Art Commission Red Flags

I don’t have an exact count, but I’ve paid artists for roughly 150 commissioned comics and illustrations during the past five years. This isn’t because I make lots of money (nope) or somehow had lots of money to begin with (also nope), but rather because I’m passionate about art and comics and creative collaboration. I understand that “passionate” is a word a student might use in an application essay, but I have a hobby that I really enjoy, and I don’t do it for the sake of “advancing my career.” I do what I do primarily for selfish reasons – because it’s fun – but I also genuinely want to support the online communities whose work I enjoy.

So, to summarize: I’m not wealthy, but I love art and want to support artists.

I feel as though I have to say this as a preface because I’m afraid people will read this post (or not read it) and jump to the worst possible conclusion about who I am and what my motives are for writing this. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to share my experiences with commissioning artists, because these experiences have gotten much better as I’ve learned from my mistakes.

I’m going to say that about 19 out of 20 commissions go well, by which I mean there’s good communication with the artist and the final product is delivered as expected. There are key commonalities between the projects that don’t go well, by which I mean (both or either) communication fails or no art is ever created. Here are the five major red flags:

– The artist says they’re open for commissions, but they have no examples or prices listed. Even someone taking commissions for the first time should have, at the very least, a formal commissions post (or comparable online form).

– The artist approaches you to commission them, or a mutual acquaintance asks you to commission them on their behalf. “Doing a favor” for an online stranger rarely ends well, especially if there’s money involved.

– The artist is misrepresenting their age and is actually under 18. It’s important to support young artists, but it’s illegal (and more than a bit creepy) to pay them if they can’t legally use PayPal or Venmo. Some young artists have technically polished and creatively sophisticated styles, so how can you tell? Well…

– The artist’s main social media feed gives you a bad feeling. Many creative people are socially and politically engaged, and this isn’t about white-coded “professionalism” or “tone policing.” Rather, if someone’s entire social media feed is intensely negative and filled with strong language, they might not be in the proper headspace to work on a creative project with a stranger. Also, it’s important to trust your gut instinct when it comes to certain dog whistles. (One of the most bizarre failed commission experiences I’ve had culminated in the artist sending me a long chain of angry DMs filled with homophobic and ethnic slurs, that was wild.)

– The artist insists that you sign a commercial contract for a private commission. You should not be entering into a commercial contract unless you’re commissioning an image for commercial purposes. In the case of fandom commissions, a contract like this is blatantly illegal, and the party who bears the legal guilt is the one who offers money for the theft of someone else’s intellectual property – you, in other words.

Regarding that last red flag, it’s my understanding that many professional “fine artists” require contracts for private commissions, generally due to the amount of money and labor involved. And if you have the means to pay a professional painter $5000 to create an oil portrait of your D&D character, then you should absolutely live your best life. Still, the contract you’re signing won’t be commercial, with the main difference between “private” and “commercial” contracts being a matter of usage rights. Generally the sort of people who advertise for commissions on social media aren’t going to be expecting this, but I’ve had few surprises. What the request for a contract means is that you’re probably not the sort of client the artist is looking for, and it’s best to respect that.

If a commission fails, for whatever reason, I think it’s important for both parties to walk away with no hard feelings. For me, this means not badgering the artist, not badmouthing them within the community, and not asking for the commission fee to be returned. In the end, commissioning art is supposed to be fun, and the ultimate goal is to support artists, especially early-career artists who are willing to create custom illustrations that even someone like me can afford.

Still, as I said, I’m not wealthy. I love art, and I love working with artists, but I’m only able to do so through very careful budgeting and corner-cutting in other aspects of my life. I assume that most people who commission art projects can sympathize, and it doesn’t benefit anyone to throw money into a hole. You can support an artist by contributing to their Ko-fi or Patreon, or simply by sharing their work. Failed commissions are tough on both you and the artist, however, so it’s best to avoid trouble before it begins.

It’s always a good idea to be careful with giving money to online strangers, even if they’re very talented online strangers. Still, I want to emphasize that the vast majority of my experiences commissioning art and comics have been overwhelmingly positive. If you’re interested in commissioning art, please allow me to encourage you to go for it!

