Fri, 16 Mar 2001
Dear Mister W.,
Some of my friends are having this little ongoing debate w/r/t artistic purity and how it relates to being a "marketable" artist. Being a creative type yourself, I thought you might have a few thoughts on the subject. Is it better to be an "artiste," working at the whim of your muse, or a workhorse-type in which one works at their chosen craft day in and day out, at about the same time, for about the same time? Which produces better (use your own standard of what constitutes "better," if you like) results? Are the work-horses bound to be more marketable?
Hmmm. That is an intriguing and subtle query. Plenty of opportunity to spread my rhetorical wings and give flight to my fancies concerning art and commerce and productivity, of which I have many, being, as you say, a practitioner of the creative arts and an acolyte of the Muses. Therefore, I'd like to talk about Batman.
Why is it that no one can get close to the heart of this brilliant and driven man? Well, because he's a whacko who won't let go of the death of his parents. Because he chooses to articulate his loss through violence and revenge rather than sorrow and healing. Because at his most noble he is an eternally vigilant watchman at the gates of night, preventing all he might from going through his nightmare. But also because at his worst he is an eternal child, acting out his fear of abandonment through the physical and mental torture of those he deems criminal. Batman's loneliness is compounded by his great genius, an intellectual gulf which inspires a subtle contempt for all those he saves.
That is why the only person he may ever truly love is the Joker. The Joker is Batman's ideal parent, ideal companion. He defies death. He will never go away forever. He will challenge him. He will pay attention to him, court him, draw him out. Deranged and exuberant in a way the rational Batman wishes he could allow himself to be, the Joker will always surprise Batman... like your parents might surprise you with a trip to the movies late one night.
And I tell you this because for 63 years, the tales of Batman have been told by the poorly compensated employees of DC Comics. Let's face it. Most of these guys were phoning it in. Action stories for the kids, sure, maybe some social commentary later on, maybe a few daredevil jumps of fantasy, but for the most part, it was all about getting paid for pages completed.
But the idea from a hack named Bob Kane, worked by workhorses and expanded by talents and contradicted by editors, somehow gels in the right kind of artistic, myth-leaning brain to become a foundation for the fluttering whisper of a Muse. And then the explosions start.
It takes both kinds of artist, honey. Be both. Because it isn't about the storyteller. It's about the story, waiting to be told.