Some people legitimately identify like that, and with anime characters, they do that, too. “Oh, I kin this person and I am attached to this character. This character is a legitimate source of comfort for me.” And, I mean, like… to each their own. That’s just a thing. I would think that’s an extreme, identifying with characters [in] fandom, but in my sense, since it’s a thing that I’ve partaken in since I was younger, I would say that… I can’t really pinpoint exactly how I identify with it, but I just know that it’s a part of my identity and I engage in it every day. If someone were to talk to me and get to know me as a friend, that would come up—”Oh, yeah, I like anime, I draw anime, anime’s cool.”
You mentioned this before, but do you create content as a fan? Please describe.
I do create content as a fan. It’s mostly fanart. I’ve tried to write some fanfictions, but they never go anywhere. Like, I write something in my notes, and I’m like, “Okay, this would be a cool fic, let me just write a oneshot real quick,” and then I don’t, and I’m like ugh, I have to read it instead. But mostly fanart. I feel like, for the most part, I would do fanart. I want to make the stuff that you see at Artist Alley tables—key chains, little bags, all that cool merch.
Briefly explain Artist Alley.
Okay, Artist Alley. So (laughs), at conventions, they will open up an area of the con specifically for artists, and artists can enter through their website. If it’s a lottery system, if [an artist] wins they get a chance to have a table and they have to pay for it and you have to have your business registration certificate… and once you get all that paperwork done, you can have a table at the convention. People mostly sell their art prints of fanart. I think some people do sell their original art. Sometimes they’re selling their own comic books and stuff. But mostly it’s fanart. They’ll sell their prints, little keychains, buttons, pins, you name it—any merch they sell officially, they will sell as fanart. But sometimes, depending on what anime or franchise it is, that’s not allowed. You could get in trouble for that. There’ll be copyright and stuff. But generally, I think most of the time the big names are allowed. So, Artist Alley is just a place for fan creators to exhibit their art and sell it, and network, too. They’ll have their business cards on the table.
Have you ever had career or professional opportunities open up for you as a result of your experiences as a fan?
I do not know if this counts as "career"… Would commissions count? I haven’t done commissions, but I have been asked to do one before. I didn’t follow through with it (laughs), which is bad, but I’ve had a person ask me for a commission before. I’ve also had people in real life ask me to paint something and they’ll pay me for it. So I would say commissions, mostly. But other than that, the only thing I can think of is… Well, actually, for Free! they did this thing where this was a ship—a pairing—in the fandom that they wanted to express their appreciation for… to the actual company, KyoAni [aka Kyoto Animation], and so they did this big Rin and Haru project. It wasn’t the ship as [if] they were a couple—for this one, they did it as like their actual relationship in the anime, so it wasn’t them posting fanart of them kissing or anything. It’d be like, “Here! We love this ship! We love you guys!” So a lot of fanarts, a lot of oneshot stories of them, and a lot of letters went into a book, and the people running that asked me to draw little mascot characters because I had drawn a little fanart of a shark and a dolphin for them before. They were like, “Oh, we really liked the way you drew that. Could you draw that in these three different ways as fanart for our website for this and that?” and then they also put it on a bunch of stamps and on the book. So my art was on the front of the book and on the stamp and the letter, and they handed it to KyoAni themselves. So they saw my little art—not that that would give me a career opportunity, but it was a cool thing where they, the people who created The Thing that I enjoyed a lot, actually visibly saw my art, something that I made, and that was cool.
Would you think of putting that on your resume?
(laughs) I don’t know how I would word that. I don’t know! Maybe. There was a picture they sent me, too, like, “Look! We sent it!” And I was like, “Oh my god, my art’s in Japan at KyoAni Studio. It’s going into their hands.”
That's really cool. Have you ever discovered new interests because of your fandom experiences?