Legend of Haiku Zine

I’ve been spending a lot of time this past week sitting on my couch and riding out waves of bad feelings (this is the world we live in right now, what can you do) while hunting for Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild. I just finished a second completionist run on the Switch version, and I didn’t want to delete everything and start a new game, so I dug my Wii U out of my closet and picked up where I left off in that version of the game in 2017. Along the way, I’ve been coming up with all sorts of silly haiku, like this:

a star fragment falls
as the lone hero watches
from a mountaintop

Haiku are a lot of fun and relatively stress-free, so I think it might be cool to make a Legend of Zelda-themed haiku zine. I put together a similar project for the class I taught about The Wind Waker in Spring 2019, so I already have the basic format set up and ready to go. If I were doing this by myself, I’d probably write something like 26 haiku and make three small illustrations (along with the cover page, front colophon, and back bio section) for a total of 32 pages (plus another four for the front and back covers). If I did the interior pages in black and white and used the same small format I used for the class zine, it wouldn’t be expensive to print.

I don’t have much of a following on social media, but it might be interesting to open the zine to contributions. I don’t have the time or energy to put together a big project, so this would be a super casual “email me your haiku and I’ll send you a copy of the zine” sort of deal, as well as a no-pressure “post your work whenever and wherever you like” sort of approach. I might also open artist submissions, with the encouragement that anyone of any skill level is welcome to contribute. I’d use Gumroad to host a free digital copy of the zine once it’s finished, and I might use Etsy to open preorders for at-cost physical copies of the zine (to be printed in addition to the contributor copies) if there’s any interest.

I’d post the announcement on October 1 and close submissions on November 30. I’d try to put the zine together a bit at a time so that I could send it to the printer during the first week of December, and I could spend the rest of the month getting everything ready to go before mailing out the physical zines during the first week of January.

If I were going to open submissions, what I’d need to do in advance would be to:

– find and commission a cover artist
– put together an information sheet
– create a graphic to use for the information sheet
– plan a series of three additional images to use for promotion
– create an account on Tumblr
– create an account on Twitter
– create an account on Gmail

And of course I’d have to write my own contributions in advance so that I don’t get stressed out.

I’ll take the rest of the month of August to see how I feel, and then I’ll make a decision in September.

Theme Park Fandom

It’s Not ‘Weird’ to Be an Adult Woman Who Loves Disney
https://www.glamour.com/story/its-not-weird-to-be-an-adult-woman-who-loves-disney

The trio say they don’t go to the parks to relive their youth, though. Smith, Puga, and Walker all have successful careers in creative industries and approach Disneyland like a city’s downtown rather than a family-friendly vacation resort. They’re not alone: With a rotating offering of seasonal Instagram-ready treats, celebrity chef partnerships, and a record for being the single largest employer of sommeliers, Disney’s Parks & Resorts have a lot to entice adults with money to spend. To Internet savvy, culturally involved guests like these three, Disneyland provides the same experiences they’d have elsewhere, only better.

When asked about the stigma attached to adult women visiting the parks, they shut it down. As these three see it, everyone’s a fan of something—why should enjoying a roller coaster through space in an intergalactic Tomorrowland be so different? “People are always going to judge no matter what,” says Walker. “You just have to sort of own what you love and be proud of that. Maybe they’ll never understand, but they’re missing out on something pretty special, and that’s okay. More for us in the long run.”

I’ve been slowly making my way through Rebecca Williams’s monograph Theme Park Fandom, and it’s one of the best academic books I’ve read in years. In the Introduction, Williams opens the discussion by referencing a cringe-inducing opinion piece written by a gross older man saying that adult fans of Disney are creepy, which was picked up by College Humor and adapted into an even more cringe-inducing video.

I’m not personally a fan of Disney (or Marvel, or Star Wars), and I have no real desire to go to a theme park. (Maybe when Universal opens its Super Nintendo World attraction? But probably not, honestly.) Still, I don’t get why people think fans who go to theme parks are weird, aside from the obvious misogyny and homophobia. It sounds like the people who are into this sort of thing have a lot of fun, and they’re not hurting anyone. I mean, sure, Disney is a giant evil corporation, but we’re not going to get meaningful anti-trust legislation by harassing people on Instagram.

So I’m not planning on visiting Florida or California, but it’s been interesting to learn about the different subcultures surrounding the Disney and Universal theme parks, as well as how the fans participating in these subcultures have made use of social media to connect with each other while actually influencing the objects of their fandom at a surprisingly high corporate level.

