Me: What does it mean to be a fan of something?
Mandark: To be a fan of something is to appreciate it. I feel like the definition of fan has gotten kind of skewed in that “you have to know everything about everything about this one thing”—and it’s like, no, you can be a fan of Star Wars and not know every single character’s name, and you could be a fan of a band and not know every single band members’ names and where they’re from. So I think “fan” is a broader term than people make it out to be.
Have you been part of a fan community? How so? Please describe.
Okay. Oh dear. Fan communities. I mean, let’s start with the big one—the Homestuck fan community (laughs). So, when you’re online on websites like Reddit and Tumblr, it’s easy to get into those communities. With Homestuck, having it be such a big thing—and I started late in that community, like, granted Homestuck wasn’t finished, but it was almost there, and I caught up. It was interesting going into Reddit or Tumblr and looking up all the fanart and fanfictions, joining a fandom that has already been established. Then the other half of that is joining a fandom that is just starting up and is new. Which, I had an example and now it’s gone…
Is it Hazbin Hotel?
Yes! So with that, that’s something that’s been a long time in the making, but once it finally dropped, the fandom exploded, because people saw the animation and were like, “Oh, this is really cool!” I followed that artist before—like, five years ago—but the true fandom, [though] it was a little established, it was brand new. And now there’s an alternate universe that’s already been created called 2P, and I’m just like, “What is happening?”
Is that for the content itself or in the fandom?
I think it’s just in the fandom, not a canon thing. I think it’s just a fanmade thing, like most AUs are.
Ooh, explain canon vs. AU.
Canon means it’s created by the actual creators and it’s accepted as fact within the lore. So like, trying to use a broad example—with Star Wars, it’s canon that Luke and Leia are brother and sister and Darth Vader is their father. An AU—an alternate universe—is created by fandoms, is not necessarily accepted by the creators. There are some exceptions where the fandom creates something and the writers are like, “Hey, that’s cool, we’re gonna take it.” (laughs) AUs are ways for fandoms to explore alternate routes and timelines and, like, “Well, what if this happened?” or “What if that happened?” or “What if Anakin never went to the dark side?” or “What if Sans [from Undertale] was a blueberry?” (laughs) Going with the Undertale fandom, there have been so many different types of AUs, it’s ridiculous. And it’s interesting to try and follow. The game itself is so good and so engaging, and the fandom takes all the elements from it and are like, “Oh, what if these personalities were swapped?” or “What if everybody was evil?” or “What if the game was corrupted?” It’s interesting, and a cool way for people to interact with the content.
Oh, it finally came back to me what fandom I was talking about: She-Ra. Hazbin Hotel was one of them, but She-Ra is another one, where it was released like two years ago, and it’s exploded, and now I wanna cosplay Scorpia really really badly. She’s another buff lady that I love.
Is it common for fandoms to start before the content is made?
That depends on the content creators in that, with Hazbin Hotel specifically, the characters were established and the creators interacted with the audience via livestream. The voice actors were voicing their characters and talking about the show, and the artists that were working on certain screens were talking about the show and sharing what part of the show they were working on. So when the whole content finally dropped, it was a big deal within that small community that had already been established, and then that community exploded, because… Well, you’ve watched it, it’s good (laughs).
(laughs) I’ll link it HERE.
It’s not for children.
Not for kids! Rated…
R. Definitely R.
How often and how long do you participate in these fan communities/fandom spaces?
As far as interacting, I’d say that’s probably a daily basis because the fandoms are communities that you’re based in. Not even fandoms of content—I’m in this one Facebook one and it’s all based off this one content creator called Ace of Clay, and it spawned this whole Facebook community of sculptors, (whispers) and it’s really cool and you should check it out. So, I interact with that community almost daily because people are posting things like, “Oh, this is the project I’m working on,” “This is what I’m doing,” and it’s an interesting community to be a part of. Having that community is kind of cool, because you always have someone to reach out to if you have questions about something or someone with your same interests and yadda yadda yadda. And then, as far as physically doing a thing [related to fandom]—I feel like that’s with cosplays, going to conventions… I wish it was more, but for me, that’s probably about once a year, because I go to maybe one or two cons a year, probably [Raleigh Supercon]. There was one year I dressed up as Jasper [from Steven Universe] and met Jasper’s voice actor. That, I feel like, is a direct interaction [between] fandom and content creators.
