Can we separate the art from the artist?

At times it’s not easy to separate the art from the artist, especially if they reveal parts of themselves in the stories they tell. If a cartoonist has serious depression, if you have characters who’re very irritable, depressed or suicidal then these share the author’s experiences and innermost feelings in a way the former’s not always aware of. It’s a red flag if some of the characters are depressed and some have powers that induce suicidal thoughts.

(I could be referring to somebody as heard in a sermon but I won’t reveal them for now.)

In the case with Nate Stevenson, he was brought up as a lass in a strict Christian community and admitted in an interview that he left the church at age 19 and had struggled with Christianity. This gets reflected a lot in the one programme he worked on for a long time, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. He even projects this onto the stories he writes so much not only do fans reveal things he doesn’t realise but also relate to it on some level.

In the case with Carl Barks, he worked as a farmer for some time so it gets reflected in some of the stories he writes. Having actual experience in something gives a stronger air of authenticity in a way that being interested in something doesn’t, so much so it works for other stories to their advantage. But this also makes it harder to separate the art from the artist, especially if it reflects their experiences and thoughts.

To return to the case of the depressed cartoonist, if a good number of characters have symptoms of depression and the author turns out to be depressed one would have to look at the red flags to know what they’re suffering from. Having depression can get reflected in the way the characters are written, but as I said before it makes it harder to separate the art from the artist once the latter’s outed as depressed.

That would surprise fans, even though the red flags are there in the stories for us to see. But that goes to show you how difficult it is to separate the art from the artist, especially if the art reflects what the artist experiences or feels.

A confession

To confess, I really don’t get the obsession with continuity. Perhaps I never cared much about it, well not to the same extent as other superhero readers have though there are probably others who’re also in my position. It seems when it comes to storytelling, you have a later generation of superhero readers who obsess over and insist on continuity. It’s not that continuity’s nonexistent in the earlier stories, but the major difference between the earlier storytellers and the later ones is that the former were simply interested in telling a story.

It seems like the obsession with continuity began when it comes to making sense of the character’s appearances in every story as well as the degree of consistency, it could be helpful when it comes to maintaining storytelling consistency. But at times, I think it’s best to just tell a story to the best of one’s abilities. It would be wiser to give one’s best to telling a Superman or Wonder Woman story rather than obsessing over whether if it fits the continuity you’re telling a story in.

While adhering a lot to continuity can produce good results, it’s not something everybody can easily do especially if they themselves aren’t that beholden to continuity to begin with. Again it’s proof that it’s sometimes better to give one’s best at storytelling over figuring out which story fits in a given continuity. I don’t think adhering to continuity is something people should aspire to, not only because they may not be beholden to it but the fact that sometimes you just have to tell a story.

If you want to write a story about Mickey Mouse, you may have to get the basics right but for most of the part give your best at writing Mickey Mouse. I think giving one’s best at writing let’s say Gen13 whilst knowing the basics is more important than obsessing over the continuity of each rebooted Gen13 storyline. It’s better to know the general idea of something rather than the convoluted details of each iteration, especially when it comes to storytelling.

I also think the obsession with whatever is in continuity puts off certain readers and writers, especially if they don’t share this. They like the characters, the ideas behind them but aren’t into the continuities of every reboot and retcon. So getting the general idea of the character is more important in storytelling than obsessing over inane details over every passing incarnation. It’s even better storytelling this way, when one considers this.

This may be my opinion but I do think it’s more important to simply give a shot at telling a Flash story than it is to know the details of a certain continuity, given others may not care much about continuity to begin with. Some may even forget the details, so continuity maintenance is not for everybody.

Obscured inspirations and topics

It’s been said that when it comes to the X-Men, for all its anti-prejudice message, has a history of fumbling a lot when it comes to nonwhite characters. Characters like John Proudstar and Dust are stereotypical, Elizabeth Braddock being bodyswapped with a Japanese woman to get ninja skills (until recently when it got undone) and that Dazzler was going to be black as she was based on Grace Jones. Grace Jones was certainly a big name celebrity in her time, but Dazzler got racially whitewashed half-way.