I know “serious scholars” like to mock Fan Studies as an illegitimate subdiscipline of Media Studies, but I’m getting tired of “serious scholarship” about How Disney Is Anti-Feminist And Poisoning Our Children™. To me, it’s much more meaningful to learn about how this culture is created, who is creating it, and how it’s not just Rich White Men producing media that’s consumed passively. If nothing else, I feel that good scholarship should be like a documentary that shows you a part of the world you only vaguely knew existed and then explains how it influences its broader cultural context. Theme Park Fandom is really enjoyable to read, and it’s been helping me make sense of all sorts of aspects of contemporary American culture that I’ve always found a bit mystifying.

I’ve also been reading Carlye Wisel’s various bits of theme park journalism, and I’m a fan. I wonder, how does someone get a job like this?

Born to Be Bound

I was intrigued by the description of the novel Born to Be Bound in the New York Times article that I read last month about professionally published Omegaverse romance novels. ABO Batman fic with the serial numbers filed off? Sign me up!

I didn’t realize just how intense it would be. I can’t imagine being a literary agent and being like, Yes! This is absolutely the sort of thing that needs to be on the shelves at Barnes and Noble!!

(Content warning for everything there is to be warned for, probably.)

Starting with the Brontë sisters and moving on from there, the vast majority of het romance involves the subversion of patriarchal power structures by means of the domestication of decent and sensitive straight men who have been socialized to embrace toxic masculinity. What this means is that, at least at the beginning of the story, there is always some amount of bad behavior on the part of the male lead. Depending on how kinky the novel is, sometimes the bad behavior is indeed very bad, but at some point the man realizes that he’s wrong, changes accordingly, and is rewarded with affection.

In Born to Be Bound, the man doesn’t change. He’s an alpha, so he can’t change; that’s just who he is. It’s actually the female lead who needs to change by accepting her biological destiny as an omega. The title of this novel is just about as literal as it gets.

Basically, the male lead drugs the woman, imprisons her, and repeatedly rapes her with the intention of impregnating her against her will. When she resists him, he drugs and rapes her more. She still resists him, so he begins beating her, biting and hitting her in order to punish and mark her. This is the entire novel: drugging, beating, and rape until the woman eventually stops considering suicide as her only means of exerting her agency.

In addition, the author doesn’t come out and say that the female protagonist is fifteen or sixteen years old and “mated” to someone in his forties, but it’s strongly implied. Her youth and vulnerability make it difficult for her to cultivate allies and escape, and this is very sexy, apparently.

There’s an attempt at a plot, but it doesn’t go anywhere that isn’t a justification of why the woman deserves to be imprisoned and raped for her hubris in thinking she’s a full human being. Humans are slaves to their biology, after all, and she should have known that being claimed by the top alpha was the best she could hope for as an omega. The story’s catharsis comes when the woman “learns” to be grateful. There’s a lot of talk about how omegas exist to be dominated and bred, but no real exploration of how this has impacted society – just a lot of the female lead expressing her abject misery, trying desperately to get away from the male lead, and being drugged and beaten for her efforts.

I’m mostly indifferent to romance as a genre, and I’ve never read the giant novels about sexy cavepeople that everyone keeps telling me about, but I’ve always enjoyed the work of authors like Jacqueline Carey who write dark fantasy with strong erotic elements. That being said, Born to Be Bound is on a different level altogether.

I’m not wringing my hands in moral panic like someone whose first encounter with female-authored erotica was Fifty Shades of Grey, and I actually appreciate certain Omegaverse elements like pair bonding and same-sex parenting. Hell, I’ve had to respond to people’s comments on my own stories on AO3 in order to explain that the characters do not deliver academic lectures on safe sex because this is fiction, not a manual intended for educational instruction in the current best practices for whatever community exists to serve a particular fantasy.

I mean, don’t like, don’t read. Your kink is not my kink, and that’s okay. Born to Be Bound isn’t for me, but I’m happy it exists for the people who enjoy it. But just, wow. This is not “soft” Omegaverse by any means. Instead, the author has dialed all the genre’s tropes up to eleven without any sort of explanation, reflection, or analysis. How in the world did this sort of thing become mainstream romance fiction?

Social Media Self-Care

During the past few days, I deleted about four hundred posts on Tumblr:

Posts where I reblogged people’s stories, meta, and art with supportive comments and tags, posts of original art and stories and jokes I made for people’s ideas and headcanons, and reblogs of people’s creative projects and commission info.

I applied the same level of attention to weeding my blog on Tumblr that I’ve devoted to developing my island on Animal Crossing, and it was incredibly cathartic.

I don’t need to see a snapshot of myself going out of my way to be kind and friendly to someone who thought it would be a good idea to send me a message asking if they could commission me to drink an entire bottle of NyQuil and pass out with a plastic trash bag over my head, for example.