Please describe a typical interaction or experience within these spaces.
Most of the time it’s like, “Hey, look at this fanart that I made,” or “Hey, let’s talk about this AU.” Mostly it’s just appreciating the content for itself, talking about theories, talking about fandoms and alternate universes.
A lot of positive experiences?
For the most part. There is the bad side of fandoms, especially with shipping. That’s a big thing within the communities. If you like this character and this character together, even if it’s not canon, people are still like, “Oh, that can’t possibly happen because this character is with this character,” or “I think this character should be with this character,” and it causes a lot of unhealthy discourse. There’s healthy discourse where you can talk about it, and yeah, you have your arguments, but it’s not fighting. What tends to happen, especially with really passionate fans, is there tends to be a lot of in-fighting and a lot of “I’m right, you’re wrong, shut up.”
You kind of did already, but describe your ‘history’ with a fandom. What made you join? What made you stay?
Funny enough, I find content before I find fandoms, which for most people, I feel like it’s the opposite. A lot of the times, I’ll be introduced to something by my friends, and they’re like, “Hey, this is really cool, you should check it out.” Like with Homestuck—you guys tried to get me to read Homestuck for, like, a year, and I’m like, “Fine!” then I sat down and read it for three days.
(laughs) Only three days?
Maybe it was more like three weeks. Joining fandoms is more like, “Oh, hey, I like this thing, let me go see if there’s other content or other fan theories.” When we found out Garnet [from Steven Universe] was a fusion, that was a huge thing. Rose Quartz being Pink Diamond—most of us figured that out by that point, but y’know.
Yeah, it was obvious (laughs). They weren’t exactly subtle.
No (laughs). But it was okay, it was still good content. And then you stay because either the fanmade content is interesting or the fan community is engaging and you can have conversations, and then you also realize that, “Hey, I like this thing, but I also like this thing, and they also like this other thing, too,” and then you talk about [content or fandoms] other than what got you together in the first place. Say you’re in the Star Wars fandom, and you’re like, “Oh, this reminds me of Doctor Who,” and then other people will chime in and be like, “Oh, hey! I watch Doctor Who, too! What did you think of this?” It’s cool. It’s a fun, engaging community, especially with the internet making it super easy to talk to anyone about anything.
Does that happen in real life?
Sometimes. Like, I’ll walk by people—if there’s a visual cue, it tends to spark conversation even in public. I’ll see someone with pins on their hat or a shirt that they’re wearing. I have a [Christmas/ugly sweater-type] sweatshirt, but it has Sailor Moon and Totoro, and a couple Pokemon are on it—it’s all moon-related characters all on one thing. I’ve had multiple people be like, “Oh, that’s so cool, that’s, like, my childhood, blah blah blah blah,” and so, especially with the development of nerd culture and it being more acceptable to be a nerd out in public, there’s more merchandise to go with being a nerd in public, which sparks more conversation. [As for what made me join and what made me stay...] For the Homestuck fandom, what made me join was you guys saying, “Here, read this,” and what made me stay was the extra content and, for the most part, a good community… (laughs) for the most part…
That doesn’t sound too convincing (laughs).
Yeah… Homestucks in person tend to be more abrasive than Homestucks online, which is interesting, because normally it’s the opposite. [Note: We are both Homestucks]
You can handle them through a screen…
(laughs) But in public, you’re like, “Get your gray paint away from me.” (laughs) With Undertale—that was because I watched a YouTuber, Ross from Game Grumps, because it was Grump Train, and they were like, “We’re gonna start this, and we’ll get to a certain point, but if you feel like you want to play this game, stop watching us and go play it, because it changes—” You don’t want the game to be spoiled for you, because the game itself is an experience, and so that was enough to get me to play the game and join the fandom. Then I stayed because I got you guys into the fandom and I got other people to play the game because it was a $10 game and I just bought it for people, and I’m like, “PLAY IT.”
