The Merchant and the Toad King

A fairy tale inspired by the video game OFF, by Mortis Ghost.

~

Once upon a time…

~

He was a merchant by trade, and so was inclined to wander. This, he knew, was merely a story; it didn’t matter what brought him here or what had led up to this moment. The fact was that he was here, and that there must be some reason for it, or else he wouldn’t have wandered this way.

So the merchant cheerfully made his way down the road. There was a city ahead, and where there was a city, there were customers. And where there were customers, there were credits to be had. Beneath a smiling paper mask, he whistled. True, he had no say in where he was going, but there was hardly any sense being morose about it.

“My ears, I suspect, have caught some sort of melody. I must say, it has been an inordinate amount of time since I have heard such an optimistic sound, particularly in a place inhabited only by the despondent.”

The merchant looked around as he heard the voice, but there was no one around him. His gaze abruptly shot down as he felt something brush his legs, and he tilted his head in amusement as he saw the white cat.

“Was it you who said that, my friend?” he asked, leaning down to scratch its ears. Its head pushed against his hand with a purr, revealing a mouth stretched out into a hideous grin. The merchant didn’t mind; he had seen worse in his travels.

“Indeed,” the cat replied, moving to rub the merchant’s leg again. “While I am, for all intents and purposes, your average feline, I do have the occasional tendency to voice my thoughts.” He sat and absently washed an ear with a chuckle. “I have been told I have an inclination to loquaciousness, though.”

The merchant, well-traveled though he was, had never seen a talking cat. So that was a bit exciting, wasn’t it? Perhaps this story would be a fun one. He smiled beneath his mask and set his pack on the ground, digging inside.

“I think I might have something for you.” He dug for a few moments more, then pulled out a tin can. “Aha! Here we are.” He opened the top, then set the can down. “A bit of food for you. I’ve always been fond of cats, so consider this a gift.”

The cat’s purring grew louder, and he eagerly dug into the food. The merchant sat back on his heels as the cat ate, chancing the occasional stroke of his soft fur; the cat did not object to the attention. Eventually, food finished, the cat sat back and took a few moments to groom himself before looking to the merchant.

“Well, my masked friend, it seems we are at a crucial junction. You have shown me kindness, and now it is time for recompense on my part.”

Aha. He knew what kind of story this was. “You’re sending me on my quest, then,” the merchant said.

“I see my new friend is of an intuitive nature.”

“Naturally. We’re in a story. We do each other a good turn here, and now the strange creature—no offense—gives me the direction to either ruin or fortune.”

The cat’s tail flicked, though more out of curiosity than annoyance. “Well-spotted, merchant.” He stretched, then walked back over to sit beside the merchant. “In that case, allow me to enlighten you as to what you will be encountering posthaste.”

~

lived an evil king. His face was so repulsive that he was nicknamed the Toad King.

~

“The city you see before us is gripped by a vicious monarch. This king has stepped beyond his role, enforcing an iron reign so vindictive and paranoid that any who dare question him is executed with exceptional swiftness. None may leave, few may enter, and the denizens of this miserable husk of a kingdom live in constant fear.

“Indeed, the very wickedness of his actions have rendered his visage horrifically similar to a frog. Outside of his dominion, he is referred to as the “Toad King,” a moniker that will send his majesty into a fit of rage so chimeric that any that dare encounter him are instantly annihilated, without regard for their station or innocence.”

The cat peered up at the merchant, whose eyes, the only visible part of his face, had drifted to the city. He set a paw on the merchant’s knee.

“You may, of course, avoid this city. There are roads that lead elsewhere.”

“Yes…but that would make for an awful story, wouldn’t it?” The merchant stood up and picked up his pack. “Besides, I don’t like the sound of this king. Someone ought to speak with him.”

The cat purred again. “Ah, so I have indeed found an intrepid hero.”

“No. You’ve found a merchant.”

The cat chuckled. “Of course.” He began to walk, the merchant following. “I can take you up to the city gates. After that, I’m afraid, the path you take will be a solitary one.”

“That’s quite all right. I’m used to travelling alone.”

