OTW Guest Post: Sean Anderson

Graphic by caitie of an OTW-themed guest access lanyard

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Today’s post is an interview with Sean Anderson, head of the Ryu X Chun-Li Project, a fan-made 300 page graphic novel which aims to inspire CAPCOM, makers of Street Fighter, to create a romantic storyline between the two characters. Begun on December 31, 2012, the project has contributions from 85 artists internationally, and the final result will be distributed free online on February 14.

You came across the OTW after seeing a PBS Idea Channel video that mentioned us. What about the OTW’s mission spoke to you?

The OTW has an ambitious vision with an unmistakably professional tone held by passionate hard-working people who have put a significant amount of their time and money into the organization. The same is true for the Ryu X Chun-Li Project (RXCLP). Consequently we feel the OTW is worthy of our respect. Also, the cite from PBS Idea Channel, a reputable educational YouTube Channel that chooses its sources of information wisely, is further credit to your organization.

There are fans out there that would like their ideas based on an entertainment company’s intellectual property (IP) to be adopted by the entertainment company that owns the IP. These fans want their ideas to be truly transformative. But that is not going to happen until these fans start reaching for the company’s standards with their work (e.g. a high-quality prototype of their idea to show the company and gauge interest from the public). OTW understands this inconvenient truth and champions it.

When some people discuss fanworks they want to draw a sharp distinction between amateur and professional work. Your blog stands as a testament to the journey of developing a project like this. The Ryu X Chun-Li Project has taken over two years to complete. Do you think a fan project differs from other entrepreneurial efforts?

Staying with the fan who wishes her work to have an impact on the company who owns the IP she loves, there is no difference. You must first produce a high-quality prototype to the best of your ability. That includes putting up or raising the money to hire people to do the things you cannot. Next, show it to the public to garner support. And then, approach the company about your idea with your public-tested prototype in hand.

You have to love the internet. It allows you to contact people all over the planet about your idea. But if you want them to help you, you have to show them you have already done a lot of work–much more than you are asking them to do. I did not just write the people who helped me. In the beginning, I sent them attractive, colorful documents with my idea spelled out with text and lots of visuals, visuals I paid for myself to show proof of concept. I had the first six pages of the comic done and ready to show before I approached anyone on my blog’s list of artists about volunteering work. Later, as I had more content, I made videos and used them instead of documents to show off that content, and I was able to attract even more people. And then, after the artists or monetary donators sent me their contributions, I sent them gifts of art and music (once I had these gifts available), posted their name in gold on my blog, and announced their participation on the RXCLP’s Facebook Page. I tried to make the donators feel as special as their donation made me feel. And, if I may, I would like to take this opportunity to again thank all the monetary and art donators. They not only gave me hope, but the best gift any person working on a project can have: accountability.

Bottom line: if you want a company to take you seriously and you have no clout in the entertainment industry, it is wise to produce a high-quality prototype of your idea, (release it to the public to gauge interest, if necessary), and then, if you can, go talk to the company directly at a fan event or their offices. Company employees–people–respond to the tangible, to a prototype, to a face to face meeting. Maybe. But it is almost a guarantee anything you type up for them in an e-mail or social media post without a prototype to attach is just exercise for your fingers. Social media has helped create a false sense of direct connection between companies and fans. The fact fans can type messages to companies on social media or through e-mail addresses creates the illusion that the company is reading everything fans write and fans as individuals are having some impact on the decisions the companies make. But in truth, companies are extremely busy! Writing an e-mail or posting a comment on their social media page as an individual in hopes of them making a decision to adopt your idea for their IP is like banging your head against a rubber wall: you feel like you are getting through, but you really aren’t.

You mentioned in one of your blog posts wanting to avoid a portrayal of Chun-li as a damsel in distress. Is telling that story differently part of what inspired you to start this project?

To be clear, Chun-Li has NEVER been a classical damsel in distress that needed a man to save her under CAPCOM’s watch. She did need to be rescued from a gas trap in her Street Fighter IV ending. And it is implied she would have died if Guile hadn’t gotten her to a hospital at the end of her fight against Vega in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. But in those two situations, she achieved her mission and defeated Vega before needing to be saved. She was not a damsel in distress, but a friend in need.

That blog post, written back when I was naive enough to feed trolls, was in reaction to some fans who decided to share some of their negative vibes with us because they believed our book, which was not even close to finished at the time, would be like the several “Ryu saves Chun-Li” fanfics they had read in the past.

The fans who decide to troll us about the content of our book tend to fall into three categories. One: they expect us to produce a “Ryu saves Chun-Li” story. Two: they expect us to produce a hentai book full of uncensored sex. Or three: they expect us to produce a book that stars Ryu and Chun-Li only. Hayao Miyazaki said, “If you want your audience to grow, you have to betray their expectations.” And I’m pleased to say we will betray all of the above. We do indulge in some Matrix-style eye candy, Chun-Li does get into a situation she needs help getting out of, and we are not going to be passing the Bechdel test anytime soon, but on the whole we think the fans will be happy. I learned about that Hayao Miyazaki quotation from the PBS Idea Channel too, by the way.

