• Editoral: Pondering the Peak

    Won't be reviewing a comic today. Instead, I'd like to share my thoughts on a topic that's been popping up this week.

    Check out the full editorial after the break! 

    Two days ago, ABagOVicodin posted an editorial on Duo Cartoonist's intention to stop producing pony-related animations. Many of the points he brought up resonated with me. The idea that a creative should not feel imprisoned by one form of expression, or the acknowledgement that people will grow and transition though the audience might not follow. All of these are considerations that creatives face.

    Yet there were some words and phrases that stood out for me. Particularly this statement:
    The fandom has peaked. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has had a long run, and that run is continuing, since we have a whole new season up on the horizon... But we have hit the drop, and now we’re riding the rollercoaster as long as it will take us.

    There's a very fatalist tone there. Expressions like this make me wonder about past experiences and the nature of fandoms. I wonder about what lies ahead but also to look back on past fandoms which have never truly died out. Only changed.

    First I think it important to clarify some terms.

    Hardly a Hobby
    Vicodin's initial statement is that we are all hobbyists. When I hear the word "hobby" I imagine people who invest their free time into a pursuit. Perhaps it's collecting a rare item, or working on a mechanism, or creating something from scratch. The value of the work is dependent on the person, but the constant theme is that this is a free time pursuit.

    Looking at the Brony fandom, it may very well be a hobby for many. A form of entertainment to take in and enjoy but leave compartmentalized. Others don't just invest free time. They have made the time to create works that continue to surprise and impress. These are not works whipped up on a lazy afternoon. This is a concentrated effort that require time and energy, often demanding a personal cost, which one can only hope comes across to an audience.

    So I cannot use the term hobby for these efforts. They are expressions of people's effort and talent, and so I will call them such.

    Harwick's creation was one of the earliest fan artworks I saw.
    Even now I still find it sad and beautiful.
    Do Numbers Count? 
    Pun totally intended!

    Many people will point to view counts and subscriptions as a sign of success and failure, growth and entropy, etc. Conventions and websites like Equestria Daily rely on healthy attendance for both registration, commerce, and ad revenue. Bronycon 2016's attendance last year dropped by 2,500 and other conventions have noted a decrease. 

    Obviously it's not possible to host gathering places and large-scale websites without support revenue. It's not my intent to dismiss the metrics that show how many people are actively seeking out connections online or at gathering places. What I do want to challenge is the idea that the fandom itself is fading based on metrics alone.

    It's the nature of groups to expand and contract over time. My Little Pony gained early attention thanks to word of mouth and questionable press coverage, but after seven years the novelty has worn off. So it's natural that numbers will decrease. Yet at what number do we declare a fandom "dead"? It seems that people witness this decrease and assume the worst, but I see it as a group's organic nature.

    I don't doubt that over time conventions and websites will have to choose how they proceed. Some will scale back, others will close down. Should the fandom go into a slumber, I think one or two conventions will continue the trend if only to keep the interest going. Odds are these conventions will become smaller, but people find ways to keep going as long as the group's passion remains.

    What fuels this effort? Often it's not the show itself, but the ideas hiding within.

    This was one of my earliest drawings.
    What? I got better!
    Exchanging Expressions
    One of the things I've come to appreciate in looking at fiction is that stories are the clothing ideas wear to be seen in public. We witness a little of this when Tanks for the Memories addresses the grieving process, or Spice Up Your Life asks how far one should follow a trend. In a strange way, a fandom stops being about the show itself. People borrow the characters and settings to express their own ideas. Perhaps this expression puts more emphasis on a character that's been neglected, or asks how people would handle a difficult situation. At its best, a fandom is a rapid exchange of ideas, spoken in a language unique to the community.

    The speed and intensity varies depending on the show's longevity and the fanbase's numbers, but I think it's a mistake to assume that a decrease in fandom numbers translates into stagnation or entropy.

    I still remember the first time one of my work featured on Equestria Daily. I went to bed with my DeviantArt account at about 100 messages total, and woke up to over 1,000. Throughout the day I would check the message count and mark how the numbers increased literally each second. It was not the first time I had put my work up for the world to scrutinize, as I had done so with both the Digimon and Zoids fandoms, but I had never witnesses such intensity.

    This took place a week after Season 2's finale, at a time I considered letting the show go and pursuing other avenues. Yet feeling that sudden connection, I decided to try even harder with the next comic. And the one after that. This timeframe rode the wave of energy that came as My Little Pony began to draw more attention from the world. Arguably the fandom's numbers were higher and activity was more focused through a limited number of sites. I rode on that high for a long time, which eventually lead to my video productions.

