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The top 10 most influential fans of 2012

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As a cultural movement, 2012 was a watershed year for fandom.  Everywhere, it seemed, new parts of the media, entertainment industries, and various corners of the world were discovering fandom or interacting with it in new ways. Whether it was through fanfic contests, the omnipresence of Fifty Shades of Grey, or the widespread attention given to The Avengers, bronies, Sherlock, and Homestuck fans, fandom reached an unprecedented level of convergence with the mainstream.

Of course, within fandom, life went on as usual—with exceptions for a few fans who had noteworthy accomplishments in 2012. The Daily Dot has compiled a series of end-of-the-year fandom Top 10 lists designed to pay tribute to the various events, people, and fandoms who shaped our lives; today, we look at 10 fans who stood out for their exceptional ability to influence their fandoms.

The question of how influential—and what kind of influence—a fan can have over other fans is a very difficult one. Though it could have been easy to fill this list with a handful of the most popular fanfic writers in fandom, ultimately we dug deeper and looked at fans who shaped discussions or had considerable impact on the evolution of a fandom or even a canon. We focused on fans who were, with one notable exception, still active in their fandoms, and we looked for people who created shifts in how the mainstream viewed and interacted with fandom.

We spoke with a wide array of fans, asking them: Who influenced you this year, and how? Without further ado, here are the Daily Dot’s 10 most most influential, and sometimes controversial, fans for 2012.

1) E.L. James The Ultimate Pro

The bestselling author of Fifty Shades of Grey is topping many end-of-year lists: the most powerful women in Hollywood, Publishers’ Weekly’s Person of the Year, and Britain’s annual Women of the Year luncheon. But before she was the author of a bestselling erotic trilogy, E.L. James wrote a Twilight fanfic called Master of the Universe (MotU) under the handle “snowqueens icedragon”—or Icy, to fandom. James’ fic was just one of dozens of Twilight fics coming out of the fandom to be published as original novels. It was inevitable that some of them would rise to the top. That it was Fifty Shades that did so speaks to the tenuous relationship James still holds to fandom.

The dark side of this fan-to-pro fairy tale is that James bred considerable resentment among Twilight fans, who allege that she treated her fans with contempt while using the Twilight community as a stepping stone to better things. While James initially made no connection between Fifty Shades and MotU, the Internet did it for her, making Fifty Shades’  fanfic origins known far and wide until the publisher, Vintage, publicly owned up to its roots. In a statement, Vintage explained that they knew it was fanfic and just didn’t care. Of course, by that point Fifty Shades had sold 10 million copies in a single month, drowning out potential ethical objections to fanfic being published.

James has since embraced the fandom community she reportedly disowned; she recently told the Hollywood Reporter that fandom is “a fantastic experience... You meet the most extraordinarily [sic] women. It's women who are smart, warm, witty. They bring these skills into whatever they are writing.“  

When you’ve single-handedly saved the publishing industry and forever altered the relationship between publishers and fans, it seems you can afford to be gracious.

2) Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) The Accidental Fanboy

Illustration via The Oatmeal

Matthew Inman, a.k.a. The Oatmeal, is no stranger to controversy, but not even he could have predicted the way the Internet responded to turn-of-the-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla. Before this year, the biggest Tesla fan on the Internet was comic artist Kate Beaton. But when Inman drew his own love song to Tesla in May, it went viral instantly and spawned a massive amount of interest in the legacy of the underdog scientist. In August, Inman issued an appeal to his readers to help save Wardenclyffe, Tesla’s lab, and “build a goddamn Tesla museum.” The Internet responded with an unprecedented outpouring of love that boosted Inman’s IndieGoGo campaign to $1.4 million, nearly doubling the struggling Tesla Foundation’s original distant goal of $800,000.

Not only did Inman save a historical monument and advance science education in the state of New York, he inadvertently proved, through his delightful comic about Tesla and geekiness and laser pigeons, the galvanizing power of sheer fan enthusiasm. He may still be the only Tesla BNF (Big Name Fan), but when the goal was announced, for one shining moment, we were all fans of 19th-century, underdog scientists whose dreams live on today.

3) Noelle Stevenson (Gingerhaze) The Ubiquitous Fangirl

in 2012, Noelle Stevenson became the face of Tumblr fandom. As the popular artist Gingerhaze, she had a hand in endless Tumblr fandom in-jokes and viral fanart. She invented or popularized mini-memes like the Broship of the Ring, the Pokemon Project, and The Avengers’ New Groove. Just two weeks ago, she inadvertently started the Hawkeye Initiative, which has turned into an entire Tumblr cultural movement. It’s all routine by now for an artist so popular everyone knows her, even if they aren’t in any of her fandoms.

In 2012, Stevenson’s Tumblr readership climbed to 80,000 followers, enough to boost her into a Young Adult publishing deal and into everyone’s hearts.