I was never friends with any of these creeps. It never happened.

For me, the purpose of Tumblr is and always has been to create a small garden of things that make me happy. I scroll through my own Tumblr when I’m stuck in a waiting room, or during some impossibly long train or car ride, or when I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. “Interesting but relaxing” is the vibe I’m going for, and I think I’ve gone a decent job, for the most part. After all, I’m fairly skilled at catering to myself as an audience of one.

I’ve never been comfortable with the expectation to behave like a brand; and, regardless, activity on Tumblr has declined rapidly during the past month or so. I’ve gone from getting well over a thousand notes a day at the beginning of the year to getting less than a hundred a day during the past three weeks, and it only takes me about fifteen minutes to scroll through an entire day’s feed – if I even bother, which I mostly don’t.

What has ultimately come out of my social experience of fandom on Tumblr are lowkey but lasting friendships with professional artists and writers who have mostly moved to Twitter. I understand the value of online anonymity, but I think there are benefits to allowing yourself to be a real and fully-rounded person online. There are also benefits to being able to mute people, as well as being able to choose never to see certain tags and keywords. I’m not saying that Twitter is a good platform, because it’s objectively awful, but it’s become a much easier place to manage the social aspects of fandom.

To be honest, it’s because of Twitter that I no longer think of “fandom” as a discrete area of my life that needs to be contained and concealed as a shameful waste of time. I am a writer who writes reviews and critical essays about media. Sometimes I write fiction and draw comics. This is who I am, and I’ve found it much easier to interact with people when I don’t have to hide aspects of myself. I’ve also found it much easier to pick up the sort of high-quality freelance assignments that enabled me to quit the soul-crushing job that was making me sick.

Maybe it took me a little longer than other people to find my voice and surround myself with a supportive community, but I’m happy I’m here now.

Toxic Fandom Culture

Waking Up: Neil Gaiman and Toxic Fandom
https://thelearnedfangirl.com/2018/07/waking-up-neil-gaiman-and-toxic-fandom/

There is no shortage of examples [of toxic fandom]. Much of this behavior is based in misogyny and racism, some of it is not, and all of it seems to shriek, “You did not do what I want, therefore you are bad, and I am going to tell the world.”

This is not love. It is not even fandom. It is a mob.

Preach.

I should mention two things about this short essay. First, it’s about the author being a fan of Neil Gaiman, not about Neil Gaiman himself. Second, it was written in July 2018. I was going through an intense online experience at the time and wondering what in the world I had done to deserve what was happening, and reading this essay then would have helped me a lot, I think. It’s definitely worth saying that, outside of a genuine #MeToo (or similar) situation, no artist or writer deserves this. I’m tentatively hopeful that this sort of culture has started to fade, not in the least because we all have much better things to devote our time and energy to.

Sexism and Ageism in Fandom

On “Fandom Moms”
https://out-there-on-the-maroon.tumblr.com/post/620585756682027009/fandom-mom-used-to-a-jokey-affectionate-term-for

I can finally afford to attend conventions regularly, pay amazing artists for great work, delve into more detailed media analysis, appreciate symbolism and homages I didn’t understand as a teen… and I should give that all up now? Because I have a job that makes me cry from stress, do my own taxes, and should be Looking For A Husband Now?

Oh gosh yes. Wow.

For me, as a queer nonbinary person, I was really only able to do things that made me happy once I had a stable source of income. I got kicked out of high school for being gay a few months after I turned sixteen, and the following twelve or thirteen years were a constant struggle just to survive. I couldn’t watch television or play video games because I had to work all the time to pay rent while putting myself through college and grad school on a series of scholarships, fellowships, and grants that were generous but not quite enough to live on. If I had time to “have fun,” it was time I needed to spend networking by attending various parties and other social events. I couldn’t afford to go to conventions, and I certainly didn’t have energy to devote to developing my skills at creative writing and visual art.

I was 27 or 28 before I had enough breathing room to even think about doing something that wasn’t work, and getting involved in fandom felt (at the time) like one of the best things that had ever happened to me, not in the least because I didn’t have to pretend to be a serious adult.

So when I was accused of being a creepy older person (when I was 32, which I maintain isn’t actually that old, not that it matters) for existing in a fandom space that was shared by people of various ages, it precipitated an incredible jolt of anxiety. What if it actually is Too Late for me to enjoy myself and follow my dreams? I’d been getting this message from various places for my entire life – even when I was in college! – and it was a serious blow to suddenly start hearing it again from the inside of a previously supportive fandom community.