Ryu X Chun-Li Project contributors' country flags in a heart shape around Ryu and Chun-Li kissing

You’re a Canadian who has been living in Japan for 16 years, and this project has received contributions from around the world. What’s your perspective on different countries’ fandom cultures?

My perspective is…limited. I’ve spent very little time in person with fandom cultures. All I know is what I learn from intelligent media and the fans who spend time with fan culture that I communicate with through social media. Don’t get me wrong. I WANT to spend time with these wonderful people, but my family and work schedules have always had to come first, and to be honest, up until the RXCLP, I felt I had nothing to bring to the fan table. I have no skill for cosplay. I can’t win a Street Fighter tournament of any note. I can’t draw. I have no means to produce a fanfilm. Until my drive to start the RXCLP came along, I felt I would be just one more face in the crowd. I’m tired of just being a consumer! When I finally enter fan culture in person, I want to do so with something to share with it.

I have a lot of enthusiastic e-mails from my volunteer artists and donators telling me how pleased they are to be a part of the RXCLP. I strongly believe these generous people would not have given me their work if they did not believe in the goals of the RXCLP and want to see the book it has produced exist.

What has your own fannish history been, prior to becoming a fan of Street Fighter, and what do you plan to tackle next?

I have loved animation and comics dating all the way back to the late seventies, and I’m a big fan of classical literature. And I have always been a sucker for a romantic plot line in all those stories. I know the first fictional couple I ever hoped would get together were Mark (Ken the Eagle) and Princess (Jun the Swan) from the Battle of the Planets version of Gatchaman, and that was when I was five. I talk about it on the project blog. It’s one of my favorite entries.

What do I plan to tackle next? I would love to do a non-profit sequel to this book. If we get an amazing fan response to this first book and then we take our book to CAPCOM and are thanked, but otherwise ignored, we will make our way to a crowd-funding service and attempt to raise funds to produce a sequel. Ryu and Chun-Li falling in love is something fans have talked about since the characters first appeared together in Street Fighter II back in in 1991. With a popular and completed book–one that is now over 300 pages–to show people, we just may have a shot at getting support.

Has this project changed you, as a fan or as a person?

With my experience on Question Quest and now the RXCLP, I have little patience for people who approach me for help with only ideas and no quality proof of concept or prototype to show me, because I see in them someone who wants me to do all the hard work and hasn’t done any hard work or made any sacrifices themselves. I now understand why directors and producers of projects are worthy of so much credit: they are the ones that get the doors closed or slammed in their faces. For every one of the amazing people who helped me, there are twenty-five or more people who said “No, thanks” and they were not always polite about it, or who said “Yes” but then disappeared never to be heard from again. There is a reason I put the names of all the people who helped me in gold letters on the RXCLP’s blog and in the project’s book: to remind me every day how precious all those people really are.

But for all my hard work, the core of this book–the over 100-page main story–would not exist as anything other than text if it were not for the generosity of Team Rotaner’s three wonderful art teams who sacrificed so much of their time and effort to help me make this book real. To them, I offer a deep thanks! Next to them, I am quite small.

And of course, I reserve my greatest thanks for CAPCOM for creating Street Fighter. CAPCOM is more than a company, and Street Fighter is more than a game. CAPCOM and Street Fighter are sources of amazing characters, stories, and inspiration that help people overcome fear and ignorance to accomplish creative feats they never thought possible.

Are there any questions you wish people would ask you?

Is there a question I wish people would ask me? Yeah. One. “Why did I start the Ryu X Chun-Li Project and produce Street Fighter: The Heart of Battle?” Because after almost 100 blog entries, I’m still not sure. To say I did it because I love Street Fighter and its characters is horrifically trite. Every so often as I worked, I felt a pang of guilt. Why didn’t I use all my money and time to feed the hungry? To save some animals from extinction? To spend more time with my family? But the truth is, this book meant so much to me that I would have regretted it on my death bed if it did not exist. I looked around and saw my life ticking away with no Ryu/Chun-Li story at the level of quality I wanted. So, I…panicked? (There has to have been some insanity involved) And, I produced this book. I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t help who (or what) you fall in love with.

International Fanworks Day will take place the day after the Ryu X Chun-Li Project’s release. Why do you think that fanworks should be celebrated?

I think they should be celebrated more–way beyond how they are now. If we want fan works to be recognized by the public and especially by companies who own the IPs we love, we, with the companies’ help, need to do what the “official world” has done. We need our own award shows. We need them hyped up and streamed live (Hey, maybe PBS can help with the first show?). We need to be respectful of copyright, yes! But at the same time if we don’t let fans play with existing IP’s in the non-profit and petty cash realm at least, then we are going to miss out on so much creativity and companies are going to miss out on some great publicity. For those who think fans would be better off trying to come up with their own original ideas, I offer them the words of Mark Twain:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

And Ryu and Chun-Li falling in love is a curious combination indeed!