The pair walked in amiable silence for quite some time and it was, unsurprisingly, the cat who spoke first.

“It is, of course, in my species’ nature to pry, so I must ask if your mask is necessary. I’m concerned that it may impede your progress once you enter the desolate city.”

The merchant smiled, though the cat couldn’t see it. “I disagree. Provided you wear the right one, a mask is a wonderful thing for making friends. For instance…” He once again set his pack down, digging out some supplies. A few scribbles on a piece of paper, a few snips off the top, a string expertly threaded through the sides…he knelt his head down and quickly swapped out the masks, allowing no time for his face to be seen. He looked up at the cat, a paper feline face matching his permanent grin. “Now look, I could pass for your brother. Miaou.

The cat blinked in surprise, ears pressed back, but he relaxed after a moment. “How clever! I’m afraid that position is already occupied, but I am nonetheless impressed. Perhaps your masks will serve you well—though perhaps not that one. After all, there is reason as to why I may only accompany you to the gates.” As the merchant changed masks again, he continued, “Again, my inquisitive nature yearns for answers. Why is it, my mercantile companion, that you wear a mask to begin with?”

The merchant chuckled as he picked up his bag. “That’s not relevant to the story yet. Be patient.”

The cat looked at him with amusement. “And here I thought I was alone in my penchant for mystery.” He sat down as they reached the city gates, tail flicking at even intervals. “And this is as far as I may take you, my friend. You have my most earnest support in your progression, and I do hope to see you at the other side of the city.”

The merchant gave the cat a nod, somewhat sad to see him go, but turned and entered the city gates. He peered around the city. The cat hadn’t been lying; it looked as though a war had been fought in here, with people peeking out suspiciously from ruined houses. So, not many credits to be had here. But it wasn’t like he could leave at this point.

~

One day, a masked man…

~

He set his bag down, and with rubble and wood, he constructed a makeshift stall. He leaned against it, smiling mask greeting the one or two people who walked past him. One person, gray and haggard as the surrounding buildings, stopped.

“What are you doing here?” the man asked, eyes darting about. The merchant gestured to the knick-knacks on his stall.

“I’m selling things. If you have some credits, I’d be willing to work something out.”

The man scoffed. “We’ve no use for swindlers like you here.” He left.

The merchant waited.

Next came a woman. She might have been pretty if, like the man, she wasn’t so gray and haggard. She looked at him with fearful eyes.

“What kind of useless mess is this?” she asked.

“I’m actually quite necessary. Every city needs a shop,” the merchant replied serenely.

“You’ll be arrested!” she cried, and quickly hurried away.

The merchant waited.

Finally, another man walked by. This one wore a badge, and he looked at the merchant with hateful eyes. “Outsiders are not allowed to bring their business inside the city,” he said harshly.

The merchant snapped his fingers. “Oh, of course. One second, officer.” He knelt down and dug in his pack. After a few moments, he popped up again, now with a mask as gray and haggard as the citizen’s faces. “But as you can see, I’m no outsider.”

The officer blinked and stepped back, but seeing the merchant’s face, of course there was no crime. He huffed. “Even so, be sure you get your proper registration. All new businesses must go through the king.” He walked away quickly.

So. Here was his chance.

~

…met the king during an audience.

~

It happened that the king was holding an audience with the people today. That, of course, was frightfully good luck, but the merchant remembered that he was in a story. With his pack secured on his back, he made his way to the town square.

The king was, indeed, hideous. His girth barely fit on the ornate throne—the only thing in the square that was not gray and broken—and his cruel mouth stretched across his bloated face. Beady eyes that couldn’t quite focus glared out at the sea of people ahead.

Really, he did look a lot like a toad.

The merchant made his way through the crowd; no easy task with the massive bag on his back. He stopped as the king began to speak.

“My loyal subjects,” he called, voice wet and mushy as it boomed against ruined walls, “bound to me by patriotism and love, I fear that I have found a traitor amongst you. This is why this audience has been called; like a father, a good and loving king must remind his people that goodness is rewarded, but wickedness is punished. And so, I bring out this wicked rebel, who had planned my own death in order to launch our wonderful city into anarchy!”

