It was about a year ago that I immersed myself in the audio version of Grant Morrison’s book Supergods. If you haven’t read/listened to it, I highly recommend it, as it’s a strange and compelling history of comics and superheroes combined with what’s essentially a biography of the man himself. Listening to it taught me a lot about comics and about Mr. Morrison, who along with being one of the most inventive comic book writers of all time, is also a self proclaimed practitioner of magic. Yes, magic. The man behind some of my favorite books, including All-Star Superman and Animal Man, also believes that he can cast spells. Did this bother me? Truth be told, it didn’t bother me, as it seemed in keeping with Morrison’s overall sense of charm and mystery. And who was I to argue with something that was so clearly working for him? But it did call into question what I would describe as my hero worship, as I was now faced with the reality that one of my comic book writing heroes was also involved in something I essentially rejected as a basic concept. As an extension of this I began to wonder if I would be able to separate my personal biases on the subject of magic and simply enjoy Morrison’s creations just as I had before. Simply put, I wondered: Would I be able to separate creator and creation? And did I need to?
In his book, Morrison describes a series of episodes in his own life that were affected by his willingness to embrace the notion of actual magic, including the use of sigils and incantations. There were drugs involved along the way, but Morrison’s magic as he describes it is more than just a trip in his own mind. In one instance, he even describes bringing his ailing cat back to life via a spell. Morrison’s take on the magic of it all is at times a metaphor for the power we all possess to manifest good things in our lives (which I firmly believe), but the other side of the coin seems to involve a genuine belief in magic and occult. Again, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, as it went against everything that was hammered into me as the son of a Origin of Species-thumping scientist who lived in a house where pure science and logic were the only truths one needed to adhere to.
Now I knew going in that Grant Morrison was associated with magic and the occult. After all, these themes are front and center in a lot of Morrison’s works. But I did find myself a bit surprised to by Morrison’s desire to impart the practices of magic to the reader. More specifically, I was also a bit taken aback by the fact that one of my favorite comic book writers, a man I absolutely respect on every creative level, was embracing what to me felt essentially like hokum. As you might have guessed by now, I’m not the kind of person who believes in the particular brand of Grant Morrison practices or any magic for that matter. I’m not judging Morrison at all; in fact, I sort of envy his ability to put his faith in such things. It’s just not something I’m able to do. And to his credit, Morrison’s worldview and its connection to magic are manifested in his creations; they are a part of his vision and voice. That comes through in his comics and I appreciate it on the level of fodder for comic book fantasies. Still, I found it distracting.
What I found in the months after learning about Morrison’s fondness for magic was that it affected my experience of reading his works. Simply put, I wasn’t exactly able to read his creations without bringing the man himself to my mind. Basically, I was no longer able to simply read and experience his stories on a pure level. All of this led me wonder whether or not it’s really possible to separate the creator from the creation in cases where the creator is bringing along some unwanted level of reputational baggage. In this world of Internet connectedness, it’s almost impossible to pick up a comic and not know at least a little something about the person who created it. If you’re like me, and comics minutiae is part of your obsession, then you bring your knowledge of writers and artists to the table each time your pick up a book. So what happens when you know too much about the creator of a particular book? And what happens when the person writing the book has a reputation, negative or otherwise? Can we as readers enjoy a comic simply as a comic and not as an extension of the personality we essentially “know” thanks to the Internet?
In this case of someone like Orson Scott Card, it’s fairly safe to say that most people now have a hard time accepting his work at face value. Card has made some pretty hateful opinions known, so I personally find it hard to ignore the source when it comes to material he’s written. I’m sure there are people out there who can, but I don’t happen to be one of them. Sure, he’s a creative guy and I wish I didn’t know his politics, but knowing them makes it tough to truly embrace the product he’s putting out into the world. As for someone like John Byrne, the vitriol and negativity that seem to be associated with him seem to me to taint anything he puts out into the world these days. Knowing what people know about John Bryne and his reputation essentially sullies anything he puts out there. I’m not saying he’s doing his best work now, but I have my doubts that a great “return to glory” creation would ever gain any traction because of the negativity associated with the John Byrne name. I use these examples in conjunction with Grant Morrison only because they all seem to elicit emotional responses and not because Morrison’s fondness for magic should be construed as any sort of negative.
We so easily see behind the curtain these days that anyone who isn’t perfect runs the risk of alienating their audience, perhaps merely because they’ve been deemed “tough to work with” or “a strong personality.” And yes, there are creators out there who are just plain jerks. Is it possible to truly separate creation from creator? Can someone who is reviled, rejected or misunderstood as a human being still create worthwhile material? There are egos at play in the comics industry, just like any creative business, so it’s not surprising that people develop reputations of one type or another. But is it fair to judge books on the idiosyncrasies of the writer and not simply on whether or not a book is viable as a stand-alone example of good comics? Personally, I find it hard to not think about the person behind the creation once I’ve become aware of them. Knowing the writer can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation, it seems.. In the end, a great comic shouldn’t be judged by anything more than what’s on the page. But can we separate the creator from the creation? Or, in this age of endless information, are these creations destined to be tainted by the knowledge that those who create them may not live up to the standards we as fans set?
Gabe Roth is a writer living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t believe in magic at the moment, but that may change. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.