Fansplaining: Fanart Insights

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Podcast Episode
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Episode Title: Fansplaining: Fanart Insights
Length: 1:01:38
Featured: Leslie Combemale
Date: July 27, 2016
External Links: Episode at

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Fansplaining: Fanart Insights is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining


"Flourish and Elizabeth talk to Leslie Combemale, proprietor of the Art Insights Film Art Gallery, about the role of artists in the entertainment industry (animation cels, movie posters, concept art…) and how fanart intersects with it. They discuss licensing, fanart contests, and limited-print runs, and they try and put their finger on what, exactly, makes fanart transformative."


Topics Discussed

  • Visual fanworks, including fanart and aesthetics
  • Production, campaign, and concept art
  • Promoting artists and providing exposure for their work
  • Licensing considerations for official artwork
  • Transformative works
  • Fanart at conventions and monetization of fanart
  • Art contests


FK: Sure! I mean I think that this is something that Leslie and I have sort of argued back and forth with a lot because it seems like there’s this question of what is transformative enough.

ELM: That was exactly my question!

FK: And it’s tough, because it seems like there’s all of these artists who are laboring in the service of movies who are often pretty poorly paid, they’re doing work for hire, sometimes some of them are probably remunerated well but some of them are not and certainly they don’t have the opportunity that other artists have to potentially sell that original work and become famous in their own right because they’re never gonna be promoted by the studio, because they aren’t above the line. It seems like that’s really the core problem here, much more even than the transformative works aspect, right? That’s part of what makes it so sticky. If these people were famous and successful, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if there was somebody who was also being really successful doing something that wasn’t very transformative. But they’re actually contractually prevented from getting any of the glory, basically. That’s what it sounds like your argument is to me. That’s what I want it to be, anyhow.

LC: That is the argument, and what’s also interesting about that is if you go a few steps backward, with John Alvin, he was so famous for doing what he did that he could create anything he wanted and sell anything he wanted. And there are a few artists still working today who are so successful and so well-known in their name for how much they’ve influenced the look of a number of films that they’re able to do that. But the large percentage of artists, that’s not the case for them. And it really to me, what the line is for me is how far is transformative? Here’s what I think the line is: if someone’s buying it merely because it’s Iron Man, it’s not transformative enough. If it’s Iron Man in a twist, that gives it something that someone who loves Iron Man but also loves…you know, uh. Architectural Digest, is into architecture, [all laugh] and somehow they’ve taken Iron Man and turned it into a building, right?

So if they do that, that’s amazing. And exciting. And it enhances the fandom, it enhances pop culture, it creates a conversation. That’s exciting to me. And also as an artist, I think that’s important. Don’t speak someone else’s voice. Take the voices you’re hearing around you and speak your own voice within the context of what you’ve heard. And I think that’s also part of the conversation: not just what’s transformative, but why do you not want to enhance what you love with your own voice?

LC:...And you know here’s the thing too: a fanartist who also creates their own characters, and they create something amazing, say it’s like Cinema Siren cause that’s my moniker as a film critic.

FK: Now you’re a superhero, Cinema Siren.

LC: Right, right. So now they decide Cinema Siren, I’m gonna turn that into a superhero, she’s not just a film critic, she’s also a mermaid but she’s doing blah blah blah—whatever it is she’s doing, and they put her in a bunch of different situations, she’s awesome, she has big flowing red hair which I do, my icon has big flowing red hair, and that takes off. That’s awesome. Go them. We’re gonna say it’s a girl that made it cause why not. It becomes a huge thing, they make a movie, she makes all this money from it, it's awesome, now she goes to the con and there’s 25 other people doing fanart of Cinema Siren and she’s not making any money on any of it and it’s not benefiting her in any way. And she started out sloggin’ away, figuring out how to—so that’s the thing. We want the people who create these inventions to continue to benefit from them as well. I feel like that’s an important thing to have happen. I always want Andy Warhol’s estate to benefit from Andy Warhol’s work.

ELM: This is interesting though because one thing that I’ve observed as someone outside the art world, and only encounters fanart directly though fandom, there’s such a still nasty stigma against monetizing fanfiction. But somehow while I was looking in the other direction people started charging money for fanart, and I never see callout posts on Tumblr saying “how dare you.” People don’t say what you’re saying in fan spaces. They don’t say “You’re taking away money from the rights holders” the way they do when they talk about fanfiction being monetized.

LC: One of the strange things about this environment now that I haven’t even mentioned yet is the fact that there are artists that are posting images online that make it look like they’re actually working on a movie or working with the studio to create artwork that’s an alternate version of a movie poster and a lot of them have nothing to do with the studio. But Twitter is such that maybe James Gunn will retweet something for Guardians of the Galaxy because he thinks it’s cool. But then it’s not actually licensed and it’s not authorized so it’s confusing, and there are certainly plenty of people who are making themselves look like they’re licensed official artists for studios but they aren’t.

So we’re adding to the picture: there are people with integrity that are fanartists that just love the work, there are people that actually work on the films themselves or on the campaigns that have integrity, there are people that have nothing to do with it that just make it look like they’re working on it, and then in addition to all of that we have companies that are putting out contests to get people to create alternate movie posters for free, as a contest, so that they can get images from artists that want to be working on the project and they sign away all their rights in order to be part of a contest. Then these people may or may not wind up winning, but everything that they do gets—they’re signing away to whatever the studio is that’s working on whatever the movie is that’s coming out. And that’s really not cool.

FK: All I’m trying to say is there’s people who are taking advantage of folks, and then there’s the other way you can be taken advantage of, and I think it’s hard to tell which is going on sometimes. Not, like, the “make a logo for me,” because that’s obviously a shit deal, don’t take it.

LC: But the same shit deal of “make our logo for you” is really the thing of “make an alternate movie poster for this movie.” But I think in the case of, for example with Star Wars they just did that. They had a contest and they had a bunch of people create artwork and then people got to have their artwork used or shown. But nobody got paid. Nobody got paid. And that’s messed up.

ELM: The pleasure of providing them with…and they’re taking advantage of people’s passion, the same stuff they’d be doing for free as fanart now they’re doing essentially to create revenue that they see none of.

FK: It’s also different to saying I’m running a scriptwriters’ residency, I need sample scripts to determine who will get this residency, and presumably somebody or several somebodies get the residency and actually get paid and have time doing it. And maybe not everybody does, but you know going into it that this is effectively the application fee is I have to write a scene or whatever it is and then somebody gets paid at the end. As opposed to make our logo and then have bragging rights. Which doesn’t lead you to any professional development.