The author in the postinternet age: Fan works, authorial function, and the archive

Hannah E. Dahlberg-Dodd

The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Fifty years since Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author, there still exists difficulty in framing the nature of interaction between commercial (professional) creators and fan (transformative) authors. In the postinternet age, the visibility of unsanctioned (or tacitly sanctioned) derivative fictional works has only increased, as have the number of commercial creators with experience in creating derivative works for a fan audience. It has therefore become necessary to interrogate whether the author has truly died in the Barthian sense, and if not, what role the construct of the author plays in today's popular mediascape. In an analysis of the Foucauldian author function (that is, the role discursively constructed authors play relative to their work) assessing both Euro-American and Japanese histories of fan practice, a move to a more open-source style of fan practice is evident. The author in an open-source fandom functions as a heuristic device through which fans may access and search the database, as well as a means of decentralizing commercial authority over media content.

[0.2] Keywords—Anime; Authorship; Doujinshi; Fan fiction; Fandom; Manga

Dahlberg-Dodd, Hannah E. 2019. "The Author in the Postinternet Age: Fan works, authorial function, and the archive." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 30.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Fifty years after the publication of Roland Barthes's essay "The Death of the Author" (1967), it remains difficult to frame the nature of the interaction between commercial (professional) authors and fan (transformative) authors. In the postinternet age, the visibility of unsanctioned (or tacitly sanctioned) transformative fictional works has only increased, as have commercial creators with experience in creating transformative works for a fan audience. As such, it has become necessary to interrogate directly whether the author has truly died in the Barthian sense, and if not, what role the construct of the author plays in today's popular mediascape. The author as construct has been mentioned in recent scholarship in fan studies, but there exists some disagreement as to what extent, and in what form, the author exists. Coppa (2014, 242), for example, calls on Barthes's essay to assert that the author is dead within both the realm of conventional literary theory and the realm of fandom. In place of the author, however, lives a different construct, the writer, which Coppa distinguishes from the author by nature of the writer's accessibility to their audience. On the other hand, in a discussion of BL (boys' love, a genre written predominantly by women that is centered on romantic and sexual between male characters) dōjinshi, Hemmann (2015) also invokes Barthes's essay to state that though "the individual author may be dead," what remains alive is instead the "corporate author." However, the focus of recent works such as these is not on the author as a concept; rather, these works mention the idea of the author in passing in pursuit of a different point. This suggests a need to interrogate the concept directly.

[1.2] With this contention in mind, this paper explores what Michel Foucault ([1969] 1998) refers to as the "author function," or what role a discursively constructed author plays relative to their work in today's mediascape. To approach this concept, however, it is critical to consider fan practice outside of predominately North American and European fandoms. In light of the tendency of English-language works to proliferate worldwide, in this paper, I will discuss these works that originate in English and generate fandoms among a global English-speaking community as Anglophone. This is not to suggest that the fans that participate in these fandoms are necessarily native English speakers but rather to specify that the original language of the media object is English and that at least some interaction within that fandom more broadly occurs in English.

[1.3] With the dramatic increase in widespread internet use in the late 1990s and early 2000s, interacting with popular media across cultural and linguistic borders has become exceedingly easy, resulting in a blurring of lines in fan-based creative practices with the increase in transcultural and transnational media fandoms (Morimoto 2017; Annett 2014). This period, which can be considered the age of Web 2.0 (O'Reilly 2007) or the postinternet age (McHugh 2011), is characterized by the decentralization and democratization of the internet as a platform as well as increased access to media that may have previously been out of reach. As such, I will discuss not only present creative fan practices online but will also focus on the history of transformative fan practices in Japanese-language fandoms. By analyzing how the balance between work and creator is maintained in the Japanese mediascape, I propose that it is possible to better understand the current flattening of hierarchies in non-Japanese fandoms by flattening the relationship between producer and produced in globalized fan culture as a whole.

[1.4] After summarizing previous approaches to the concept of the author in contemporary media, I will begin with a brief history of transformative writing practices in Anglophone fandoms and current trends in creative fan practices with regard to the participatory nature of postinternet fandoms. Next, I will summarize transformative writing practices in Japan, which has a history that is similar to but ultimately separate from those in the Anglophone cultural sphere. The reason Japan is under consideration in this paper, as opposed to any other non-Anglophone cultural area, is Japan's recent history of exporting their popular culture products through the government-driven Cool Japan project (e.g., Iwabuchi 2012). Furthermore, since the early 1990s, Japanese popular media fandoms have increasingly intermingled with Anglophone ones, a tendency that is evidenced both by the ever-growing presence of Japanese media-related programing at traditionally Anglophone science fiction and fantasy conventions and by the popularity of works such as BBC's Sherlock (2010–17) in Japan. By examining different approaches to the author function across linguistic and cultural boundaries, I assert that, rather than Barthes's conclusion that the author is dead, the hierarchical position of authors has flattened, yet authors themselves remain alive. Invoking both Azuma's (2009) model of popular media consumption driven by the idea of the "database" and De Kosnik's (2016)—née Derecho (2006)—analyses of fan fiction practice as resembling a Derridean archive, I maintain that while the Romantic image of the author presupposed by Barthes may no longer be the primary point of interaction with a given work, the author continues to live on as an heuristic device through which we consume and interact with popular media content; in other words, the author is a ghost in the archive.

