Separating the Creator from the Created

That time Cap and Iron Man had DIFFERENT OPINIONS!

This is a subject I’ve been pondering for a while, and with the release of a certain book followed by a certain tirade from a certain creator, the time seemed ripe for comment. The question at hand is, how do you deal with the work of a creator that you have a problem with in real life? Like many questions the answer is nuanced, complex, and ultimately personal, but I can at least elucidate some of the broad strokes to help you think about things as you make your pull list for next week. In my view, this problem can be broken down by way of a spectrum, from no problem with a creator to serious issues, so let’s walk through it! And by way of disclaimer: this post acknowledges the existence of politics.

No knowledge

This is the simplest type of relationship. All you know is the work, and you are not actively seeking anything else. You’re not following them on twitter, you don’t read their blogs, and you don’t talk to them at conventions. Their work is pure and all you know of them as a person. This is really the default for how most of us function when starting out, and without any extra effort it’s where most of stay. Clean, safe, simple.

You know what they think, and you agree

This is the next easiest situation. You at some point gleaned a creator’s ideology, but it falls in sync with yours so no big deal. Maybe their work reflects their feelings, maybe it doesn’t, either way you don’t have a problem so there are no hard decisions to be made.

You don’t know what they think, but their work makes it clear

This is a tricky one. It’s probably the most ephemeral state because if you suspect that a work is conveying the creators ideas you’re next step is to go and find out what those beliefs are, thus removing you from this category, but I think it’s still worth mentioning. It’s really hard to describe this one but by way of example.

There was a certain creator whose book I bought after only seeing a few preview pages. The art was awesome so I was very excited to check out the rest of the story. By the end of the book, it was clear I was reading a morality tale heavily influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview. Didn’t really bother me at the time, but the more I read of this creator’s catalog the more I realized that EVERY book was a Judeo-Christian morality tale. It doesn’t matter whether I’m Christian or not, as a reader I was just kind of bored with it.

I know all creators have beliefs and ideas about the world, they’re only people, and I know that those beliefs are going to influence the work, so that’s not my problem. My problem was that I thought having almost the same themes in every work made each story less interesting than the last until culminating in a story where the liberal atheist character is a selfish, idiotic caricature. It just tarnished the work, displayed an obvious bias, and left a bad taste in my mouth. It really didn’t matter if I agreed or not, it was clear this creator had let their beliefs supersede the work, and it was probably best for me to move on.

You know what they think, disagree, but it stays out of the work

There are some creators who are vocal about what they think, which is fine. Free speech is awesome. And fortunately we live in a society where a person doesn’t have to make a comic book to get their voice heard. A creator can write a long-winded screed against this or that and still churn out the awesome adventures of a spandex wonder-person. To continue my trend of being vague, I have a friend who is a creator of a much beloved series. This friend is very conservative politically. This means we, as people, get into some pretty spirited debates but that’s all they are: spirited debated. Now when I read his work, I don’t see that conservatism at all. There are of course characters that seem conservative, just as there are conservative people in real life, but those characters don’t feel like a mouthpiece for the author’s opinion and every other character is fully realized. So while I know I disagree with the creator, the work stands on its own, and there’s not really a problem.

You know what they think, disagree, and it pervades the work

Certain time a creator’s work will have themes that give a clear sense about how they view the world, but if you really weren’t sure you can read it yourself in plain language somewhere on the internet. To me, this makes for a very easy decision. You know what you think, you know what they think, you know if you read the book you’re going to get their opinion loud and clear, and thus you can make your decision. Maybe the art of said comic is too your liking enough that you don’t care what the book actually says. That’s a perfectly acceptable decision. So unless you can go back to older works without the in-your-face ideology, maybe it’s smarter to steer clear of books in this category.

Bonus category: you know what they think, find it abhorrent, and the work doesn’t matter

I can’t think of an example for this one in comics, which is a good thing, but there are times when you learn what a creator thinks and find it truly awful. There are certain issues for me that supersede entertainment, and if I find out a creator holds those views I can’t in good conscience continue to financially support their work. It’s thankfully rare, but I thought it fit the spectrum and thus wanted to mention it.

