Creators vs Content

By | Thursday, June 18, 2020 Leave a Comment
There are a lot of talented comic creators out there. If you look through the list of Eisner nominees over time, you can see more and more impressive works. (Side note: today is the last day for voting on this year's Eisners! If you're eligible and haven't voted yet, head over there to do so now!) The latest nominees generally blow the ones from ten or twenty years ago out of the water! The bar keeps getting raised higher, and more and more people are able to step up their game! There's just a wealth of fantastic material out there these days!

But what happens sometimes is that you read a really great comic or graphic novel -- maybe one that's won several awards or maybe one that just you really, really like -- only to later find out that creator behind it is a horrible person. Maybe they're a raging homophobe or they beat their spouse or they're a big proponent of eugenics. Whatever it is, you find out that their personal thoughts and actions are abhorrent to you at a deeply personal level. The question that people often ask themselves in these situations is: is it okay to support the work while disagreeing with the creator themselves?

That's actually a pretty big question, so let's break it down into some smaller chunks.

First, you have to weigh whatever it is they they've said or done that you don't like against your own moral compass. Are they being broadly hateful or just ignorant and insensitive about a nuanced issue? Is this something they might learn from if you (or someone) has a reasonable discussion with them, or are they dead set in their position? Does their apology (of they've issued one) seem sincere, and do they seem genuinely interested in learning about the issue to prevent it from happening again... or are they just providing lip service to placate the audience?

How much of their viewpoint infects their work? As a creator, they can't not completely separate themselves from their creation but can you find elements of their problematic issues upon re-visiting their work you already have? Does the guy who beats his wife generally show female characters in a negative light? Does the xenophobe fall back on any broad stereotypes?

These types of questions are what you need to address in thinking about continuing to get work from these creators. Because if you're buying their books, you're saying that you support them. You like their work and you're willing to part with a portion of your hard-earned money to tell them so. They won't know if you like the work because of the lead character or the witty dialogue or the general concepts or stylized art, or what. Your money will get interpreted simply as, "You like what I do, so I'll keep doing what I've been doing." The money you're sending them is telling them that they're successful, and that there's no need to change. Even if their work doesn't expressly showcase their worst ideas or behaviors, their thoughts and ideas and intentions are rooted in everything they do, so it's still a version of support.

Now, what about their work that you've already purchased? You may have bought it ignorant of their problems -- whether that's because it hadn't come publicly to light at all, or you personally just were unaware. You've already paid for things, and that money has gone back to the creator. You can't take that back. (Usually. If you just purchased their book; you might be able to return it for a refund.) Is it worth getting rid of/destroying the book?

If the very idea of having their work anywhere near you is that repulsive then, yes, absolutely get rid of it. If you can taste bile just at seeing their name on the spine as it sits on your bookshelf, you should definitely get rid of it just for your own mental health. That makes complete sense.

Doug TenNapel's Cardboard
But that is for your benefit. It matters not at all to the creator or anyone else. You chucking the book in the trash after you've already paid for it doesn't impact the creator in any way, shape, or form. So, from my perspective, I don't see a problem with leaving it sit on the shelf. But I'm looking at this from a more academic perspective. If somebody brings the book up in conversation later, I might want to refer to it directly, maybe to point out particular flaws or examples of where the creator's mentality is on display in a manner that only makes sense in hindsight. I look at it like a professor of German history who might keep a copy of Mein Kampf -- they don't support Nazism, but it was a seminal work in Hitler's life and can be used to understand his motivations and other aspects of that period. If you find any books on my shelves from problematic creators, it's most likely because I didn't know of those problems when I first picked up the books but I'm not inclined to part with them because they still might come in handy as a piece of research material and, if it's a resource I do need to refer to in the future, I certainly don't want to try to get another copy and accidentally support the creator in question.

Now, there is an argument to be made for getting rid of books by problem creators in a more performative way. By making a public/internet display of your getting rid of the material (in the middle of a comic convention or as a YouTube video, for examples) that can be used to alert others to the problems you may have just discovered. The more work that you might put up for destruction -- the more financial loss you as an individual are taking -- the more powerful the message becomes. Burning a single copy of a monthly pamphlet comic, for example, only represents the loss of a few dollars. Burning an entire page of original art by an otherwise popular creator could easily represent hundreds, possibly even thousands, of dollars! Being willing to get rid of that to make a statement sends a much stronger message. You're effectively saying, "I am willing to spend $1000 to tell people what horrible things this person has done!"

But it's the public performance of that that sends a message. If you do the same thing by yourself in your basement or backyard, it's achieved very little, if anything. It's barely symbolic and, even then, only to you.

In short, if you continue buying their new material, yes, you are supporting whatever garbage caused you to question them in the first place, but you don't necessarily need to feel guilty holding on to their works which you had purchased previously. The "damage" (your support) has already been done; your best bet, as with many things in life, is to learn from it and move on.
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