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.

Embracing The End

_There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story._ Frank Herbert.png

After our last post about webcomics, a very common thread appeared as I ranted about why I fell out of touch with some formerly beloved comics: many of them just need to end. And this doesn’t just apply to webcomics, we realistically could have an entire other blog just on anime series and television shows that need to end for a myriad of reasons.But embracing the end of a series is hard; it’s something that I as a creator have really only dealt with once. I finally finished a long fiction project that I started when I was a teenager (no, you can’t read it).  I’m by nature a creator and ending a work is hard. If left to my own devices I would never finish a story, hell the long fiction piece I was working on I continue to dip into that well with short stories and side narratives. I’m afraid to let this piece of fiction go. But we’ve established that I’m a bit of a self-indulgent writer. This fiction piece will never be seen by mortal eyes so it’s okay for me to relish in trudging up old plot points. But for creators who create to be seen, embracing the end is vital.

Before we dip too far into series that refuse to end, I want to talk about a few that ended perfectly. Cowboy Bebop obviously is a perfectly ambiguous ending that if you don’t question when the movie is supposed to be happening ends a serious and dramatic series on a serious and beautiful note. Adventure Time just gave us an ending full of heart and power thus proving that Pendleton Ward is now even better than his master, Butch Hartman (a man who is physically incapable of ending anything[ unless a network demands him to do so]).

Comic books are always in a strange limbo as far as endings go because death means nothing and a character will continue on despite different continuities and canons but that doesn’t mean that comic books don’t ever end. Watchmen as a graphic novel had a fantastically powerful ending. The Death of Superman was such an intense cultural touchstone that folks actually assumed the comic book industry is would collapse upon itself after the death of a beloved icon.

And even an unsatisfying ending is better than nothing. I’ll go on record saying that the end of Trigun is hot garbage but hey, at least it ended. Wolf’s Rain had a terrible ending that I am still angry about but more episodes wouldn’t have fixed the show’s serious structural problems.  InuYasha and really most of the big shonen series have had lackluster endings but them ending has been so powerful and cathartic.

Enjoy positivity, we’re here to talk about the times where a show refused to end and thus have all dragged us down with its pathetic death rolls. I mentioned Sister Claire in my webcomics post and that’s very high on the list for me as far as webcomics that just need to end: we are so far from the original plot that it’s embarrassing. Case Closed is an anime that started many years before me and is now approaching the 1000th chapter of the manga and the point of the main series is so far buried that it is up to be the next mystery for Conan to solve. One Piece should have ended literally years ago and I am refraining myself from talking about it further because it will make me the angry.  

But wait, my usual strawman screeches from the rafters:

But series have to keep going because of money!

Thank you, strawman. Where would I be without you?

Okay, so in anime especially there’s plenty of reasons why a company would keep a series going. Free! Is a series with zero plot that did not need a season three and the third season has taken a series I love and has made me hate it. Boruto is a sequel no one asked for because hey, you kids loved the Naruto. Bleach is going to get a stupid sequel because hey, you love that show, too, right? And many of these series just ended. Bleach’s ending was awful and weak and had easily 4-5 ending points that you can see where painfully drawn out because money. While I could have any entire post about the cash-grab sequel and the horrible thing that is a filler arc, this is more about a lack of an ending due to being a poor writer.

And I don’t say that to insult any writer who is objectively better than I am. But not being able to end a body of work does show some weakness as a writer: one very common to many writers including me, a well-intending idiot.

InuYasha comes to mind. Rumiko Takahashi is a brilliant storyteller and its because of her characters that I am the fan I am today. But she started with a series that could have easily been a few volumes and stretched it out into a series that finished when I was in college. For the record, I started this anime and manga at the same time when I was 12. And it finished when I was an adult: that’s weak storytelling. You can even see the series start and stop and drag on and not know what to do with its at times bloated cast and meandering point. And you can see her be more concise with her more traditional romances, no other series of hers has such a problem ending: she simply struggled with InuYasha. She likely built a world too big for herself and then spent a great deal of time trying to fill that world. Eventually the ending to InuYasha Final Act which was already beginning to meander on after the first anime was cancelled due to her not being able to end she had to rush an ending that left longtime fans like me deeply unsatisfied: but hey, it did eventually end.