I’ve come to terms with this and moved on, but I’m so relieved that this culture is fading.

Malice

(The above illustration is by the amazing @mehkuno on Tumblr.)

In my writing logs, I keep mentioning the fanfic novel based on the Breath of the Wild sequel trailer that I’m writing, so I thought I’d try to describe the project. Here goes!

Story
When the long-dormant Guardians begin attacking Hyrule, Zelda, Link, and Ganondorf go underground to try to find the source of energy powering them.

Background Setting
This is an urban fantasy set in a modern-day version of Hyrule based on New York City. In this setting, the cave that Link and Zelda are exploring in the BotW sequel trailer translates to the sewer tunnels underneath the old site of Hyrule Castle, which has been converted into government offices. Everything that happened in BotW took place about three hundred years prior to the present day, but all mentions of magic, the Triforce, and the true nature of the Calamity have been erased from history. Ancient technology is exhibited in museums, but people treat it like art and have no understanding that it’s actually machinery. When the Guardians and other artifacts of ancient technology start going berserk, no one knows what’s happening.

Zelda (visual reference)
Although she comes from a powerful political family, Zelda is interested in the history and functionality of ancient technology. She’s 26 years old and about one or two years out of a Master’s program in Chemistry. She wants to get away from her family’s influence, so she currently works as a lab technician. Her intention is to succeed through her own efforts while pursuing her research. She was reserved and uptight when she was younger, but her relationships with Link and Ganondorf have helped her to become braver and more self-confident.

Link (visual reference)
He works as a courier for a delivery company, and there’s nothing he loves more than driving around Hyrule on his motorcycle. He’s into urban exploration and has a hugely popular account on Skyloft (Hyrule’s equivalent to Instagram). Like Link in BotW after he’s lost his memories of being constantly under pressure, this Link is easygoing, clever with his words, and a lot of fun to be around. He’s a year older than Zelda, and he gradually becomes friendly with her while making deliveries to her lab. As Zelda discovers odd inconsistencies regarding Hyrule’s history and technology, Link corroborates her suspicions by offering evidence of the strange things he’s seen with his own eyes in some of the city’s more out-of-the-way places.

Ganondorf (visual reference)
He works at a prestigious investment firm that specializes in technology. He’s only around thirty years old, but he’s inhumanly good at what he does and has managed to become extremely wealthy. Unlike Zelda and Link, Ganondorf was never in doubt that magic exists, mainly because he himself is a powerful wizard who is able to control both hardware and software. He knows what ancient technology is and what it can do, and he’d like to figure out a way to make it profitable. When his path crosses with Zelda’s, he becomes interested in her research, and he inadvertently becomes friendly with Link in the process. He’s an intense and unpleasant person, but being with Link and Zelda mellows him out and helps give him a sense of humor and perspective.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’m afraid that I may have misrepresented this story as a lighthearted adventure. It’s a psychosexual melodrama with some fairly dark themes.

Link is smart, hard-working, attractive, and charming, but he doesn’t come from privilege, so he’s been jumping from one pointless temp job to another. He does good and interesting work on social media, but he can’t monetize it, which makes him bitter. He doesn’t feel as though he’s allowed to express negative emotions, though, so he comes off as fairly shallow. Later in the story he is going to snap and go feral.

Zelda was horribly abused as a child by her family, who tried to use psychiatric medication to control her. She represents a conflict between science as an incredible driving force of civilization and science as a means of social control, but she’s also my vehicle for working through my own experiences with how I’ve been dehumanized by the mental healthcare industry.

What’s going on with Ganondorf is something of a spoiler, but it’s distinctly unpleasant. On top of some Akira-style body horror, he’s an immigrant in a country where there’s a distinct possibility that the police could arrest (or even murder) him for no good reason. Even though he has an excellent grasp on human psychology, he sees empathy as a luxury he can’t afford, and the way this mentality influences his behavior toward Zelda can be creepy and uncomfortable.

I don’t openly talk about mental illness, but Zelda and Ganondorf are both coping with intense trauma. Neither of them is mentally “healthy,” and I don’t clearly signpost their toxic behavior as such. There’s no violence or angst or abuse for the sake of being edgy, but there’s not a lot of healing. Their character development goes from “bad” to “bad in a different way,” with “empowerment” being an unhealthy but necessary response to horrible circumstances.

When I started writing, I told myself that I would allow this story to become as dark as it needed to be, and it has gone to some places.