So there are the categories as I perceive them. Now remember, I have creators in my head while I write this, but the creator I think of when I write about disagreeing may be your ideological hero, it’s all personal. That’s why I didn’t name names, I wanted you to fill in the blanks and have some honest reflection about the point I was trying to get across. I know our motto ‘round these parts is, “Read what you like.” Which is a great starting point but can be overly simplistic when reality rears its ugly head. Most good comics are made by good people, regardless of ideology, so fortunately for us this is a discussion rarely needed. I do want to know what you think though. Does the ideology, if known, influence your buying and enjoyment? Do you go out of your way to find out your favorite creators beliefs? Do you find it hard to believe anyone even bothers worrying about this stuff? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Quick note on the comments: This post acknowledged that people have political opinions, but the post is really about how the personal opinions of a creator influence your feelings about their work. So let’s keep the comments civil and as rhetoric-free as possible. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, refresh yourself on the iFanboy Terms of Service, but I trust you all to be nice.

 


Ryan Haupt is a person who has opinions. His opinions on science, beer, and other nerd topics can sometimes be heard on the podcast Science… sort of.

Comments

  1. wangman31888 wangman31888 says:

    There should be a picture of Holy Terror under “You know what they think, disagree, and it pervades the work”

    • Ryan Haupt Ryan Haupt (@haupt) says:

      The point was to be a little more subtle than that. Notice how I didn’t name names the enitire post? I wanted the reader to fill in the blanks.

  2. Blargo Blargo says:

    When it comes to personal politics, its a non-issue for me. But when you get creators who shoot their mouths off over this and this and this and that and that and that, it tends to turn me off from their work. Its one thing to be vocal, but do it too much, just looks like you’re fishing for headlines.

  3. Julesxsxex says:

    I’ve never really dealt with that in comics, but music is a big area of that for me. Rise Against for instance. I love the music but politically could not be further on the other side of the spectrum from them. And then every kid i think discovers Queen at some point and thinks this is the greatest thing i’ve ever heard in my entire life. But there is a conflict when you are a dir hard born again christian and Freddy Mercury is unusually gay. Same with Elton John. Music has always been that spot for me where i know what you think, i don’t like it, but the stuff you make is amazing.

  4. Muad_Dib says:

    “Does the ideology, if known, influence your buying and enjoyment?” Almost always no, though like you said there are some very rare exceptions where I find someting so abhorrent that I shy away from the work, or at least hold it at arms length.

    “Do you go out of your way to find out your favorite creators beliefs?” Not when it comes to the big taboos of politics and religion, no. That being said, I am fascinated by creator perspectives on art and the acts of creation so I love interviews and creator spotlights and often get exposed to those viewpoints anyway,

    “Do you find it hard to believe anyone even bothers worrying about this stuff?”" Sorta, though I get it. There are people who enjoy remaining in their enclosures of belief and in their mind being “forced” into sharing in dissenting viewpoints is anathema.

  5. Personal interaction is important. I’ve had my fair share of positive and negative interactions with musicians over the years that has influenced my decision to support or not support their work.

    The only time it matters for me is the last instance you mentioned. There is something so extreme that offends me on a personal or moral level that i can no longer separate the man/woman from their professional work.There is one high profile athlete who i can speak of, whom every time i see his name mentioned, or see him playing, i get really pissed off. I just can’t separate the cowardly, disgusting actions from the “man”.

  6. MisterShaw MisterShaw says:

    I haven’t had too much of a problem with creators’ personal ideologies rubbing me the wrong way; but I can’t follow most creators on Twitter because their personalities/whining tend to irritate me to the point where I can’t enjoy their work anymore.

    Currently there is only one person who fits the final category for me, and that’s Roman Polanski. But that’s not so a much a ideology issue as it is a criminal scumbag issue.

    • RecksDeud RecksDeud says:

      For me, it’s Gary Glitter. Guy moved to Thailand so he could buy young boys, but he wrote Rock and Roll pt. 2. I feel genuinely guilty every time I get that catchy number stuck in my head.