Webcomics are an entirely different format that are suited for being longform. And for a slice of life, that’s okay. It’s okay to have a webcomic that doesn’t have a foreseeable end as long as it stays consistent. Girls With Slingshots ran for a small eternity but stayed consistent for its 10 year run and when it did it, it was satisfying and perfectly appropriate for that series. But comics like Sister Claire are now so far removed from its plot that I long for its final end. I’m happy to know that Menage a Three is hopefully wrapping up soon and the other affiliate comics should wrap up.

To rag on a franchise I love, Harry Potter as a world has refused to die because Jo Rowling apparently has too much time on her hands and truthfully her intrusions into the lore and canon of Hogwarts have only soured my desires to continue my studies with the esteemed school: I’m happy to go rogue and create my own stories based on scaffolding that Rowling built for us.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, I divulged that I just finished up one of my long-running fiction pieces. It’s based on a series I love and I started it when I was in high school. I finished a few years ago because I was determined to finish it. During my time after high school, the muse I had to write the series was my then partner, but when my partner left me, I stopped writing. I did my best to will myself to finish the work and I did. It likely will never be published because it’s about as self-indulgent as self-indulgent can be and likely no one would want to read such a thing. But I struggled to end that work and I still dabble in its lore and with its characters because I’m afraid of what will happen if I let this rest. I’m scared I’ll lose that world, those characters, their personalities.

When I say that refusing to end a work is a weakness it’s one I’m fully aware of.

One day, this blog will come to an end.

But not any time soon.

See you next time.

 

Falling Out of Love (with WebComics)

“All my love gone for nothing. Days of my love, years of my love.” ― Sophocles, Electra

I fell in love with webcomics as a medium in college. I had a pretty steady schedule which left plenty of room to check in on the comics that updated regularly and a steady WiFi connection that did not discriminate. That means that there are some comics that I have literally been reading for over a decade. I say this because it brings me no joy to admit that there are comics that I have absolutely fallen out of love with. I am passionate about this artistic style and some of the creators have been integral to finding form to the things I feel inside but some are in their slow death and to better understand how we got to where we are and how things used to be.

I don’t do this because I really just enjoy being negative. I don’t do this because I just really hate small creators. I do this because I do genuinely love the medium of comics and especially the kind for web. I love the creators that pour their hearts into this medium. I admire them. I consider myself lowly in comparison to them.

I’ll start with a comic that I started reading in more years ago than I care to admit: Go Get a Roomie. This comic done by Chlove centers around the titular Roomie (yes, that’s her name because she’s a bit of a wanderer who is everyone’s roommate at one point in time) and her misadventures through free-love and freeloading. I fell in love with the free-spirited Roomie and her friends including a dom named Ramona and her twink brother, Richard and the ultimate foil to joyous Roomie: Lillian. When this comic was just a slice-of-life day to day adventures in regional beers and taking home a different person each day, I loved it. But then the series too a more narrative turn and now in pure predictable fashion, the comic now centers around Roomie and Lillian in a relationship. Now, I have no issue with this from an LGBTQ standpoint (I hate that I have mention this) but I have a problem with it from the cinnamon roll vs. promiscuous person trope. It’s the exact same problem I had with Yuri On Ice which went out of its way to mention how innocent and pure Yuri is to his clear lecher of husband, Victor. Roomie has been around, it’s part of her character and while it is somewhat nice to see someone change for a partner, it’s just a trope I’m tired of. Additionally, it puts most of the owness on Lillian to be more like Roomie rather than having to reign in anyone else. Lillian starts off as a listless amorphic blob who barely leaves the house: sure, her arc of doing more than sleeping has been fascinating but it all just seems out of left field considering that these are all changes that happened in the comic in just the past few years. I love GGaR for its dedication to authentic diversity and mostly strong storytelling but I’m bored of the tropes, quickness to fall into a more traditional love story and occasional preaching from the author.

