It’s hard to put numbers on a fandom. Different social media platforms, inevitable overlap, and the fact that plenty of fans don’t participate, make it hard to say how many Fannibals (Hannibal fans) there are. Based on educated estimates, and the fact that NBC’s Hannibal was a fairly niche show, we know we are comparatively pretty small. That’s understandable for a ‘dead’ fandom, two years after cancellation. However, the obsession with the Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter relationship (affectionately known as Hannigram) never dwindles. What is the reason that Hannigram is somehow the 11th most popular ship on fanfiction site AO3? How do you explain why there are over 16k works and counting listed there under Hannibal (TV)?
Gold package tickets for the Starfury: Red Dragon Con 4 next February sold out in a day. Those for the previous event, RDC 3, sold out just as fast after star Hugh Dancy was confirmed as a guest. If anything, interest is ramping up amid August’s talk of more seasons afoot. This was something Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller always aimed for and something the fans continue to stick around for. Not even his tweet saying it would take 4-5 years to hit our screens deterred anyone. We can fill that time with fic and art and conventions and each other, just as we have up to now.
Is it perhaps because we celebrate (and even publish) each other’s fan work? Is it because we don’t have ship wars, since “Climate change is real and so is Hannigram”? Or is it that Hannibal itself is fanfiction? Yep. No really. In mainstream media, fanfiction has unfortunately become synonymous with shameful, secret, badly written softcore porn for teens. (*cough* Fifty Shades.) It isn’t. That is just the one that made it big, but it shouldn’t influence what people think fanfiction is about. Fanfiction is playing with characters that already exist in your own worlds, timelines and combinations. Simple.
Bryan Fuller freely acknowledges how his Hannibal fits that bill, with the Thomas Harris books and their movie adaptations as the source material. Yes, there is undoubtedly an aspect of fanfiction that involves exploring a pairing you feel should have been more thoroughly explored. With Hannigram that’s what he did and now we make fanwork of his fanwork. It’s Fic-ception, if you will.
I can’t help but wonder if the special relationship Fannibals have with their showrunner, the rest of the crew, and even the cast, is a big contributing factor to the fandom’s longevity. Such determination to get the show back and such stamina to create and keep creating needs fuel. That fuel is quite simply Bryan Fuller. It is one thing to have a creator who is interactive (and I’m sure there are many others out there like that), but Fuller often tweets fans back and even sent me a hug when I needed one. He mentions Hannibal at any press opportunity he is given. He even supports various fan projects and kickstarters.
Many other important members of the team like Janice Poon, Martha De Laurentiis, Loretta Ramos and a lot of the cast are also part of this warm Fannibal Family. Hugh Dancy considers himself honoured to be part of our community, and that is significant. I am sure there are a few others out there like that too.
What there aren’t so many of are creators and industry people who don’t simply do this to ‘humour’ the fans or get publicity. Fuller and the others are Fannibals, as he said to our table at RDC3 himself. Not only that, but they actively and enthusiastically ship Hannigram. They may joke and obfuscate and troll at interviews about it, but we know the truth. Hugh says Bryan sends him erotic fan art, and Mads says Hugh sends him fics. A chain of total shippers — that’s our big three. In all seriousness, Mads and Hugh made the finale scene of the last episode more Hannigram-y. The way they all talk about it, we have a credible theory that they kissed and Bryan pulled it back to save some for a possible future. *crosses fingers*
That’s not to say Fuller has ANY chill about it. He has a cushion with fan art of Will and Hannibal kissing in his office. He wore a T-shirt with a print of them sharing a bike in an imagined Season 4 in Cuba, during a Skype call to a screening panel. He chose the most NSFW Hannigram badge he could dig out, from a choice offered to him by a friend of mine whose art they featured. When some of us performed our parody musical for them at RDC3, and our Will and Hannibal kiss on the cliff, he led a standing ovation. All the guests, in fact, loved it and happily made one Hannigram joke after another.
This is not common for creators in mainstream media fandom, particularly with a gay pairing. Some writers, showrunners and actors have been known to react very negatively to their male characters being ‘shipped’ by fans — from flat out denying there is a romantic element, to real disgust and anger at the suggestion. These people also perpetuate the idea that fan work is something to be ridiculed, even when it is based on their work and made as a sign of the fans’ love. This is not the way to engage or endear your audience. The tendency to actually skirt deliberately close to these pairings in a movie or show to tease fans — known as queerbaiting — is a genuine issue in a worrying amount of media.
Fuller’s imagining of Hannibal is a breath of fresh air, with LGBT characters already in love as we left the show and a real possibility of Hannigram in future seasons. It encourages the fans rather than stifles and mocks them. Fuller was even quoted as saying that he respects fan writers and artists and views them as his equals because of this. It has made me and countless others in the fandom less secretive about writing fanfiction and more open about the queer aspect. It has bolstered creators’ confidence in their work rather than knock it. The stigma surrounding fanfiction and LGBT media is finally starting to reduce after being given a kind, credible and popular face in Bryan Fuller.
Bryan Fuller has helped make slash cool. He took the existing Will Graham/Hannibal Lecter relationship from a book he loved (Red Dragon, which by the way was being shipped way back in the day before this adaptation), switched up some timelines, wrote a pre-canon AU expanding out scenarios he wondered about, created some original characters, genderbent some others, and made the central relationship a homoerotic romance. Now tell me, if that’s not fanfiction, what the hell is?