Writing Fan Fiction: Past and Present

Modern fan fiction has existed since the early twentieth century when the biggest name Hollywood stars figured in stories that appeared in small publications frequently purchased by fans themselves. One popular publishing company, El Gato Negro (Barcelona, Spain), manufactured series of booklets with colorful covers, inside illustrations, and stories about actors. More often than not there would be a whole series of these booklets containing ongoing stories, similar to the film serials of the 1920’s through 1940’s, which were purchased and saved as collectibles. Below is an example of an early work of Hollywood fan fiction:

The Adventures of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

The title reads: “The Adventures of Tom Tyler, The King of the Cowboys” published by El Gato Negro circa 1930, and the booklet is sixteen pages long although the first page starts at page number 113, which is fair to assume this is one of a number of series (the last page of the booklet has FIN at the bottom, which means The End). To complicate matters, there is no indication of a volume number on this particular issue. The first page of this booklet appears below:

First page of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

A few characters in the story are mentioned: Tom Tyler himself, and his pal Chispita – a nickname for his frequent silent film co-star, Frankie Darro. The plot itself is a typical western story involving bandits, Indians, money, and the sheriff. The writing style is simple, and the two illustrations in the booklet (one appears below) provide a visual of our hero in the story.

Illustration of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

Even though this particular booklet is only one of a series, it gives us an idea of what fan fiction was like back in the early 1930’s. How does this translate to fan fiction of the twenty-first century, using a popular actor of the 1920’s and 1930’s? Following is an example, the opening segment of a story set in the west but with some unusual elements not found in your average western:

Damsel in Distress

Tom Tyler of the Cattlemen’s Association was making a call on a client who filed a claim about his stolen cattle. Since it was a local call, Tom left after lunch during the day to visit his client, a Bill Leek, who recently bought a farm including livestock in Arizona. Tom rode on his white steed, Lightning, and because the weather was beautiful, started to sing a quaint little cowboy song. As he rode along he wore a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat, a dark blue button down shirt, jeans rolled up at the cuffs to show off his brown leather boots and silver spurs, and his gun and ammo belt. As he passed by a rocky crevice, he attracted the attention of a young lady with long brown hair, wearing a feminine cowboy outfit: a cotton white shirt with rounded collar, pale blue embroidery down the front on either side of the buttons, and blue jeans with tan ankle boots. She also wore a light blue scarf with a western pattern in the fabric. She looked at the man pass below her, thinking him to be very handsome, and smiled when she saw him smile. Sitting upon her painted horse named Daisy, she scrambled down the rocky crevice and started to follow Tom. She heard him continue to sing and waited until he finished. Being so quiet, Tom did not hear someone follow him until he finished his song. Then she started to sing in a beautiful soprano:

Copyright 2016 “Damsel in Distress” by Mary Haberstroh.

So while the storytelling style here too is simple, it is clearly modern, set outside of time, with the remaining story combining elements from the 1970’s and 1990’s to present-day 2016. Needless to say, fan fiction can be simple or complex, as creative as the writer desires it to be.