In today’s world where there are fandoms thousands of people large literally dedicated to one blade of grass on someone’s lawn, it shouldn’t be surprising that occasionally people will become semi-obsessive over other fans’ art or stories. Sometimes, however, the passion of these small communities begins to grow so fervent that it actually equals or outweighs their love for the original source, resulting in a rare and almost bizarre event we’re going to call fandom fandom. Enter prime example Emma Lord (alias Nine Miles To Go), author of the hit Spider-Man fanfiction Perpendicular, who one day discovered this “strange phenomenon” happening to her by complete accident.
First, a little background. There’s something to be said for the corner of the Spider-Man fandom dedicated to the adoration/occasional worship of one Mary Jane Watson— and that something is that we get a lot of flack for our favorite. In the wake of The Amazing Spider-Man movies there’s been an even sharper uptick in the MJ-related hatred flooding our Tumblr tags as new audiences latch onto the films’ portrayal of Gwen Stacy and reject anything remotely related to her “rival” (because it’s not like these two ladies actually shared a close and meaningful friendship outside of dating Peter Parker or anything—and don’t even get me started on Felicia).
What sets Perpendicular (and to some extent its spiritual successor, Birds of a Feather) apart from your run-of-the-mill fanfiction is that, for one, its author has an actual talent for storytelling. Now, I say this as someone confessing to once writing piles and piles of fanfiction herself (account name? What account name?): fanfiction tends to err on the side of 95% gratuitous OTP and 5% actual content. That’s not to say that these stories aren’t legible or even well-written for their genre (although there are exceptions). It’s just that most aren’t really seeking to achieve the sort of storytelling that sees them published in their own right given a few changed names here and there (although there are… exceptions). In Perpendicular, however, we are given a story that both adapts to The Amazing Spider-Man universe, and yet invokes enough creativity that it could arguably stand alone in its own right. Gwen, Peter, and MJ share a realistic friendship that carries all the real life complications of the young adult world that compliments rather than is eclipsed by the superhero story. To me, this feels like a much truer understanding of these characters than modern day action interpretations. Whenever I read the original 1960’s-1970’s era Spidey comics it always feels shockingly Archie-esque with a bit of superheroing sprinkled in. Yet Emma also writes true to her own life experience without being gratuitous about it; while the reader enjoys details that paint a vivid and not-so-glamorous picture of living in New York as a post grad, one never gets the feeling that this is a so-called “self-insert” story. The MJ of this tale is at once the best parts of the nothing-gets-to-her party girl with a fragile, traumatized interior and the sharp-witted, determined woman we’ve come to love in recent years.
Perhaps it’s all this and more that has then allowed for the author and her creations to have reached somewhat of a celebrity status among MJ-loving circles (yes, there is such a thing). But what’s most fascinating about cases like this isn’t just the celebration of an artist, but the extent to which it has then inspired other artists to create:
you have comics,
gorgeous photo manipulations and gifsets,
a music video,
and a literal powerpoint presentation about why you should be reading the fic, among very many other things.
When I sat down with Emma one-on-one to discuss her small but growing claim to fame, she admitted that she was still a little baffled by it all. Although she initially only began posting her stories to Fanfiction.net after her sister discovered her giant notebooks and urged her to make them public nine years ago, the author actually didn’t begin writing for the Spiderverse until 2012 and then only to write Gwen and Peter stories. One year later, at the suggestion of a reader for an MJ-centric story and the help of some good old-fashioned early adulthood blues, Perpendicular was born. Still, for six months Emma remained in the dark about the story’s success since most of the commotion was on tumblr (a platform she hadn’t yet joined), proving just how independently the community had formed from her direct influence.
Before leaving, Emma told me that the story behind her username comes from when she used to be a runner; during her first big race she tripped, but was encouraged by a fellow runner that at least she now just had “nine miles to go” and it stuck with her. There’s no better summary I can give for how stories that pull from real world emotions and obstacles resonate with us. The summer I discovered Perpendicular I was going through some heartbreak (again) and was stressing over what it would mean to graduate and struggle as an adult. This story made me feel I wasn’t alone in a way that talking about it with other people just didn’t. And isn’t that why we love reading in the first place? What makes a hero great to me is not their powers, but how they teach us to wrestle with the constantly evolving facets of our own vulnerable humanity, a humanity that doesn’t look like just one race, gender, religion, or orientation. Rather than seeing women like Mary Jane Watson consistently depicted as a “convenient, disposable sex object,” it’s refreshing to uncover the complex character beneath and see her treated with care. In an age where Ms. Marvel is a Muslim Pakistani girl, Power Girl is rocking natural Black hair, and Spider-Man himself has been a mixed Black & Latino boy, it’s important to remember the influence that tapping into traditionally ignored audiences can have. But until we find that feeling consistently throughout all nerdom? Well, I guess there’s always the amazing work of fandom to fill in the gaps.
Is there a certain fanwork or fanartist that has transformed a fandom for you in a similar way? We want to know! Connect with us on social media or leave a comment below!