Next on the list are the collective comics of Giselle and the rest of the folks who work on such works as Menage a 3 and Dangerously Chloe. I found this comics in the second half of my college career and was sold on them being a little raunchy. Ma3 billed itself as an HBO-style rom-com and it was. Love triangle after love triangle and that was fine for many years. The comic is working towards its ending but with its out of nowhere wrestling plot arc for a character who is literally only known for her bust, I am tired of keeping up with its updates. Dangerously Chloe has a similar problem where we have strayed so far from the original plot of man meets succubus that I am simply wishing for the sweet release of death.

We now reach the comic I take the most ire with. We’ve reached the ultimate comic I have absolutely fallen out of love with. Each update further confirms that I dislike the current direction and only further alienates me from a narrative I began nearly a decade ago: Sister Claire.

Sister Claire started as a comic about a nun who through shady God dealings gets pregnant. The comic references a ton of other media in homage and in blatant ripoffs and at first was a mostly light-hearted romp of magical lands and a questionably hot version of God. What the comic is now…oh boy. Now the comic centers around a quest for a magical deus ex-machina, more anachronisms than a Tarantino movie. But what really irks me is the shift in comic from when it was done by one creator, Yamino, to now two creators with Yamino’s wife, Ash. Ash has seemed to take over the writing of the comic thus the shift from kind of magical romp to anachronisms and heavy-handed guilt narratives about LGBT themes. The homage and rip offs in Sister Claire have also caused some controversy. Famously, there’s a scene with some strange mecha that is somehow related to a holy war and the words to speak the robot to bring it back from its sleep are “Cast into the name of God, ye not guilty.” If that sounds familiar, congratulations, you’ve watched Big O. And so did many of the fans of the comic. And many of us said so. And Yamino was defensive! She said it was a Crusaders’ chant, which, sure. It was. But it was also in Big O and instead of just being humble and accepting that she was caught in a small rip-off, she caused conflama. Yamino has also straight up steals a character from Rose of Versailles in the form of Lady Oscar who is so indistinguishable from her anime “inspiration” that people forget that Oscar is not an original creator at all. And wait, you may be saying, but Sister Claire is so diverse with its lesbian couple at the helm and cast full of queer people. Sure, that’s fantastic. I’m happy to have diverse characters and diverse creators: you know what else makes me happy? Strong storytelling. Being full of queer characters does not an automatically good story make.

This was a negative post and I’m sure by now, many of you are asking: well, why don’t you just stop reading these comics if they cause you such strife?

Good question, astute straw-man. I have put time, energy and money behind almost all of these comics between donations and Kickstarter campaigns, I have invested in these works. Because of that investment, it’s even more personal and tragic to watch them fall from grace. It’s never easy to admit that a relationship is over so I will continue to check in on these stories just because I want to know how it ends. I want to see how we end this saga. I want to know what the final moment where either I break from weak storytelling and leave the series or how it so graciously redeems itself.

Only time will tell.

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.

 

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.

Audience vs. Author

“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.”—William Zinsser.png

I’m a rather selfish writer. From an early age, whatever and whenever I wrote: I was writing fundamentally for me. I think it’s the big reason why I blog and panel: I write and say as I wish. If someone isn’t happy with my opinions, I adore discourse but no one is making any unhappy reader stay. I also tend to share my work with just close friends. They have plenty of things to say about my work but I rather defend my work from friends than strangers. But as someone who writes, reads and loves discourse between fans and creators: what does an artist or author owe their audience.

Well, to me the short order is nothing. Most of the time.

I read a lot of webcomics and webcomics have become the last stand for many artists and writers who want real creative freedom. Smaller audiences, you are your own editor and almost total freedom to write about whatever you want. Well, most of the time. Amazingly, despite the “freedom” that comes with abandoning traditional platforms and avoiding editors and publishing houses it puts creators and audiences in direct contact with each other. I’ve seen many a comment section grow into riots over canons, storylines and shipping. And amazingly, when you remove the buffer between creator and audience: it isn’t always pretty. I know plenty of webcomic artists that are damn near defensive of their work and refuse to accept any criticism. There are comics that will never properly end because the creator got so burned by their audience. Storylines have been changed. Plots retracted. And so so many arguments over pronouns and if a character is asexual, non-binary or whether a pairing is true or not.