  7. boosebaster boosebaster says:

    If people write from the heart (and who wouldn’t want to read something not written from the heart?) then the only way that something wouldn’t pervade the work is if the work doesn’t cover the areas in which they hold those dodgy views?

    Hitler could maybe have written a very heartwarming book about a colony of field mice, but surely it’s impossible for him to have written a good book about a Jewish family, or for that matter anything centered around human beings? And if he had written a book that contained no anti-semitic or pro-aryan undertones , it would have been…well, fake – and I think readers can usually pick up on that and react badly to it?

    South Park’s my favourite example of this, it might be full of what most people would consider hugely offensive material, but under it you can see Matt and Trey are decent people with right-headed views – the heart of the show is in the right place and it shines through. While technically, Family Guy might be as good – it comes across as nasty in a different way, it’s very mean spirited, and not necessarily to people that deserve it. Margot Kidder is one of many examples, mocking her 1996 breakdown on a huge hit TV show is unnecessary and just makes it clear that MacFarlane is a dick. Family Guy leaves a bad taste in my mouth, South Park doesn’t, and it’s because the creators will always shine through in the creations.

    I think so anyway.

  8. JamesSeals JamesSeals says:

    I don’t at all mind too much when creators include social commentary in their works. In its most purest of forms, art is a commentary on the human condition. Ergo, comics being art; it makes sense, to me, at least that we should allow for such commentaries in our art.

    After all, the original Star Trek was rife with social commentaries that people can go off and write collegiate level term papers on some 40 plus years later. Or, if you are so inclined, you could chose to ignore them, and enjoy some space adventures… in space!

    Now, as Ryan said in his article… I also choose what I support. If I believe I am being preached to and I do not agree with the message on a visceral level — not merely a difference in shared opinions — then I am exercising my freedom of speech to leave. For instance, I will not be purchasing anything new from that same certain creator referenced in the introduction. That does not mean I will devalue his old work, which I respect greatly, or demean his right to say what he believes. But nothing will compel me to personally support his work again, and that saddens me on some level, but I can live with that.

    That’s a personal choice that I have made for myself. I will also not demean anyone that chooses differently.

    Those are my two cents. Feel free to ask for a refund.

    -J.

  9. Alexa D. says:

    “you know what they think, find it abhorrent, and the work doesn’t matter”

    Dave Sim thinks that I am a soul-sucking void. It will never matter how brilliant the first half of Cerebus is. I want nothing to do with him.

    To a (slightly) lesser extent, I won’t support Orson Scott Card because of his views on marriage equality, but that’s mainly because he is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, and a portion of his money will go straight to their coffers. I have no interest is helping him.

  10. MaxPower MaxPower says:

    99% of the time, I fall firmly in the “You know what they think, disagree, but it stays out of the work” category. Case in point, Fables. Willingham does such a wonderful job on the book, that his non-comic views do not penetrate my enjoyment. Some creators are so so so vocal about their views, which they are absolutely free to have, that it does make me think twice about picking up their work (Van Sciver, I’m looking at you). That being said, if I find out about their views after I have read something of theirs, my enjoyment and opinion about that work will not change (Dark Knight Returns).

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      I hear ya about Willingham. Love his work.. I just finished tracking down every last issues of everything that hes ever written after i heard about his views. I was surprised when i heard that he was on the opposite fence to me. It doesnt come through in his work at all. Maybe I didnt realy attempt to seek out any provocative posts by him.. but he seems to maintain a calm and respectful manner when hes online so.. that could be another reason to give him a pass. (i could be wrong.. im working with very little info.. and would like to keep it that way.. ha).
      I ran into a pretty rude and grumpy Chuck Dixon at a convention a few years back.. during which i said he was one of my favorite writers… after which he barely reacted. I thought maybe he was just having a bad day. But in hindsight.. I look back and think hes just an angry ahole (based on that and his political views). And i just dont enjoy his work anymore. What work? He got fired from everywhere.. HA…

    • Pompster Pompster says:

      I loved the first 75 issues of Fables, and when I found out about his politics I still enjoyed the work, even though his views are nowhere near to mine. However I do see those politics in nearly every line of the work.
      In this case I wasn’t put off but I could be inthefuture.