Behind his mask, the merchant’s eyes widened as a person, as gray and haggard as all the others, was brought onto the stage. She looked very small compared to the Toad King, but her face was blank. The king heaved himself up.

“And now you all shall see what the wicked reap! The just punishment of those who conspire against me!”

He opened his mouth wide, far wider than he should have been able to, and the two guards on either side of the woman lifted her up. She was set easily in the king’s gaping maw. He shut his mouth with a sickening crunch and a slurping swallow.

Now, then, that was quite enough.

The merchant, naturally, had something in his bag for a situation like this.

~

He said the following words to him: “Greetings, wretched monarch…”

~

The merchant pushed his way forward, pack left behind him and a gleaming sword in one hand. He couldn’t tell you why he had it, but convenience in a story was far better than reason. In his other hand, he held paper, string, and a marker.

“Greetings, wretched monarch!” he called above the people. “I have need for an audience with you!”

The king, mopping his mouth after a burp, looked around with wild eyes. “Who is saying that? Who speaks out of turn in my kingdom?”

“None but a humble merchant!” the merchant replied, pushing his way past the last row of people. He held his sword in front of him.

~

“…leave this land at once, or perish by the tip of my blade.”

~

The king sputtered at the sight of the sword. “You…you…”

“I have seen enough to know that you are anything but a noble and loving king,” the merchant said. “So leave this land at once, or perish by the tip of my blade!”

“Guards! Seize this…this assassin!

Soon enough, the merchant was surrounded by guards. Not wanting to spill innocent blood, he didn’t slay them. It wasn’t as though that would help the story. Instead, he willingly let himself be brought up to the stage.

“Drop your weapon,” the king spat as the merchant was brought forward. He obliged; the sword fell with a clatter.

~

The King replied: “I am the king, and you are my subjects. You are not to go against my will.”

~

The king turned to look at the people crowded in the square. “As you all can see, another one of you has risen up against me! This one has gone beyond the scope of mere speculation, and has actively threatened my life. Again, I remind you, my people, that I am the king and you are my subjects! What I have in mind is the best for you and your home! You are not to go against my will!”

As the king spoke, the merchant freed his arms from the guards—they weren’t holding him very tightly; if the poor woman earlier was any indication, most citizens met their fate without a fight. He scribbled on the paper, threaded the string through it, then knelt his head down as he swapped out his masks. He stood up straight.

“But I am no citizen!” he called to the king. “Rather, I am the king himself!”

Indeed, the merchant’s mask now resembled a frog. The guards stepped back in fear; to think, they had apprehended the king! The king sputtered in shock.

“That’s not me, you idiots! That is the assassin!” he screeched to his guards, but none replied. How were they able to tell who the real king was? Both looked like toads! They didn’t want to take the risk.

The merchant picked up his sword and stepped forward. He tilted his head at the Toad King, who continued crying for help.

“You and I really aren’t all that different,” he said, cutting the king’s pleas short. “We’re both repulsive to look at. But I have the decency to wear a mask.” He lifted up his sword. “That’s why I’m the hero of this story.”

~

And so the Masked Man slew the King with his mighty sword.

~

The blade sank deep into the king, too deep for the merchant to be able to pull it out. He stepped back as the king flailed, blood seeping into his spit and spraying at the horrified crowd. The merchant quickly jumped off the stage and grabbed his pack. A wanderer like himself knew when it was time to leave.

He debated pulling off the mask and showing the town his own hideous face, to give some lesson about how the hero can be just as ugly as the villain. But the story was over, and his role was complete. It was time to wander somewhere else.

Amidst the pandemonium, he slipped out of the town gates. The cries of horror from the town faded as he walked, and a white cat soon bumped up against his leg.

“I see your visage has once again transformed,” the cat said, grinning up at the merchant. “It looks to me that it is a token of your success, hero.”

The merchant adjusted the bag on his back. “It was a means to an end. But I do think it suits me.”

The cat sat down, prompting him to stop. “And where is it that your story guides you now?”

The merchant shrugged. “Nowhere. My time as the protagonist is finished. I think that now I’ll just be a necessary merchant somewhere else.”

