Quick prologue: A few weeks ago in our review of fic, we basically proved how fanfiction was taking over the world. Friends, I’ll admit that this new world order got me thinking. How loud do fan artists and writers need to tout their whovian relevance before their work is taken seriously? No idea, my thoughts answered, but as a fan of fans I’ve decided to used this space and my unchecked power to feature some of the most creative and accomplished fan projects that have the potential to elevate the cultures of fan communities out of the depths of the interwebs.
Our first feature has been earned ten fold by fan writer Kimberlite8 and her fully illustrated A Song of Ice and Fire fic , Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hound. Kimberlite8 crafted her 200 page story in collaboration with several probably criminally talented artists which she lavishes praises on below. The novella is of a scale in talent, creativity, and production that I’ve never seen before in the community and I’m really happy to share our interview along with some selected pieces of artwork to dazzle you. Oh, and Kimberlite8 really likes bunnies.
Warning: some NSFW images and spoilers through the latest season of the show and A Feast For Crows.
Q:How would you introduce your story to new readers?
It is a fanfiction focusing on the romantic pairing of Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane (in fandom parlance “Sansan”) from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The plot takes place around a time soon after A Feast for Crows and concerns Sansa having a coming-of-age dream about an encounter between herself and Sandor Clegane. It was prompted by this passage from AFFC which I interpreted as a dream Sansa has of Sandor, of which its erotic nature she is only dimly aware:
And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into the bed his face was scarred only on one side. “I’ll have a song from you,” he rasped, and Sansa woke and found the old blind dog beside her once again.
It is unabashedly pornographic but also interweaves a character study of Sandor as well as the theme of Sansa’s sexual and moral fruition. Readers have called it intellectual pornography. The concept was inspired by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls.
Q: Can you discuss the collaborative process? How did you reach out to the artists?
All of them have Deviant Art accounts so I was able to view their gallery and contact them via that website. There were four that I worked with a great deal.
Alicia de Andres was the first one I approached. She must be one of the earliest Sansan artists. George R.R. Martin has her fan art on his website. I admired her ability to depict motion and emotion with an economy of detail.
DubuGomdori is an ASOIAF fan artist. I became an admirer after seeing an illustration of Lyanna and Rhaegar she drew. Her work is so breathtaking in its attention to detail. Since working on my project, she has illustrated the “Histories and Lore of Westeros” DVD extra section for the Season 3 Game of Thrones DVD.
Jian Guo aka Breathing2004 is a commercial artist based in China. He’s done spectacular fan art for The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fandom. His work is highly stylized and has a stained glass quality. I admire the way he captures allegory, how he combines many narrative threads in a single illustration. His art is really worth a thousand words and then some.
JDarnell illustrates fan art from manga as well as creates her own illustrations of Lolita fashion. For the cover, I knew I wanted it drawn in the manga/art nouveau style of the painter Audrey Kawasaki, who is quite famous in the fine art world and obviously out of the reach of any financial patronage I could muster. I’ve long been captivated by the dreamy, erotically charged style of Kawasaki’s girls. I purposely searched for an artist that could replicate that same feel and I was very fortunate to find JDarnell.
In terms of the collaboration, I conceptualized most of the art save maybe two pieces. So what you see are my ideas, the artists’ charm and craftsmanship. I started with a real life basis for what I thought Sansa and Sandor should look like – it’s important that the characters faces had consistency through various visual styles. I storyboarded the compositions and then sent them to the artist whose strengths best suited my composition. It was a challenging process that called upon me to whittle down a lot of inchoate images in my mind’s eye to the core of what I was trying to express visually and then attempting to communicate that to someone when I don’t have the training to speak in the language of an artist.
Q: Have you seen large scale fan-works before? Did any inspire you to produce Running With the Hare and Hunting with the Hound?
Tumblr’s been a great boon to fandom in that it encourages the intermingling of prose and visuals (often in the form of photo-manipulations) to create a more immersive storytelling experience. I think that platform has trained many fans to visualize stories.That being said, I haven’t seen any large scale fan-works.
My inspirations were from the commercial market. I loved the illustrated novella Dracula, drawn by Anne Yvonne Gilbert. It intertwines text and illustrations on the same page in a cohesive, visually arresting manner. I knew after I purchased that book that I this was what I wanted to achieve – not a graphic novel, not a comic, but a picture book for adults.
My intellectual inspiration was Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls. Moore & Gebbie are adamant that their work was a porn comic. Yet it is undeniably imaginative, ferociously smart, and produced some very beautiful artwork. It inspired my fanwork’s intellectuality, the use of multiple visual styles and the focus on artwork that was erotic and psychedelic.