2. The author is (not) dead

[2.1] In 1967, Roland Barthes published the essay "The Death of the Author," questioning what role authorial intention plays in reader reception. In his essay, he contends that in modern literature, we are able to bury the author by engaging with a text through only the perspective of the reader; invoking linguistics, he contends that "the whole of enunciation is an empty process, functioning perfectly without there being any need for it to be filled with the person of the interlocutors" (145). Indeed, he goes on to state that writing "designates exactly what linguists…call a performative…in which the enunciation has no other content than the act by which it is uttered" (145–46). In other words, Barthes asserts that the author is divisible from their works, claiming that a given work exists in and of itself; the creators behind works, as well as any intentions they may have had with regard to those works, are functionally buried, leaving the meaning of a text to be deciphered and decided purely by the reader.

[2.2] Two years after the publication of Barthes's essay, Michel Foucault ([1969] 1998) gave a lecture of his own entitled "What Is an Author?" to the Société française de philosophie. Though his lecture does not directly mention Barthes's essay, it is generally assumed that Foucault's lecture is a response to Barthes. In this lecture, Foucault states that "it is not enough to…repeat the empty affirmation that the author has disappeared," opting instead to examine what is left behind in "the space left empty by the author's disappearance" (209). Foucault does not dispute Barthes's point that the author, or the concept of an absolute, objective authority on a work, has died. Rather, he opts to discuss the author not as an absolute authority but as a discursive construct, which he refers to as the "author function" (211). He argues that with regard to authorship, the questions we ask should not be, "Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse?" (222). Rather, the point of interrogation should concern the "modes of existence of [that] discourse" and "where it has been used, where it can circulate, and who can appropriate it from himself" (222). In other words, we should focus less on who the author of a given text is and more on what difference it makes to assign that text an author at all.

[2.3] In the same year that Barthes declared the author effectively dead, the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia (1967–70), entered circulation. Typically obtained either through mail order or at conventions, fanzines were hard copy, amateur publications "that collected fan-written stories and artwork" (Hellekson and Busse 2014, 4). Prior to the internet, these publications were essential for not only the distribution of fan fiction and other fan-written related texts but also to connect media fans and create a fan community. These zines were not a new concept in the 1960s, as fan-created zines had been distributed within the science fiction fandoms of the 1920s and 30s (Coppa 2006). Spockanalia, however, and other fanzines released shortly thereafter contained something that earlier fanzines did not: creative fan works, or fan fiction, for consumption by other fans (Hellekson and Busse 2014, 6).

[2.4] The transformative writing practices of media fandoms were likely outside of the theoretical consideration, not to mention awareness, of Barthes. As pointed out by Katyal (2006, 477), Barthes's image of the author relies predominately on that of the Romantic author or the author-genius as it emerged in the eighteenth century. With the birth of the Romantic author, works became viewed as inseparable from an author's personality, and the only person with the key to the true interpretation of a work was the author (Katyal 2006, 477; Heymann 2005, 1387–88). In postmodern terms, Barthes's 1967 essay liberates the work from the author as far as literary criticism is concerned. However, to proclaim the author functionally dead ignores what Foucault refers to in his speech as the "classificatory function" of the author, or more specifically, the name of the author ([1969] 1998, 210). For works where the assignment of an author is appropriate, the name of the author in and of itself "serves to characterize a certain mode of being of discourse" (211). Referred to as an "authornym" by Heymann (2005), this classificatory nature of authorship serves as the point of departure for this paper.

[2.5] While critics such as Heymann (2005) have focused mainly on the tension between trademark and copyright law with regard to authornyms, or pseudonyms that function for the purpose of statements of authorship, in this paper I instead focus on the discursive role of the author within transformative media fandom. Namely, because works across the internet are most often not authored anonymously but classified according to some sort of handle, if not the author's legal name, calling the author dead becomes problematic. Certainly, one is able to interpret that work in any way that suits one, but as pointed out by Foucault ([1969] 1998) above, there still exists some classificatory function to the category of author in certain discourses. This is a function that demands to be interrogated with regard to today's fan practices.