The cat’s tail flicked. “Well, if the offer sounds tempting, my usual residence is, in fact, in need of a merchant before the next protagonist arrives. It’s a far walk from here, unfortunately. Cats, you know, enjoy wandering far from home, but I am quite exhausted and ready to see my brother.”

The merchant smiled beneath his mask and knelt down to scratch the cat’s ears. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Where do you live?”

“The wide world I live in has no real name, but my pocket of dominion is referred to as Zone 0.”

The merchant’s head tilted. “I’ve heard of it. Someone I know lives there.”

“Ah? May I inquire as to whom?”

“It’s not relevant to this story.” Carefully, he picked up the cat, setting him on his shoulder. “And what should I call you?” he asked as the cat climbed up to the top of his pack.

“I am commonly referred to as The Judge. You will certainly need a similar moniker should you decide to stay with me.” The cat—the Judge—purred as he kneaded the top of the bag. “Perhaps the Hero?”

The merchant laughed. “Definitely not.”

“The Merchant, then?”

“I’ve been that for far too long.” The merchant began to walk along the road, looking up at the Judge. “I think it’s high time I’m referred to by my name. Call me Zacharie.”

The Judge looked down at him curiously. “If we are completely shedding formality and tradition, then I suppose it is only fair that I return the gesture willingly.” He stretched and yawned, maintaining perfect balance as only cats can, and curled up on the pack. “My name is Pablo. Since it is clear that we have progressed from mere amiable companionship to what would appear to be friendship, it is only natural that you refer to me as such.”

Zacharie smiled beneath his mask, and he reached up and behind him to scratch Pablo’s ears before following the road ahead.

Well, that had been fun. Now on to the next work of fiction.

He’d always thought it’d be interesting to be in a video game.

~

The End.

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Oswald

There are days where the weather seems rife with magic. Days where the air sinks into your bones with something heavier than rain and cold, or where the sun turns a rain shower into sheets of gold. My grandmother, a child of an earlier time, called this fairy weather. The air is full of change, she told me, and change is what draws spirits in.

So it should be no surprise that it was in such weather that I met Oswald.

It was after my wedding, and the misty, dark weather suited my gloomy mood. The marriage was for convenience, not love, and though I did not hate my husband, I resented him for bringing me to this place. Instead of London’s smoke, which burned my lungs but reminded me of the people surrounding me, our home was surrounded by fog from the grey sea not far away. There seemed to be no people near us; the dark, twisted shadows of trees were the closest we had to neighbours.

Oswald found me in the midst of my loneliness, on a day where the air, heavy with change, clung to my skin. I had wandered away from the house, ignoring the chiding and warnings of ague from the old housemaid, to search for some form of life beyond the trees. I was rewarded with Oswald.

He was a curious thing, made from what seemed to be the same mist that surrounded us, and his face formed by wisps of smoke, never quite formed, constantly undulating. However, his expression never changed, not even as he greeted me, and yet I found comfort in it. I knew he was a friend to be had, and I was right.

He became the contact I craved; he was not human, I knew, but he spoke to me in the lightest whispers, comforting me and making me laugh. He knew what it was like to be in a strange place far from home. His face never moved, and his voice never changed from the gentlest whisper. Yet I understood him just the same as he understood me. Indeed, I drew more warmth from the static smoke of his features than I ever did from my husband’s smiles.

We spent the grey spring and faded yellow summer together. As my husband turned to work, I turned to exploration. Oswald guided me through the fields and forests around us, told me secrets of his world—the world beyond, as he called it.

“Where I am from is very different than here,” he whispered as we walked along the moor. The sun was out today, and his misty body had taken a golden hue. “For instance, we do not know charity. Everything has a price.”

“I do not understand.”

Oswald was silent for a long moment. “I do not give something for nothing. Even now, I would need payment for giving you my time.”

I frowned. “You’re saying I owe you for your friendship?”

Oswald turned his face to look at me, and he did not speak for a long time. Finally, I could almost imagine his still line of a mouth curving up.

“Do not worry. Your presence is payment enough for this.” He looked away. “Come, this way. I will show you where the nettles grow.”