Yeah, you bought it for me (laughs). Like, “HERE YOU GO, YOU’RE WELCOME.”
(laughs) But yeah, mainly I get into a fandom because either it was shown to me or someone recommended it, and I stay because the content is interesting.
If you knew then what you know now as a fan in this community, would your fan experience be different? Would you join it again?
Probably. I still think the fandoms are pretty cool, even though there are fandoms that aren’t that great—or, there are parts of fandoms that aren’t great, let me rephrase. If I know now that the furry fandom, specifically, is not as abrasive as it seems on the outside, I probably would have gotten into it younger. I mean, I appreciate furry art—I don’t know if I’d ever actually dress up in a fursuit because that’s hot. But, that’s one of the things that I learned—the furry fandom isn’t bad. 90% of them are fine. It’s just that 10% that’s not, and that 10% is enough to give the fandom a bad rep. That’s what I knew then, but now I’m like, “Hey, I have a lot of furry friends, and they’re all cool, and furry art is fucking cool, especially if you find the right artists and the right stuff…” [As for] the Voltron fandom—that’s one thing that I never really got into mainly because of the discourse and everything within the bullshit of the show. I like the content. I don’t think anything will prevent me from watching the content. But, engaging with the fandom and seeking out the community—I don’t want to be part of [that] because it’s all over the place and it’s very polarizing.
How important are your fandoms to you? Why are they important?
They’re pretty important to me, because they’re basically my community that I engage with the most. They’re what keeps my friends together, it’s how I make friends, through fandom communities, and how we have similar interests. There’s that, and there’s also, like—as you know, I struggle with mental health issues and, with Undertale, specifically, the phrase “Stay Determined” has stuck with me for so long that I want it permanently inked on my body somewhere. That’s just something that the content itself can be so powerful that it just becomes part of you. With Legend of Zelda, I’m associated with Legend of Zelda. If you think of me and the things that I like are Nightmare Before Christmas, Legend of Zelda, and pigs. That’s me in a bubble, me in three things. And so, it becomes a defining thing, when you enjoy a specific content, and then you become part of that fandom, and then you engage in that fandom, and sometimes you even become known as something in that fandom—not me, but there are people who are like… There’s an artist named EmptyFeet who was known for her Homestuck animations—like, known, within the community, across the community, because of her amazing art.
You kind of did mention this, but has fandom experience played a part in your identity/how you identify yourself today? How so?
(vigorous nod) (laughs) See, like, two minutes ago about how I define myself in three things. [But also,] I identify with big buff ladies [in fandom]. Like, yes, I identify with the fandom, but I also identify myself with specific characters within the content and that also helps with identifying yourself in the fandom. So, like, yes, Legend of Zelda is part of who I am, but I also identify with the Zora people or the Goron people [from Zelda]. There was a period of time that [one of my friends] wanted a Goron tattoo.
Do you create content as a fan? Please describe.
I like to cosplay, does that count as creating content? I’ve made a cosplay of Kass from [Legend of Zelda:] Breath of the Wild, Jasper [from Steven Universe], Poison Ivy… There are so many others that I wanna do, like Scorpia, but Scorpia has armor and I haven’t tried making armor yet. I don’t think I ever wrote fanfiction. When I was younger and back when AOL was still a thing and they had the chatrooms, I would roleplay as characters. Once the chatrooms and AOL kinda died, I fell out of it, but it was cool. I’ve never made fanfiction, not because I think it’s a bad thing, just because I like reading it more than I like making it. Other than cosplays and little doodads like pins. [My friend] made me [a pin of] Tatl from [Legend of Zelda:] Majora’s Mask.
Have you ever had career or professional opportunities open up for you as a result of your fandom experiences?
