Hey everybody! Welcome to another OWLS post! Don’t remember what OWLS is? That’s simple. OWLS is a group of content creators who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Every month we discuss real-world topics through online tours, sharing personal experiences and analysing pop culture, literature, and other forms of media. Even though we come from all walks of life, each and every one of our amazing members are dedicated to our cause!
I’ve been writing posts for the group whenever I can. While it hasn’t been every month, you can see my previous posts here. But onto today. This month, the topic is…Fantasy. The official prompt is as follows:
In the month of October, we will be exploring the world of fantasy in pop culture. The genre of fantasy focuses on telling stories about our external and internal environments. There are many ways we can interpret the word, fantasy. For example, we can talk about how a fantastical place could glorify what reality should be or the dangers of ideal expectations. Fantasy could also be seen as taking a “wild journey” or a “hallucination” and how that can affect our psyche and well-being. Fantasy can also focus on our personal dreams and expectations and how those expectations do not align with our reality. Overall, our posts will reflect on how we view the fantasy genre and what we can learn about these pop culture mediums.
So, as a theme, I really love this. Growing up, I was always drawn to genre fiction, whether it be sci-fi, horror, or fantasy. In fact, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels were my first book loves. It was the way they affected me that made me want to write myself.
Looking at the sign-up sheet for the tour, I could see that everybody was already planning posts about some awesome examples of the genre too. So, I wanted to try something a little different: how fantasy plays into our love of franchises. In particular, through the medium of certain fan creations: OCs. I want to see how these fan creations work within the bounds of our favourite franchises, what the purpose of them is, and even talk a little about my own experiences with the medium.
As a bonus, I thought I’d include some pics of my reworking the character ‘Carnival’ from my series The Spark Form Chronicles as a Sonic OC. Now, I’m not even close to a pro-artist, so don’t expect miracles here. It was certainly fun though! 🙂
Anyway. Let’s start at the beginning.
What is an OC?
OC is an abbreviation of the term ‘Original Character’. The broad definition is as follows:
“Original Characters or OCs are the characters in a fanwork that are not in the source media, but have been created by the fanwork’s author.”
Now, this can go a little further too. For example, you could have OFCs and OMCs (Original Female Character and Original Male Character respectively). The Harry Potter fan fiction archive Fiction Alley also added the suffixes _W (Wizard) and _M (Muggle).
In short, if you look around, you can find plenty of ways to classify and distinguish different types of OC. At their core though, they are fan created characters, designed to fit within certain franchises. Their use covers the entire artistic spectrum too, from art to fiction, and animation to games. We will mostly be looking at fan fiction here, but I will touch on other stuff too.
What do people think of OCs and why?
Now, that is a complicated question. In general, members of the individual fandoms likely fit into one of two categories: having no problem with your creation, our absolutely hating it.
While internet searches will say otherwise, I rather expect that the majority fit into the former. My reasoning for this is simple: people with extreme views tend to be more vocal. While having an intense dislike of fan characters is not extreme in the same way as outright bigotry, it is as the extreme end of the scale. The internet being what it is, people with a hatred of something will generally be more willing to put finger to key and type up their disgust than those who simply shrug and move on.
As to why people hate them, the reasons can be varied. There is certainly a prevailing view among some that, if you are writing fan fiction (or indeed creating a video), you should stick with using pre-established characters. Now, there is a degree of protecting the sanctity of a universe here. Fans can be purists, after all. The most common concern though is the Mary-Sue effect.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a fictional character that is seen as too perfect and lacking in flaws. The term comes from a character name in A Trekkie’s Tale, which was a 1973 fan fiction set in the Star Trek universe. The characters are usually female, and while the term has been applied to male characters in the past, there are two male equivalents: Gary Stu and Marty Stu. The general thinking is that this character is written – whether intentionally or unintentionally – as an idealized version of the author.
The question is, why does this matter? From a personal standpoint, it doesn’t. There are plenty of characters that appear in an official capacity in different series that would technically fit the term. For example, I’ve seen Anita Blake, the lead character in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Vampire Hunter series thrown about in this context. Series like Buffy and Angel often featured side villains that appeared for single episodes then disappear in overpowered glory.
I think that some readers of fan fiction don’t want to see this kind of character appear though. They would rather have a bit more balance in a story. That’s fine, I do too. For those who spend great deals of time reading fan works though, I can imagine it must get frustrating if everything you’re reading falls into a category you dislike.