One day, as we dallied by a river deep in the nearby forest, I asked how a being like him came to be called Oswald; it was a friendly name, one that I trusted, and yet I could not imagine it belonging to someone from another world. He found this funny; his laughter scratched in my ears. Oswald, he explained patiently, was not his true name, but one he used for my convenience. His true name was not easily understood by those like me.

I mulled this over, looking at his still, ethereal form as my toes dipped into the cool water.

“Are you an angel?” I finally asked. “Or a fairy?”

He contemplated this for a long time. “Both are close,” he finally said, voice soft as the leaves rustling above us. “But not quite.”

Even without knowing precisely what he was, I never wanted to leave him. Like a child, I routinely had to endure boiling-hot baths and scoldings about muddy shoes from the housemaid for staying out so long. She didn’t understand that Oswald couldn’t come inside.

For months I lived in this dream, talking, leaning, finding the charms of this cold, grey landscape with Oswald. But this all changed when I was with child.

I was not allowed to spend time outside, for both my health and the child’s. I felt I was going mad, cooped up in this stuffy house without my Oswald to talk to, to sympathize with me as I endured the sickness of pregnancy. When I could escape the housekeeper and my husband’s watch, I would steal off to the fields and forests and search for my friend, calling his name until my throat was raw. He never came.

More lonesome months passed; eventually I was too weighted down from the child to move much at all, and my confinement was increased to where I was completely bound to my bed. The child, a little girl, finally did come, but only after hours of agony. After causing me so much pain, I did not want to even look at her, but as a dutiful wife, I had no choice but to take her to my breast, caring for her as mothers are expected to.

My daughter was a sickly thing. I suspect this is in part because of my resentment toward her, which did not lessen. Regardless of the reason, she did not grow much in the weeks after her birth. The doctor was called in, and he insisted on caring for her outside when possible. The country air, he told my husband, was made for strengthening the weak. With a few months of sunlight and grass, she would be just as hearty as the children in town. So I sat with her in the sweet spring air, still playing the charade and whispering lies of how Mother loved her.

One day, the air was heavy despite the golden sunlight breaking through the clouds. I felt it with each breath, sinking in my lungs like a weight. This was when Oswald returned.

He came to me as I rocked the child to sleep, just as silently as he had met me. I began to weep when I noticed his gold-tinged mist. He looked just the same, face as static as ever. I was certain he was glad for the reunion as well, but he would not let me greet him.

“Your child is sickly,” he said to me, voice as soft as a light rain. He floated closer, his barely formed hand drifting toward the cradle, and yet he did not touch the porch. “She will not last the year.” His face tilted up to look at me, and then he drifted away.

“Oswald!” I leapt from the porch, hurrying after him. My feet sank in the soft earth, still slick from earlier rain. He stopped as I reached him, and I whispered, “Why did you not come to me? I looked for you! I was so alone.

He did not turn around. “I told you how my world works. I do not give something for nothing; you could not give me your full attention, so I could not give you mine.”

Again I found tears stinging my eyes. “Because of the child? I don’t want her!”

Oswald was silent, but he turned to look at me. For the first time, I saw his features flicker with the most subtle change, but only for a moment. Finally, he floated back to me.

“Please, Oswald,” I whispered, breathless as my fear and hatred of the child bubbled in my chest. “Please, help me. I will do anything.

The silence that passed was all-consuming; all I could hear was blood ringing in my ears. Finally, his head tilted forward. “Do you trust me?” he finally asked.

“Of course, I do.”

He was silent again for a long stretch, then his arms, nearly invisible against the fog that rose from the grass, reached out to me.

“I will help. For you,” he whispered, “I will do something for nothing.”

I do not recall what happened next, only that I awoke as I heard my husband call my name. My hands felt like ice; the wetness of the mud had seeped through my silk dress. I realized I was by the stream where Oswald explained his name; it was gorged and swift with water from the winter’s rain. My daughter was in my arms—cold, wet, still. Her wan face was tinged blue.

Oswald was not here.