[2.6] While previous literature has approached this construct of the author through the term "author," this paper will instead opt for the more general, auto-descriptive term "content creator" or simply "creator." Literally referring to anyone who creates content, this term avoids privileging the written word over other kinds of creative practice, such as visual art, music videos and visualizations, playlists, and so forth. Particularly with regard to fan practice, by more clearly incorporating those who engage in fandom outside of writing fan fiction, it is possible to construct a more holistic, inclusive approach to today's creative practices. This is especially the case with regard to what is typically referred to in Japan as "media mix" (e.g., Steinberg 2012), a term that refers to the dispersal of content within a given media franchise across multiple representations, including manga, anime, live-action drama and movies, tie-in goods, and so forth. While the term is used most commonly when referring to the Japanese popular media environment, transformations of works into different media formats is prevalent in Anglophone mediaspheres as well, and this phenomenon further illustrates the usefulness of utilizing a more inclusive term, like creator.

[2.7] Given that the realm of content creation extends beyond written works, it has become necessary to engage with the role of content creators through the lens of greater media theory rather than literary theory. More specifically, this paper proposes the application of Azuma's (2009) concept of the "database," as well as De Kosnik's (2016; Derecho 2006) explorations of the Derridean archive, as primary frameworks of interaction with today's creator. Before approaching these concepts with regard to today's fan practices, however, it is first necessary to discuss said fan practices themselves and to analyze the interaction between fan creators and commercial creators within both Anglophone and Japanese mediaspheres.

3. Fan creators, commercial creators

[3.1] In the Anglophone mediascape today, there is less resistance to the idea of transformative fan works than even ten years ago, a situation that is at least partially the result of the increasingly easy access to and visibility of fan works through the internet. Compared with the early stages of fan engagement, which took place largely through self-published, mail order zines, it has become substantially easier to share and manipulate content due to the proliferation of internet technology since the late 1990s (Hadas 2009; Jenkins 2006). Known as Web 2.0 (O'Reilly 2007), or the postinternet age more generally (McHugh 2011), this period is characterized by the decentralization and democratization of the internet as a platform, as well as increased access to media that may have previously been out of reach without importation. As such, the internet moved from presenting users with strictly finished products for consumption to providing users with frameworks for interaction and creation—in other words, as Hadas puts it, an internet "by and for the people." This shift toward a participatory model of internet usage is similar in theory to that of the one that drives fandom and, as such, has further eroded the borders between consumer and producer.

[3.2] That being said, this erosion complicates the analysis of the role of creators with regard to their works, making a simple explanation such as the Barthian death-of-the-author framework unrealistic. Certainly, commercially successful creators such as Anne Rice (2009), Orson Scott Card (quoted in Patta 1997), and Diana Gabaldon (2010) have taken notoriously negative positions with regard to transformative fan works. Creators who have entered the industry more recently, however, generally take much more positive stances toward creative fan practices. For example, the creators of the Welcome to Night Vale (2012–) podcast, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, stated in an interview that while they do not personally consume any fan works, they deeply appreciate the works being created: "I'm super thrilled it exists…It's an expression of love to build a fan canon" (quoted in Scribner 2015). Young adult author John Green (2017) takes a similarly supportive stance toward creative fan works, and has elaborated on the topic several times on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother, Hank Green. On the topic of selling movie rights to a recent novel of his, Green (2017) states in video,

[3.3] I have often stated over the years that I believe books belong to their readers…I don't think we should privilege the author's voice when it comes to matters outside the text, like for instance what happens to characters after the story ends, because I don't think that's up to the author. I think that's up to us, as readers. My books belong to me while I'm working on them, and then when I am finished, they don't.

[3.4] Though taking an overall Barthian approach to his status as a creator, later in the same video, he goes on to state that there are a few problems with an extreme stance regarding that viewpoint, namely that "it's a little bit disingenuous to pretend that the author isn't present in the book at all, especially in our personality-driven culture," and secondly, "while the book belongs to the reader, the author has to make a lot of decisions on behalf of the book," such as legal decisions regarding movie adaptation rights (Green 2017). In other words, for Green, while the interpretation of that work may be left up to the consumer, the creator of that work is not nonexistent, and indeed, as in the case of Green, may engage to varying degrees with fans.

[3.5] In addition to those commercially successful creators with positive attitudes concerning creative fan works, there are also an increasing number of creators who either have histories in creative fan practice or continue to take part in fan culture on the side. At the time that Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers was published in 1992, Jenkins commented that "only a small but growing number of fans have gone on to become professional writers of media texts" (49). Twenty-six years later, it is not uncommon for media creators to have engaged in fan practices of some sort, especially writing or reading fan fiction. Lev Grossman, the author of The Magicians (2009), which was adapted into a television show for SyFy in 2015, has written for fandoms for series such as Harry Potter (1997–), Adventure Time (2010–18), Star Wars (1977–), and How to Train Your Dragon (2010–), largely for the entertainment of his children, and many of his works are available on his personal blog (Grossman 2017). Cassandra Clare, the author of The Mortal Instruments (2007–14) series, also has a background in writing fan fiction for the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fandoms (Alter 2012). The most notable example of this trend, however, is E. L. James, whose Twilight fan fiction "Master of the Universe" was published as the Fifty Shades (2011–12) trilogy, selling more than 125 million copies worldwide. Interestingly, though the most successful in terms of monetary gain, E. L. James is not the only Twilight fan fiction author to have published—according to the website TwiFanfictionRecs, as of November 30, 2017, over 400 fan fictions had been published either independently or through a publishing company (TwiFanfictionRecs 2017).

