Goodbye Creature Tech
I revisited CREATURE TECH this morning. I first read this graphic novel back when it was published in 2002. I estimate I've probably read it more than any other book or comic or instruction manual since. It's one of my favorite works of imagination - a comic about a scientist who must stop a ghost from using the Shroud of Turin to resurrect a giant space eel. The book is funny, scary, weird - like a cross between Bill Watterson and Mike Mignola. I've bought the comic four times over the years, in various new printings and editions. I own four original pages and have a complete collection of creator Doug TenNapel's other graphic novels and comics. I've supported his KickStarter and IndieGoGo campaigns, I even corresponded with the dude in college.
All that said, I'm finding it really hard to keep enjoying the book because of just how big of an asshole TenNapel is.
I used to strongly believe in the importance of separating the art from the artist. It's possible to still watch and enjoy films by Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, I'd say, or to appreciate episodes of LOUIE or even to get a chuckle or two from GHOST DAD. I would hold up TenNapel and his comic books as proof - sure he's on Twitter constantly fighting against trans rights, supporting Trump and his Proud Boys, or engaging in the cluster cuss that was GamerGate, but TenNapel made some great graphic novels - comics that successfully bridged the gap between personal philosophy and mainstream enjoyment. I can choose to ignore TenNapel and his views and still enjoy the comics, right? Right?
It's not like I didn't always know TenNapel was conservative. In fact, I appreciated the fact that he was able to mix in his faith with stories about giant mantids and slug monsters. In fact, I thought the books served as great missionary tools for teaching the overall message of the Bible without getting caught up in the nitty-gritty of specific religions or faiths. I held CREATURE TECH up with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and Christopher Moore's LAMB as three great pieces of weirdo art that had the power to stealthy convert somebody to Christianity.
But Doug TenNapel insists on using his social media presence to wage a campaign of intolerance and hatred - and the worst part is that he does it under the cowardly auspices of being a provocateur or question-asker. Fans that question his need to dead name a trans person will be met with the artist hemming and hawing about being censored for his views. What a prick.
Revising CREATURE TECH and knowing more about TenNapel's personal beliefs than I did fifteen years ago, there are so many tiny jokes in the book I once saw as innocent that I now know are tiny glimpses into cruilty. They're meant to be funny, in the same way people used to toss off slurs as punchlines in '80s teen movies, but these jokes, when combined with TenNapel's very real beliefs that he continues to champion on social media make it clear that he just doesn't care about the feelings and happiness of people different than him. I thought CREATURE TECH was a way to reach non-Christians with a Christian method, but TenNapel has always been playing to his own team.
I still find it so hard to reconcile the version of TenNapel I see on Twitter with the version of the artist I thought I knew from reading his books. TenNapel's comics are empathetic, caring, warm - they are about good people having the courage to do good things. They are about fighting personal demons and becoming a better person of yourself. TenNapel always struck me as a nice guy - edgy in his humor but his heart in the right place. A part of me still holds out hope that this version of TenNapel on Twitter is a Frankenstein's Monster - a case of a creator who found success within a specific subset of angry young men who feels pressure to lean into that audience in order to keep supporting his family and paying the bills.
I wish social media didn't exist, and I wish I didn't have to know anything about the people whose art I enjoy, but Twitter is a thing and I'm given more access to the thoughts of my favorite creators on a daily basis than I am my own family. And, trust me, it sucks.
I'm not sure if I'm ready to completely disown CREATURE TECH, sell my original artwork, and part ways with my collection of TenNapel's graphic novels. I certainly don't believe in burning books or censoring art. But how can I continue to support the guy? He's more prolific as a creator than ever before but I just can't bring myself to buy his new books. I feel like I need to say my goodbyes to TenNapel as a fan, but it's going to be tough. His books have been such a big part of my fandom for the last twenty years. They helped shape my creative sensibilities, my sense of humor, my imagination. But maybe that's the key. I took what I needed from TenNapel, and now it's time to go and create my own stuff and leave CREATURE TECH and the rest of TenNapel's library in the past.