I think so. Being interested in anime generally makes you more interested in Japanese culture and stuff like that. That’s the only thing I can think of at the moment, but I guess, fandom-wise, cosplay would be one. When I was younger, I didn’t know about cosplay, and then once I found out, I was like, “Oh, that’s so cool, I can dress up like the character, and there’s a community for this, and they go all out.” So, cosplay would be one. I’m getting back into cosplay now. I always feel bad because some people are professional cosplayers and they get everything down to a T, but I think it’s generally just dressing up and going to conventions and enjoying dressing up as the character and finding other people dressed as characters from the same thing.
Do you tell people outside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
It depends, because… My mom and dad know (laughs) that I’m in these fan communities, and my brother knows because he’s also in fandoms. He doesn’t participate but he’s like, “Oh, I like anime, yeah.” But… I wouldn’t tell my boss (laughs). It depends on the situation and who. If it’s just us chilling with people and the subject comes up, I’ll be like, “Yeah!” I wouldn’t bring that up as… Like, that wouldn’t be the first thing I would say if I was describing myself to someone. I also wouldn’t actively tell anyone at my job, but if anyone at all were to ask me if I like anime, I’d be like, “Yeah,” but I don’t feel the need to be like, “Hey! I’m a part of this thing!” Especially to people that don’t know about it… If someone’s in fandom and I know they are and they know I am, I’ll be like, “Yeah, man, I’m in This.” But if it’s someone that I know doesn’t really know about that stuff, I don’t feel the need to be like, “Oh, hey, I like anime. It’s a thing,” because they didn’t ask me, and they’re not gonna get it, and I’m not gonna impose.
Companion question. Do you tell people inside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
Yes, because I want them to know, and I wanna be their friend (laughs). And I want to enjoy more of the… I feel like when we go to AnimeNYC, I’m gonna be more open about that stuff, because I haven’t been to a convention in so long. Before conventions, I’ll be so shy, [but] if you like the same thing [as other attendees] and the whole point of the convention is to walk around and experience the same fandoms and see the people that you’re talking to or seeing online… There’s so many artists that I know from Twitter that are going to the Artist Alley and this is your chance to see them in person and see what they’re like. So yeah, if they’re in the same community or any fan community and we’re all in a place that’s for the fan community, yes. Or even if you’re outside and—that thing people do—you see someone wearing a pin or a button and you’re like, “Hey I like your pin/button,” and you mentally connect. Then you get the look and you both know (laughs). So if I see someone with a Demon Slayer pin outside, I’ll [tell them I like it], and they’ll be like, “Yeah!” And the same thing with… … Not the same thing with BT21 plushies (laughs), but… So… With BTS (laughs), there have been a lot more people wandering around with the BT21 plushies on their bags, and when I see it, I’m like, “I acknowledge that you’re a BTS fan,” but I wouldn’t comment on it, only because of the fact that… (laughs) So, in certain fandoms—in every fandom, actually—there are certain bunches, or the 1% of each fandom—I dunno if it’s more—that are just… They take it to another level, and you don’t want to interact. Not that everyone is like that, because not everyone’s like that. Most of the girls on campus that wear the BT21—there’s nothing wrong with that, they’re probably not a part of that. But there’s a stigma within the fandom where certain things that have happened—the sasaeng fans, most of the time when BTS are in America people rush their vans or try to follow them to their hotel—the extreme fan culture, like those videos of the girls screaming at the Beatles, where they’re screaming and crying and rushing a fence… That’s… basically BTS now. So when you identify an ARMY, which is a BTS fan for the audio (laughs), you don’t know what you’re gonna get if you interact. So, not to compare with anime, but the whole “seeing an anime pin on a bag” is a lot less risky (laughs) than saying hi to someone [in the BTS fandom] (laughs)… But it’s not bad either, because a friend of ours used to go out with her [BT21] stuff all the time and people would come up to her like, “Hey, I like your thing,” which is harmless, but I feel like you doing that to someone else is kind of… I don’t know why that would be risky, but I feel like if someone does it to you, you’re like, “Yeah, cool, thanks,” but I don’t feel like I would actively go out and say hi to an ARMY, because you don’t know… I don’t know how to describe it (laughs).
