T Campbell's long-running webcomic Fans! is a love letter to fans and fandom of all stripes. When his plucky band of fans aren't gaming or playacting or reading scifi, they're taking down government conspiracies, militant time travelers, and body-swapping scientists.
In the webcomics family tree, Fans! isn't nearly the granddaddy, but something of venerable, slightly kooky uncle with great stories. Campbell launched Fans ten years ago with cartoonist Jason Waltrip (who also handles art duties on Campbell's high school dramedy webcomic Penny and Aggie), and it's crossed over with with similarly long-running comics like Knights of the Dinner Table and College Roomies from Hell!!!. Even with a multi-year hiatus, that makes the archive trawl a bit of a commitment, but it's worth it to see how the series' mythology and characters evolve.
The titular fans are members of the Billberg University Science Fiction and Fantasy Club (at times cheekily termed "Skiffy"). There's Rikk, a shy evangelical Christian and natural born leader; Kath, the club's SCA-loving, power-mad president; Will, an aspiring actor with a love for cosplay and a fear of his own strength; Rumy, a hopelessly romantic martial arts master and apparently a refugee from the manga universe; Tim, a good-natured hacker whose sense of humor and hygiene is questionable at best; Alisin, a self-destructive goth with a checkered past; and Shanna, the token non-fan, whose cynical dismissal of fandom belies her fear of her own imagination.
Appropriately, the first threat the Skiffies face is to fandom itself. When subscribers to various fandoms start launching violent attacks, a politician starts calling for a widespread condemnation of fandom. But there's a sinister force manipulating both sides of the game.
Soon the Science Fiction Club is battling all manner of fantastical menaces. They match wits with their own version of Agents Mulder and Scully. They slip into an epic mystery that follows the plot of Lord of the Rings. There's even a metafictional moment where Scott McCloud explains the history of comics crossovers. But though much of the Skiffies' worldview is informed by the fiction they love, not all of their adventures are sendups of other people's stories. Campbell takes the FBI of the X-Files as a starting point and grows out his own FIB as a government body the Skiffies must reckon – and sometimes work – with. And Campbell's own innovations have the most staying power throughout the series – his rectangular aliens who communicate best with visual artists, his time-traveling generalissima waging war on the infinite timelines.
The real key to Fans!, though, is Campbell's obvious affection for his characters. Most of the Skiffies are college kids, and Fans chronicles their growing up. For some, this means first loves, for others, exorcizing their personal demons. Through their adventures, the club members heal and grow, and it's gratifying to reach its many heartwarming moments. As the cast increases, not every character is as lovable as the core team and not every character is redeemed, but Campbell makes it clear that everyone – from the self-absorbed actress to the abusive hedonist – is redeemable.
And Fans has frequently served as an exploration of fandom itself. Although fandom and imagination are presented as vital to our heroes and their world, Fans does explore the idea of fan as fanatic. And, in later portions of the series, when fandom enters the mainstream and geeks rule the Earth, an alternate universe crossover with Penny and Aggie suggests that not everyone is happy and accepted in this new fannish world order.
In 2005, Campbell and Waltrip shuttered fans, wrapping up its major storylines (some more abruptly than others) and seemingly closing the book. But in 2008, they started the strip back up, with a new generation of geek action heroes that reflect shifts in our popular culture: a champion gaming hotshot, a social media junkie, a puzzle master, a genius engineer who is, much to her chagrin, a real life catgirl. Like their predecessors, though, they bear their own scars, and face some awesomely weird foes.