What is Frankenfiction?

Image via Editorial Planeta

The remix, the mashup, and the reboot have come to dominate Western popular culture. These texts are the ‘monsters’ of our age—hybrid creations that lurk at the limits of responsible consumption and acceptable appropriation. Like monsters, mashups offer audiences the thrill of transgression in a safe and familiar format. And like other popular texts before them, they are often read by critics as a sign of the artistic and moral degeneration of contemporary culture.

With this context in mind, my research explores the boundaries and connections between contemporary remix culture and its Others (adaptation, parody, the Gothic, Romanticism, postmodernism). It often does so by examining remix culture’s most ‘monstrous’ and liminal texts: Frankenfictions, or commercial narratives that insert fantastical monsters into classic literature and popular historical contexts. In this definition, Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein serves as a touchstone, offering an ideal metaphor for appropriative creativity in the twenty-first century.

Frankenfiction includes direct appropriations of classic literature, like the bestselling Quirk Classics novels, but also literary-historical dramas like the Sky/Showtime TV series Penny Dreadful (2014–2016), the depiction of monsters through an historical aesthetic in Travis Louie’s photorealistic paintings, and much, much more. It is monstrous not only because of the fantastical monsters it contains, but because of its position on the boundary between remix and more established modes of appropriation. Too engaged with tradition for some, and not traditional enough for others, Frankenfiction is a bestselling genre that nevertheless remains peripheral to critical discussions of remix. 

Monster Mashups and the Language of Fandom

fandom-life-printsCalling all fans, acafans, and anti-fans!

I’m currently wrapping up a draft of my thesis that looks at the way intertextuality functions in the monster mashup. I argue that it revives the past in a very specific (and monstrous) way, while at the same time having wider implications for studies in historical fiction, adaptation, and remix culture more broadly. More on that later.

At this exact moment, I’m looking for your help in researching my next chapter. This chapter will examine the way remix culture, with special focus on the monster mashup, deconstructs the relationship between fan, superfan, and antifan. What, exactly, is the distinction, and how do both individual fans and corporations capitalise on these categories? Any relevant sources or information you have on any of these topics would be much appreciated. You can send them to me here in a comment, on Facebook or Twitter, or by e-mailing me at DeBruinMJ@cardiff.ac.uk.

The premise is this. Contemporary culture, we are told, is obsessed with the remake and the reboot. There is nothing new or original to be found. Remix takes this idea and runs with it, creating new objects explicitly out of old ones, and blurring the borders between the original and the derivative. The recent popularity of this creative trend has interesting implications for fandom and fan studies, which has long been concerned with the things fans create (products, communities, artworks) around the intellectual property of others. Beyond questions of legality, what distinguishes fanart from homage, or a fan from a superfan (professional fan), in this context?

Take these t-shirt prints, and the above poster print. Qwertee.com capitalises on specific types of fandom, and targets specific kinds of fans. In addition, the company assumes a positive, even fan-like stance (right down to in-jokes in the copy) in order to sell these t-shirts.

Using examples from the world of monster mashup (suggestions welcome!), in my next chapter I hope to explore how the language of fandom is employed in discussions of artistic appropriation in twenty-first-century popular culture. Monster mashups – in which fantastical monsters run amok in historical texts and contexts – range from actual fan productions to big-budget projects cashing in on fan aesthetics and interests. These texts often construct themselves as the figurative monsters of the creative world, and are marketed as revolutionary responses to copyright law and big industry, or even as anti-fan productions.

In the case of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example, a marketing campaign that started off from an anti-fan perspective (‘making the classics less boring’) was quickly transformed into one that sold Seth Grahame-Smith and Quirk Books as ‘true’ fans (‘the book underscores what we all originally loved about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’). I’m hoping to argue that in the monster mashup, and in remix culture more broadly, the line between fan, superfan, and anti-fan is a fine one.

IMG_4939
Quirk Books delivers some major burn to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — and its fans.

Thanks in advance for your help and suggestions!

The Good, the Bad, and the Book Trailers

http://t-ry.deviantart.com/art/Reading-the-monster-395926279Happy World Book Day (a few days late, and also only in the UK and Ireland)! This week’s post will be a short one, because I’ve got a big deadline on Friday that I should be focusing on, but I’ll try to start you off on an interesting trajectory. Naturally, the part of Book Day most people probably noticed were the pictures of book-themed costumes that popped up on social media, but the official website also shared this list of YA book trailers, citing them as ‘a brilliant way to bring books to life for audiences of all ages – and often encourage young readers to pick up a book they might not usually choose’.

I have to be honest and say that I don’t often watch book trailers, although I know there are actually a lot of good ones out there (particularly for young adult titles). Most times I don’t see the appeal of having a book visualised in that way, given that I tend to be attracted by very print-centric writing styles rather than big cinematic stories. The exception may be when I see something like this video for novel-as-mashup Jane Slayre, which advertises the book while also giving us a look at the way an author expresses themselves:


A few days ago I sent off for a copy of Seth Grahame-Smith’s new book, The Last American Vampire, which is being advertised as the sequel to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I would have ended up reading this sooner or later, given the subject matter, but what ultimately got me interested in having it RIGHT NOW was this book trailer:

Is this not one of the most gloriously ludicrous things you have ever seen?

Some books definitely lend themselves to trailers better than others. Perhaps the reason I enjoy watching trailers for monster mashups is that I’m half expecting each of them to be snatched up by Hollywood. It makes me curious to see how the story will play out on-screen. Maybe it’s the fact that trailer mashups have become a real art, or that I like to see book mashups tackle multimedia crossovers as well as a genre ones. Or maybe it’s just that my treasured Sunday afternoon on YouTube is the perfect stage for the silliness that is this Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters trailer:

Sadly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had no book trailer (than I can find), but the video for prequel Dawn of the Dreadfuls more than makes up for that oversight:

What about you, internet? Any book trailers to recommend, or violent objections to the book trailer industry in general?