[3.6] The other side of transformative fan works becoming more visible, as well as a more common past or present activity among commercial media creators, is movement by industry professionals to commodify and exploit fan work for commercial gain (Noppe 2011; Pearson 2010). As part of its Make It Digital campaign, the BBC began the project Mission Dalek, an effort to solicit entries from fans for a ninety-second Doctor Who (1963–89, 2005–) episode featuring the show's Twelfth Doctor. Winners of their contest had their entries posted on the official BBC website and were treated to a visit with the cast on the set of the show in Cardiff, UK. Steven Moffat, the showrunner for both Doctor Who (1963–89, 2005–) and BBC's Sherlock (2010–17), is himself a former fan fiction writer and actively encourages fan fiction from both shows' fans (quoted in Hibberd 2015). Orson Scott Card, formerly against fan fiction, more recently sponsored a campaign to incorporate a fan work as part of the canon in a short story collection. The existence of projects such as these, as well as other existing forms of fan labor commodification through venues such as Amazon's Kindle Worlds, suggests that while transformative fan practices may increasingly be seen as acceptable, their acceptability is accompanied by an increase in attempts to exploit the free labor of fan writers.

[3.7] If we consider the increased visibility of fan work more broadly, its continuing proliferation and increasing acceptance by commercial entities indicates a movement toward the decentralization of the source creator as a critical figure to the work's existence. There are Anne Rice fans who continued to publish fan works based on her novels, for example, regardless of her requests not to do so. Further, while fans in the Harry Potter fandom may pay some attention to J. K. Rowling's comments about the universe, as well as to the addition of extra canon material released through Pottermore, we also see attempts to diversify what is seen as a rather white-centered, able-body-centered, cisnormative/heteronormative canon (Hampton 2014). Despite what appear to be moves toward decentralization of the commercial creator, with the free creation of fan material, activities on the part of commercial creators such as Moffat, Card, and so forth can be interpreted as attempts to recenter the author as the primary authority figure within a given media fandom; if the commercial creator remains the ultimate authority on what qualifies as canon, and if fans continue to privilege canonical materials over fan-created materials, the cultural capital of fan works as a whole diminishes under the weight of what essentially amounts to content gatekeeping.

[3.8] Noppe (2011, 2014) engages with this tension between commercial creators and fan creators through an economic lens by utilizing the idea of the "hybrid economy." According to Lessig (2008, 177), we can broadly consider two types of economies: commercial economies, which "build value with money at their core," and sharing economies, which "build value, ignoring money." A third variety, the "hybrid economy," can be understood as a compromise between these two. "The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy," writes Lessig (177), "or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims." He emphasizes, however, that it is the maintenance of a distinction between the two that allows the hybrid to exist. Noppe (2011) points out that the idea of the hybrid economy fits "contemporary media fandom exceedingly well," serving as an apt tool for talking about the economic relationship between fan-produced works and commercially produced works, especially with regard to the fan markets of transformative works in Japanese media fandoms.

[3.9] In addition to the economic perspective that Noppe (2014) explores, the relationship expressed by the hybrid economy framework is also useful for thinking about the role that content creators, both commercial and otherwise, fulfill with relation to their works and the consumers of those works. The commercial economy can be considered to represent a more centralized view of the author; the sharing economy, a more decentralized view. Noppe's (2011, 2014) research, however, relies almost exclusively on Japanese fan practices, a milieu that often goes unconsidered in research on Anglophone fan cultures. Citing difficulties obtaining research materials or language barriers, earlier Western works in fan studies tended to omit Japanese-language media fandom, though there has been more movement towards a translinguistic, transnational approach in the last few years (e.g., Annett 2014; Brienza 2015; Chambers 2015; Kuwahara 2014; Morimoto 2017).

[3.10] Drawing a hard line between Anglophone and Japanese fan practices results in analytical problems. Though Japanese popular media has been trickling into the West nearly as long as the Star Trek (1966–) series has been around, the inability of fans outside of Japan to access Japanese media content was a barrier prior to the internet, limiting the scope of Japanese media fandoms in the Anglosphere prior to the 1990s. With the advancement of widespread internet access, however, global interest in Japanese popular media has increased (Coppa 2014). Now, it is difficult to find media fans in the West who are exclusively fans of either Anglophone or Japanese media works; even conventions that are traditionally oriented toward science fiction fandoms, such as the annual Dragon*Con in Atlanta, feature at least some content related to Japanese popular media. Furthermore, as interest in media that traverses cultural borders has increased, so, too, has contact between fans across borders both by way of the social internet and through the overall increased mobility of fans worldwide. As such, dividing fan behavior strictly along the lines of so-called Western and Eastern consumption practices is increasingly artificial. With a flattening of hierarchical structures between consumer and creator in this postinternet age, as well as an increase in access to popular media and fan groups in spite of cultural or linguistic borders, engaging with Foucault's ([1969] 1998) idea of author function with fan practice in mind requires a consideration of fan practices outside of predominantly Anglophone spaces.