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Realy.. ya maybe i just dont want to see the politics. I didnt find out till a coupla months back.. but i was genuinely afraid that it was going to change my opinion of fables. Its one of my favorite things to do (reading fables).. so I dont want that to change. I looked for some of his comments but found them to be mild .. and ive just been happy to leave it at that so that i dont spoil something i love.
      My above post wasnt 100 percent coherent cause i added a sentence at the last minute at the top.. but i tracked down all of his elementals, pantheon, ironwood, robin, and JSA… during and after i found this out over the last few months..just cause i think hes so talented.. …. I hope my opinion isnt warped by this now or in the future.
      Anyway… Willingham is generally very polite in person. You can have different opinions or politics but as long as you show respect for each other then thats the most important thing. One of my best friends is pretty far on the right and he’s a good person. Ya i know it boggles my mind too.

  11. iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

    Its hard to avoid today with how ideas and information are so pervasive that sometimes they find you without you really seeking them… but i generally think that knowing to much information about any artist or creator can take away from the audiences experience. Im not even talking about agreeing with something or disagreeing with something. The fact that we have a conscious understanding of any aspect of any artists life can take away from the mystique of some of their work. This applies more to actors than comic artists and writers but i think it still applies. I dont want to be thinking whether or not so and so’s political views are being expresses in what im reading. I just want the fiction… I dont want a lesson…. or rather i dont want to know why someones giving me a lesson. I want to maintain the mystery.
    Good article by the way.

  12. Firevine Firevine says:

    I’m pretty staunchly conservative (Libertarian), but I think Frank Miller has gone off the deep end. I don’t care to read something like Holy Terror that frames how far off the deep end he’s gone. I think Dave Sim is kind of out there too, but damned if I don’t love me some Cerebus.

    I think Civil War handled a political issue well.

    I choose not to purchase the work of Erik Larsen due to his statements about the role of inkers. It was funny in Chasing Amy, Erik, but get over yourself. I choose not to buy anything from Todd McFarlane either, because he’s just come across as a dick.

    I was involved in a discussion over the healthcare bill on Facebook with an ultra liberal friend of mine, and all his ultra liberal buddies. Ethan Van Sciver chimed in. Fuck, that man could scare the scales off a rattlesnake. I agreed with him, but he was brutal.

    Most things I could overlook, unless the individual was overly preachy,and it pervaded their work entirely too much. It would take almost Janene Garofalo/Ann Coulter levels of crazy though.

    • Firevine Firevine says:

      Oh, ya know what? I forgot Scientologists I won’t knowingly give my money to anything where a scientologist was involved.

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      Good luck going to the movies.

    • muddi900 says:

      Civil War was a subtle as a nuclear bomb to kill a rat

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Oh Muddi900 attacking Mark Millar work.. thats new. Barely posting for weeks but you just cant resist another shot at Millar again eh? I wasnt a fan of Civil War but weve all read much worse comics. Your record is broken Mudd.. you should fix it.

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      He’s talking about a piece of work he didn’t like, and he’s not breaking any rules. Please don’t go after the other posters because their opinion isn’t the same as yours.

    • Firevine Firevine says:

      @Josh Seriously. I’m all for freedom of religion and all, but I have no idea how Scientology is so pervasive in the Hollywood community. There’s work that I love too, that I will not purchase. That 70′s Show is one of my favorite shows ever, but I haven’t bought any DVD sets since finding out Danny Masterson is a Scientologist. Laura Prepon too, from what I have heard. That makes me sad. :( So…hot…

      @muddi900 I didn’t say it was subtle, I said I think it was handled well. Both arguments were treated fairly and made their case, at least in the main story. It could have been overly preachy one way or the other, but it wasn’t.