When it comes to those involved with the official works, things can also get complicated. For writers, it’s tough because writing a script or book that happens to be similar to a pre-existing fan fiction can potentially cause legal problems, even more so if the new characters are similar too. As a result, you’ll often see writers saying that they don’t pay attention to fan works relating to original stories and characters.
There are also those that have historically hated fan works. Anne Rice, creator of the popular The Vampire Chronicles took legal action in 2000 targeting fan fiction writers. While she was primarily concerned with works including her own, copyrighted characters, that would include works with OCs if they were interaction with Lestat, for an example. It is worth noting though that she softened her approach in the 2010’s, simply deciding to live and let live.
When it comes to artists outside the writing world, those working on the official side of things seem to be more receptive. To give you an example, the excellent Jennifer Hernandez works on the Sonic the Hedgehog comics. She is absolutely open to drawing people’s OCs, and I do believe she has a couple of OCs of her own. William Shatner too occasionally brings up fan works on Twitter, and I’ve not seen him being negative yet.
Why create OCs?
So, in summary, OCs are fan created characters and, while they can be popular, it’s not uncommon for people to dislike them. So, with that all being said, especially with their being more backlash than love, why do people make OCs? Let’s have a look at some of the common reasons.
It’s fun! For a lot of people, creating a fan character is simply a way to have some fun within the bounds of their favourite universe. There are certainly many reasons that we do things in this life. Sometimes, there are deep-rooted reasons, in fact. But we should never underestimate the value of simply enjoying ourselves. Especially in the current tumultuous climate we’re in, just having fun is important. We all need that, and creating an OC is a perfectly valid way to do it.
Practice! Maybe you’re a fledgling artist, starting to work on a new shading technique or wanting to try out some new figure poses. You might feel like you wouldn’t do Angel himself justice, but that’s okay, because you have your own Watcher OC that you can draw instead. Or, you may be an author, wanting to hone your skills. You’re familiar with the Supernatural universe, but don’t feel confident working with the entire cast of official characters. That’s fine, because your OC let’s you explore how to set out a story and work on dialogue for someone that others can’t tell you “doesn’t talk like that on the show.” OCs offer plenty of opportunities to work on your skills using a subject that nobody knows better than you.
Filling the void! Do you love a franchise, but feel like there isn’t anyone in there that’s like you? Or maybe you think that it does a lot of things well, but it misrepresents all the LGBTQIA+ characters? That’s cool, because your OC makes it right. Sometimes, we just want to see more of ourselves in the worlds that we love. The best way to bring that fantasy to life may be to create the very thing you feel is missing.
Wish fulfilment! Why, oh why, did they press the button? Surely someone should have stopped them! Your OC can. No way should those two have gotten together! He deserves far better. Your OC can be that. It may be frowned upon by some, especially when the Mary-Sue factor creeps in, but OCs can be a great way to play out fantasy endings and scenarios. Stories don’t always go the way we want them to, so why not rework it yourself with a new element or two thrown in in the form of your own character? Not to mention that plenty of people have crushes on fictional characters. OCs can explore where we can’t.
Being a part of the world! This is, in my opinion, the biggest reason to create an OC. Sometimes, we just love a franchise or fictional world so much that we want to feel more like we’re a part of it. We don’t live in an isekai anime, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be part of the worlds that we love. What would you look like in the Scooby-Doo universe? What would your servant or master look like if you were living in the Fate/Stay Night franchise? What if there was a half-dragon, half-hedgehog character that loved painting pizzas in Sonic the Hedgehog? Creating your own OCs is a great way to find out!
What about me?
So, what is my relationship with OCs like? I’ll start with my personal opinion on fan creations: OCs, in general, are great!
I could not care less if your character is overpowered.
It matters not if your anthropomorphic animal is a mess of colours.
It makes no difference if you’ve created something that’s all you, or a completely original creation.
I’m not bothered if it exists just to fill a specific role in something else you’re working on.
OCs are cool. Don’t worry about what other people think; you do you, and enjoy your love of these wonderful fictional universes in the best way you can! Be creative and have fun. That’s what matters.
The fact of the matter is, we can get far too stuck on how other people are enjoying these different worlds that we forget the important thing: we all love the same thing. If someone wants to enjoy a series by creating a fantasy representation of themselves or someone else, let them do it.
