An Ode to the Selfish Creator

e2809cselfishness-is-not-living-as-one-wishes-to-live-it-is-asking-others-to-live-as-one-wishes-to-live-e2809d-e28095-oscar-wilde.png
In our last discussion on the importance of endings, I said something that I’ve said many times before: I am a selfish and self-indulgent writer. I don’t think that on its own is negative on its own but before I continue on with my thesis on the praises of the selfish creator, I want to talk about what I mean when I say that and then when it can fail us.
When I say a writer is self-indulgent or selfish, I mean that they do as they wish. Maki Murakami in writing Gravitation comes to mind. She wrote the series as she wanted and didn’t care about basic things like plot structure or continuity or canon. If she wanted to treat a character terribly for several chapters for no apparent reason, she did. If she wanted a robot panda fight sequence, she got one. The thing was, people read it. Well, I read it. And while sure, I like most people, did struggle with her dips in and out of logic I was always inspired by her willingness to do what she wanted as a creator and even though this was a widely syndicated manga, she basically got away with literary murder.
In a statement on why I write, I say that I write for revenge. My words are a spell. Oftentimes I am writing to right a wrong. Character I like doesn’t get enough screen time? There’s a fanfiction for that. Not satisfied with the way a pairing shakes out? There’s fanart for that. Unhappy with a series’ ending? Keep the story going. One of the longest running stories I have going is purely to spite Jo Rowling and her apparent hatred of Slytherins.
But I am not famous (yet) and while my occasional conflama post online may get some traction, I’m far from someone who does this for a living. One of the biggest reasons I’ve been so stingy on publishing my fiction recently (I had no qualms about it when I was younger and thankfully, those places on the internet no longer exist) and I’m acutely aware that if I were to return to posting fiction, I’d likely be more considerate about how and what I post. I keep a regular schedule here because I know it’s what you all, my lovely readers, expect of me.
And sometimes that’s hard to do. But I feel like I owe you all, my fair readers, a regular schedule. But I am selfish in other regards as I’m sure you’ve noticed by the months heavy in discussions of framing or the occasional rant about feminism. And because I do still feel beheld to an audience, there are things I still temper and keep quiet on.
Which is where I’ll pause to talk about when being a selfish creator is less than ideal. I’ve ranted enough about Sister Claire but it’s a good place to begin. You can see where the creators are now just sort of writing whatever they’d like and it feels less and less like a narrative story and more like the create-your-own- lesbian adventure they really wanted to write. And webcomics may be one of the mediums where you can be the most self-indulgent, as a reader unless you are a patron, you can sort of just bail.
But that doesn’t mean that you should.
Remember that long standing grudge I have against Jo Rowling? She’s sort of the self-indulgent creator’s patron saint. Her prose is full of moments where you can practically see her oozing over her own brilliance. And I roll my eyes at every instance of it. Because there is a time and a place to be self-indulgent…taking several words to discuss how clever a name pun is simply is not the place. And her selfishness has affected fandom. She’s quick to correct people and tell people how to read her work and while I could and have discussed plenty on death of the creator, I am annoyed any time a creator tells me how I should read a piece. I will continue to advocate for a Draco Malfoy that gets things done and a House system where not everyone is a rival except for Hufflepuffs, they can stay on the outside (I’m kidding, mostly).
And there’s no part of me that’s advocating for being a total sell-out. I can’t stand when a work gets watered down because it has to appeal to the masses. We’ve all seen television shows and books lose their edge once muggles find it. Lookin’ at you, seriously most comic book tent pole films. Watering down a work for mass appeal is frustrating. I myself has struggled with staying niche and not compromising myself and my style of writing or paneling versus trying to screech a little less about feminism and gender roles for a wider appeal. I am much happier in somewhat obscurity if it means never having to dilute what I have to say. I’m also far from saying we shouldn’t challenge creators at all. It’s about balance and knowing when and where it’s appropriate to do as you wish. Remember, we never reigned in Stephen King and now his cocaine-fueled nonsense are some of the most important parts of beloved horror stories and some would likely argue that It is somehow better with an uncomfortable sex scene and a giant world turtle (I am not making this up).
There’s something to be said about not giving a hoot; a dear friend of mine produces art for a ship that I have researched just so I can admire and appreciate her wonderful art. I’m surrounded by wonderful creators who are happy to knuckle down and make what they love but are still willing to compromise when it really does matter.

I’m happy to hear feedback and criticism and I do listen to most of those things. But then I go back and write a fluff piece about a franchise I love or go on a long-winded rant about how much I dislike the way comics are writing Jason Todd right now.

The Death of the Creator

“Literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.” ― Roland Barthes, The Death o.png

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.