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The Artist is Dead: Chapter 1

I stage-managed a production of “The Matchmaker” in high school, and was struck by the truth of a line uttered by the character Horace Vandergelder. It was something to the effect of “Art is something no one needs any of the time.” I paid an undue amount of attention to everything Mr. Vandergelder did during that production, as I was madly in love with the boy playing him. Regardless, there’s still a certain verity to these words. Art is frivolous, and non-essential.

One thing I have learned since making my living as a writer and artist is how very little respect some people have for those working in the creative industry. Despite the non-essential, wholly unnecessary nature of art, when people want it (though of course, never NEED it) they can become quite belligerent. It’s almost as if art, be it written, performance or fine, is actually something very essential and acutely necessary after all.

Early in my career as a freelance illustrator, I indulged in many email exchanges with prospective clients attempting to convince me that my work had no real value. I was informed what I did wasn’t a real job, it was a hobby at best, and I should be glad enough to be graced with an opportunity for exposure. It was selfish and lazy of me to try and earn money off things I just…drew!

One client even compalined to me that my pictures were getting harder to steal off of another client of mine’s website.

“Ughh, you must be trying to sell them or something.” He spat with disgust.

“Yeah, it’s my job.” I answered.

“Oh, you see, I’m enslaved by all that materialism!” He blustered, before launching into tales of his drug addled, teenage misadventures.

I think he was fixated on that era of his life because it was the last time he had financial security, thanks to his parent’s  being “enslaved by all that materialism.” He’s in his 60’s now, and from time to time, gets high and starts texting me about the comic book we’re going to write together. Except I have to make the script, and do the illustrations, inking, lettering and colour. He’s just going to oversee the thing.

I don’t get paid of course, but I get half the royalties…promise.

These clients are of course easy enough to refuse or scare off by acting like a “normie”. Far worse are those who’ve learned to play the game, know the rules inside and out, and exactly how to ensnare an unsuspecting artists in the loopholes.

I am writing this piece in chapters, as a warning to others working in the creative industry. I want to walk you through the process of a manipulation in play, step by step, so that you can identify the signs when you see them. Many of us are introverted, private people, and less attuned to social cues than more experienced fraternizers. We second guess ourselves, and strive to placated people too often. Don’t fall into the trap of compromising yourself or your better judgement to appease a client, no matter what awards they boast, or connections they can claim. There are vicious people out there who prey on those they can convince to bend over backwards for them, a position which leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Never trust that someone has your best interests at heart, more often than not, they won’t.

HEWER

I came in contact with the man through a comic book convention. I was a guest in artist alley, which meant a long day of sitting at a table, trying to beckon people over to buy my art and graphic novels. He passed by, and I complemented him on what I believed was a retro cosplay ensemble.

“You’re terribly attractive, may I take your picture?” I asked.

It wasn’t very much different than any number of ice breakers I’d launched during the course of the day. On this occasion however, the inflation of ego was actually palpable. This passer-by was only too delighted with an opportunity to talk about himself. I soon discovered, being a captive audience member as I was, he was dressed for a panel he’d be presenting later that evening. He would be assuming the character of a time traveler from the year 1964. His performance, he assured me, was regularly regarded as far superior to other panelists seen at these sorts of functions. With all that out-of-the-way, he at last introduced himself to me as Hewer.

Hewer: One who cuts wood, stone or other materials

To Hew: To sever from the whole by means of cutting blows

No, of course it’s not his real name, but for the purpose of this blog, we will be referring to him by it.

My husband, Weirdsley, and I attended Hewer’s panel. It was interesting enough. In the tradition of panels it was long, dry, and a bit self congratulatory. We were a little disturbed when afterwards, he decided to sit at our table and deliver an exhaustive harangue about himself. It was a subject he was clearly infatuated by. No detail was spared in tales of his work as an author slash historian and how he was the backbone of a Hugo nominated website. I smiled, and nodded respectfully at first. After a time, I felt myself, leaning ever so slightly away from him as he spoke, only to have him draw closer in reply. I held up my camera to record the band, now playing on the stage he had formerly occupied. I had hoped to gently suggest that the conversation had reached its inevitable conclusion. After what seemed like hours, he at last relented, but not before introducing me to his wife and daughter.

“She called me terribly attractive,” he divulged, “and I’ve been smitten ever since.”

We’d only been aware of one another for an hour or two. I wasn’t sure if this repartee was meant more to embarrass me or for him to bask in the compliment once again. My husband and I shot one another bewildered glances as he mercifully departed.

Back in the safety of our hotel room, Weirdsley delivered his verdict of our newfound friend.

“A little needy…but probably a decent fellow.”

