Being a Fan for Fun and Profit
Even as a kid I knew I was wired a little bit differently, at least different in comparison to my circle of friends.
Whenever I’d get together with other boys of my age to play with our action figures, they’d get right to battling, slamming their toys together like some weird plastic football tackle, while I’d spend precious playtime minutes crafting a story. Looking for reasons and motivations, digging into the how’s and why’s.
I imagine that’s a huge reason I was such a fan of G.I. Joe back in the day. The immaculately crafted file cards and high octane comic book gave these soulless plastic components a life. They were no longer just toys they were plastic representations of people I actually knew and spent time with in my mind.
To this day, as I work on writing my sixtieth novel due for publication later this year, I credit being a fan of G.I. Joe as the catalyst for living my dream as an author.
In truth, I found my place in the G.I. Joe online community mostly by accident, after all, I’m drawn to media as a form of entertainment when it comes for my love of toys, and in the late 90s there was no real media for G.I. Joe. Instead, I first went online in search of Transformers: Beast Wars fans, and it was only after being chased from various communities with people chanting variations of “trukk not monkey” that I managed to find my place with fellow fans of G.I. Joe.
My love of writing quickly took me to some interesting places among the G.I. Joe community and in the late 90s, early 00s I had created my first website, built on the back of Angelfire where I shared reviews, custom action figures and unfiltered opinions (mostly of the positive variety) of 1980s military/science-fiction action figures. While writing is my love, telling stories is my passion, so this quickly gave way to producing something affectionately referred to as dio-stories, which were essentially online comics, only instead of line art, the scenes were presented with posed action figures.
G.I. Joe’s highly articulated design format was highly conducive to these stories, and producing these online comics led me into the world of fanfiction. Writing fanfiction allowed me to tell tales that I otherwise couldn’t due to the limitations in scope with using actual action figures, sets and a handy copy of Photoshop version 5.5. I was working a night job for the postal service at the time and would come home at two in the morning and work on my fanfic for a couple of hours before bed while my wife slept.
Producing this content led to traveling to G.I. Joe conventions, from which I would report on the latest news and developments for the G.I. Joe brand, which had gained a resurgence at retail and on television and movie screens by 2009. Back in those days, nobody knew the term “influencer” but if they had, I suppose I would have been one, finding various homes in several different message boards, websites and other online communities, sharing how I felt, whether people wanted to hear it or not. It was the best of times and I made many lifelong friends during that stretch of time from 1998 – 2015, friends I still have and treasure to this day.
So how did my fandom and my place as an “influencer” set the stage for the next evolution of my career?
Keep in mind, I wrote articles for my own website, my burgeoning social media accounts, and did interviews for periodicals like USA Today during the years that G.I. Joe: Rise of COBRA and G.I. Joe: Retaliation catapulted the brand into public consciousness. But it wasn’t until summer of 2013 where things would finally move to the next stage.
In May of 2013, Amazon created a platform called Kindle Worlds, which was essentially a large scale licensing agreement between Amazon and several different brands, allowing people to write fanfiction and actually get paid for it.
To my astonishment, G.I. Joe was one of the brands elected for the Kindle Worlds platform, and here I sat with almost three full G.I. Joe novels sitting on my hard drive. I eagerly got to work, rewriting, editing and reformatting the novels into a series of books, and then literally the second Kindle Worlds went live, I hit publish.
That was it. I was an actual, real-life author. People were sending me money to read my words in book form, something that I’d long dreamed about, but had started to believe would never come to pass. Granted, I never made a ton of cash in the Kindle Worlds market, but I had proven to myself that it could be done. Then, 2014 came along and I learned about something called National Novel Writers Month (NanoWriMo) where people are challenged to write fifty thousand words in the span of a month.
That November, I wrote nearly ninety thousand words and completed my first non-G.I. Joe novel a short time later. The hook had been set, I was an author, and my life would never be the same again.
Since then I’ve been exceedingly fortunate to take my love of writing and passion for telling stories and work with a small publishing house to sell my novels to eager readers worldwide. I’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books over the past four years and earned a very steady income, and I fully credit being a fan of G.I. Joe as the catalyst for fueling my creativity and my desire to tell these tales.
Yes, being an author was a dream, a dream that I feel fortunate to have fulfilled, but even better, this consistent writing and consistent exposure to the G.I. Joe brand has offered a wealth of other fantastic opportunities, either through people I’ve met or platforms I’ve been offered, and for the first time in my forty years of being a G.I. Joe fan, it’s provided a possible avenue to contributing to the actual lore of A Real American Hero.
I feel exceedingly fortunate, but also fully acknowledge many of the opportunities I’ve earned have been due to the endless hours of work and vast enthusiasm I’ve displayed for the brand that I love. Back when I started, we were relegated to our own little islands, individual websites and message boards in our private dark corners of the web, whereas now, with social media literally taking over the world, it feels like there’s every opportunity for a fan to turn their love into their career.
It’s not easy, it certainly wasn’t for me, but I’ve finally reached a point where it seems like the countless hours of enthusiastic immersion into 80s nostalgia is paying me back, and there honestly isn’t a better feeling in the world.
These days it’s easy to look down your nose at the concept of being a fan—social media providing an unfiltered glimpse into the hearts and minds of all sorts of people certainly paints fandoms in a precarious light.
However, social media can also have a tendency to reveal the worst and conceal the best, and people who call themselves fans are some of my greatest friends, and I strongly believe it is our responsibility to not slam the door, but hold it open for new people to explore and enjoy the worlds that we’ve all come to love.
In spite of a wave of negativity that is all too easy to get drowned by, I maintain that fandom can also be celebrated and encouraged. From time to time, it can even lead to something larger and greater, and be a life-altering experience.
I’m proof of that.