So, let's be frank—I am a hypocrite creatively. If I could paint the content of my stories a color it would most likely be gray.
I grew up like most of my friends in Iowa in the ‘80s and ‘90s with a steady stream of depictions of violence and aggression in cinema, TV, video games, comics, music, and yes—sports. Blood thirst is indiscriminate. It all fuels the same ticking cultural time bomb.
It was for me and for many of my suburban white friends a chance to live dangerously... but now that I'm a father and I've tested limits and lived with the consequences, I've seen what misdirected passion can result in.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and so much gun violence before and since then—I looked back at the body of my creative work, haunted.
There is a patchwork of content ranging from gun toting vigilantes, stories of anti-heroes seeking violent redemption, stories featuring clever revenge and self-loathing and delusion—but it was all fantasy, only an escape from the day to day...so I told myself.
But, what if in the hands and mind of a person that was teetering—it was that fateful push? That validated their feelings of rage, misdirected it most likely would be.
Now I know the argument. I've had it with other writers, artists, producers, and performers.
Violence and sex sells. The high is in the escape. We often want to have a bigger purpose—and fearless storytelling can be liberating and healthy.
So, if you censor yourself for fear of offending or inspiring dangerous impulses, you potentially risk losing your edge—and business.
That may be crass, but it is a reality when it comes to surviving as a struggling creative in the overstuffed trenches of the art world—both commercial and fine arts.
Regardless of the incredibly competitive nature of this industry, and a desire to not only survive but thrive—the shooting, all these shootings kept a relentless tapping at the back of my head—water dripping from a faucet, demanding attention.
As a consequence, creatively I now have a strong aversion to drawing guns. And for those who were cynically wondering—yes I have shot guns before, hunted with my father, brother, and grandfather. I see the allure, the history in hunting trips—to tie emotionally stoic men together with a common purpose—but that was a tradition I would rather leave in the past and not carry on with my child, especially now seeing what powerful influence guns have in our culture. (Anyone who doubts this hard on for hardware—please refer to the cops of Ferguson, Missouri.)
Even though blaring headlines about gun reform inevitably will fade away just as it always does, I felt in my own little way accountable for whatever it was I was doing creatively.
And for the first time... I doubted my instincts to push the boundaries.
The current comic I'm writing and illustrating is about Vikings.
The Northman's Curse.
There is wild violence, passion, and plundering. After all, that was the Norse culture. I'm not pulling any punches. But that's also where the ownership comes in.
My main character is a force to be reckoned with. A Norse King, a conquering Warlord.
The quintessential medieval Alpha male, but ironically—his dominance on the battlefield masks his failure to lead his clan in a new direction, away from the Reaver mentality that has laid at the core of his clan since its founding.
And because of this, impotence to change the direction of his clan...the cycle of violence continues—until the fateful day "the curse" takes hold.
Writing with a conscience doesn't have to mean writing fluff.
For me, it just means storytelling is like throwing a boomerang; once released, a story can circle back and hurt those near to you—if you're not ready to catch it yourself.