I had not moved by the time my husband found me, with the housemaid and two officers following. The maid wailed over the baby, tearing her from my arms. The officers grabbed me roughly, hoisted me to my feet with mutters of “infanticide” and “hysteria”. I broke from my trance, began to scream and twist myself in the officers’ grip. Oswald could explain, Oswald would tell them that I hadn’t done this, even if I did hate the child. I screamed for him, calling his name over and over and hearing it echo through the trees.

There was no answer.

I was dragged away; there was no way for me to get out of the two men’s hold. As we crossed the field in front of the house, I saw a ghostly shape nearby, almost invisible as rain began to fall.

“Oswald!” I screamed, twisting again. “Oswald, help me!”

The shape turned to look at me. His whisper carried across the field.

“I have already done something for nothing. My end of the deal is complete.”

I went limp in the policemen’s arms, and for the first time, his smoke-like features shifted into a new expression. As I was pulled past him, all I could see was the grin split across his face, too big and full of pointed teeth.

Geeking In: How online fans are the future of media and media marketing

 

Once dismissed as socially inept nerds, fans are taking the lead as this generation’s most successful creators. While there has always been the odd story of fans who end up taking the helm of favorite TV shows or adapting their favorite work into a movie, many new faces in the entertainment industry are using their knowledge from years of participating in online communities to market to the global internet audience, as well as keeping their own fandoms somewhat in line.

Recent years have seen a boom in the acceptance of “fandom,” that is, a community of fans. Comic conventions have gone from a punchline to mega-events that require a lottery just to get in, there are countless articles on sites like Buzzfeed about “How wrecked were you during the Game of Thrones finale?” and “Seven ways to tell you’re a Cumberbitch.” Even something once as obscure as “fanfiction” has practically become a household term.

So how did we get to this point? Where in the scope of the past decade has it become acceptable to “geek out”? The main answer to this is, naturally, the internet. When the world wide web was still the great unknown to the general public, many fans saw it as a way to gather, creating their own websites or posting their fanwork on sites like Livejournal and DeviantArt. As the internet became more and more accessible, so too did joining in the fun of fandom. That leads us to today: now, many fans who have more or less grown up in these online spaces and seen the shifts in fan communities and interaction, are coming of age and producing their own content with a keen sense of how these communities work.

Perhaps the most public example of this comes in the form of best-seller book Fifty Shades of Grey. Regardless of what your opinion on the raunchy romance is, London-based author E.L. James has been completely upfront with the fact that it began as a Twilight fanfiction. While it is already rare for a fanfiction writer to “make it big,” much less into a novel that has sold over 100 million copies worldwide[1] and spawned a movie series and sex toy line, it’s even rarer for them to actually admit that it began as a fanfic. And yet James has no qualms mentioning it.

“Well, it all started way back in the day when I saw ‘Twilight,’ the film, and I loved those books — I could not put [them] down, absolutely avidly read the books,” E.L. James said in an interview on “Katie,” Katie Couric’s talk show. “This switch was flipped. I had to write — started writing, wrote a novel, then I discovered fan fiction…[I] wrote about Edward and Bella and then decided to write about Christian and Anastasia. I took the fan [fiction], and a friend of mine re-wrote it and I thought — if he could do it, so could I, and now I am here.”[2]

James even goes so far as to put this backstory up on her personal website. Regardless of individual opinions of the book, her success and openness about her past in writing has opened up a new wave of potential writers (and agents) who can see their fanfiction transforming into original works.

In addition to Fifty Shades and other books such as Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, the once heavily maligned group of fanfiction writers are shaping up to be the popular, original novelists of the next ten years rather than merely running fan magazines or writing something for a company-approved spin-off novel.

However, while the internet is just beginning to be seen as a source for new talent, it’s more importantly become a place to take seriously when it comes to marketing. Many fans who grew up in the age of internet fandoms have a keen sense of the international aspect of the web; it’s now nothing special to discuss the latest Star Wars movie with someone in Bangladesh from your home in Seattle with a dissenter from Norway. As a result of this global recognition, they are able to market their work for the internet community at large rather than simply the demographic of a set area.