Illustration by Noelle Stevenson/Blogspot

4) Rebecca Tushnet and Francesca Coppa Vidding Queens

The Organization for Transformative Works is a fan-run nonprofit created in 2008 to help preserve fanwork (among other things, the OTW runs the fanfiction Archive of Our Own) and give voice to fans dealing with legal issues. As founding members of the organization, Tushnet and Coppa are formidable voices for the transformative nature of fanwork: Tushnet, an intellectual property lawyer who clerked for the Supreme Court, is the chair of the OTW’s Legal committee. Coppa, an academic and director of film studies at Muhlenberg College, is the chair of its Vidding committee, designed to help people who “vid,” i.e. make their own music videos, mini-films, and trailers compiled from film, TV, and other media sources.

This year, Tushnet and Coppa advised the Library of Congress about Digital Millennium Copyright Act restrictions on how DVDs and other media formats can be used. Tushnet, Coppa, and OTW Vidding committee member Tisha Turk all provided evidence, compiled from fandom examples, that fanvidders and other creators of fanwork can’t do their best work if they can’t work directly with their source material by ripping DVDs and doing other things that the DMCA stringently forbids.

Tushnet and Coppa had helped to secure DMCA exemptions for fans in 2010, but in the wake of the Stop Online Piracy Act and other stringent attempts to restrict Internet freedoms this year, it was by no means a guarantee that this year’s renewal hearings would go smoothly. While there were some hiccups, the Library of Congress ultimately voted to not only renew but expand the freedom that fans have to legally, safely make cool stuff.

The next time you spend hours ripping six different DVDs, all for that epic montage or supercut you’re editing, remember to thank these ladies.

5) James Turner (Coder Brony) The Magician

Fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a.k.a. bronies, have long touted their own commitment to the values of love, tolerance, and friendship espoused by the show. One fan, James Turner, took that commitment a step further this year, creating an ad campaign to tell the world what Bronies are really about.

Despite the Derpy Hooves fiasco and accusations of sexual harassment, Bronies made strides in terms of public perception in 2012, largely due to Turner’s Brony Thank You Project, an IndieGoGo ad campaign that brought in over $16,000 from 400 contributors, all towards the idea of thanking Hasbro and the Hub for airing the show.

Though some bronies questioned the campaign’s usefulness, in the end the 30-second spot aired. While fans have directed ad campaigns to save threatened or canceled shows, Turner, who produced, wrote, and directed the commercial, told the Dot that this was the first time in history fans had bought ad space purely to say thank you while the show was still running.

It may not be as edible as Cookies for Sterek, another fan-run thank you campaign, but it definitely did some good: The Thank You Project is now raising money to endow the “Derpy Hooves Animation Scholarship” at the California Institute of the Arts.

http://youtu.be/gN-FM-j8FA0

6) Cara McGee (areyoutryingtodeduceme) Sherlock Tea Tempest

Longtime fanartist Cara McGee had no plans to create a business model breakthrough when she started custom-drawing her labels and uploading fandom tea blends to online tea retailer Adagio. But the 26-year-old Atlantean’s teas quickly shot to the top of the bestseller list, where they have stayed for the duration of 2012.

As McGee’s popularity within the Sherlock fandom climbed, so did the number of people clamoring to try her tea, which boasted unique flavors and catchy names like Moriartea and Reichenbach Recovery. Adagio, realizing that a unique marketing tool had fallen into its laps, decided to embrace the influx of fans, offering special Harry Potter and Sherlock discounts over the summer, and eventually giving fandom its own section of the website, where fandom teas of all types and varieties promptly flooded it. They even got aboard the fandom practice of shipping, offering discounts when you buy two teas “paired” together.

Adagio’s decision to go with the fandom flow is a milestone. Not since last year’s influx of fans to social bookmarking network Pinboard have we had such a clear example of a business outside of a creative industry choosing to evolve around fandom rather than shutting it out. And it’s paid off. Although many more tea makers are trying out their own blends, McGee and Adagio have together become their own mini-fandom.  And McGee has more than 20,000 Tumblr followers anxious to try whatever blend she makes next.

Photo via semaphore-drivethrough/Tumblr

7) Sophistory Slash Satirist

Within slash fandom—the enormous community of fans primarily devoted to male/male relationships—debate has raged all year about the focus given to white male characters at the expense of all others. The mantra “slash is the sound of white men fucking” has long been a criticism volleyed at slashers, but on Tumblr, where so-called “social justice warriors” rub shoulders with fangirls, the discussion has intensified.

This year, controversy sprang up everywhere. In The Avengers fandom, the amount of love for other ships dwarfed, very noticeably, the film franchise’s primary non-white pairing. Sherlock and Elementary fans lashed out at each other over issues of racism, misogyny, and homophobia allegedly inherent in preferring either of the two shows over the other one. On Twitter, @hetwhitefangirl parodied a type of slash fangirl who operates without any self-awareness. On Tumblr, slash fandom got its own song parody of its tendency to fixate on white men above all else. Superwholock, Teen Wolf, and James Bond all came under fire for the dominance of white male pairings (though in Skyfall’s case, at least, het and other ships appear to be popular as well).

