How Adventure Time fans understand the true producer: A close analysis of two encyclopedic fan texts

Paul Thomas

University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Adventure Time fan encyclopedists cataloged the show's final eighty-three episodes on Wikipedia and the Adventure Time Wiki in different ways: the former favored a division handed down by Cartoon Network, whereas the latter favored a division in line with what the show's production crew had intended. Conflicts like this occur when editors disagree about who is the official producer of a text, a perception that is usually grounded in the epistemology of the fan archive. In considering this divide, the essay aims to build upon Ludi Price's 2017 model of fan information behavior by showing that the category of producer is more complex than many might initially assume.

[0.2] Keywords—Animation; Authority; Encyclopedia; Epistemology; Information behavior; Wikipedia

Thomas, Paul. 2022. "How Adventure Time Fans Understand the True Producer: A Close Analysis of Two Encyclopedic Fan Texts." In "Fandom Histories," edited by Philipp Dominik Keidl and Abby S. Waysdorf, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 37.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Ever since the show's debut in 2010, fans of the Cartoon Network animated series Adventure Time (2010–2018)—following the fantastical exploits of Finn the Human and Jake the Dog—have produced myriad fanworks, of which one category is the encyclopedic fan text. These works document (rather than expand upon) the source material, and for Adventure Time fans, the two main archives for these texts are Wikipedia and the Adventure Time wiki. While different, both sites encourage editors to document the series in a way that directly aligns with how fans believe the show's producers understand it. Documenting the series was a long and laborious but nonetheless straightforward task for Adventure Time fan editors, given that the show's production crew and Cartoon Network itself were usually on the same page regarding how they understood their series. But in 2017, Cartoon Network rearranged the way that seasons 7 and following were to be divided—a rearrangement which conflicted with how the show's production crew had structured these seasons. As a result, editors on both Wikipedia and the Adventure Time wiki scrambled to make sense of which episode order should be considered correct.

[1.2] In this work, I consider the fan editors' difficult choice through the lens of Library and Information Science (LIS). After first explaining the situation, I employ Ludi Price's 2017 model of fan information behavior to briefly describe how fan editors take a raw source text and convert it into an encyclopedic fan text. I then show that conflicts occur when editors disagree as to who the producer of a text actually is. These conflicts, I argue, are usually grounded in the epistemology of the fan archive(s) in question. In this case, Wikipedia editors were guided by a normative understanding of published sources, which lent epistemological support to the idea that Cartoon Network was the one true producer; conversely, the Adventure Time wiki editors emphasized what I call the creative truth of the series, which lent epistemological support to the idea that the show's creators were the true producers. In considering this divide, I aim to expand the Price model of fan information behavior by showing that the category of producer is more complex than many might initially assume.

2. Context: The season 7 shuffle

[2.1] To fully understand the situation under consideration, it is important to first contextualize the problem by discussing the production schedule of the final eighty-three episodes of the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time. In the summer of 2014, Cartoon Network ordered a seventh season of thirty-nine episodes to go into production (Goldberg 2014); this was followed by an eighth-season order of twenty-eight episodes in 2015 (Goldberg 2015) and a ninth-season order of sixteen episodes in 2016 (Osborne 2016). However, when Cartoon Network released the seventh season on DVD in 2017, the network retroactively reconfigured how the show's final seasons were divided: instead of three seasons of thirty-nine, twenty-eight, and sixteen episodes, respectively, the studio reorganized the show's final eighty-three episodes into four seasons of twenty-six, twenty-seven, fourteen, and sixteen episodes, respectively. Needless to say, this contrasted with the vision of the show's production crew, who had produced the episodes under the assumption that they would be spread out across nine seasons. This reshuffling has been illustrated in figure 1, which compares the original production order (the three main columns) with the post facto season division (the four color-coded divisions).

A table showing the original order of the episodes and division of seasons, with color coding that shows the revised division.

Figure 1. Table showing the two different divisions of seasons. (Image by author, based on information outlined in Thomas, forthcoming).

