This post isn’t so much a TV or movie review as it is a commentary on fandom. Last week, the BBC aired a documentary called Tom Felton Meets the Superfans, and last night I watched the season five finale of The Walking Dead – and while I want to revisit The Walking Dead as a show and a comic in more depth later on, watching both so close together got my brain-cogs turning. What is it about film, TV and comic books that really captivates us? Why does fandom impact our lives the way it does?
I love The Walking Dead. Nay, I am borderline obsessive. (Okay, I’m way past the line, running as if a herd of walkers were hot on my tail). I adore both the show and the comics so much that I dedicated a year of my life writing my masters dissertation on the subject, and I continue to read and watch and purchase and consume as much as possible. And I know I’m not the only one out there with this passion for something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be The Walking Dead: it could be Game of Thrones, Batman, Breaking Bad, Saga, Doctor Who, Star Wars, The Hunger Games – the list is honestly endless. So what is it that drives us to love something that we really have no visible connection to?
The BBC’s documentary was insightful to the world of Harry Potter (given that Felton was a Potter child-actor, playing Draco Malfoy.) I give credit to Felton in his whole-hearted attempt to embrace whatever it was that fans feel – that drives them in pursuing actors, collecting memorabilia, cosplaying, wanting a quick selfie with their hero. And he really gave his all when he could be free as a cosplayer – without being recognised, he wasn’t held back and could fully immerse himself in the cosplay community. Thus, this was the only aspect of fandom I felt Felton could truly embrace. He couldn’t connect with the fan who used Potter as a means of escaping from bullying throughout his childhood; nor the fan who found help in the books and movies when suffering from depression; nor the fan who would wait for hours in the cold for an autograph and picture with celebrities, just to be recognised for an instant: for that adrenaline rush to be close to stardom. And ultimately, the documentary felt slightly pointless because of that. It barely scratched the surface of why fandom exists for all the various fandoms that do exist. Of course, that’s because it would take forever. But surely it would be better for the superfans to tell their stories, rather than have their idols try and work it out?
Over the years, I’ve been an unashamed superfan of many things. I tend to like a lot of things, but occasionally something will come along that I fall in love with – and I’ll stick with it, through thick and thin. So, where do these personal attachments to fandoms stem from?
Example One: Fobsession
I’ve always been ridiculed for naming Fall Out Boy as my all-time favourite band. Sure, they’re not the coolest. But being cool isn’t why I like them, or any band for that matter. It’s the experiences I’ve shared with them. Their songs were part of my most formative years, and they held my hand through the difficult stages of being a teenager right into my twenties. A constant factor in turbulent times. The underdog band for the weird, quiet kid. I remember barely being able to function when I won a meet-and-greet, and even more so when they announced their hiatus. And when they returned a couple of years ago? I cried down the phone to my mum so heavily she thought something was wrong. For me, they came back at a perfect time, just as I began floundering again, finishing my undergrad degree, leaving friends behind, facing a future of uncertainty. And I can’t explain the feeling I have for FOB. It’s not like “ermigerd, they’re so hot, I want to marry them all” fangirly (except, Patrick, I wouldn’t say no – call me!). It’s a genuine love and respect from deep down in my gut. Their songs move me, and have impacted me heavily over the years. What exactly it is, I can’t put my finger on. But they’re important to me.
Example Two: Vote Leslie Knope
The same goes for Parks and Recreation. I discovered Parks and Rec when I was going through a particularly unpleasant time in my life. I strongly believe Amy Poehler and Leslie Knope are two of the strongest factors that drive me forward to this day. Through her (their?) enthusiasm, I found something to fight for: reason returned. Not only did I believe in myself, whether I publish comics or build a park over a pit, but I could do it while laughing. And it truly sparked my feminist flame. (Amy Poehler and Leslie Knope will both feature in their very own Wonder Women columns, so stay tuned!) Ron Swanson’s tough outer-shell concealed some fantastic words of wisdom which I had written on post-it notes around my flat and saved on my laptop screen so I would see them every day and be reminded that things would be better. And because of this adoration of the show, I quote it constantly, I buy the quirky merch, and sing the stupid songs (byeeee byeee lil’ Sebastian), force those I care about to watch it, and I cried the whole way through the season finale. Not because it was sad, but because it was perfect. There will never be new Parks and Rec, but the legacy will live on for me, and that’s what matters.