4. Dōjin culture and the creator

[4.1] Existing literature on Anglophone transformative writing practices frequently emphasizes that this is not a new phenomenon, and Japan is no different. Utilizing the first half of an existing tanka poem and innovating a new second half has been a common creative practice since at least the Heian Period (794CE–1185) (Nihonshi Daijiten 1994). The Tale of Heike, an epic account of the Genpei War dating to sometime before 1330, is commonly the source text of transformative works, including the Kabuki play Atsumori by Zeami (1998), which focuses on the death of Atsumori, a side character in The Tale of the Heike, and his killer. Murasaki Shikibu's Heian period novel The Tale Genji has also been subject to countless transformative versions, ranging from Koizumi Yoshihiro's Maro, n? (2002), a retelling in which all the characters are replaced with chestnuts, to numerous erotic versions.

[4.2] Today in Japan, transformative fan works fall under the umbrella of dōjin. This term refers to self-published works that may be either transformative or original in nature, not unlike the zines self-published and distributed in early North American zine culture. Dōjin may form compounds with different words or morphemes as a prefix, allowing it to refer to different kinds of self-produced works. One of the most common, dōjinshi, refers specifically to written content, typically in the form of manga, novels, or magazines, though dōjin may also refer to video games (dōjin geemu or dōjin sofuto), music (dōjin ongaku), and so forth. While the history of the Tale of Heike and the Tale of Genji illustrate a long history of composing transformative works in Japan, scholars tend to date the direct ancestor to dōjinshi publication to the beginnings of magazine publication itself during the Meiji Period (1868–1912) (Ajima 2004; Nagamine 1997). At the time, however, dōjinshi were not fan works but rather limited-circulation literary magazines (bungei dōjinshi) in which authors could distribute their poetry and other fictional writings (Circles' Square 2012). Dōjinshi were not only for literary content, however, as researchers, collectors, and other types of hobbyists would publish dōjinshi for others within their respective hobby groups, known as "circles" (sākuru), a term that is still in use today (Noppe 2014). During the Taishō (1912–26) and early Shōwa periods (1926–89), which were particularly tumultuous politically, dōjinshi also became outlets for politically motivated content (Ajima 2004). In this way, it is possible to see that by this period, dōjinshi "were already fulfilling several of the functions that they would go on to fill for Japanese later," as they served as "outlets for creators who could or would not publish through 'regular' channels" (Noppe 2014, 83).

[4.3] It is important to remember, however, that manga as we see it today in dōjinshi did not yet exist during this period; what we think of as manga did not become an industry until the 1930s, and while there were some dōjinshi written by and for comic enthusiasts prior to this decade, they were by no means large in number (Noppe 2014; Norris 2009). With the spread of manga came increases in the number of manga-related circles, in which fans would meet to discuss previously published works as well as to create their own original or transformative works. In the 1970s, however, cheap, portable printing and photocopying equipment became more readily available to the public (Kinsella 1998). Additionally, fan conventions began to take off, including Comiket in 1975, the first fan-only convention (Comic Market Junbikai 2005). In this way, fandom in Japan had a parallel but separate development of widespread transformative fan culture as compared to that of fandom in the Anglophone world.

[4.4] Conventions such as Comiket, as well as the numerous ones that have formed since, serve as venues for fan creators to sell their goods to other fans, and of these goods, dōjinshi are the most popular. Transformative dōjinshi are generally separable into two types: shōsetsu dōjinshi, text-only works, and manga dōjinshi, which are comics-based works, though it is possible to observe in stores that sell new and second-hand dōjinshi (e.g., Mandarake, Animate, Toranoana, etc.) that manga dōjinshi are by far the more common of the two. It is important to note, however, that not all dōjin works are necessarily transformative; original works (gensaku or ichiji sōsaku) comprise a substantial portion of dōjin works. That being said, transformative works (niji sōsaku) comprise a majority of those sold, and indeed, the proliferation of so-called parody works was one of the main forces that helped Comiket grow to the size that it is today (Lam 2010). In fact, the popularity of transformative works has been enough to justify numerous fandom-specific, and even romantic pairing-specific, dōjinshi conventions throughout the years. For example, the fandom for Kuroko no Basuke, a sports anime about basketball that has a large slash following, held seventy-nine events across Japan in 2017, many of which were for specific romantic pairings within the fandom (Kuroko no Basuke Onrī Ibento: Shadow Trickster n.d.).

