Separating the art from the artist: creators and bad behavior

As someone who reads a lot of books & comics, who watches television & movies, who listens to music, from time to time the question arises: can you appreciate a work of art purely on its own merits, even when you do not like the artist who created it?  If you know that person is unpleasant, or sexist, or racist, or holds an extreme political view that is anathema to your sensibilities, are you still able to enjoy the products of his or her creativity?

That question has once again reared its head for me in the last couple of days.  It concerned independent comic book creator MariNaomi, author of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22.  I learned that MariNaomi, while she had been participating on a panel discussion on LGBTQ issues at a comic book convention, had been, in her words, “sexually harassed” by a fellow panelist.  It very soon was revealed that mainstream comic book writer Scott Lobdell was the individual who had harassed her.  I do not want to get into the unpleasant details of what MariNaomi experienced, or discuss Lobdell’s apology, but you can read both of them for yourselves via these links.  I’ll still be here when you get back:

Are we all caught up now?  Good.

When I was in high school and college in the 1990s, I was a huge fan of Scott Lobdell’s writing on books such as Excalibur, Marvel Comics Presents, and Uncanny X-Men.  I found his stories to be both extremely funny and emotionally moving & poignant.  Aside from a couple of issues here and there, I have not read his more recent work on DC’s New 52, simply because I’m generally dissatisfied with the tone of that whole line, and the top-down creative style where editorial micro-manages their writers, leading to a lot of lackluster material.  I’d heard people complaining that within the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws, Lobdell had turned Starfire into a nymphomaniac or something like that, but I just shrugged and figured it was something that his editors had directed him to do.  It didn’t really matter to me, since I wasn’t reading that book.

Now, though, having found out about Lobdell’s behavior at that comic convention, the manner in which he treated MariNaomi, suddenly I’m wondering to myself if I can now go back and re-read his Marvel work from a couple of decades ago and still enjoy it.  In the pages of Uncanny X-Men, he often wrote about how mutants were outsiders or outcasts, very effectively continuing the theme of mutants as metaphors for minorities such as Jews or blacks or homosexuals.  Lobdell would script powerful scenes where characters such as Charles Xavier would encourage tolerance & acceptance towards people of all backgrounds.  Is all that just going to seem hollow and hypocritical now?

Remember to practice what you preach.
Remember to practice what you preach.

I realize that Lobdell is only human.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  Maybe he’s a practical joker with poor judgment who acts like this around everyone.  Should he be crucified for behavior?  Yet at the same time, we definitely cannot just casually brush aside all of the mental and emotional anguish MariNaomi obviously experienced because of his behavior.

So, getting back to my question, can I still, personally, read Lobdell’s work and enjoy it?  Thinking it over, there are numerous examples of creative types who had all manner of glaring flaws & defects, who behaved badly but who were brilliant writers or artists or musicians or actors.  Is anyone familiar with Ty Cobb?  He was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived.  He was also, according to numerous sources, an extremely nasty individual who treated other people like crap and who would get into violent arguments with anyone & everyone at the drop of a hat, on or off the baseball field.  His teammates often hated his guts, but they wanted him up at bat because they knew he could help lead them to victory.

H.P. Lovecraft was an anti-Semite, and Robert E. Howard was probably something of a racist.  I still very much enjoy the fiction of both men, although if either of them were still alive, I doubt I would want to be in the same room with them.  Looking at a much more recent example, after September 11th Frank Miller seems to have gone off the rails, turning into an ultra right wing reactionary who demonizes Liberals and the Occupy Wall Street protestors as traitors.  Am I still able to enjoy his work?  Yes… sometimes.  I still think that Batman: Year One is amazing.  But I am totally repulsed by the extreme xenophobia and the idolization of fascism & violence on display in both 300 and Holy Terror.

So, yes, sometimes I can enjoy the works of controversial, offensive figures, as long as their ideologies do not permeate their creations.  But on other occasions, their upsetting behavior has become so associated for me with them that I find it distasteful to look at their works, even if their art has nothing to do with their beliefs.

What I really need to do is give this some time, and see how I feel about Lobdell’s writing a few months from now.  Maybe distance will give me a better perspective.  But right now, in the present, I really do not want to look at anything he’s worked on.

There is one last thing.  I see that the usual Internet trolls have, predictably, come out of the woodwork, either to defend Scott Lobdell, or to attack MariNaomi, arguing that she is “oversensitive” or “cannot take a joke” or whatever.  To those people, I have this to say: Imagine that was your wife or girlfriend or daughter or mother or sister who had been subjected to Lobdell’s poor, tasteless attempts at humor.  Would you have found his behavior towards your loved one to be acceptable?  Would you tell your significant other that they needed to “get a sense of humor” about what happened?  For your sake, I hope not.

Yeah, I've been there.
Yeah, I’ve been there.

