J.K. Rowling and "Separating the Art from the Artist"
In case you've been living under some kind of magical rock, there's a new Harry Potter tie-in video game out now, called Hogwarts Legacy.
I honestly wasn't going to comments on this game at all, because others have already spoken up with way more eloquence and insight than I could ever muster. This review from Wired gives a pretty good rundown of how disappointing the game actually is, even if you don't care that some of the money from the game will go to notorious transphobe J.K. Rowling. And over at Assigned Media, Evan Urquhart has a great response to the notion that a few minor, highly ambiguous gestures towards trans inclusion in the game make it okay after all. And I'm still proud of this episode of Our Opinions Are Correct where we talked to Harry Potter superfan Cecilia Tan.
But a newspaper asked me to pitch them an op-ed about this game and Rowling, and one of the angles they were interested in hearing about was "separating the art from the artist." That's a topic I do have a lot of thoughts about, so I threw together a pretty detailed outline for an op-ed. The newspaper ended up wanting to go in a different direction, which is something that happens — so I'm going to share my thoughts with you here instead.
As you know, the art and the artist are easily separated. You just pull at the top right corner and tug gently, and the artist just sort of peels away from the art, leaving the art sticky and ready to adhere to whatever surface you desire.
Actually, wait. It's a bit more complicated than that.
So I have to start off by confessing that this hypothetical separation of the person from the thing they created always rankles me a little bit — because I don't think marginalized creators, including trans creators, ever quite get that luxury. Our identities are always going to be bound up with the stuff we create, even if we aren't explicitly writing about our own marginalizations, and we're highly dependent on our own communities to support us. Someone like Rowling has a lot more leeway to behave like a jerk in public, because she belongs to most of the default categories: white, cis, straight, abled. If you are not viewed immediately as a "mainstream" creator, your life is going to be scrutinized a lot more no matter what you do. It's pretty similar to how being "canceled" affects marginalized people differently, which I wrote about here.
Creators who belong to the most centered groups simultaneously get to be celebrated for who they are — but also their identities are invisible, and therefore their lives are more protected.
My other, somewhat noodly, thought about "separating the art from the artist" is that it depends a lot on stuff like whether the artist is still alive and making a ruckus, how closely the artist is associated with their work and whether the artist serves as the public face of their work, and how much control and ownership that artist is exercising now over their fictional world.
And that's the thing : JK Rowling is the public face of the "Wizarding World." She owns it and exercises complete control over it, and it's pretty much impossible to talk about Harry Potter or the Fantastic Beasts movies without referencing her. In fact, she's gone to great lengths to make her art inseparable from herself. Other authors seem to fade into the background a little bit more, especially as their books and adaptations get more and more prominence. I know tons of people who obsess about Murderbot, but who don't know that much about Martha Wells, for example. JK Rowling made a choice to center herself in the discussion of her work, starting with how her "rags to riches" story was used to market her novels.
The final point I was going to make in this hypothetical op-ed was that, without having played Hogwarts Legacy, I get the feeling a big part of the appeal is getting to spend time in the world that Rowling created. And I don't see how you could want to spend a lot of time living and exploring and playing and adventuring in a world that is so tightly owned and controlled by someone who puts so much of her power toward ensuring trans people don't get to exist in the real world. The whole notion of "anybody can come and explore this thing I created" feels antithetical to how unwelcoming Rowling is in real life. (I'm not going to get into other criticisms of the game, such as the antisemitism of the anti-goblin crackdown, because others have covered those issues way better. See the links I shared above.)
My op-ed, had I written it, was going to include the obligatory paragraph about how I really liked the Harry Potter books — which I did — and how sad I am that this positive, hopeful serious has been so badly tarnished. And how grateful we all should be to Rowling for helping to get people back into bookstores and spawn a new generation of readers with Pottermania.
But thinking about the aforementioned Pottermania brings me to my final thought about artist/art separation.
We really need to stop turning authors into celebrities, y'all. It's toxic and shitty, and leads to bad behavior at least some of the time. One of the many problems besetting the publishing industry is this star system, which turns a handful of authors into supergods, and keeps everyone else, even pretty successful authors, in a lesser category. Even if someone wrote books that are really, really good and they're selling like hotcakes, let's reserve resist the impulse to turn this person into the One True Author To Rule Them All. Especially when there are so many authors — including marginalized authors — who deserve even a tiny fraction of that level of hype. (And please don't single out one author from a marginalized group for stardom, while ignoring every other creator from that group. It's gross and tokenizing. But that's a separate rant for another day.) Rockstars behave badly, it's what they do. While I'm grateful for someone like Stephen King, who seems to be a total mensch, I think it's good for the book world and for our sanity collectively, to share the hype wealth. Don't put authors on pedestals, and definitely don't excuse bad behavior from authors just because they write pretty. OK? Great.
Music I Love Right Now
Jazz musician Charles Earland is best known for his 1970s masterpiece Leaving This Planet, a Sun Ra-influenced cosmic odyssey. I didn't even know until recently that he recorded a pair of albums in the early 80s that are straight up boogie funk with jazz flourishes: Earland's Jam and Street Themes. These albums slap so hard, with some of the danciest bounciest early 80s funk beats I've heard lately — they hold their own alongside Don Blackman's seminal debut album. Earland sneaks in some unexpected delights, like a jazzy cover of Stephanie Mills' "Never Knew Love Like This Before," which manages to capture the joy of the original while adding new layers. Both albums recently got reissued in "expanded" editions, which include extended mixes of two of the songs on "Earland's Jam." Highly recommend hunting these down.
I'm doing an Instagram takeover of the Macmillan Library account on Monday. Details below.
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, I created a trans superhero for Marvel. Here's a rundown of everything you need to know about her. Basically, she's a mutant who has the power to trade places (including superpowers or situations) with anyone. Her best friend is tech genius Morgan Red, and they have a pet flying turtle named Hibbert.
Escapade made her debut in Marvel Voices Pride #1 (2022), which is already hard to find in print, but it's available on Comixology and the Marvel Unlimited service. (If you subscribe to Marvel Unlimited for like $10 a month, you can read the Pride issue for free, and it's the best introduction to Escapade.) After that, Escapade appeared in New Mutants #31-33, which should still be pretty easy to find and are being collected in a trade paperback on March 21.
Next, Escapade is appearing in a miniseries I'm writing called New Mutants: Lethal Legion, which starts March 8, and you can pre-order the whole thing right now from your local comics retailer or an online spot like TFAW. (Here's a great guide to how to pre-order comics!) Basically, Escapade teams up with Cerebella (Martha Johannson) and Scout (a clone of a clone of Wolverine) to do a heist, while Wolfsbane makes a surprising discovery in the sewers. It's the return of Count Nefaria, one of Marvel's all-time best villains, and there are a ton of surprises that I can't give away on pain of death.
Meanwhile, my young adult Unstoppable trilogy is coming to an end, with Promises Stronger Than Darkness, coming April 11! Tina is gone, but her friends are trying to carry on in her name, and the fate of the galaxy is at stake. I feel really good about how I wrapped up all the big questions (plot-wise but also thematically) of the series. You'll finally understand the origin of the doomsday weapon that threatens the whole galaxy, and Marrant, the series' ultimate villain, becomes even scarier. The debate about whether (and how) to use violence in the fight against evil gets a whole new lease on life, and tough choices have to be made. There are betrayals, secrets, robot monkeys, battles, shocking reveals and so much queerness. If you've been craving trans and queer heroes saving all the worlds, I made this for you. (Or if you just really like space battles and nasty scrapes, I also made this for you.)