Why is there that difference between someone coming up to you and you not wanting to go up to someone else? I know you said you don’t know, but…
I feel like it’s a mix of past experiences and general judgment from how you perceive the majority of the fandom. So the way I perceive a lot of ARMYs that I’ve seen—usually on Twitter, I always see the bad stuff. In one of our group chats, we get the good stuff like, “Here’s the nice pictures, the fanfic, and all this stuff.” Then on Twitter, when I scroll, it’s generally good stuff, but there have been a lot of incidents where [it’s clear] you can’t trust a lot of them. And then there’s incidents where some ARMYs say one thing—“Oh, I would never stalk Hobi at the airport!”—and then she just goes and does that and documents it on Twitter. It’s like, you just said… I feel like, with something like BTS and being a fan of real people, you can actually touch them—Don’t! No! NOT in that sense!—you can be in the same vicinity as them, like in a concert, you can see them and they can interact with you. So I feel like the whole concept of them being real makes these fans think that they’re more attainable as compared to anime where you’re like, “I’m just enjoying this thing, and I’m gonna make content of this thing because… I can’t physically touch this anime character, so I’m just gonna do what I can through fanart and stuff,” but with BTS, it’s like… The fact that they are real and are people you can physically see and experience, I guess, makes these certain fans all the more… what’s the word… You can be obsessed with anime to a point, but you can’t really do anything about grasping it, because it’s a fictional thing. It starts, it ends at a point, and you just move on and keep making content for it, but with BTS, they’re real, living, breathing people—they’re alive—and a lot of these girls wanna date them and are like, “I love these guys, they’ve done so much for me,” so having them be real people that are like you and me, in a way, makes some people… I don’t know how to describe it, but the fans that go out and rush their vans—those fans feel like they have a chance to grasp The Thing and would do anything to do that. The whole “rushing the vans” thing and “trying to get as close as possible”—that’s not the worst people have done, but I feel like even if a majority of ARMYs do say that they would never do that, I feel like, if given the opportunity, a lot of them would, and a lot of people—you and me, and our friends who like K-Pop—if we were presented with that situation, I feel like we would be more… like, we don’t agree with the way some people do things, and when we see ARMYs that have a lot of the merch, depending on how much they have in public, I feel like [they’re] not afraid to show how much [they love] the thing, but to me and other people, that just translates to, “Oh, [they’re] not afraid to be judged for it,” and in that sense, it also feels like [they] would take the risk to be those people that would rush the van because [they’re] that into them.
Could you briefly explain “sasaeng”?
So, sasaengs are—international fans count, too, right?—because, when I think of a sasaeng, that’s the Korean word for it, and it generally applied to the Korean fans. I’ll just explain it in general. So, a sasaeng fan is—I don’t even wanna call them a fan, though. A sasaeng is a person who idealizes/idolizes a K-Pop group to the extent that the group has taken over every thought and action of their life, so these people, every single day, they eat, breathe, and sleep this group, and they would do anything to get close to them. It’s not the same as the people rushing the—I don’t wanna say that’s the same… because… I’m gonna make the comparison, though. They would do anything in their power to get close to them, even breathe the same air as them—these people literally have some deep web/dark web network connection shit where they know and they buy and they sell all of the plane/flight information, text messages they’ve sent each other, their numbers, their families’ numbers, their cousins’ numbers, workers’ numbers—some of the sasaengs are workers in the company that are selling this information to people outside—and… I don’t know how. It baffles me to this day. It’s basically people that would do anything and everything to get their hands on them in any way possible. Some of these people even have infiltrated their hotel rooms, taken things from their bathrooms, taken their underwear, some people are obsessed to the point that they’ve harmed themselves and sent the blood or pictures of the self-harm to these K-Pop idols and have been like, “Oh, if you don’t marry me/pay attention to me, I’ll kill myself.” And [they’ve] also [gone] to the point where they tried to kill the idols, because “if they can’t have them, nobody else can.” The only example I can think of that freaked me out a lot—which is weird because this one’s tame compared to what I’ve heard—but the time that these girls shaved their heads to get into the boys’ bathroom to see EXO. The fact that you would shave your whole head to get into the men’s bathroom to see these guys… It’s insane.