Fan fiction illustrators deepen story and character through art

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Sheila Arla-Vlata, left, and Senefa Malthus, right, pose for the “Snowbirds” fanfic saga. Photo courtesy of Sentinel28II.

Artists often choose more than one medium in which to express themselves, and some fan fiction authors use their talents to bring their fiction to life through graphic art in addition to writing. Three particular authors have united these two art forms, known on Fanfiction.net as RougeBaron, Kat Wylder, and Sentinel28II.

All three write for the sci-fi mecha franchise BattleTech, a future universe where interstellar empires vie for supremacy in five-story humanoid war machines. But these fan fiction tales can also dive deep into the human condition, as well as the scale of war, and flesh out what characterization and action appear in the text.

Giant robots clash in this scene from the Battletech fanfic “Ulfhedinn.” Photo courtesy of Kat Wylder.

Often, it’s the fiction that comes first. “The fan fiction helps me capture the character,” said Sentinel28II. “For instance, if I draw my character Maysa Bari, who I write as a generally bubbly, happy character, that’s how I’ll draw her.”

After all, the narrative often shapes characters, the world they live in, and who they meet. Appearances in art serve to create impact, but not narrative.

“[Graphic art] is my way to connect with the subject of the text,” RougeBaron said. “This habit carries on to my fanfics. The block of text doesn’t feel ‘alive’ without a few illustrations.”

Zoid pilot Saskia rescues children and civilians while zoids do battle. Photo courtesy of RougeBaron.

All three authors have created both types of art for many years, and in some cases, the fan fiction story writing came easier. “It’s a good way to connect with other writers and become a better writer in general,” Sentinal28II said. “The art is just for fun.” As a history teacher offline, he does intensive real-life research to find inspiration for his stories, and his illustrations are a sort of bonus.

Kat Wylder and RougeBaron have both been drawing since an early age. Still, RougeBaron said that he will first “lay down the plot” of a new story, then find a good moment in that story to draw. Kat Wylder also uses her fiction as a baseline for creativity. “My writing definitely inspires my art,” she said.

Being both a writer and illustrator can be demanding on an author in different ways. Typing a story demands plot, character, and setting, while illustrating these stories requires a different skill set and materials, whether pencil and paper or digital image editing.

This piece was drawn as a gift to fellow artist Sentinel28II. Photo courtesy of RougeBaron.

“Drawing and painting have so many different facets to balance at once,” Kat Wylder said. “Color, light, composition, gesture, anatomy—not to mention the pure motor skill.” RougeBaron agrees, stating that one drawing of his required four days to complete.

A picture is worth a thousand words, RougeBaron said, but writing those thousand words can sometimes be quicker.

Graphic art, meanwhile, has the advantage of standing on its own as expressive art, even if a viewer never read the source material. The four illustrations in this article are an example of that, being inspired by the source stories but not always being attached to a particular scene. A character sketch, for example, can show off the subject without needing any context.

“Sometimes, my illustrations are simply art for art’s sake,” Kat Wylder said.

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