I work for a company that makes games, and so we have an art department with some amazing artists. We're all fairly geeky and we follow our own fandoms, and many of the artists like to draw their favorite characters. They'll draw just poses, or they'll do little comic strips, or they'll do crossovers. One of them recently drew a picture of about six female characters from the X-Men and posted it on her Facebook page, and it got picked up and featured by some big fan website. And that was fantastic.
And of course, you see this all over the Internet. There are tons of very talented people (and tons of not-so-talented people, too) exhibiting their fan art. There's deviantart, of course, and on YouTube, there are people making fan videos, both with original fan art or clips from the actual shows. There are people remixing the music from the shows, or doing their own arrangements, and posting that. It's wonderful to see how much creativity people have, and how their fandoms inspire them.
The reactions to these things, in general, are positive. If a work isn't good, then people won't say it's good, but no one ever questions people doing the art in the first place. No one ever says, "Hey, that's a copyrighted character! You can't draw your own version of him," or "Isn't it a bit weird that you're drawing this fictional character?" (Note that I'm not talking about people making money off their fan art, though that seems to happen a lot, too.)
But then there's fanfiction. There are three reactions I get when I tell someone I write fanfiction. A few people are impressed and encouraging. Then, there are the ones who assume all fanfics are Mary Sues or wish-fulfillment stories, and they kind of look at me weird, then change the subject. And then, there are the ones who say, "Can you really take someone else's copyrighted characters and write your own stories about them? That's not right."
And that's what I don't understand. What is the difference between drawing and writing that makes it ok to draw someone else's character but not ok to write them? It's not like fanfic authors are inserting their stories into the universe's canon, or looking to make money off of them. I think (I could be wrong) that in general, most fanfic authors simply want to express themselves while also exploring their fandom, which is the same thing that fan artists are doing. Is it simply that the audience understands and therefore accepts art more easily than it does fiction? Meaning, a person can look at a drawing of the Eleventh Doctor and immediately appreciate its artistic value, while to understand a story about the Eleventh Doctor, it actually takes time and effort.
I go to the fan sites and there are always tons of posts "Look at this great fan art!" but never any recommendations of great fan fiction. There seems to be such a stigma associated with being a fan writer, even though, at least in my fandom, the fan writers are the ones who ended up running the show. I just don't understand this.