As for myself, I’m not perfect.  God knows I’ve made mistakes.  When I was in my teens and twenties on a few occasions I said or did things that were sexist.  And there was this one kid in Junior High who was always being an asshole & treating me like crap, someone who I’d heard rumors that he was gay.  So one day I just got so pissed off at him that I shouted a homophobic slur at him.  And even to this day, from time to time I will put my foot in my mouth and accidentally offend people without meaning to because sometimes I’m still socially awkward.  Looking back on all those incidents, I realize what I did was wrong, and if I saw any of those people today I would absolutely apologize for my behavior.

I guess we can all take this incident as a lesson that we should be careful about what we say to others.  Even when we mean no harm, if we choose our words poorly we can unintentionally end up really hurting other people.

Remembering comic book artist Dave Hoover

I was reminded by Facebook that today, May 14th, would have been the birthday of artist Dave Hoover.  Tragically, Hoover passed away on September 4, 2011 at the much too young age of 56.  I was always a fan of his artwork, and so I wanted to write a few words to remember this talented individual.

Hoover, who came from an animation background, entered the comic book field in 1987.  One of his first assignments was for DC Comics, where he penciled Wanderers, a spin-off from Legion of Super-Heroes written by Doug Moench which lasted 13 issues.  After that, Hoover had a year-long run on Starman, paired with writers Roger Stern and  Len Strazewski and inker Scott Hanna.Captain America 437 signed

Moving over to Marvel in the early 1990s, the character who Hoover probably became most identified with was Captain America.  He penciled the Star-Spangled Avenger’s monthly title for a year and a half, drawing Mark Gruenwald’s final stories on the title.  Unfortunately, I think that Gruenwald, after nearly a decade on the book, was running out of steam at this point in time, and these issues of Captain America are not especially well regarded.  Nevertheless, Hoover’s art on these was certainly good.

Starman 27 coverHoover also drew Cap in the pages of a four issue Invaders miniseries.  This was an exciting World War II adventure penned by original Invaders scribe Roy Thomas, and Hoover’s artwork was a perfect match for it.

While at Marvel, Hoover also drew the Night Thrasher: Four Control miniseries, as well as numerous fill-in stories.  He worked on issues of Wolverine, Punisher, Quasar, and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, plus stories featuring She-Hulk and Iron Fist in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents.

In an animation-inspired style, Hoover was the penciler on several issues of Uncanny Origins, wherein he got to recount the early histories of several of the X-Men, as well as Firelord and Venom.

One of my favorite issues penciled by Hoover was Excalibur #40, “The Trial of Lockheed.”  Writer Scott Lobdell revealed the previously untold origin of Kitty Pryde’s little purple alien dragon.  Hoover’s art style was perfectly suited for this whimsical story.Excalibur 40 cover

After the comic book industry had its major downturn in the mid-1990s, Hoover returned to the animation field.  He still occasionally worked on comic book material, such as “The Parchment of Her Flesh,” a story that appeared in the fantasy anthology The Forbidden Book, published in 2001 by Renaissance Press.  Hoover also drew a number of illustrations inspired by the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In the mid 2000s, Hoover very effectively remade himself as a “good girl artist,” drawing numerous cute, sexy illustrations of women which he posted in his gallery on Comic Art Fans.  I really enjoyed his work in this vein.  Unlike a lot of “bad girl” artists, Hoover drew beautiful females in a tasteful manner.  There was a charming playfulness to his pin-up drawings.

Along those lines, Hoover was the artist on the first few issues of a comic book based on the Charmed television series that Zenescope published in 2010, along with a handful of stories for their Grimm Fairy Tales anthology.  He also worked on Paula Peril, a series about a sexy, intrepid reporter who always seemed to get tied up by the bad guys during the course of her investigations.

Courtesy of Dave Hoover’s gallery on Comic Art Fans, here is an example of his good girl art, a jungle girl pin-up drawn in 2009…

Dave Hoover jungle girl

I was fortunate enough to meet Dave Hoover on a few occasions.  He was a guest at the 2001 Pittsburgh Comic Con, and a few years ago made a surprise appearance at one of the Big Apple shows here in NYC.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed his work and get one of his Captain America issues autographed.  I also purchased a nice pin-up he had drawn of Cap with his teen protégé Free Spirit, as well as one of the original pages of artwork from his run on the series.  I really wish I’d been able to get a commission done by him, maybe of Cap’s girlfriend Diamondback, who he drew so well.  But the opportunity just never seemed to come up.

In any case, here is a scan of that Captain America & Free Spirit illustration I acquired from Hoover.  Sorry I don’t have a better quality pic of it.Free Spirit Captain America Dave Hoover

If you are not familiar with Dave Hoover’s amazing art, I certainly urge you to seek his work out.  His Invaders miniseries was collected as part of the Invaders Classic Vol. 4, and most of his Captain America issues are contained in the two Fighting Chance trade paperbacks.  You can find pics of many of his pin-up drawings online.  And it’s well worth a search through the back issue bins to search out some of the other comic books that he illustrated.