Joy comes from the strangest places. For me, the Bill & Ted movies have always been a source of comfort, happiness, and safety. So it was with an ever growing sense of warmth (and slight disbelief) that I noticed Bill & Ted fan art popping up on my Instagram timeline over the past few months. The most interesting thing about this growing trend is that it’s being driven by a group of Gen Z and young Millennial artists born long after the movie was first released. If you look at the #billandted tag on Instagram, you’ll find thousands of posts showcasing gorgeous art in every conceivable style, all inspired by the movies. From saucy shipping to inventive reimaginings, one thing resonates across the board: the sweetness of the titular duo still speaks to audiences decades after release.
Elisar Haydar hadn’t seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure until September of this year. In fact, they only checked it out at all because they too followed a series of fan artists who began created pieces about the titular pair. “I go through phases of being obsessed with stuff,” Haydar told Nerdist, adding that they had just been on a huge horror kick before discovering the 1989 classic. When they put on Bill & Ted looking for something a little lighter, it clicked immediately. “It put me in such a good mood. It’s the ultimate feel good movie!”
Since then, Haydar has watched both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey around eight times each. The movies have become not only a new obsession, but also an inspiration. Haydar is one of many young artists on Instagram cultivating a massively popular Bill & Ted fan art community—which happens to be one of the loveliest places on the internet. That sweetness and supportiveness reflects why the films are so special to their new, younger audience. “It’s so positive,” Haydar said. “It’s never a negative movie.”
Imbuing that positivity into the representations of Bill & Ted is key, artist Jay explained. “It’s really important to me! I naturally gravitate to characters who just want to help and have a nice outlook on life,” they laughed. “It’s funny, ’cause when people are like, ‘Take it easy,’ I get sort of miffed. But it’s so endearing when Bill and Ted say, ‘Be excellent to each other.’ I guess ’cause they sincerely mean it!”
So how did a 30-plus-year-old franchise become the new inspiration for a generation of artists who weren’t alive when it was released? Surprisingly, it’s not directly connected to the new movie, which Haydar is saving for a day when they need “a purely joyous experience.” It’s as simple as the friendship at its core. “I watched a lot of audition tapes,” Haydar said. “I realized earlier on it was gonna be a meaner movie. Not like it was mean to its audience, but people were mean to Bill and Ted, or Bill and Ted were mean to each other. And then I think it was Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves who really made them. They’re literally best friends.”
“I just simply like the dudes!” Jay explained. Like Haydar, all of their gorgeous Bill & Ted fan art focuses on the relationship between the two, which could be friendship… or something more. “I always want to say something cool and inspiring. But I think it’s just the fact that they’re such openly loving guys. There’s not one mean spirit between them! Even after they were killed.” That seems to be the connecting thread for all of the artists giving Bill & Ted new life. This spoke to so many fans who grew up with the pair, and became even more profound with the new movie that centered on the pure and sweet love that they share.
Of course, like most fan art, the work of both Haydar and Jay also imagines the pair as a couple. Many burgeoning ’90s queers invested in this ship decades ago, and it’s just as popular in 2020. Though it might not be part of the text, the dream of finding true love with your best friend is one that we can relate to. Let’s not forget, it’s very clear Bill and Ted truly love each other. “It’s the same as when I draw any ship really,” Haydar said. “I’m just furthering what’s already there.” Bill and Ted easily fit into a lot of ship dynamics that Haydar is a fan of. They said, “If they both like each other and only one of them knows it, I love that!” That’s a recurring tone in Haydar’s gorgeous technicolor renderings of the pair.
For Jay, the ship is based on what’s already there. “They just FIT! They’re so similar yet so different at the same time. Bill is shorter, blonde, maybe a bit quicker to anger, while Ted is like a gentle giant with black hair. One of my favourite scenes is when Bill turns to Ted and says, ‘Shut up, Ted!’ And Ted just smiles at him. It’s so sweet. It makes me think that Bill can never really be mad at Ted and vice versa! The way they just say things in unison is really fun too. It just comes so naturally, like they’re always in each other’s brains or something!”
As for what the ship represents, and why it’s gained such traction, it’s as simple as the sweet boys themselves. “Not to sound cheesy, but love!” Jay said. “Just simple, easy love. In real life I’m more of a cynic when it comes to finding romance. But I can’t get enough of it when it comes to fiction, especially with Bill and Ted. It’s so beautiful how they’re still so close even after 30 years. The idea of Bill and Ted being middle aged with kids named after each other? God, that gets me, it gets me bad. It’s not complicated, no drama, no breakups. It’s just so… easy!”
When viewed through a contemporary lens, the costuming of Bill & Ted is aesthetically very queer (and a lot of fun to draw). “I love the first movie outfits, specifically for Bill. And I like the second movie a lot, specifically for Ted,” Haydar said. “I just think they’re really fun and their outfits say so much about each of them in such a fun way.”
Getting to play with the iconic and simple costumes is clearly a draw for both the artists and their fans. “I see many artists make alternate versions of their fits. It’s so clever I’m almost mad I don’t get more creative with it!” Jay shared. “I do sometimes make Ted’s pink tank look more like a mini dress under his hoodie/vest combo. I mean, it’s so long. Why not? I also really love to make Bill’s plaid shirt so gigantic to a point where he’s just swimming in it! I never seem to take his red cap off, though. I feel like it just always needs to be there, you know?”
Both Haydar and Jay’s followings have grown exponentially since they began to draw Bill & Ted fan art. The latter’s follower count has skyrocketed past 80,000 with their new fandom exploration. “I did not expect this kind of response at all,” Jay said. “I was mostly known for doing Glee fan art, so I’m really surprised I didn’t lose a big chunk of viewers. Instead I’ve gained a lot since I started drawing them. Bill & Ted people are so nice, too! I’ve gotten a few messages from people who have started watching the movies because of my art. It always takes me by surprise but it’s also really nice to know that my art can do that!”
Haydar has been just as shocked. “It’s been ridiculous. The response was so immediate and people were just so into it straight away,” they said. “People are super into these characters! It doesn’t really feel like when you get like a single movie that comes out and people do like serious stills. That stuff’s all cool but this one felt like surprisingly more of a fandom, even though there’s only three movies and there’s like five hours of content. But people love it. I want to stay in it for as long as possible. It’s so positive and everybody’s so nice and the characters are so fun!”
Featured Image: Elisar Haydar