  13. iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

    Josh hes talking about a creator he doesnt like and i can count somewhere near 30 post in the last year that are 100 percent negative Millar related and they dont seem objective to me. He has said Millar is arrogant. There goes the objectivity right? He spends a significant portion of his time on this site bashing Millar. Ive met Mark.. I dont know him .. but ive met him. I dont know Muddi900 nor have i met him. Im going to take the side of the person that was extremely kind to me as opposed to the person that is trying to teach “ignorant me” about comics.
    Regardless ive said my piece here. I wont post about Muddi again. Promise… and Ill try not to replicate this with others as well.

  14. bobby2889 says:

    This is truly a fascinating topic for me.

    I’m currently an English student third year undergrad. We covered the issue of the Author in our first semester. It is not a comics only issue but something literary theorists have hundreds of points about. The Death of the Author is worth a read if this is really interesting to anyone.

    For me I like to base my judgement of a work on how it moves me. Generally if I don’t know of an author it doesn’t affect my reading. But quickly most people will find if you like an author you read more by them and often you will find themes outside of style and you will find voice and opinion that links their work and perhaps points to the writer. Potentially. If you have been plagued by the curse of an analytical approach being forced on you by a certain kind of education, like I have been, then you may further seek the creator to simply plum new depths of the work and find more things for yourself.

    This I think is where people split. For me I can find someone’s opinion abhorrent but still seek out what the work tells us. Frank Miller is a good example. The man quite simply does not reflect my opinions. But knowing what I know of him has enhanced my understanding of the work. It may not be enjoyment but it adds to my appreciation and interesting in the work; it tells me something about the climate of society in a post 9/11 world. It may not be the most common reaction but sadly it does tell us a lot about the world, despite the fact the author’s intent was different.

    Authorial intent is something that comes up a lot in literary study. Is what the writer was trying to say the be all and end all. If a writer comes out and says ‘I was trying to say this’ does that make how you read it initially wrong? To me this is a really weird division.

    I accept a creator created it. I take them into account as for me it adds to the layers. Sometimes its nice to step back and consider how it affects you as a work in itself, its language its art, without considering its politics or opinion. Other times it is nice to test and challenge yourself in comparison with another person. But ultimately I think works take on a life of their own. If you form an opinion of something that opinion is real. Like all stories comics have no meaning. They tell us nothing. At all. The only meaning they have is what is created and placed on them through interpretation. This includes the author’s interpretation of their own work. The beauty of being individuals is we all look through different lenses and to me, while it can be fascinating to learn about a creator, it is important to let yourself remain entirely aware of the power of readership and personal interpretation.

    We all bring baggage to reading and that’s good. Its where discussion comes from. If you don’t like an author’s politics then that’s okay. But see if the craft of the work reveals any secrets. See if you can view it in a new light and remember his opinion, even if strongly shown, doesn’t mean its the only way it can be read.

    Something, Holy Terror, can still be viewed satirically even if it wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes by analysing you can defeat the author at his own game and point out how what he has actually done is undermined his own opinions through poor craftsmanship.

    Its all about taking everything and nothing on board and deciding to play around with the affects of the work. And then decide for yourself if you care what the author has to say and whether it really, really does matter. And if it does then make sure you know why.

    • bobby2889 says:

      Sorry, I wrote an essay. the topic was close to home.

    • bobby2889 says:

      Also, one more thing, read Dan Dreiberg’s article about owls in Watchmen. This kind of covers it while at the same time being very self referential to Watchmen. Its perhaps one of my favourite things about the book and discusses the effects of over analysis on beauty and thus you can apply the study of a creator to that whole world of artistic research

  15. considering how fragile the market is right now, and how easy it is for books to go on the chopping block, you’d think creators would be a bit more careful when engaging in politics or other potentially divisive topics in public. i dunno, some books can’t afford to lose a few dozen readers because you may have turned someone off with a rant. Whats more important…making that tweet or earning a paycheck?

  16. robguillory robguillory says:

    Great read. I’ve debated this topic a lot in the last year, and it’s a strange dilemma. On one hand, as a creator, I have a voice and beliefs of my own that are impossible to keep out of my work. And really, a lot of creators (myself included) feel like it’s really their purpose to affect the world around them with their work and words.

    On the other hand, it’s such a headache to deal with the public lynching that can result from one honest opinion stated in 140 characters or drawn into a comic.

