An Ode to the Selfish Creator

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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 Ethics of Being Sponsored

The networks have to answer to their sponsors. That's the difficult thing you learn. Jean Smart.pngLast time we talked about Patreon, patronage and how and when an artist owes something to those who keep their lights on. Today we’re going to talk about sponsorships, trust and forced positivity but with the ethical dubiousness of money behind it.

This actually started innocently enough. I was watching a GameTheorists video on Valerian and the City of One Thousand Planets. As a hipster sci-fi person, I was excited to talk about Valerian considering that I’m probably 1 of 5 Americans that read the comic and knew that it basically inspired all of modern sci-fi. Everyone has borrowed from it, Star WarsStar Trek, basically everyone owes their sci-fi start to Valerian. And when I started the video, I was happy to see MatPat bring up all those points and comment on them. And then he mentioned he was sponsored by the movie Valerian. My heart sank. Suddenly, all the ethos of what he was saying was colored with the evil tint of greed. Even in his most recent video that was blatantly sponsored by Disney, it still felt hollow because the premise and title were interesting. Now to know that he’s only doing it because he got paid somehow left me feeling betrayed and crestfallen.

And MatPat isn’t the only Youtuber I’ve noticed that will “critique” or “comment” on a film only after being paid to do so. Andre “The Black Nerd” has more than once reviewed movies and done special promotions with several companies and even theaters that often seem to make all the movies he sees a little less bad. And while I have no issues with CinemaSins being sponsored by BlueApron and NatureBox (because those sponsorships are usually unintrusive to the content) and I quietly tolerate Lindsay Ellis flaunting her Patreon (her being sponsored is also often not intrusive to her content). But where I take issue is when being paid for something makes you think something is better than what it is and all under the guise of more valid criticism.

But it’s also important to comment on the type of “critic”, critic or Youtuber. It’s usually the non-instrusive ones that get the more lucrative deals. MatPat’s pretty unoffensive to most and he’s easy to work with and has a wide audience. He’s kind, sort of funny and he’s positive. He isn’t a CinemaSins or Nostalgia Critic who made their mark by being cynical, curt and vulgar (I don’t say any of these things negatively, I love these channels.).

In my first forced positivity post, I mentioned The Talking Dead, a show hosted by Chris Hardwick about the very popular TV show and sometimes maligned comic book The Walking Dead. The talk show after the show is paid for by AMC (the people behind the zombie TV show) and because of that, almost every episode has to say how great The Walking Dead is.  When I lamented this fact, Carlos rather bluntly said: “Well, yeah. Can’t talk bad about a show that pays you to put on a show.” And really, that was an understood for me. I understood the why but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

And it frustrates me even more when I have to watch a personality I love change and adapt to being more “user-friendly”. Chris Hardwick, if you can hear me, come back to us. You have sold your soul for money. You too, Kevin Smith. We need you. We need voices of dissonance in our community once more.

Being paid to say nice things isn’t new. I work in advertising. I create paid sponsor content. I live in a world where you have to casually segway a brand sponsorship into an informative video or write an article that’s really meant to sell you something. I learned and perfected how to craft a message, find an image and hone down an audience. I know that being paid to say nice things is not a new and marvel concept. But in traditional advertising, a spade is a spade. An ad’s an ad. It’s clear when something is sponsored. But when marketing is insidious (and even I as a marketer am not fond/proud of) are when ads hide. We’ve all seen a tutorial that’s at the end tacked on that it was paid for by Samsung.  And the idea of a paid sponsorship that’s a hidden one or content that’s really an ad has been a struggle for social media platforms and users. And if the FDA and FCC lawsuits have been any indicator: the idea of being #sponsored on social media is a slippery slope.

It started with the whole influx of “influencer” marketing. “Celebrities” would gush about a product of God knows what-origin and then their legions of followers would then also support the product of God knows what-origin. What isn’t shown or talked about is how much the makers of the product pay to have this glowing endorsement or why it does such great things for a celebrity’s whose only job is to be beautiful and thin and stand there under ring lights that make everyone look better.  And when a normal consumer wishes to complain, sue or even try to dismiss some of the claims of how charcoal water can cure cancer or something, the company simply says “The celebrity was not paid to say those things and you didn’t have to buy our product.” despite how often it’s shown in Instagram feeds and Twitter timelines. The celebrity doesn’t take any responsibility for any damage done by the product they were so proudly sharing. Remember, they won’t paid to do this. They just received 5 cases of kale cleanse. That isn’t payment, right?

And it’s funny that all of this is happening now. I’m from an era where shoehorned in sponsorships paid the bills and I think it’s that cynicism and skepticism that so fundamentally turns me off on paid sponsored content. We are surrounded by ads and I say that as a person who makes those ads possible. So it’s seductive to see something that looks like think piece, feels like a social commentary but then is later revealed to be something sponsored by a TV show or soda company and why that’s so insidious and horrifying. What is news anymore? What is an ad anymore? Is it all just an ad?

I’m with a majority of watchers and users of things: transparent advertising makes me very happy. When an ad’s an ad, that’s fine. And now with the rise of #ad and #sponsored, things are getting a little more transparent and it’s easier to see the man behind the wizard. And while I understand not wanting to piss in your own stew pot, criticism and loving antagonism made fandoms, communities and the world. The positivity for hire is exhausting and its at times seedy nature makes it even more tiresome and dishonest. Let’s be honest about when an ad’s an ad. Let’s call a spade a spade. And let’s keep criticism free of the shackles of currency.

