The Talented Asshole Problem

In other comic-related news, artist Tess Fowler recently came out about a run-in she had with a successful and popular male comic creator who verbally abused her at a con and (allegedly) acts pretty reprehensibly towards women with an alarming frequency.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s not, but the fact that she was backing up someone else’s allegations doesn’t look good for the dude concerned. It’s troubling for the usual reasons misogyny is troubling – people writing it off as nothing, others supporting the accused’s right to be an asshole, etc. etc.. It’s all pretty well-trod territory and I’m seriously doubtful I can bring anything fresh or helpful to that debate. But it’s especially troubling to me because I read that guy’s work. I like that guy’s work, and I don’t know if this new information changes anything about that.

I’ve had dozens of conversations about the separation between artists and their art in which I’ve come down on the side of still being willing and able to appreciate what someone has created completely aside from the fact that they’re a morally reprehensible human being. It usually helps that I’m talking about work that was done decades before and that I know my ownership of it doesn’t give legitimacy to whatever intolerant nonsense they’re spouting or the terrible acts they may have committed and doesn’t financially benefit them to a degree that would change anything.

A couple of examples:

I picked up a paperback copy of Ender’s Game at a charity shop a couple of months ago for about £1.50, largely because I had read about it being a great science-fiction novel that has little to do with its author Orson Scott Card’s homophobic bile that’s been the cause of the controversy surrounding the imminent movie adaptation of said book. No bones about that: none of the money was going into Card’s pocket and I didn’t feel like spending the price of a train station pastry on a 28 year-old novel would look like a vindication of his ‘values’. I’ll probably go see the movie too, which is harder to defend in the same way (although apparently the author’s not getting any of the box office profits) until you realise that hundreds of people worked on it and I’d wager a pretty large sum that most of them weren’t burning with anti-gay sentiment while shooting (or otherwise), and it’s unfair that their hard work should go unrewarded if it’s actually a decent flick.

In a more remote instance, it’s hard to generate an image of Dennis Hopper as a decent human being when I know for a fact that he was a violent, abusive drunk whose second wife Michelle Phillips described their week-long marriage as the Seven-Day War (incidentally, you should go read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls). That said, it’s impossible not to regard Easy Rider as a seminal piece of filmmaking that forever changed the landscape of Hollywood and American cinema for the better – at least for the first ten years or so – and to disregard his breathtakingly ugly performance as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet is to ignore an actor at the peak of their craft, and that’s difficult to do.

[In fact, Hopper’s performance in that movie is supposedly so drawn from his own personality that he actually once called up director David Lynch and told him, “I am Frank!”]

But does watching Blue VelvetRumble Fish or even Rebel Without a Cause mean I approve of Dennis Hopper’s personal life or even like the guy? Of course not. And to be perfectly fair, I didn’t know the guy. Most of the heinous shit I’ve heard or read about him happened in the ’60s and ’70s, so there’s nothing to say he didn’t change before he died in 2010. That doesn’t excuse anything he did, but it at least means we should probably think about him as a human being with flaws (albeit somewhat more heightened than others) instead of a cardboard monster.

But dealing with something that happened 30 or 40 years ago is admittedly a lot easier than something that’s happening right now, which brings us back to the writer in question. I have a couple of his comics on my pull list; they’re not properties he owns so I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t get the lion’s share of the profits, but I’m still contributing to his continued success in an industry in which he (again, allegedly) acts a manner I can’t knowingly stomach.

And the thing is, he isn’t writing stories which uphold values I don’t. He writes well-rounded male and female characters and has been lauded for doing so. Maybe he’s well aware of his own flaws, knows that they don’t have a place in any healthy society and so at least tries to fix them in his work? Maybe, but that also sounds dangerously like a rationalisation. And I’m not particularly comfortable making up a defense for someone who hasn’t (to my limited knowledge) admitted that they’ve done wrong.

So I’m kinda stuck. Really, it would  make it so much easier if he was an asshole on the page as well as in the street.

At least people are talking about it, though, right?

[via Bleeding Cool]

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