Chicks On Anime
Fan Art - Part 2

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, R. Sevakis, Oct 28th 2008

Robin: Well, I'm sure there are a lot of cases like that, and I think it could be that the majority of those people are doing it on the side, but for people to go to every single convention of the season, they must not have another line of work to be able to take the time off.
Bamboo: It's ridiculous amounts of time off. Just flying across the country steals a couple days there and back.
Casey: Unless they're freelance graphic designers.
Robin: They could be freelancers, but even then, it's a lot of time. I've learned that preparing for these cons is a ton of work. You need some sort of display, you've got to print out your prints and get your art sized, and it just seems like a big ordeal.
Casey: I'm really curious about the economy of it, because I know that at least in journalism, I don't know anybody, including the people at this table, who only do anime journalism.
Bamboo: See, I've known people, and I don't want to name names, but I know people who made a living entirely doing freelance. It wasn't a good living, and they obviously weren't buying houses all over the place, but they did make a living and they did get by.
Casey: Is it still the case?
Bamboo: Nowadays, I don't know.
Casey: See, I don't think that's the case anymore.
Bamboo: It's not a really a really happening job market right now.
Casey: Even if they get paid, it's still a hobby for them. Several of the journalists I know are married and are supported by somebody else. That might be the case with some of the artists, too. They're plowing all this money into this hobby, and they're not actually using profits from their fan art or something like that. They are just well-off to begin with, and I see that a lot in journalism.
Robin: Yeah, I'm sure that's true as well, although I think one interesting aspect of it is that there are a lot of fan artists who draw fan art of things they don't even like. They just know it's going to sell and I personally did that. I knew what was popular. I wanted to make sure it was worth my time to sell, since it was really expensive to buy the table, and really expensive to buy paper and all the supplies. It sounds kind of manipulative and evil, but I actually made a list and I called it the Fan Art Whore-Out list. I wrote down the most popular titles I could think of and I drew stuff for those characters. I even figured, “Hey, I think women are going to buy more than men. I'm going to draw man candy,” and I did. And it sold, and it was funny because a lot of people thought, “Oh, you draw beefy men.” I almost never draw beefy men and I had never drawn fan art. I actually talked to a couple of fan artists and some of the many artists in artists alley don't really like drawing fan art as much as their original stuff, but they know they aren't going to sell anything if they don't have Naruto and Sephiroth and what not.
Casey: This is going back to the economy of it again. I'm really curious, because I know nothing about it. After all of the expenses of coming to a convention, I just don't see people really making a living off of it. It's become casual labor, almost.
Bamboo: I think you have to be good at it. I mean, like I said before, I knew some people who were able to make a living entirely doing freelance journalism. And I think if you're really good at that mass production stuff as far as fan art is concerned, then you probably do well for yourself.
Robin: Yeah, there is a business aspect to it that you are basically playing a game with. Knowing how to maximize your profits, knowing what characters are super popular, and who's going to blow the most cash in the Artist Alley, you can actually use that to your advantage to make the most profit. Also, there are a lot of different factors of how much you can make, like how big is the Artist Alley? If you're a good artist at a small con, you will make a much larger profit.
Bamboo: If you guys recall the case of Otakon this past year, the same artist bought several tables under different names.
Robin: And spread out all over the convention.
Bamboo: Right, and I mean, you could do that too. There are different ways of maximizing profit.
Robin: People didn't look kindly on that.
Casey: Do people find that fan art is a gateway to a career in a related artistic field?
Robin: I think the people who draw fan art are artists in the first place. I've met a couple who, it literally was just their hobby and they were going to medical school or something and they did it on the side. But I think a lot of people want to want to become professional artists, or already are on their way to becoming pro artists anyway, so yeah, I think it can be a gateway.
Casey: That could explain some of the business aspect of drawing, even if you're not a fan, because it gives you visibility. Like maybe some Naruto fan is also the head of some firm, and they are looking for your talents or something like that. You know, maybe that's possible. It sure seems that way, only I have to say that apart from anime journalism, even serious freelancers have trouble making ends meet these days.
Bamboo: An interesting flip side to this whole thing which I actually wanted to talk about in an entirely different topic is doujinshi. In Japan, it's so popular that they have entire stores devoted to doujinshi, which in that case, you are profiting off of, basically, fan art plus fan fiction. A lot of manga artists got their start doing doujinshi. That's something interesting to consider, too.
Casey: Well, a lot of the stores are used stores. In fact, the only place that makes money is the store.
Robin: Dojinshi circles usually only print so many copies. The doujinshi you get are kind of limited print, and I think they do try to ethically keep it a lower profile.
Casey: Well, it would be called vanity press in the US because it's pay-on-demand printing. You have to have that capital to plow into printing a new doujinshi before you even sell one copy. Actually, from what I've heard about the sort of printing you see with these guys is that it's half the price that it would be in the US, so the economy's a little bit different. I think another reason why you see it in Japan is that large companies like Shueisha and Bandai don't have the resources to sue everybody. There are “professional” doujin artists that actually do supposedly make a living. It's very uncommon, but they do exist in Japan.
Robin: Well, I read a really interesting article about doujinshi and legal questions about it. I think it was in Wired magazine by Daniel Pink. Basically, it says that the companies admitted that it did drum up attention and business for their original publications, but it was also very self regulating. The artists who created the doujins would only print so many copies. The good doujinshi artist did not want to overpower the original, they did not want to outsell them. They were just doing it because they love the characters and the original publication.
Casey: I think there is a kind of second element to that, in, well… Do either of you know the case of the Pokémon doujinshi incident? I think you even see it in the West now. I don't think a Western company has put a take-down notice on a fan fic since 2005, and they decided it's just not worth it. If anything, these are their best customers that are doing this. There was definitely some of that feeling in Japan, and also the fact they couldn't go after everybody. But they could also make some ugly examples of people just to remind them. There was a woman who did a yaoi Pokémon doujinshi.
Bamboo: Of the animals?
Casey: No, I think it was the trainers. Not the Pokémon. And Nintendo called the Japanese equivalent of the FBI on her and they raided her house. They confiscated everything related to her doujin activities and she became the example of the worst case scenario of what could happen.
Robin: So it was getting really, really popular and gathered a lot of attention. Do you think that's why she was singled out?
Casey: It was because she was doing yaoi. Nintendo was like, “Dude, this is our family friendly franchise. We don't like this.” But, also, there was that Gundam uploader who was uploading episodes and they tossed him in jail. They apparently love making very ugly examples of people to remind the rest that they must act in moderation.

Also, we mentioned earlier that the comic market in Japan has become kind of the proving ground for a lot of these artists. Publishers actively recruit doujinshi artists for their publications, and the biggest companies don't do that quite so much. But a lot of the little publishers depend on that subculture for their content. So for them to go after these artists would be like plowing salt into their fallow fields or something like that.

Bamboo: I guess it would be interesting to find someone in the US who does make a living off of fan art.
Casey: Let's put out the call. If you are a professional fan artist who makes a living entirely off fan art, give us a ring. I really am curious.
Bamboo: It seems like it's possible.
Casey: It seems like it should be.

Transcribed by: Keith LaPointe

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