In March, longtime slash fan turned social justice blogger Sophistory got fed up with seeing slash fandom go for what, in her opinion, were the same generic types of media featuring two white dudes who banter but who are never intended to have actual queer identities, let alone relationships. She Photoshopped a generic poster for what she deemed the ultimate slash-friendly TV show: No Homo, complete with acerbic commentary:

STARRING: A MODERATELY ATTRACTIVE WHITE ACTOR, ANOTHER MODERATELY ATTRACTIVE WHITE ACTOR, AND SOME BACKGROUND LADIES I GUESS

SYNOPSIS: WHO GIVES A FUCK

fandom’s new favourite show you guys, txt it

Illustration by sophistory/Tumblr

The poster came to embody all the criticism leveled at slash fandom, for good and ill. It sparked intense discussion about all the popular fandoms and slash ships that fit sophistory’s criteria, drew unironic enthusiasm from fangirls who didn’t grasp the social commentary at work (“I’d ship it”), and served as a touchstone for months to come, prompting debate about racism, misogyny, and the harm of media that baits fans with queer subtext it never intends to deliver. It also racked up 15,000 notes and made sophistory’s Tumblr a hot spot for fandom discussions. In April another of her photomanips critiquing slash subtext versus actual, queer representation inspired the creation of actuallygay, a Tumblr devoted to highlighting queer relationships in the media.

Though sophistory was notably critical of slash fandom in 2012, she does have slash ships. Currently she’s adding her own special flair to the Hawkeye Initiative.

8) Emma Clark (nuttymadam3575) Twilight Diehard

We’ve already paid uber-fan Emma Clark homage in our list of Awesome Things Twilight Gave Us, but the Internet famous Twilight fan also belongs on this year’s top 10 fannish influences. Who else could properly articulate fandom’s feelings on the epic drama that was the breakup/makeup of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, affectionately known as Robsten, in 2012?  

Along with being utterly gracious in the face of constant media attention and constant criticism of her looks, her weight, her fangirl glee, and her openly shed tears over fandom drama, Clark also has borne the responsibility of being the face of Twilight fandom to the outside world. It couldn’t have been easy. But her steadfastness has paid off: She’s gotten to meet the cast, and she told Metro UK that she’s no longer bothered by the abuse she gets in YouTube comments: “If people see me [just being myself] maybe it reassures them that they’re not so strange after all.”

9) Scamp The Nostalgic Fanboy

It’s been something of a lackluster year for new anime series. Several older shounen powerhouses like Bleach and Naruto are still chugging away with massive fandoms, and “new” series have included revamps and sequels to previous series: Hunter x Hunter, Eureka Seven, Initial D, Lupin III, to name just a few—and, of course, a record-breaking film release for Neon Genesis Evangelion. With all this nostalgia, it’s not surprising that the anime blog that hit its stride this year is the Cart Driver, where the owner, Scamp, revisits old series, one year at a time. Scamp dubs himself a “proud member of the YouTube generation of anime fans,” and it shows: His 2009 predictions for the best anime of the decade are, in retrospect, almost defiantly mainstream compared to the actual tally of results.

Which is why watching him embark on his year-by-year discovery of earlier classics has been so refreshing. In the process, Scamp reminds us that certain things we love about anime, like girls being insufferably nice to each other, the inexplicable abundance of incest, and “generic-male-lead-has-high-school-girl-with-super-powers-fall-into-his-lap,” are things that transcend generations. “This is one of those anime you make up as a joke,” he says about a recent preview. “There’s a genuine earnestness to it I can get behind,” he comments on another, “even if the characters resemble scarecrows made out of bowling balls.”

This is pretty much how we feel about the Cart Driver himself, even if he may hate shojo and refuses to watch Hikaru no Go. In 2012 his site got so popular Scamp added two more writers to the roster and posted a list of best anime that’s far more respectable than his previous attempt (despite the absence of Monster). While other fans on this list have indelibly influenced those around them, Scamp’s real superpower is letting himself be influenced. His goal to encourage discussion has been met. And the best part? Our understanding of anime has grown alongside of his.

10) Shelby Cragg (duedlyfirearms) The Ascended Artist

Artist Shelby Cragg is a fan of Homestuck, the massive webcomic with over a million fans. Its creator, Andrew Hussie, is known for collaborating with his fans, but in Cragg’s case he went a step further. Cragg was already popular as the fanartist who, along with her friend urbananchorite/t_ZM, created two massively popular fanworks, Marchingstuck (an epic marching band alternate universe), and its hilarious spinoff, Promstuck.

Screengrab via Archive of Our Own

Cragg’s range of style and sometimes hilariously crude, sometimes gorgeous artwork caught Hussie’s attention, and he invited her to join the roster of guest artists on the webcomic. Cragg arguably influenced the design her own popular character, Calliope, who served as a muse and a commentator on the action of the series, much like Cragg herself. Cragg also contributed artwork to the donation perks for Homestuck’s massive Kickstarter.

Cragg has stayed active in the fandom throughout the year. She co-organized the Homestuck fanartist meetup at DragonCon and continued to collaborate with t_ZM; their latest epic work-in-progress, The Serendipity Gospels, has been read over 50,000 times.


Disclaimer: The author of this article is a member of the Organization for Transformative Works, mentioned above.

Correction: Shelby Craigg did not design her own character for Homestuck, as previously reported. 

Photo via duedlyfirearms/Tumblr