[2.2] While the details of this season shuffle unfolded, fan editors on both Wikipedia and the Adventure Time Wiki were in something of a bind. For several years, these editors had been structuring their sites' articles under the assumption that Adventure Time's final eighty-three episodes were to be spread out across three seasons. This division, after all, was the way the production crew understood their show when they were working on episodes. But suddenly, there was a new official division, mandated by the entity that owned the copyright to Adventure Time: Cartoon Network. Fan editors now had to choose which delineation of the show they needed to follow.

[2.3] The conversation started on the Adventure Time wiki around May 2017, when several editors voiced their opinion that the site should ignore Cartoon Network's decision and instead list the original production order of the episodes. On the talk page of the article "List of Episodes," for instance, the user Fuhrman adamantly maintained: "IT IS SEASON 8 right now. [The original division of the seasons] was…right, Cartoon Network just sucks and cannot even get the season right on their own website. Acording [sic] to Adam Muto we had it right before." The user Upgrader01 concurred on May 18, 2017, writing, "Adam Muto clearly stated that Season 7 ends with Preboot/Reboot…IMO, word from the executive producer and showrunner trumps word from the marketing department that made the DVD." On May 25, the user SwegWrestlur echoed the sentiment of the others: "Adam Muto said that the finale to Season 7 is Reboot. That means that every episode afterwards is season 8" (comments on Adventure Time wiki

[2.4] Conversely, when this problem was discussed on Wikipedia, most editors argued that the site should recognize Cartoon Network's new ordering, since it was the one handed down by the network that created and aired the show. This sentiment was first expressed on the talk page of the article "Adventure Time," on October 8, 2017, by user Toonami1997, who wrote: "CN has changed the way the seasons aired as it lists the ninth season [as its] tenth season. So since its CN, I [changed] the season count to 10." Later, on October 26, the anonymous editor 2602:304:780A:1870:B583:80D5:B04A:25BE commented, "I think we should list them as CN lists them because its the official channel and that's how they list it." The conversation briefly died down before being revived again on November 18, when the editor Bang commented: "Well, if it says Season 10, let's go with CN's Season ordering" (comments on Wikipedia It is worth noting that during this time, I myself was one of the editors who appealed to Cartoon Network's authority, and when adjusting the season 7 article, I even left an edit summary reading, "The season 7 DVD box set release + CN's official website indicate that 'this' is the correct season 7" (comments on Wikipedia

[2.5] The result of this disagreement about season divisions was what you could call a "wiki schism," which lasted from late 2017 to the end of 2019. During this time, the two encyclopedic sources listed two different divisions of the show's final eighty-three episodes. "Wiki concordance" was reached only in the spring of 2019, when Adam Muto made several posts online in which he assented to Cartoon Network's post facto division. Soon after his posts, the editors on the Adventure Time wiki immediately began to discuss the problem again, and this time, they agreed that by conceding to Cartoon Network's seasonal divisions, Muto and the production crew had seemingly affirmed them as true. "I'm not so convinced that the crew could just ignore CN's decision," user Oganesson argued, to which Bellamybug concurred: "[That is] a good point: the crew didn't completely ignore CN's choice. At some point they switched over" (comments on Adventure Time wiki The editors of the Adventure Time wiki thus came to view Cartoon Network's post facto ordering as the official delineation of the show's final seasons—a consensus that reflected the view of their Wikipedia brethren, albeit for a different reason.

3. Understanding the disagreement through the lens of information theory

[3.1] The questions before us now are (1) why did this schism come to be, and (2) how can it be explained through the lens of information theory? Before tackling the problem in full, let us first consider the Price model of fan information behavior (Price 2017)—a model that will allow us to better contextualize the issue (figure 2). According to this schematic, processes like the one discussed in this essay start with a producer, that is, the person or entity who creates a work around which fans coalesce. This source text is then consumed by fans, some of whom semiotically reproduce the source text, turning it into something new. When fans do this in a way that documents the source text, the resulting work is considered to be an encyclopedic fan text. This is the process followed by both the Wikipedia and Adventure Time wiki editors. But if the two groups were working with the same source text and following the same general process, how did they initially come to two different understandings of how the source text is organized? The answer has to do with the epistemological underpinning of the sites in consideration, which is key in determining who is considered the true producer and whose information should be regarded as definitive.

A workflow diagram showing how information circulates between producers to the fan community and how information-seeking behaviors can navigate various sources of information.