    It’s strange, and a dilemma that previous generations of comic creators haven’t had to deal with at anywhere near this scale. And that’s a good thing.

  17. Agent Spanky says:

    Terrific read.

    For me there are definitely degrees, my favourite author, David Gemmell, was a devout christian, and if you looked for it there were definitely christiany elements in his books, despite being a long time atheist that never bothered me, I could still appreciate his fantastic writing and characters.

    But I’ve had a tougher time reconciling other creators beliefs with their works. Like many people I have trouble matching the amazing Enders Game with the gay bashing rants of Orson Scott Card. How a writer could so perfectly frame how horrible social isolation and marginalistation can be for a person and then promote the idea of isolating others is beyond me. Equally perplexing is when people leap to his defence.

    At the worst end of the spectrum, I felt physically dirty after discovering the writer director of the films Jeepers Creepers and Powder was a convicted pedophile and it’s forever tarnished my view of the actors who work with him. Likewise I have trouble joining the universal acclaim for Johnny Depp when he so eagerly supprots the exoneration of Roman Polanski who raped a 14 year old girl and is yet to face charges for it.

    But then again, actors on a whole aren’t particularly famous for intelligent decision making and character judgements. Latest example: Hillary Swank singing to a mass murdering war criminal at his lavish birthday party.

    • MisterShaw MisterShaw says:

      Hillary Swank’s explanation of that was brilliant, too. “I didn’t know! I fired my publicist!” But in the speech she gave at the party, she says “I read, I do my research.”

  18. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    This made me think of Rick Veitch. Army@Love was awesome, I loved it.

    Then he puts out The Big Lie, a “truther” book. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to read anything of his again.

  19. moodydoom moodydoom says:

    The article below offers some tough words on Frank Miller’s recent rant. I usually like the Guardian’s journalism but it’s severely disappointing that the article writes off the comic-book medium in its entirety with one sweeping generalization.

    still, some of the stuff it’s saying about Miller’s point of view is interesting

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/nov/24/frank-miller-hollywood-fascism

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Wow and I subscribe to the Guardian UK and somehow missed this article. The sweeping generalization by the author is almost as ignorant as Miller’s sweeping generalization of Occupy WS. I dont know how you connect vigilante action with the right wing?? Not to mention that this jerk doesnt bother to investigate whether or not all comics are about crime fighting heros or not (which they are most certainly not). Perhaps the most egregious thing would be to connect the Xmen with the right wing. Isnt that exactly what the Professor Xavier Xmen message originally was.. firmly on the side of the left with likes of MLK???
      BIg stretch.. Hollywood fascism?? .. ridiculous .. for every conservative like Schwarzenegger .. there are 50 Matt Damon’s in hollywood. I suppose the born identity was also fascist .. because it was an action movie??? even though its message was entirely the opposite.

    • iroberts007 iroberts007 says:

      Thanks for posting that moodydoom.. pretty interesting.. albeit annoying.

  20. dennisnahas says:

    I think that due to the small size of the comics community and the heavy interactions between creator and consumer, and the nature of the product being sold, a creator is selling an experience more tied to themselves than other medium. A comic is put together at base by 2 to 4 people, writer, penciller, inker, and colorist., often with some or all of those overlapping. Tie that into the interaction many comic fans have with creators at cons, and when you buy a comic, knowledge about the creator can enhance or reduce the experience of reading.

    Reading the article, the first names that came to mind for me Chuck Dixon and Frank Miller. But the second names that came to mind were Gabe Hardman, Jeff Parker, and Dan Slott. I’ve listened to their deep enthusiasm for comics and then when I look at their issues, I can see their love popping out at me.

    As a final note, I could place a Frank Miller comic in every category listed, depending on where I was in my comic reading career, and where he was in his writing career, and where they intersect. Also, I could place Robocop 2 in there, but the less said about Robocop 2, the better. I would venture to say that if Frank Miller had written the exact same Holy Terror as an over the top parody, I would react to it entirely differently than knowing he takes it seriously, despite the product being exactly the same.