You Are What You EatDecember 6, 2010
Had some interesting responses to the last blog Please Drink Responsibly, so I decided the central idea was worth revisiting from a wider perspective than writers or comic folks.
Briefly: you’re only as good as what you take into your system. If you do anything creative, then you’re drawing on your imagination in a very special way and it is not a good idea to poison it. Well duh, it’s never a good idea to chug poison, right? The disconnect seems to be in recognizing the imagination can be poisoned and that these things are. Consider an athlete who ate a steady diet of Big Macs and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Would you be surprised when he failed to win a marathon? Would you be surprised if he fell down dead at Mile-18? Of course not, because we all get that an athlete is using his body to do what he does, and we all get that the cigarettes and junk food are not good for the whole air in/air out/blood pump/muscle flex process. Problem is, few of us see our imaginations that way and far too many of us act like it doesn’t matter what we take into it.
First Principle: anything you do that’s creative comes from your soul – Okay, that’s a big word. Forget the soul. But there is a part of you that’s… better. When you create in any medium, whether it is writing or painting or music, you hook that magical sacred part of you up to the Universe and channel something that is bigger and greater and infinite… Hell, I don’t know what it is, but it’s the reason it’s good to be alive. Bob Fosse called it Joy. And when it comes through YOU, you infuse it with your ideas and your emotions and your life experience and everything that makes you who you are. It makes your story, your song, your sculpture or performance unlike anyone else’s. And it’s your imagination – the part in all of us that first looked up at the stars instead of down at the dirt – that’s the core where all this happens. So what you’ve got laying around in there matters. If it’s Michaelangelo and Mozart and Dickens, great. You’ve got more options than someone who only has Daniele Steele and Nickleback, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a database of classics to draw on. What is the end of the world is if you’ve got steaming piles of dog shit in there.
Now, for any newcomers to this blog, I write a metafiction series about Batman, and yet, I haven’t looked at a current comic in at least 4 years. The reason is that the current output at DC is toxic and I won’t pollute my imagination with it. This is more than not wanting to give DC Comics $2.95, what economists call “Dollar Votes,” in favor of making more of the same. It isn’t about money, it’s about poison.
Someone sent me a link a while back to a website that posts scans from the current comics, and I can tell you right now that if I’d followed that link, that would have been my day. Why? Because if you step out of your house in the morning into a steaming pile of dog shit, that’s where your focus is going to be for quite some time. The unpleasantness of the initial experience stays with you—in this case, my anger and disgust at whatever went on in those pages. That’s going to come out in the writing. Then there’s the smell that lingers: I would be aware if I used certain characters, alluded to certain ideas or events, everything would have a resonance in relation to their crap. Now, your story should be your top priority, not an editor’s agenda, the marketing or the merchandising. The story. Making anything else a priority is a mistake, making their story the priority? Hell no! (We won’t even discuss the practice of, having cleaned off your shoe, going into a forum of people discussing the dog crap as if it’s fine French perfume: Eau Merde de Fifi.)
Look, there are people out there who thrive on anger and disgust. I find it doesn’t lead to creative output. I find it leads to stuff like this:
Those who do create from those negative places, their stuff doesn’t last. Occasionally, if the timing is just right, it will make a splash for fifteen minutes, but before too long, its popularity wanes and future generations just laugh at the goobers who found it profound or shocking.
It’s the stuff that comes from the good place that lasts: from a sense of play, loving what you do, loving the characters, loving the process of creation and being excited to share it all with an audience—it’s that love and joy that is infectious. Love of the characters, celebrating them, holding up the essence of what they are supposed to be, what we’re all supposed to be… The stories that last have always been about the same things: heroes, redemption, coming of age, going home, the power of love. We tell the same stories over and over again because they are true, because they are universal, because they resonate in our core. And that’s where we connect as human beings. That connection, that’s everything. That’s why we do this.
The people I talked to after Please Drink Responsibly are not in comics. They are in another industry that is broken in ways nobody fully understands, but where everyone recognizes that something is profoundly wrong. Look, I don’t know if any one artist can hope to fix a broken system, but we are all in the business of “making a hat where there never was a hat.” Who’s to say we can’t? It starts with making that connection. And to make it, we’ve got to detox, folks. We’ve got to stop taking in poisons and polluting our imaginations with the artistic “product” of people writing comics or making music the way Pumpkin the Pekingese takes a dump. If you’re one of those saying they read/saw/listened to such-and-such “and of course it sucked LOL,” stop laughing. “Of course it sucked” means you knew better before you took that thing into your head. You went right past the surgeon general’s warning and you took that poison into your system anyway. You are what you eat.
All that said, Cat-Tales had a fabulous week. Electron 29 posted its final chapter, which means it is now available in one complete download as ebook or print-quality pdf. As if that’s not enough, Book 5 is ready! That’s the compilation of Cat-Tales #51-59 including fan favorites Riddle Me-Tropolis, Vault, War of the Poses, Armchair Detective, Not My Kink, Do No Harm AND alternate-reality game fodder I Believe in Harvey Dent – all that in one compact ebook download – or, naturally, print-quality pdf. Just in time for Christmas. Meow.