Figure 2. The Price (2017) model of fan information behavior. (Model courtesy of Ludi Price; drawn by author).

[3.2] Let us first consider Wikipedia. One of the site's foundational rules is that all articles must be constructed from reliable sources that have been published (Wikipedia 2021a). This stipulation may seem inconsequent, but by stressing the importance of published sources, Wikipedia also stresses the importance of the publisher of those sources. As examples of what is meant by "publisher," Wikipedia cites both Random House and Cambridge University Press—two of the biggest commercial publishing companies in the world ( Thus, on Wikipedia, "publisher" is generally understood in a traditional and legal sense as the company or organization embedded within the existing power structures of society that owns the rights to select media and plays a key role in the normative (and often commercial) distribution of that media. As a result of these policies and assumptions, during discussions about reliable sourcing, established Wikipedia editors tend to seek out and privilege sources released by what one could call traditional or normative publishers. This explains why many of the Wikipedia editors quoted in the previous section (myself included) defaulted almost immediately to the view that Cartoon Network was the source to whom editors should listen: they reasoned that as the established company that legally owned the series, Cartoon Network was, per Wikipedia's reliable sourcing criteria, the only entity capable of being called a publisher. This assumption was further indexed by the repeated description of Cartoon Network as the official source of information—a rhetorical strategy employed to emphasize the studio's normative role.

[3.3] The Adventure Time wiki, on the other hand, does not have a mandate that its users employ only those sources which have been officially published in a normative sense. Instead, the wiki is driven more by a search for what one could call the creative truth of the series, that is, by a desire to understand the show as it was envisioned by its artistic creators. The epistemological assumption of the Adventure Time wiki is clearly on display when one considers the words of the editors quoted in the previous section; almost all these editors cited Adam Muto (the series' showrunner and thus its artistic director) as the ultimate authority in this matter. Some of the editors even denigrated Cartoon Network's actions, blasting the seasonal shuffle as a mistake that indexed the network's incompetence. This was likely done to delegitimize the company's claim to ownership, showing that while Cartoon Network may hold the copyright to Adventure Time, the show was the intellectual property of its artistic creators.

[3.4] The wiki schism here is thus one fundamentally predicated on the question of whom one should consider the producer of a media object: the media company that owns and publishes the work or the artist who creates, writes, and/or artistically oversees the work. This divide—which is mapped onto the Price model of fan information behavior (figure 3)—shows that the concept of "media producer" is rarely a taken-for-granted one shared by all fans. It is instead an active point of contention. In this instance, concord between Wikipedia and the Adventure Time wiki was not the result of an epistemological shift on the part of either site. Instead, it came about only when one authority figure (Adam Muto, the artistic creator) recognized the stance of another (Cartoon Network, the copyright owner). Had this recognition never occurred, it is possible that, due to the sites' epistemological differences, the disagreement may have stretched into the present.

A diagram showing the complex flow of ownership, media content, and information between media owners, media creators, and fans.

Figure 3. The complexity of the producer in the Price (2017) model. (Model courtesy of Ludi Price; drawn by author)

4. Conclusion

[4.1] What, then, can researchers in fan studies and LIS conclude from this case study? Simply put, the category commonly referred to as the producer (or creator, or author) is often not as simple as one might initially assume. When considering the flow of information within fan communities and the information behavior of fans, it is imperative that researchers recognize the category of producer as a slippery one that often generates intense debate. For those out there (such as myself) who are interested in using the Price model of fan information behavior to further the field of fan studies and bring it into conversation with LIS, the points discussed in this essay are worth further consideration.

4. References

Goldberg, Lesley. 2014. "Comic-Con Exclusive: Cartoon Network Renews 'Adventure Time,' 'Regular Show,' 3 More." Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 2014.

Goldberg, Lesley. 2015. "Adventure Time, Regular Show, 3 More Renewed at Cartoon Network." Hollywood Reporter, July 7, 2015.

Osborne, Kent (@kentisawesome). 2016. "#AdventureTimeSeason9." Twitter, July 21, 2016.

Price, Ludi. 2017. "Serious Leisure in the Digital World: Exploring the Information Behavior of Fan Communities." PhD diss., University of London.

Thomas, Paul. Forthcoming. Exploring the Land of Ooo: An Unofficial Overview and Production History of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.