[4.5] Dōjinshi authors in Japan, unlike those participating in creative fan practices in Anglophone fandoms, have been able to operate in relative freedom from copyright-related intervention. However, this freedom is not due to a difference in the legal status of transformative works but rather to a difference in the degree of prosecution on the part of copyright holders. Ichikawa Koichi, one of the main organizers for Comiket, states that part of the reason copyright holders and publishers do not file lawsuits has to do with the fact that "publishers understand that this does not diminish the sales of the original product but may increase them" (quoted in Pink 2007). Furthermore, having large, fan-run events such as Comiket provides publishers with what is essentially free market research. As Ichikawa further states, "They're seeing the market in action…They're seeing the trends" (quoted in Pink 2007). This is not to say that suits have not been filed. In 2006, the author of a dōjinshi work derived from the popular manga and anime series Doraemon (1970–96) titled "Doraemon Saishūwa" ["Last Episode of Doraemon"] received a cease-and-desist letter from Doraemon's publishing company, Shogakukan. The work, which had originally been sold discreetly in 2005 among other dōjinshi, gained a lot of attention online due to its high quality of publication and the fact that the art closely mimicked that of the source work, and because of its notoriety, it sold over 15,500 copies before Shogakukan ordered the author to stop sales (J-Cast 2007).

[4.6] Occasional lawsuit aside, however, Japanese commercial creators and fan creators seem to maintain a more balanced relationship compared to those between Anglo-American commercial creators and fan creators. The reason for this likely stems from the fact that in Japan, it is far more common for commercially successful authors to have also participated in creative fan practice—in fact, the commercial entertainment industry has been recruiting from Comiket since the 1980s, and commercial booths are openly present at such events (Lam 2010; Tamagawa 2012). Not only are individuals regularly hired because of exposure at Comiket but entire dōjinshi circles as well. For example, the manga studio CLAMP began in the mid-1980s as an all-female circle producing dōjinshi of Captain Tsubasa (1981–88) and Saint Seiya (1986–90), but they debuted professionally with an original work in 1989 (Clamp-Net n.d.). Perhaps because of their origin as a dōjinshi circle, CLAMP has been vocal about their intent to never prohibit transformative works inspired by CLAMP properties. In a 2015 blog post clarifying their position on transformative works in light of a recent plagiarism incident, the CLAMP group classed the creation of transformative works in the same category as cosplay in terms of different ways to enjoy a given work (Clamp-Net 2015). Of commercially successful creators with a history as a fan creator, one of the most vocal is Ken Akamatsu, author of such works as A.I. Love You (1994–97), Love Hina (1998–2001), and Magical Teacher Negima! (2003–12), and he published under the name Mizuno Awa in the circle CU-LITTLE while he was in college. More recently, Akamatsu also spearheaded a movement by dōjinshi authors protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) out of concern that Japan's entering the TPP would make copyright violations prosecutable, even if the copyright holder did not file a complaint (Tai 2015).

[4.7] Moreover, authors do not necessarily quit writing dōjinshi once they become commercially successful. Murakami Maki, the author of the BL manga Gravitation (1996–2002), for example, continued to publish transformative works of her own series under the pen name Gangster Yoshio as part of her one-person dōjinshi circle, CROCODILE-Ave. The dōjinshi she produced within her universe were known for being highly explicit; by producing them as dōjinshi and selling them herself at conventions and through the circle's website, she had full creative license. Similarly, authors Eiki Eiki and Zaoh Taishi regularly publish both commercially licensed works and dōjinshi as the circle KOZOUYA within the genres of BL and yuri (Kozouya n.d.), a genre written predominately by women that is centered on romantic and sexual relationships between female characters (Welker 2006).

[4.8] Zaoh Taishi, in addition to her work with Eiki Eiki, also publishes under the name Tsuda Mikiyo for works that she writes for a more general audience (Kozouya n.d.). Her choice to publish under different authornyms is not an uncommon one for authors who work within more than one genre in Japanese popular media. One example of this phenomenon is the author Yumeka Sumomo, who, under that name, publishes works predominately in the BL genre. However, she also publishes under the names Sahara Mizu (for seinen works, or those aimed at young adult men), Sahara Keita (for shōjo works, or those aimed at young and adolescent girls), and Sasshi, which she uses within her dōjin circle CHIKYUUYA (Kawahara 2008). Though Yumeka Sumomo is perhaps on the more extreme end in terms of number of various authornyms, because she publishes in multiple genres, she serves as an apt example of the phenomenon of clearly delineating the genres of one's works through the use of multiple names.