No, but that’s mainly because of the industry that I work in. I’m not a creative—I’m not a writer, I’m not a producer, a filmmaker. I’m not something that that would play a role in. I work with animals—that’s a very scientific and very cold cut thing. It’s more like, “Can you do this thing? Can you lift 50lbs.? Do you like animals?” That’s basically it. I will say, though, it didn’t offer professional opportunity, but it did help connect with some of my coworkers, especially now. Back at my old job, no one was really into any of it, but at my new job, one of my coworkers is into anime, and a couple of my other coworkers are into Doctor Who and TV shows and stuff like that, so we actually have something to talk about and I don’t seem like the weirdo.
Have you ever discovered new interests because of your fandom experiences?
I feel like the answer to that is yes, but I can’t remember why. I mean, I got interested in cosplaying because of fandoms. It used to be like, “Oh that’s really cool, that’s a cool thing,” and then I’m like, “I want to be this character.” That’s what happened. I don’t know—I did origami just because I liked it, and I did sculpting just because it’s fun. I learned I like tactile things. So, with that train of thought, fandom leads me to look up more content, which leads me to look up more content creators like artists, and then those content creators inspire me to make my own stuff. Kind of chain-reaction-ish. That, and there are some times that I wanna play the music from the game or the show. I haven’t picked up an instrument in over two years, though, so… hmm.
I feel that. Do you tell people outside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
If it comes up in conversation, yes, or if we’re talking about something and I feel like it’s useful to the conversation, then yeah, sure. I don’t like throwing things in people’s faces—I’m not that type of person. Like, “Hey, have you heard about our Lord and Savior, Ganon?” Like, no. That’s not the type of person that I am. But, it’s not like I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of—even the Undertale fandom, even with all of the… issues… all of the yikes that came out of that—I’d still say, “Yeah, I’m part of the Undertale fandom.” I like the game, I like cosplaying, I like viewing extraneous content… If it comes up, then sure.
Do you tell people inside of the fan community that you're in that fan community? Why or why not?
You seem confused (laughs).
Like… do I tell people… that are in the community… that I am also in the community? Well yeah, why not? It’s a way to connect with people. I feel like that’s how us nerd cultures communicate and connect with each other. I mean, then, what’s the point of being part of the fandom if you’re not going to share it with people. That’s going back to your very first question—it’s part of what makes a fandom a fandom. It’s community. Like, yeah, being a fan of something means you like the thing, but being a part of a fandom is the community that also likes the thing.
Alright! That’s all the questions that I had. Was there that you wanted to circle back to or rant about or bring up that I didn’t bring up?
You touched on fandom in your lifestyle, kind of, right? Or like, how does fandom help you identify? Because you could also loop in lifestyle. Our house is decorated using fan pieces. I have the Master Sword and the Hylian Shield [from Legend of Zelda] on my wall. I have Studio Ghibli prints, [my boyfriend] has a Witcher 3 print, and all of the James Bond posters (laughs). It becomes part of your identity—what you want to surround yourself with. There are people who decorate like this—(gestures to my living room)—where it’s kind of general, like, yeah, you like music, but there’s nothing specific, whereas some people, if they really like Elvis, they’d [have] Elvis stuff all over the place. For some people, depending on how much it means to you—like your bedroom. Your bedroom is decorated with all of your fandoms.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. (laughs)
And I bet that if you had a house, it would also probably be decorated with your fandoms, correct?
Yes, but more spaced-out and nice-looking than my room (laughs).
Yeah. There’s something to be said about integrating it within normal lifestyle. And some people just don’t like shoving all of it in your face. They’re like, “Yeah, I like the thing, but I don’t wanna be surrounded by it,” whereas I’m like, “I like this thing, I wanna be surrounded by it all the time.” (laughs)
Bury me in The Thing.
(laughs) Yes. Bury me in The Thing. Now. And like… listening to music, [as well]. When I was in college, “Hopes and Dreams” from Undertale—that’s what I would listen to before every test because it would psych me up. I was listening to it the other day and all that emotion bubbled up inside of me again and I almost wanted to cry. That, and the music uses these chord progressions and key changes that make you feel things because that’s how music is.