With entertainment and media becoming more and more global rather than regional, this is an invaluable skill to have.  It’s not enough to appeal to a target audience, but to instead be ready to market it, however indirectly, to the world. One of the most notable, recent examples of this comes from the show “Gravity Falls,” created by Alex Hirsch. While intended for an American audience of 8-12 year olds, “Gravity Falls” has reached worldwide audiences—its series finale, aired earlier this month, clocked in 2.9 million views in the US alone, and the series as a whole has become number one in total views on record for a children’s show[3]. While the show itself was enjoyable to fans, what gave it the extra punch into worldwide success comes from its use of “easter eggs” (special nods to previous episodes as well as other shows) and secret codes hidden in the show.

“I’ve always been a fan of shows that gave little hints to regular watchers, and I wanted to do the same thing with Gravity Falls,” Hirsch said. “But I never expected [the fans] to go so far with it! So I made things harder, and within an hour, they would find the answers to what I’d hidden.”

This mutual understanding of the fans wanting to find things and the creator wanting fans to work hard made it possible for fans to connect even more with Gravity Falls, as well as helped to create a tighter community. With these interactive elements, online communities began to form around the show, and soon enough people from all over the world were discussing and, more importantly, watching the show.

As if this wasn’t enough, Hirsch took his involvement with fan communities a step farther. He has done two Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions on the message board site, Reddit: one as himself and another surprise visit as the main antagonist of Gravity Falls, Bill Cipher. Both of these AMAs gave more dedicated viewers a deeper look into the world of Gravity Falls as well as behind the scenes information straight from the source. Additionally, Hirsh regularly held contests related to “Gravity Falls” on Twitter, offering prizes of personalized messages from the characters (of whom he voices four of the mains) and often displaying all entries on his page, ushering in a sense of community with the creator of the show himself.

As lines begin to blur between social media and entertainment media, online fans are becoming a more crucial demographic than ever to reach out to. And as their numbers increase, more and more communities can spot the difference between pandering and “hype”. As we can see, fame can pop up merely because of involvement with a fandom or because of deliberate marketing based on understanding the current “fandom” market. An example of this comes from game developing newcomer Toby Fox, whose game UNDERTALE became an overnight success. Before UNDERTALE, he was very active in a few different online fandoms. In an interview with The Existential Gamer, he discusses the importance of the Nintendo game Earthbound in his past, because he “was part of an Earthbound fan community and it was a cornerstone of my life.”[4]  In addition to being in the Earthbound community, Fox was well-known in the fandom for the webcomic “Homestuck,” going so far as to have his music included in the series. With the knowledge of fandom mentality and what people look for in independent media, he was able to successfully fund a Kickstarter and produce the game, which itself is full of online and fandom in-jokes, endearing it to those “in the know”. And, given the fact that it’s sold over 1.2 million copies[5] and won “Best PC game” from both IGN and Destructoid—two prominent gaming magazines/sites—as well as numerous other awards during the 2015 gaming award season, the amount of those “in the know” is much more than most would assume.

With the acceptance of fandoms and sheer amount of people participating in these types of fan communities, it’s more important than ever for businesses and entertainment networks to begin studying the trends of these demographics and seeing fans as potential employees as well. The latter particularly seems to be the direction entertainment-focused businesses should consider; not only are fans notoriously creative and attentive to detail, but they know precisely what online audiences will be looking for in way of content as well as advertising. And, as was shown by “Gravity Falls”, a show with a savvy team can create a feeling of community with the fans of their product, letting them know that yes, they’re also fans! They understand the frustration of waiting through hiatuses and know what kind of in-jokes to make for those who look for deeper meaning in their media.

I would say that now, we’re living in the time of the super-fan, and that should be something that is embraced in media circles, from a marketing and hiring standpoint. The more media legitimizes their super-fans, particularly the large number of those online, the more they can begin a symbiotic relationship to gain both views and profits.

 

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/27/fifty-shades-of-grey-book-100m-sales

[2] http://www.examiner.com/article/e-l-james-discusses-twilight-influence-fifty-shades-of-grey

[3] http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/gravity-falls-series-finale-disney-xd-ratings-records-1201711939/

[4] http://existentialgamer.com/interview-toby-fox-undertale

[5] http://steamspy.com/app/391540