Example Three: We Are The Walking Dead
Perhaps my biggest superfan addiction, however, is The Walking Dead. No TV show should move me like it does. No comic book should make me as upset as it does. No video game should destroy my feelings as much as this does. But The Walking Dead has had a big impact on my life, and I’ve recently asked myself: why?
I still recall binge-watching the first two seasons in less than a week. It was amazing. Like someone had turned a light on. That Christmas, I got the two comic book compendiums, and read them each in a day. I’ve watched and re-watched all the seasons more times than I should probably admit, and I’ve re-read all issues of the comics multiple times, and not just because I decided to study it. What particularly interests me in The Walking Dead is the human condition and how we cope in times of stress; the relationships that form and deteriorate; the capabilities of people when they’re pushed to the extremes. Sure, I love a good zombie flick, but nothing compares to the deep, heartfelt emotion of The Walking Dead. It’s haunting, and powerful, and terrifying, and disturbing because it’s real – it’s people. Not monsters, or robots, or superhumans. People.
Perhaps the biggest impact the Walking Dead had on me was it fully ignited my love of comics. When I began to read the series, I realised I loved what comics could do. It’s the first comic that ever made me gasp, cry, cringe, laugh – truly connect with the characters. I’d never before realised the true power of comics. And I think that’s why it’s sparked such a deep-rooted admiration for me, and probably set me firmly on the path I’m on today. And the show is a triumph – I truly care about the characters and what they’re going through. I’m saddened whenever there’s a loss. Rewatching the series, and re-reading the comics, and buying the merchandise isn’t because I’m obsessive and need to collect everything associated: it’s a sign of admiration and appreciation – my attempt to be closer to something which has made such an impact on my life.
And that goes for my love of all the actors and creators too. Steven Yeun is fantastic. He’s truly brought (my personal favourite) Glenn to life for me: from comic panel to TV screen. I’d love to meet him, to shake his hand, and to have a picture. Not because I have a weird fascination with Steven Yeun himself, but because I’m so grateful for the work he does. The season five finale really brought this to light for me, as I seriously stressed out that he was going to get the chop. All week, I brewed up conspiracy theories (“Well, he’s been around a lotta baseball bats.”) No television show should cause the amount of stress I’ve felt for the past week.
Similarly, meeting Charlie Adlard at LSCC was amazing – I got to meet the guy who created these characters I’ve followed so closely for years now. That was huge! A brief encounter for 30 seconds as he signed my artbook and said hello made my week, if not my month. If I ever met Kirkman… who knows what would happen!? (I’d probably scold him for issue 100, let’s be real!)
So my point? Not an indulgent rant about the things that I love, but that everyone has their own reasons for superfandom. And that’s not something a 60 minute documentary with a Harry Potter actor can discover. It’s something the fans have to ask of themselves. For me, my biggest fame and fiction loves are closely tied to big moments in my life; experiences that will stay with me forever; people and characters and creators who have helped shape my life. It’s becoming part of a community, in which you share a particular passion, where you’re in on the in-jokes. And celebrating a band or show or comic or series or game or whatever that has helped you or made you happy in some way isn’t weird – it’s an attempt to get closer to this thing that means a lot to you. No-one would scold you for wanting photos with your parents, or meeting your friends, or collecting memorabilia from moments with a loved one. Celebrate the ones that mean the most to you: whether it be your friends, family, or a fantastical world of characters.
Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have five seasons of The Walking Dead to rewatch before it all starts again in October!