And I can attest that as an author and creator: I get defensive, too. I’ve never quite argued with people nor will I often correct them but I also don’t usually bristle too much when a creator does dive into the comments to correct a misgendering or to assert that a “pairing” is in fact just a pair of friends. Hell, after a negative review on one of my panels, I bristled for days. Even though the criticism was in many ways valid and I did grow and learn from it.

What I will probably never understand is being so defensive to the point of being delusional. Sister Claire is a webcomic I love and have followed from the start but there’s a scene that…borrows heavily from the popular anime Big O. And instead of just owning “Hey, you’re right. We did heavily borrow from another series.” the creator and her partner spent many days in the comments saying that it was common Knights Templar imagery and verbiage as opposed to just accepting a spade as a spade.

But on the flipside of that, I’ve seen audiences completely steamroll over authors. There’s webcomics that will never be finished because the creators became so exhausted by the rigor of keeping a fanbase happy. Blaster Nation famously almost didn’t get a proper ending because the creators were besieged with negativity over ending the very popular comic in favor of one that actually made them money. I was sad as anyone else to see Blaster Nation end but I’d never spew venom to the creators. One of my favorite comics Saint for Rent is currently on hiatus for a year and from what I’ve been able to see everyone has been very supportive and patient in waiting for the series to return while the creator explores other creative ventures.

Now that we’ve discussed how an author should act, what does an audience owe the creator? Well, that’s a strange subject now. Things like Patreon make audiences even more powerful. If I am giving an artist money, like a patron, then I should have some influence on what happens. One of my favorite historical figures, King Ludwig II was the patron of Richard Wagner. And King Ludwig II did dictate what and when Herr Wagner should compose about. Audiences do especially in webcomics drive what creators can do. If you want full creative freedom, finance yourself. But even though audiences are paying for creative ventures now, that doesn’t mean an audience gets to be nasty. I do though even more so understand the frustration an audience has when a comic or property fails them. There are plenty of webcomics I wish would just end, they have strayed so far from their original plots. Dangerously Chloe has had an interesting run that has strayed very far from its original rom-com roots. But no one who loves a property or piece feeling like they’ve been taken for a ride. And there is a certain helplessness that comes with being a lover of a property or piece and having no control over the direction, plan or execution of a series. And that lack of control can be exhausting, scary and demoralizing for fans. That isn’t an excuse to be nasty to creators, but as someone who has watched a beloved series derail, I “get” where that feeling comes from.

I do also understand the strain and stress of performing for an audience. Why do you think I only panel a few times a year? It’s exhausting! Yet alone having to crank out pages while at times the unsympathetic herds can rant and rave about a page being later. Energy wanes and waxes, desire to post lessens and it creates a rather unfortunate feedback loop. And honestly, that pressure does keep me from wanting to publish more of my work more often. I luckily try to blog multiple times a month but I do my best not to beat myself up too much if I don’t. And I have seen many artists who openly admit to taking breaks or slowing down only to be met with extreme hatred and vitriol. There’s a reason I don’t quit my day job to be just a panelist and writer: 1) talent and 2) I never want a hobby to be anything more than a hobby. I know how quickly once you turn passion into work it can become exhausting. Anyone who knows me knows how stressed out I get before and after paneling and if I can do anything to lessen that feeling, I’m willing to do that. I can’t imagine the stress of making people happy and having to perform and if I displease an audience more than my general panelist rating is affected.

Is there a way to move forward or go on? I think so. Have meaningful discourse, at least in private. I may have issues with Never Satisfied or Sister Claire but I tend not to talk about those in public. I do have friends that read the same comics so we get to rant about those forever. If you do feel the need to talk about your concerns to the creator or in public: do so respectfully. If diplomacy fails and you do manage to raise the ire of the creator: keep things civil.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to read the comic if it irritates you that much even if that argument fundamentally makes me angry. I will never totally accept that rationale of “if you don’t like a thing, stop reading/watching it”. Even just as a reader, you invest time, energy, money and life into a work. Without audiences, creators cannot create. There has to be a balance of respecting the creator while also respecting your audience.