[4.9] As demonstrated by Akamatsu's work as a proponent of transformative fan works despite his status as a commercially successful creator, creators in Japan frequently maintain a positive relationship with the creative fan community. Indeed, a number of creators continue to openly take part in creative fan practice after becoming commercially successful, as in the case of Zaoh Taishi, Eiki Eiki, and Murakami Maki. On top of this sustained relationship between the commercial creative realm and creative fandom, creators regularly make extensive use of authornyms, as in the case of Zaoh Taishi, Yumeka Sumomo, and even Eiki Eiki herself (whose legal name is Naitō Eiki). As such, it is possible to see that among Japanese media creators, the distance between the commercial author and the fan author is essentially nonexistent, allowing both to exist even within the same person. In comparison, among Anglophone media creators, while an increasing number of creators engage in both commercial and fan creative practices, there is still a distance between the two. This is demonstrated by commercially successful authors' denial of current participation in creative fan practices despite their acknowledgement of their knowledge of creative fan practices or their previous engagement in fandom.

[4.10] The environment of creation in Japan, in which works are attributed to creators but the creators' names do not necessarily reveal the humans behind the works, as well as in which a given creator may operate under any number of authornyms, is similar in spirit to that of the Anglophone proliferation of creative fan works on the internet. Japanese fan creators often avoid sharing completed works on websites such as Pixiv not only because it is common to exchange their works for money but also because it is often prudent to avoid excessive notoriety (such as in the case of the creator of Doraemon fan work "Doraemon Saishūwa"). Meanwhile, in Anglophone fan circles, some selling of works such as fan art is possible, but generally the exchange of fan works occurs without monetary transaction. However, the authornyms under which Japanese fan creators share and market their works operate similarly to the use of user handles more broadly on websites like Pixiv, Archive of Our Own, and Tumblr. With these similarities and differences in mind, it is necessary to interrogate what purpose the attribution of works to creators serves and what role the classificatory function (i.e., Foucault [1969] 1998) of the authornym fulfills in fan practice as a whole.

5. Creative fan practice and the database

[5.1] Similarly stated by both Ohkawa Ageha, founding member of CLAMP (Pink 2007), and Yonezawa Yoshihiro, one of the founding organizers of Comiket (Yonezawa 2001), not to mention by Jeffrey Fink and Joseph Cranor on the Anglophone side (Scribner 2015), the creation of transformative fan works is a labor of love on the part of fans. Taking the source material and creating a "remix," as Ohkawa puts it in an interview (quoted in Pink 2007), is an expression of the fact that someone engaged with a particular work. This viewpoint stands in clear contrast to that of American authors with longer commercial careers, many of whom have exhibited strong resistance to fans' creating in the sandbox of their constructed worlds. Recent popular media creators in Japan, and an increasing number in the Anglophone mediascape, approach transformative works not as a form of intellectual theft but rather as a kind of fan engagement. Much of this approach in Japan is attributable to the fact that there is virtually no distance between fan creators and commercial creators, as it has been common for a given creator to have been both at some point. While this distance still exists in the Anglophone mediascape, it is growing less pronounced.

[5.2] Returning once more to Barthes's framework, in a creative environment such as that of the Japanese mediascape, Barthes could hypothetically call the author dead. Indeed, being the creator of a highly popular work does not guarantee a cult status, as was perhaps more imaginable in the era of the Romantic author, and in a number of cases, the attributed creator of a given work does not readily map onto an identifiable person. That being said, such a cult status is not impossible, either, given the amount of media attention given to J. K. Rowling more than ten years after the release of the last Harry Potter book. Rather than considering the author dead, then, using Foucault's ([1969] 1998) suggestion in his lecture "What is an Author?"—that more theoretical attention be placed on the author's discursive role relative to their work—is perhaps more apt. One such role he proposed is the "classificatory function" to be found in the authornym (Foucault [1969] 1998, 210; Heymann 2005, 1381). It is within the context of creative fan communities that this classificatory function of the authornym truly shines.

[5.3] Given the multimodal nature of popular media today, approaching the creator construct through media theory as a whole, rather than strictly literary theory, is appropriate. Given the histories of creative fan practice in the Anglophone and Japanese fanspheres, I assert that current discursive renderings of creatorship may be approached through the idea of the database, as put forth separately by both Azuma (2009) and Manovich (2001). Though both approach a similar idea through different cultural practices, each revolve around the fact that "[t]he database becomes the center of the creative process in the computer age" (Azuma 2009, 227). According to Azuma, this model of consumption came about after an epistemological shift to postmodern society, which resulted in a shift from a world image of what he refers to as the "tree" model to that of the "database." Invoking Jean-Francois Lyotard's idea of the postmodern collapse of grand narratives (e.g., ideals or ideologies) ([1976] 1984), Azuma claims that grand narratives have been replaced by a massive database of small narratives. To put it differently, in the modern era, we interacted with small narratives through the lens of the grand narrative, or as Schäfer and Roth (2012, 208–9) put it, "cultural and social…criticism consisted in analyzing grand narratives as reflected within various small narratives." In the postmodern era, however, we are without a single defining grand narrative, and it is instead through a database consisting of the characteristics of small narratives that we interface with small narratives. Azuma exemplifies this phenomenon by invoking practices of preferring fictional characters, or certain characteristics of characters, over any original narrative in which they may have appeared. For example, should one desire to consume a character with cat ears, it is possible to search for that character in an actual, online database based entirely on a search query featuring cat ears. Similarly, it is not uncommon for a narrative to come second to a character, created in response to the popularity of a narrativeless character that may have originated in, for example, advertisements.