 

 

Oh Patron, My Patron

If a patron buys from an artist who needs money, the patron then makes himself equal to the artist; he is building art into the world; he creates. Ezra Pound.png
Let’s talk about Mad Kings, Patreon and why I struggle with the modern concept of patronage.
I have a few people in my life that I know use Patreon, the popular patronage website that allows individuals to become patrons of creators both great and small. I’m very aware of it as an entity. Most Youtube channels, webcomics and nearly every other media item I consume in my day to day life has some sort of plug for a Patreon. Patreon has an interesting reputation. It allows creators and “creators” to request money to help them continue to create a litany of things and in return, there is usually a reward of some kind for a patron’s monetary support. Some rewards are great and others are…less than great and many creators say this return to the halcyon days of patronage has allowed many creatives to quit their day jobs and do what they love full-time as they accept support and help from patrons.
Let’s back up a bit and discuss patronage. Patronage is not a new concept, it is in fact a centuries old idea: an author, painter or great adventurer could have a patron who helped to support their endeavors and these patrons were typically throne or a wealthy financier. Some famous patrons of the arts include Queen Elizabeth I: who was the patron of William Shakespeare, The Crown of Aragon and Castile that then supposed Christopher Columbus on his literal worst genocidal boat trip ever. And my favorite, my crown jewel, King Ludwig II: the Mad King of Bavaria was patron of Richard Wagner. Wagner made operas for his King and had them played out in elaborate stages and secret built in grottoes. Back then, patronage was a serious thing. Only the best of the best were accepted for a patronage program. It was a gamble to bestow money on an artist or a creator, so a monarchy or financier had to be certain it would be fruitful. Sure, risks were taken and not all business agreements ended well but for the most part, most of those that survived and thrived under the rule of patronage: we got some of the finest works this world has ever known.
Patronage did fall out of favor as the rise of salaries and other pensions eclipsed the ideas of one rich person paying for one creator to create or explore mostly just for them. Art became public and easier to fund and an artist could and was encouraged to have a day job and then paint or write when they got home. But work days are long and there’s no reason to demand someone toil their life away at a job they hate only to create at night. People should do what they love and if there are others willing to support their creative ventures, then godspeed.
And then Patreon showed up. Suddenly everyone who felt they needed to could ask for money from perfect strangers and fund their lifestyles. Want to spend your life herding goats and make small goat hair trinkets? There’s someone who may help you live that dream. Want to make a webcomic full of diverse characters? There’s plenty of people that will help you live that dream.

And I love Patreon when it does good for creators and audiences. Crash Course uses Patreon to keep its content free for everyone and rewards rather generously. Many webcomic artists I follow use Patreon to quit their day jobs and keep making comics. There are more questionable Patreons as well. Famous examples are Jessica Nigri and Yaya Han who offer…special photos as rewards for patron support. And there are far too many examples of questionable Patreon rewards and endeavors that I do not wish to go in great detail about.
I’ve publicly said I’d never want to quit my day job because when, how and what I create is my choice. As soon as I am paid for, my work is no longer mine. I am then beholden to my audience that is now paying for me and my content. And as someone who struggles with the demons that come with being a writer, I don’t always meet deadlines. Sometimes I get bored with a work. Sometimes I don’t like where a story-line is going. Sometimes I want to just change things and as soon as my work is being paid for, I am more tied to pleasing the audience than I am my personal indulgences as a creator. And I’ve seen that fail: Sister Claire is a web-comic I beat up on a lot only because I love it so much. It is far from its intended plot and it is supported by patrons. I empathize with their frustration that the series isn’t what it used to be and you feel even more tied to that when it’s your dollars funding a creator’s egotistical jaunt through plot, character and theme. And there are issues with rewards that can be rather taxing on readers. It isn’t in my budget to support every creator I love but more than one have such severe paywalls to their work that finishing the stuff they release for free is now nearly impossible and that is damaging to those that want to support a work but don’t always have an extra $5+ bucks to throw for additional content.
The other slight qualm I have with Patreon is a lovingly placed issue with quality. In the days of old, exceptional people: the best of the best, were sought out and were offered a chance of a lifetime to be patronized. And like with all things in the age of the Internet: there is a wide variety of quality all across the Interwebs. Suddenly, the title of author could be spread across Indie Publishers and the Kindle Network. Anyone with an idea could publish. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needed to be published. There are some comics that didn’t need to be seen. Some narratives that didn’t need to be told. Some people that just didn’t need a voice and while true, if you don’t like something, don’t patron something: by pure fickle nature of the Internet there is always someone that’s into that thus funding projects that did not and do not ever need to exist. Not every writer is good. Not every singer is great and while taste isn’t objective: plenty of people that are popular and famous now do not always deserve that fame. With the ability to crowd-source a living, anyone can drop off the face of the Earth to be a writer of erotic unicorn fiction and someone will buy that.
I take titles very seriously. I take being a writer seriously and I’ve struggled watching titles like artist, writer and singer taken as a part of the vernacular. I claim to be a writer because I studied the English language and have been published more than once. I don’t say that as a show of elitism, it’s a show of skill. And while not every writer has been on a similar path and many far more talented people can claim being authors with much more success than I with far fewer “credentials” a publisher of tasteless memes, Harry Potter fanfiction or crazed theories is not a writer on the level of a Poe (though to the writers of Harry Potter fanfiction, many of you do great work and I count myself lucky to be among your ranks).
I think this is why I love project-based support so much. I love Kickstarter and Indiegogo to support creators making games, books and other creations. I feel better submitting money to a project, not just a lifestyle and I’m a proud backer of many Indie endeavors. I like them because there’s a promise of a product. If a campaign fails, I get my money back. It it succeeds, I get a brand new shiny thing and help support a creator of a thing I am passionate about.
Next time, we talk about the ethics of sponsorship and why it’s difficult to live in a world where everything, everything is up for sale.