Q: For future and current fan-artists, can you talk a little bit about how you hosted and marketed the complete book as well as some reception from the ASOIAF fan-community?
This fanwork took me 18 months to complete and a significant part of its frustrations was that I had to develop my own toolkit without any guidance from prior fan works or other people.
I started off with a story I had already written a first draft of; I think this is important as one should have the architecture of the story completed so one doesn’t become stymied by narrative indecision. The second draft of the story and the illustrations were all constructed in Microsoft Publisher which has the ability to operate as a text editor as well as an limited page design editor. One needs a page editor that allows for the layering of text and illustrations on top of one another. I think most design professionals would laugh at MS Publisher (the industry standard is Adobe In Design) but MS Publisher is intuitive to use if you’ve been trained in MS Office products like Word.
For image editing, I used the free desktop imaging program Fotor (its important to download the desktop version as the online version doesn’t save the image at a high enough resolution for a mazagine). This allowed me to apply photo filters and color adjust the artwork. The artwork was the raw component, I still had to crop and manipulate them for various purposes (the cover, the table of contents, etc) or to establish a certain mood. I used various pieces over and over and image editing allowed me to keep the same illustration fresh.
For hosting, this was unexpectedly challenging. I conceptualized this fanwork as if it was a real book – double facing pages, illustrations running across two pages – before I had fully researched how to host it. Technology isn’t setup for double facing pages even though I think there is a huge need for it given the number of published children’s books and graphic novels. I got around this limitation by publishing the work as a pdf flipbook for desktops and as an Issuu emagazine for tablet and mobile devices. MS Publisher allows conversion of its files to pdf. Using Adobe Acrobat Pro, I could turn this pdf into a flipbook by initializing the view. Using Issuu, I could upload the pdf as an emagazine that can read on any device, provided one has internet access (which admittedly is a considerable drawback). The Issuu platform is great – the visuals look glossy, the page turning mechanism is elegant and hosting is completely free. I also published a small run of hardback and paperback copy of the project for myself and my collaborators using Blurb.com’s self publishing pdf-to-print services. Knowing what I know now, I would advise against using double facing pages for future fan artists as it limits the means of distribution. Most offline pdf readers, including Amazon’s Kindle, do not have the functionally to support it.
The reception has been of universal praise. Even my artist collaborators were impressed with the end result despite their familiarity with the project. One comment I keep hearing again and again is in regards to the professionalism of the work. I’ve gotten requests to purchase the fanwork in book form but I’ve declined due to my qualms regarding the monetization of fanworks. However, I am really proud of that I could create something that people are enthusiastic about and that matches what is available commercially.
Q: What about Sansa, Sandor, and their relationship inspired you to create this intricate and introspective character study?
The complementary opposites nature of their personalities. Sansa’s an idealist, Sandor’s a nihilist. They both examine the conventions of their narrow society from different viewpoints, either rejecting them or ennobling them. There’s a complex attraction there that is masterfully developed by GRRM, especially as it doesn’t rely on the verbal sparring thats so prevalent in a lot of romcoms movies. In typical fantasy, the romantic pairing would be Sandor/Arya, like and like, Han and Leia, the mercenary and the feisty princess. GRRM avoids that cliche, and its a breath of fresh air. The protection fetish that is at the heart of their sexual desire for one another is so much more combustible.
That being said, the romantic pairing is problematic. I reject the notion that Sandor Clegane is a good man, a true knight (Martin has created the chivalric ideal in Brienne – he falls short of her). I don’t think those who dislike Sansa necessarily suffer from misogyny, internalized or not.
Their attraction to each other is not boring and I enjoy exploring harsh truths rather than idealizing the pairing. I don’t endorse it as if they were real people.
Q: You explore the duality of Sandor in your story but the ages of Sansa. Can you talk about her changes through out your story?
The duality of Sandor is already implicit in canon. Various people – especially the Stark girls – notice his duality and waffle between calling him the Hound versus Sandor Clegane. He can be kind and protective towards Sansa – he saved her from the mob during the bread riots, he tried to deflect Joffrey’s wrath. But he’s also behaved abominably – he held a longsword to her neck, made frightening, sexually suggestive remarks, and of course that scene during the Battle of Blackwater. Sansa cleaves him in two (a word which I always loved as it means both one thing and its opposite, to join and to bring together). His infatuation with her causes him to question his identity and beliefs. I’ve chosen to make that process more apparent by splitting his personality into Sandor (good guy) and the Hound (not so good guy).