[5.4] It is readily apparent that the database consumption model is at work in today's creative fan practices. Logging on to any fan fiction website, one can see it demonstrated through tagging, a practice by which works are broken down into their requisite parts. Fans looking for a work that features a hurt/comfort narrative may very easily find one, or to be even more specific, a hurt/comfort narrative that features Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy in a Pacific Rim alternate universe setting. There are no limits to what one may search; no border exists at the edge of a fandom. In this paper I assert that, in addition to the features of the database consumption model discussed by Azuma, not only are specific elements within the work part of the database but the creators themselves are key features of the postmodern popular media database. This is evidenced in particular by authorial naming practices among Japanese popular media creators; authors like Yumeka Sumomo and Zaoh Taishi, for example, adjust their authornym in accordance with the genre of a work, allowing their works to be classified by both author and genre. A person not interested in BL, for example, would have no need to see Zaoh Taishi's work but may be interested in works within Tsuda Mikiyo's repertoire, even though both are ultimately penned by the same hand. This function also applies in situations where the author, whose name is commercially associated with a given work, may publish dōjinshi centered on that same work under a different name. In all of these cases, the author's name serves as a search parameter to designate the scope of a query within a given author's repertoire. In Anglophone fandoms, such a function is observable in the use of screen names on fan fiction websites, allowing users to search works within a given genre, fandom, or even tag by the screen names of those works' creators. Compared to the role of the creator in the Japanese popular mediascape, however, where so many of today's commercial creators were at one time also active fan creators, the databasification of the author in Anglophone fandoms feels as though it is still in development.

[5.5] Considering the author function through the concept of the database pairs well with what Derecho (2006) refers to as "archontic" writing practices, an idea that De Kosnik (2016) explores in depth in Rogue Archives. Drawing on Jacques Derrida's characterization of archives as "forever open to new entries" and never closed (quoted in Derecho 2006, 64), De Kosnik (2016; Derecho 2006) defines an archontic text, or source text, as one which "allow[s], or even invite[s], writers to enter it, select specific items they find useful, make new artifacts using those found objects, and then deposit the newly made work back into the source text's archive" (64–65). Once the source text leaves the hands of the initial creator, that product functionally belongs to those who consume it; once it enters the popular mediascape, the world of that text becomes an archive to which any fan could hypothetically contribute, regardless of whether the author of the source text holds the copyright. If we consider a given media product as a new archive, (or a new extension of one large archive, if we consider crossover works), then the database becomes our means of accessing and interfacing with that archive. In the same way that a given tag, relationship pairing, or character quality allows us to search the archive for particular kinds of media, so, too, does the authornym. When using the authornym to access works, we are afforded the same quality of expectation as if searching using any other field. In spirit, considering creative fan works as archontic (i.e., adding to the archive) approaches a similar theoretical issue as that of the database; both of these concepts engage with the relationship between consumer, consumed, and text. Though the archontic approach deals predominantly with the fan-driven material that is generated around a source text (or group of source texts) and the database approach engages with popular media as a whole, both suggest that the span of a work is potentially infinite. Moreover, both rely heavily on a flattening of the commercial creator-fan creator hierarchy, instead imagining a fan future that is driven less by necessarily commercial interests and more by engagement.

[5.6] Japan has developed a precariously balanced relationship between commercial creator and fan creator, allowing both to exist simultaneously, even within the same person; the main differences between the two creator varieties are predominately ones of scope and financial backing, neither of which negate the other. The Anglophone mediascape, on the other hand, has not yet established such a balance, but it is not hard to imagine such a future. Earlier Anglophone authors of source texts with large fan followings, as mentioned above, did not support the lack of distance between commercial and fan creator. Anne Rice (2009), for example, has made it clear that she is not comfortable with the recent fan practices of remixing and reinterpreting her works. More recent commercial content creators, however, have interfaced with media during a period when this more egalitarian style of media consumption and consumer interaction has been common practice.

[5.7] Popular media consumption habits in Japan and those predominant in the Anglophone mediascape do not exist in total isolation from one another. As evidenced by the degree of overlap both on the internet and in the heightened mobility of consumers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to consider one while excluding the other. Participants in creative fan practices become commercial media creators, and in more recent generations of commercial creators, many have likely had experience in transnational fandoms. With ever more contact between Japanese and Anglophone fandoms, the commercial fan-creator hierarchy may increasingly flatten within the Anglophone mediascape. Such an eventuality repositions source text creators as an heuristic device within media databases rather than as a representation of absolute content authority. While the Romantic image of the author presupposed by Barthes may no longer be a major point of interaction with a given work, the author continues to live as an heuristic tool through which we consume and interface with popular media content.

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