I’ve come to depend on his insights with regards to people. The social arena is one that’s still unwieldy to me, then there’s the added component of marketing to contend with. Being someone more at home in the solitude of my own thoughts and the creative endeavors born from them, all conversations feel like some level of infraction to me.

“He said he won a Hugo award, I dunno, is he a good connection? Is this networking? Do you think I should have him on the podcast? ” I asked, still profoundly discombobulated.

I run two podcasts as an extension of the universe in my “Lost Bread” graphic novels. One being an audio drama, the other an interview show, set in that same world dynamic. The latter I had just recently started, and was hungry for guest material.

“Well, he loves to talk.” My husband offered with a shrug of his shoulders, “Why not?”

Why not indeed? I made arrangements with Hewer via email, and was even invited into his home to conduct the interview.

“If you dress for 1964, we could take pictures for cross promotion.” He promised.

Having a number of costumes at my disposal, I went with a B movie space girl get up, complete with plastic bubble helmet. After squeezing myself into this, and very nearly suffocating inside the a giant plexiglass dome of my helmet, imagine my disappointment at being greeted by a man in a polo shirt, jean shorts and bare feet.

“Did you forget we were doing this today?” I asked, lifting the trail of my space gown and stepped through the front door.

“No, I’m ready for you.” He replied, “take your shoes off.”

I groaned but obligingly did as I was told and removed my space boots. I hadn’t intended to make this an extended stay.

He offered to make me lunch, a nice gesture but one which was used as a catalyst for interrogation.

“So you think I’m terribly attractive?” He asked, returning again to our first exchange, “You don’t say that to everyone though, do you?”

“Oh no, not everyone.” I explained, “I like to acknowledge people’s efforts, costuming and all that. I think people aren’t used to being paid compliments”

He seemed disappointed with this answer and proceeded to grill me on how I had acquired so many followers on social media. There was the distinct implication that I didn’t really deserve to have more followers than him, the Hugo award nominated webmaster. I pretended to be oblivious.

“I just go out to places, clubs, bars, talk to people about what I do.” I offered.

He seemed dubious. I immediately felt the need to justify my social media standing to this person I barely knew, as if I was being called out as a fake. How dare he disregard the hours of work and effort I put into my art, writing and podcasting. Did he just suppose it was luck? The privilege of having tits while online? Or did he mean to suggest I had bought my followers?

“I showcase musicians and bands on my show,” I explained, “so we sort of cross-pollinate with followers from that I guess.”

“Oh is that all?” He huffed, making no effort to disguise his incredulity.

“Yeah, it is.” I said, patently annoyed “You know, it’s not something that comes easy for me, mingling and that sort of thing, but no one’s going to discover my work if I stay locked up in my apartment!”

He’d succeeded in at last exposing a nerve, and dug in with furious abandon.

“Oh, you don’t like people then?” He probed.

My emotions got the better of me and I explained how I had always been a private person. I unwittingly indulged him with delectable tidbits about my sheltered childhood, various diagnoses from teachers playing armchair psychologists, and even actually psychologists who couldn’t quite agree on just what was wrong with me.  All of this he greedily drank up, and stored in his mental reservoir for later.

Despite the awkward conversation, I managed to finish my lunch. However, before the interview could begin, I first had to endure a tour of the house. The place was unsettling to me, though I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. Beyond Hewer’s hoarder tendencies, a room plastered with pictures of hungry eyed anime girls, and the Dance Dance Revolution arcade machine in the garage, there wasn’t anything too far out of the ordinary. Still, it felt strangely like I had stepped into an Otaku version of Neverland Ranch.

Perhaps my unease stemmed from the realization that beside the client, I was the only other person in this house. The interview went well enough, no funny business, but I felt a certain wash of relief come over me when his wife came through the door.

We ended up taking pictures, but just of me, in my costume, now wrinkled and soggy with sweat. I stood, ray gun in hand, next to a bar cabinet in his living room, a framed picture of the moon behind me for “atmosphere.” The end result looked more like a deranged pre-prom picture, but I figured I’d be able to edit the raw material into something usable to promote the episode’s release.

Before I left, he invited me to take part in a weekly Sunday meetup he an his friends held. My heart sank. I really had hoped to be done with all things Hewer.

“I’m really busy with editing and stuff for the show.” I explained, desperately grabbing for the door handle of my car.

“It’d be a good networking opportunity for your podcast!” He shot back.

Abroad grin sweeped over his face. He knew he’d sunk his hooks in.

“Oh God, this is networking isn’t it?”  I thought to myself.

If I pass up on this, then this whole uncomfortable evening will have been a waste. I had to do it, had to force myself, if only just this once. I’d come, make small talk, hand out my cards and be gone. I could manage that much.

I smiled, offered to attend, just this once, with my husband, and see how things went.

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