When it comes to creating OCs myself…I did used to. I think the first time it happened was on a site called Team Rocket HQ. As you can guess, it was a site dedicated to Pokémon’s favourite villains. The site is long gone now, I’m afraid, but it was a mix of translations of official material from Japan and fan fiction. Now, I had a fan fiction on there. It was a sad, Rocket-shipping piece, no OCs involved. When you submitted though, you could also get yourself listed as members of Team Rocket. So, given that we both loved Team Rocket, my brother did some art of the two of us in Team Rocket uniforms! It was great, because for the time it was up and running, we essentially had OCs that prepared for trouble and made it double!
I’ve also drawn many, many, many characters in the Sonic the Hedgehog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle universes over the years. Much like with Team Rocket HQ, it was mostly in my childhood and early teens, and they’re all lost to the sands of time now. For me, it all came down to creating comics and setting new heroes and villains out alongside the established cast. Why? Well, why not! I loved – and still love – both franchises, and they have always lent themselves to you just going wild.
I didn’t make any new OCs for a long time after that though. I didn’t have a problem with people who did, I just didn’t feel like it. I mean, I built myself in games like Smackdown, TNM7, EWR Revenge and Fire Pro Wrestling, but I was actually wrestling in the real world by then, so it wasn’t really an original creation. I was once commissioned to draw someone’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic OC though, so that was cool. I don’t do enough drawing, I think. I should rectify that.
Then, there came a time it was forced. It’s no secret that I had a lot of fun with Sonic Forces. It may not be as iconic for me as Sonic 3 and Knuckles, but honestly, I feel like a lot of the criticisms thrown at it are unfair. One of the key features though was that the story mode saw you creating a character. That’s right, one of the fandoms where OCs are prevalent, gave a way to create an OC in an official title! For the first time in years, I created something built to be part of the Blue Blur’s world. And I loved every moment of it.
Would I design a Sonic character differently outside the game? Yes, because as many options as it gives you, there are finite combos you can make in the game. With total freedom, I’d do things a little differently, I think. It was still cool though. Who knows, maybe when I get back into art, I’ll start with an OC.
Okay, so this is an odd issue. In the furry fandom, we have things called Fursonas. Not everyone in the fandom has one, but the majority certainly do. The question is, are Fursonas and OCs the same thing? Well, not entirely. I do personally believe there’s some crossover though.
Fursonas are generally defined as a non-restrictive representation of yourself or a part of your personality, designed to fit within the interests of the furry fandom. Most furries I’ve seen broach the subject would say that this is different to an OC.
Here’s the thing though. OCs are designed as part of a set universe. Fursonas are designed to be part of a fandom that can encompass multiple universes. OCs are sometimes criticized for designs, whether that be in personality or physical appearance. Fursonas are sometimes criticized for being ‘too colourful and busy’. OCs do not always, but often do (especially when the OCs are used multiple times, and not just for single stories), represent a part of someone or an idealized version of themselves. Fursonas are supposed to represent a part of you or an idealized version of you.
So, they’re similar but no identical. Honestly, to some extent, I do think that Fursonas are OCs. I mean, they’re created by members of the fandom, just like OCs, right? At the end of the day though, I’m not too worried. If people see a clear division between the two, that’s cool. The key is that they should both represent the same thing: fun!
Fantasy is a big part of our lives, and not just the genre. Most of us will have grown up playing make-believe games, which is itself fantasy. Sometimes things like this are there just to have fun. Sometimes, they help us connect and understand, either with the real world and its problems or with the fictional worlds we love.
The main thing, in my eyes, is that fantasy in all its forms is a positive thing. Whether it helps us learn, acts as a form of escapism, or provides a sense of belonging, it’s good for us. So, whether you create your own OCs or not, try not to judge those that do. We’re all just trying to enjoy ourselves, after all.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed that. We’ve had a ton of different posts already this month, and more to come too, so check out the full schedule below. And don’t forget to let me know what you think about OCs too. Do you like them? Do you have one? Let me know in the comments below!
“Fantasy” Blog Tour Schedule
10/6: The Boy Who Stood at the Crossroads of the Fantastic and the Mundane by Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime)
10/12: Jack from Animated Observations
10/13: Megan from Nerd Rambles
10/16: Matt from Matt in the Hat
10/20: Pinkie from Pinkie’s Pokémon
10/21: Flow from Den of Nyanpasu
10/22: Aria from The AniManga Spellbook
10/24: Fred from Au Natural
10/25: Neha from BiblioNyan
10/26: Shay from Shay Taree
10/27: Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews
10/28: Auri from Manga Toritsukareru Koto
10/29: Takuto from Takuto’s Anime Cafe
10/30: Naja from Blerdy Otome
10/31: Crimson from Cute Boys Central