Comes to think of it, this kind of tampering might not be unique to superhero stories as this also affects other kinds of stories. In the case with romance novels, there could’ve been romance stories that tackled abortion, getting one’s tubes tied, miscarriage, STDs and the like with a likely number of romance novel heroes being based off of somebody else. Somebody who doesn’t fit the romance hero mold, so there’s a good (and weird) chance that one romance hero may’ve been based off of somebody like Nick Rhodes. He may not have a great body, but he and his band Duran Duran were pretty popular in the 1980s with girls having crushes on them.

So it’s likely some romance novelists and readers grew up with Duran Duran, though it could be said that one’s preferences change over time. But for others, there’s bound to be those whose preferences aren’t beholden to the stereotypical norm. There are even romance readers and possibly romance novelists who’re turned off by muscles, that their own romance heroes were at some point not the typical romance novel hero. They could’ve been thin or chubby, they could even be middle class or working class.

Romance novels might be changing for the better, but the fact that muscular rich men are very popular stereotypes remain. Same goes for bad boys, while not all romance novels have them as heroes, it’s likely some novelists are pressured to keep writing these kinds of characters even if they’re not really interested in or attracted to them as they would in real life. I also think there are romance novelists who likely have less stereotypical Latin or Arab heroes, less stereotypical in the sense that they’re not rich sheikhs or Latin Lovers.

Even if these characters may have at some point more closely resembled what other Latin or Arab men are actually like, they got changed halfway to meet editorial and sales expectations. This could’ve been to the chagrin of novelists who either go against the grain or create characters based on the people they know so well that we never get an opportunity to read them as they actually were. Or rather were going to be, since other than any possible surviving draft we don’t get to see them as what their authors intended them to be.

Thus these characters get rewritten in the interim to meet romance expectations, that’s to fulfill a stereotype. While the Duran Duran example is only hypothetical, it does make you wonder why there isn’t more room for romance heroes who’re openly based on what some romance novelists are actually into or inspired by. Likewise for Arab and Mediterranean men, there could’ve been stories where these characters differed greatly from the stereotypical depiction but were made into stereotypes halfway.

There could’ve been romance novels that tackled the topic of infertility and to some extent, they already have but when it comes to meeting market and editorial expectations authorial desires are compromised or altered to meet such demands.

Superhero comics and accessibility

When it comes to superhero comics and accessibility, they do reach out to new readers to some extent but some of the biggest drawbacks to having such a vast, extensive shared universe (though this may not be true for all shared universes) is that it can be hard to track down a character. Especially if it’s one’s favourite character, speaking from experience when it comes to finding good comics about Tigra. While other story franchises have their own problems and drawbacks, things like DC and Marvel have accidentally made it harder for somebody to find what they want to see.

Not just due to racism and sexism but also because it can be really hard to track down one’s favourite character if they don’t have a long-lasting self-contained magazine series of their own and that they can be seen in multiple magazines. While this may not be unique to Marvel and DC as this can be found in other shared universes to a similar or some extent, that’s the pitfall of having an extensive shared universe. If a character appears in multiple books or magazines, it can be really hard finding them at all as I know from experience especially if you want to find good stories about them.

Self-contained stories and universes might not be much better either when it comes to finding a character one is interested in, but if they stay in one storytelling universe and just one storytelling universe that makes it easier to find them. Much easier if they appear in a certain story arc. Not much better, but still better than appearing in an extensive shared universe the way you do with Marvel and DC. Maybe that might be one of the reasons why Image, Dark Horse and other publishers abandoned the shared universe model as it makes it harder to find one’s favourite character.

Maybe not necessarily the primary reason, but that self-contained universes and stories are significantly easier to get into than if it were an extensive, shared universe even if that’s not true for all shared universes. But the problem remains if it were an extensive shared universe.