Bright and early on a Sunday morning, collected in San Diego Comic Fest’s make shift “Kirby Café” panelists Jenny Stiven, Jonathan Tavss (working in digital and social fandoms for over 20 years), Anina Bennett (once editor at First Comics and co-author and co-creator of Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and the science fiction series Heartbreakers), and Matt Dunford (Comic Fest Chairman and President of Little Fish Comics) gathered to discuss the ever present and growing area of social media in regards to creators and fans.
Stiven began by recapping what was discussed during last year’s Comic Fest as to where the concept of “social fandom” came from; “…From the late 80’s where people gather on bulletin boards and talk about what their favorite creation was,” she said. “It was a great way for geeks to get together and talk online from around the world.”
Nowadays, the options are plentiful for this “social-fandom culture” to connect, share interests, and for better or for worse give their own comments. This growth in connectivity has given rise to what wasn’t possible before; Creators and intellectual property (I.P.) owners are now taking extreme notice to what fans are saying. Shocking, right? In the same realm, these creators are also reaching out to fans to let them know they are being heard.
“The power shift has really gone to the fans online,” continued Stiven. “The fans really started to drive some of the conversation for the publishers, for the studios with their ‘geek’ properties in a way that hadn’t happened before.” Of such examples, the Dealpool movies is one of the most recent and strongest. “That is a fan driven movie that came to be after a multitude of times that FOX said ‘no.’”
“I think what social [fandom] really does well is fill a number of huge gaps,” said Tavss. “One is that there can be feedback now for creators as an opportunity for those ‘2nd and 3rd tier’ creators to connect it a way that they couldn’t before because they couldn’t get the support of the major publishers.”
The power of these fan-driven conversations fueled by social media has also allowed the “smaller presses” to find fans, connect, and gain traction. For a time, only the “first-tier” presses and recognizable names were getting notoriety and winning awards. Now, we are seeing a greater diversity in what and who are getting nominated for awards, as Bennett discussed. “It used to be that way more superhero tales were getting nominated, and today it’s much more likely to be creator owned and creator driven comics that are nominated for the Eisner’s.”
No one can deny the power of social media and thus the social fandom that has risen from it. The internet has provided a great platform for fans and creators to stand on. However, the panel also warned against creators delving too precariously into it. There are a great many social platforms now; Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to name a few. “When you’re getting too concerned with finding the time to consistently post, no one is going to care,” warns Stiven. This means that creators should first focus on creating. From there, they should then find that fine-balance when they should post to social media as to keep their communities involved and interested.
Related to this idea of “too much” is deciding what platforms to use. Stiven said on the matter that, “It really comes down to the creator and what they’re comfortable with.” She also added, “Fans are the best people to have test these platforms as they have nothing to lose… Also, look to other creators and see what is successful to them.” Also, never underestimate the power of a traditional website. Fans will still want to see what you are up to and what you are currently creating.
The dangers of social fandom also extends to the very fans that keep it running. Matt Dunford discussed a story from a creator he knew that could have turned ugly. “He was about to confront someone that said his work was crap.” As Dunford explained it well, the best thing that a creator can do is to simply thank the commenter for reading and to ask what they didn’t like. “Be the bigger man… The trick really is being nice… You do not want to be that one person that someone says you’re a jerk… You cannot believe how fast a story can spread that can sabotage your career.” And you never know, valuable commentary might lead out of being the nice guy.
There’s no denying the power of social media and the power that it has given to fans, allowing social fandoms that can take the helms of conversations regarding major I.P.s. As a creator, you need to keep your fingers on the pulse of what fans are saying about you and also to you. Try to engage with them, listen to them (with a grain of salt) and be ever courteous. If you disrespect your fans, you may not like the wraith the internet can enact.
Nicholas Eskey is an avid reader and writer. When not contributing to The Beat, he works on his personal projects, the latest being a fantasy novel called “My Personable Demon.” He lives in San Diego, California, and is frequently bossed around by his cat.