Friday, October 17, 2003

I’ve asked this question to many an artist: Would you rather be known to a great degree (riches and fame) for one work, or to a lesser degree for your body of work?

I personally eschew the idea of one defining work, because to say that one work defines an artist’s career ignores that artist’s potential for growth. It also diminutizes everything else he has done, rendering them profligate or, at best, instrumental.

But certainly, artists would scoff at the idea of being at the center of attention. It is, after all, about the art, isn’t it? Still, we are a personality-fixated lot, wherein a name is a brand with a quality-assurance stamp. For instance, anything involving Neil Gaiman, from The Sandman to Coraline to The Wolves In The Walls, even perhaps his tie-up with Alice Cooper in The Last Temptation, more often translates to money well-spent. And though Gaiman has an impressive body of work, The Sandman elevated him to god-status. From what I’ve gathered from Gaiman-philes, he has yet to go higher.

But Gaiman readily recognizes the need to stroke the collective mane of his fans, and in doing so bridges the great divide between art and commercialism. That for people to recognize your art, you need to get around and show that you live and breath as much as the average schmoe. In essence, the issue ceases to be “one work versus body of work.” Rather, it becomes one of longevity in one’s chosen career.

Though I still do not believe in aspiring for what would be touted as the defining work (it’s not for the artist to wholly determine, anyway), being recognized to a great degree for one work almost guarantees the revenue-building return audience. And who doesn’t want to flourish in one’s chosen career? This niche market or fan base becomes the artist’s best friend and sustains his existence as an economic entity.

Eventually, the artist comes to a fork in the road. To content himself with his core fanbase, churning out what they’ve come to love and support, or stretch himself as an artist who needs to explore and experiment? Madonna’s fans near-unanimously flushed American Life. Julia Roberts’ fans trounced Mary Reilly, only to come back for Runaway Bride. I’m curious to see how J.K. Rowling’s career would turn out when she caps Harry Potter and tries something new. (Arguably, she doesn’t have to, what with all that royalty and licensing moolah stuffing her bank accounts.)

Me? Well, I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve chosen to do. While I miss acting on stage, and singing is an odd tasty drug, creating my own grafiction still gives me a unique kind of high. Let everything else in my life be about other people, but let my comics be about me.

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