Maurer, whose largest recent project has been "Double K," an ongoing fan comic that reimagines super robot anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as an '80s cop show a la Miami Vice, also cited experience as a prime benefit - letting him get pages under his belt as a comic book artist without the pressure of a publishing deadline. However, for him, it went beyond that - above all else, Maurer says that he loves "knowing that people are looking at the crap I put out there and laughing and enjoying it, partially because I've tried to make it funny and well-crafted, but mostly because, deep down, I am a gigantic fanboy nerd and, like all the other fans, want to see my favorite characters running around and having adventures again. That's seriously worth every minute spent working on this kind of thing."
Whether it's for the experience, the joy of the community or maintaining an online presence, there are certainly quite a few people like Matsumoto, Lam and Maurer showing off their fan art for free on the internet. On deviantART alone, seven million of the approximately 75 million "deviations" are classified as fan art - as are 11 of the site's 100 most popular images of all time.
The strength of sites like deviantART, Fanfiction.net and YouTube - that anyone can be a creator and receive instant feedback - is also their weakness: Anyone can be a creator. By Sturgeon's Law, "90 percent of everything is crap." Does the free nature of deviantART help budding artists, or does it just make it harder for the talented to stand out?
Both Maurer and Lam agree that while it's easy to get lost in the noise, the truly talented have a way of somehow standing out of the crowd. "Either an artist is known for their work, or they're known for how they interact with a community, or both," says Lam.
On the other hand, while Matsumoto concurs that the community aspect of deviantART makes it "a great way to get your work out there," she doesn't know if "Simpsonzu" or her other works would have done so well without the fanbase she'd accrued on her own via her old webcomic Saturnalia. "I had the advantage of making some sort of name for myself online first with my webcomic. I don't think I would've gotten so many people to follow my artwork if it wasn't for that. Maybe the Simpsons piece wouldn't have even been so widely circulated if I didn't have a fanbase."
First with Saturnalia and now with Yokaiden, Nina Matsumoto is no stranger to having other people do fan art of her own work, and in fact finds it rather flattering. The sentiment is shared by Lam and Maurer. While Matsumoto thinks that it's certainly crucial for aspiring artists to work on their own original creations, she won't stop drawing fan art anytime soon. Her latest piece to be circulated around the internet was immediately after the U.S. Presidential Election, featuring Barack Obama as Okami's Sun Goddess Amaterasu. (Capcom's blog fittingly dubbed the piece "Obamaterasu.")
On average, there are eight new submissions to the Fan Art category on deviantART every minute - that's 480 per hour, or roughly 11,520 new deviations ever day. Some of them are posted by people like Maurer, Lam, and Matsumoto, who have found success on their own. Some are posted by artists who just want to show the doodles they've done of their favorite characters off to their friends. Then there are the hopefuls, the aspiring artists who are waiting for their one big break to come along - their "Simpsonzu." Until that time, though, they'll keep on drawing and posting their fan art, whether for the experience, the fanbase, or because that is, indeed, just what fans do. Neither Lam nor Maurer plan to call it quits either - "partially because," laughs Maurer, "like most artists who put stuff online, I'm kind of an attention whore."
John Funk can draw a straight line - if he uses a ruler.