    I understand why Vicodin says that we're in a downward slope after that energy. A DeviantArt or Youtube post likely does not draw the same instant gratification it might have several years prior. The number of active watchers might decrease, and the wider array of sites makes it harder to grab people's attention. Some creators who gained notoriety moved on to other pursuits, leading those who remained wary of new talent.

    Yet it continues. The numbers fluctuate, but I've never known a period where the Brony fandom failed to produce content. The exchange of ideas continues and will go on past the show's finale. Speaking as someone who has seen fandoms grow to their maximum popularity and stabilize years later, I've also realized one simple fact.

    How did you feel the first time someone made a Rapidash joke about this?
    Did it feel good to know there were some other Pokemon Bronies?
    Fandoms Never Die
    "Everyone always thinks the world's gonna end during their lifetime. 
    But the truth is none of us are that cool or interesting." 

    That's right, I'm quoting Red vs. Blue at y'all. Why? Because I think this line every time someone claims x, y, or z is coming to an end. Doesn't matter if it's the world, a government, a fandom, or our own expectations. People are obsessed with things ending.

    This makes me think back on past shows I've enjoyed. Transformers, GI Joe, Silverhawks, Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Gundam. I would hold a moment of silence for these shows and their long-gone fanbases, except that they're not gone.

    Whether it be re-imaginings or continuations (Sailor Moon Crystal, Dragonball Super, Voltron Legendary Defender) or brief bouts of humor (Silverhawks has been featured on Robot Chicken), it seems that the stories stick with us. Not necessarily at our awareness' forefront, but we are shaped by what we experience and we give shape to the world through our own expressions. For good or ill, we carry a part of past fandoms into new ones.

    I'd be negligent if I'd didn't bring up the two biggest fandoms. Star Trek grew around a show that had been canceled and put into syndication. This unexpected enthusiasm lead to the creation of the movie series and a television relaunch that lasted 18 years before going to slumber in 2005. Yet even after Enterprise seemingly ended the show's run, the movie reboots rekindled the energy in 2009 with a new TV series on the horizon. That's a 50-year-long fandom still kicking!

    Star Wars had its own disappointments with the Ewoks movies and their failed cartoons. Yet the stories continued in comic and novels formats, keeping the fanbase talking until the prequels took form. Revenge of the Sith should have been the finale, but now we await The Last Jedi and Rebels' fourth season.

    Just today I got word that Invader Zim would return as movie more than eleven years after its last episode. A comic book line also kept the interesting going from 2015 onward. Just to stress how old I am, I remember a brief period where I thought Transformers' era was done, just before hearing about Beast Wars. Now I look at our entertainment landscape and see the 80's being re-imagined and updated at every turn. Friendship is Magic is a part of this effort and I see no reason why culture's cycle won't come around a second or third time. Some say we've reached our peak, but how far ahead were we really looking?

    Going back to Vicodin's original quote, the fandom is not carrying us to the end of a ride. Rather, we carry it with as much or as little expression as we choose to invest. When Friendship is Magic reaches its conclusion, there will not be an official asking you to step off the ride, turn in your Brony ID, and discard your enthusiasm in the provided bin. Some folks will keep the excitement going through conventions, re-watch streams, and fan works. Others will go for alternate pursuits while integrating the experience into their lives.

    Speaking as someone who has done comics and videos within this fandom, I can say that the effort has improved my technical skill. I now understand Illustrator, Adobe Premier, and After Effects better than I did six months ago. I imagine that Duo Cartoonist and other content creators have improved their skills from tackling projects and will move forward. Those who are just getting started, practicing artwork or animation based on MLP, now have examples to act as inspiration not from the show alone but from fellow fans. Even if the creators have stepped away from the fandom, I do not accept the idea that this effort was wasted.

    So if there's anything to take away from this editorial, it's to not write off your own time in this fandom, however long your interest lasts. As a creator of content or a consumer of entertainment, time spent as a fan of a work will have an impact on your future in ways not yet understood. 

    At some point the Brony fandom will hibernate or move into a less focused state. But it won't be dead. Fans will remember their experiences and remember the show that gained and held their attention. Perhaps a young fan will take the same role as Lauren Faust, revitalizing a childhood memory for a fresh audience. 

    However long this lasts, I intend to enjoy it without worrying about an end point. I hope all of you can enjoy the flow and carry forward in ways that satisfy and encourage yourselves. On to Season Seven!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!