I’ve always been fascinated with coming-of-age stories and the theme of the assumption of adult morality. I think Sansa in particular was so sheltered and yes, foolish at the start of the A Game of Thrones. The aging of Sansa allowed me to explore the notion of fruition, both morally and sexually. I wanted to write about the sexuality at all the stages of a woman’s life: at its inception when desire isn’t so genital, after pregnancy when its frightening in its vulnerability, during old age when its comforting precisely because it is familiar.
Q: I think my favorite part of your story occurs when the Hound and Sandor have contrasting answers to Sansa’s probing questions. Can you talk a bit about your decision to split the character in to two?
There’s been a lot of analysis regarding what was Sandor’s intent when he came into Sansa’s bedroom during the Battle of Blackwater. That scene is so intense because he is on the cusp of his moral event horizon and you are not quite sure if he’ll leap. My personal opinion is that he cannot be sure of what he was capable of if Sansa hadn’t appealed to his drunken sentimentality. We tell a lot of stories about ourselves, often contradictory, regarding moments of shame or during acts of transgression. I regard Sandor as being particularly prone to that because I see him as a bad man who is burdened with a conscience. He’s at war with himself because he can’t kill the conscience nor can he give away to it when his profession and his upbringing demands that he act as an amoral pragmatist in order to survive.
Q: Hare and Hound, like lots of fanfiction, has a lot of sex/lemons/”smut” scenes (though I would argue that not one seems gratuitous), but only in your story could a person ever read a scene where Sansa skin-changes in to Sandor in order to explore the separate body of the Hound. Can you talk about the importance of this scene for both Sandor and Sansa?
I don’t shy away from the smut label. I wrote it for the hairy-palmed, onanistic ladies of the Sansan fandom. So very few forms of entertainment in our society treat women as the subject rather than the object of desire. I – and I’m sure I’m not atypical – seek out fanfiction because its a large, dynamic cultural landscape for the exploration of women’s sexual desire.
Stepping off the pulpit to address your other question… Martin has said that all the Stark children have warging abilities. Yet Sansa’s story in ASOIAF is firmly rooted in realpolitik. I do not believe that her arc in the novels is going to have any supernatural elements. I wanted to explore Sansa skinchanging as I think the ability is there but there will never been any catalyst for her to develop it since Lady died. I read a quote about fanfiction that I thought quite apt:
Every narrator is an unreliable narrator. Especially the ones who seem the most straightforward. Which means there are a wealth of stories not being told hiding right behind the story that is.
Which, I think, gives an inkling of the primary difference between original fic and fanfic: original fic is declarative, saying “here is the story, these are the important events and characters and aspects of the world,” while fanfic is exploratory (even when it’s got a cracking good plot).
I like to think the skinchanging is an enjambment that exists in canon that is ripe for fanfiction exploration with all the lemony goodness that fanfiction readers look for.
Q: Care to share any of your predictions or theories in the upcoming novels?
Well R+L=J (that’s the theory that Leanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen are the real parents of Jon Snow) is a foregone conclusion. I think Dany is Azor Ahai reborn. I think Aegon is the son of Illyrio Mopatis and his wife Serra, who is descended from House Blackfyre. My favorite crackpot theory is that Ser Robert Strong has the head of Robb Stark beneath his helm.
I do think the series will ultimately be about an apocalyptic battle between mankind and the Others and the whole Game of Thrones aspect is a distracting sideshow.
I am working on another fan project, in collaboration with a professional graphic designer, ghostrelic. It is the creation of an ebook library of fanfiction of writers I admire as friends and as artists. I’m a bean counter professionally and fanfiction has been a wonderful outlet of creative energies that would otherwise lay dormant. Fanfiction has hit its moment of cultural zeitgeist. There are pro writers that have come from its ranks, there is a lot of ink written about it, Amazon has tried to find a mechanism to monetize it for the copyright holders and the fan artists themselves. I think we’ll see in the next few years a birth of fanworks that are artistic achievements on par with the very best of genre fiction. The tools are out there for anyone with the time and passion to create. Should anyone have any questions about the process or whatnot I’m more than happy to advise.
I’d like to Thank Kimberlite8 for her beautiful story and for being so kind to delve really deeply for my questions. Again, you can download her story here as well as contact her on her very active Tumblr account
If you’d like to nominate some piece of fan work to be featured recommend them in the comments or drop us a link on our facebook page.