I have the benefit of following several artists on Tumblr and Twitter and while social media is an excellent way for artists and creators to connect with their audiences: is the direct contact really helpful for all of us?
I’ve touched on this topic before but it hasn’t left my mind. Because of the illusions of closeness that social media can provide, many creators that I support and follow tend to be very candid on their social feeds. Many have expressed suicidal ideation, hateful messages, unfiltered rants and have flat out attacked their readers.
Let’s take a step back.
This is by no means something that just afflicts webcomic creators: I’ll take umbrage with an author whose work I love but who I can no longer stand: Jo Rowling. I love Harry Potter but Rowling’s overinvolvement with the fan community utterly exhausts me. While she could be spending her time recasting Johnny Depp or writing the damn Marauders movie I’ve been asking for. But she’s much more content to comment on fan theories, correct pronunciations on spells and micromanage what fans have been doing with her work for the last decade. Not to say she’s done a lot of good. She’s very supportive of cosplayers of color and queer fans but her input is not needed in the Wizarding World until she pens another great novel.
Here where I will pause for those in the back hooting about author’s intent.
Let’s pick up there. I’m in the camp that would rather separate the author from the work. While it is nice to get trivia and information from a still-living author, often times it ruins interpretations individuals make. Rowling doubling down on Harry and Ginny while also reminding us how miserable the Weasley marriage is doesn’t do anything for the fans who have been saying that Harry ended up with the wrong girl. Think of the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion who will swear up and down that he designed all of the things that make his series great because they simply “looked cool”. I’d love to know how he thinks because I rarely think of the Kabbalah or the different types of angels when working on a hip, fun fighting robots show.
The Death of the Author is not a new phenomena and is a helpful way to study the work and think of some of the influences but allows greater freedom to discuss any body of work. This is helpful from Kubrick films (considering that he was a bit of a monster) to fantasy novels. Now, there are times where you cannot separate the artist from the art. It is nearly impossible to remove Orson Scott Card from Ender’s Game and that did affect their box office numbers when the beloved movie became a feature length film. It’s almost impossible to remove Tolkien from Lord of the Rings for better or worse. It is almost impossible to remove Johnny Depp from his current controversy.
And sometimes keeping the corpus and the creator together is okay. It’s nice to hear Stephen King rant about how much he hates The Shining and how many times he and Kubrick argued over the film.
Let’s get back to the crux of my concerns: webcomic artists specifically have really taken off in this new era of social media and self-publishing. Most of the time, this is great. I love being able to connect and share my enthusiasm for something that I love with the person who made it. Some of my best convention memories have come from meeting comic artists that I love. I love having my ships confirmed, my theories heard and even being acknowledged for literally wanting to cosplay most of the comics that I read. (Saint for Rent and Devil’s Candy are high on that list, all else will have to wait.)
And others have taken their platforms to correct simple errors in gendering characters or assuming where pairings go. Not to say that fans are innocent in this. Some are downright rude, nasty and condescending. The artist always knows best and challenging a creator is almost never the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that well-intending folks are to be barked now. Well-intending is a subjective term and it is up to each individual, it isn’t always the best PR move to fuss at people. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m so selective with where I post and where I am active. I can be defensive just like the best of us so I’m careful with where I post and where I am opinionated. You’ve heard me mention before my issues with Sister Claire and how they’ve been handling criticism since the plot has seemed to fly away with all of my hopes and dreams.
How much an artist owes their audience is perpetually up to the person. Some have patrons whose word is law. Others value input from all and even more see art as a purely selfish endeavor and post and do as they wish. I’m in favor of the middle path, as always, patrons and those who pay are important but one need never forget the countless folks who support them silently just through being there.
This extends to when artists have…let’s be kind and call them ‘meltdowns’ online. Many have expressed thoughts of self-harm, candid conversations about addiction and personal confessions about mental illness. And while I appreciate the frank nature of such discussions, it’s almost frustrating and almost always heartbreaking to watch. I like I’m sure so many readers do, feel connected to these creators. As I hope you, dear reader, are connected to me in some way. It leads to questions about what readers owe creators and what responsibility audiences have to performers. Should I encourage an artist when they say they feel worthless? Do I correct someone else in the comments when they misgender a character? Do I defend a troublesome old tweet? What does an fan owe a creator? And does a creator owe their fans anything?
Those aren’t rhetorical questions: let’s bring this conversation down into the comments.