I read an interesting article earlier in the week involving Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
For those of you who faithfully follow my blog, you will know that these are the first two creative influences I mentioned in my series (aptly titled) Creative Influences. Not one to ignore a good coincidence, it's only right that I comment on the article and my response.
THE PREMISE: For those of you unaware, the HBO series Game of Thrones is based on a series of novels by George R. R. Martin. The problem is that the book series is still incomplete. Beginning this season, the television show has outstripped the novels. Viewers are now seeing parts of the story that the readers have yet to experience.
Meanwhile, over on AMC, The Walking Dead continues its reign of popularity. Just like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead is based on source material, a comic book series created by Robert Kirkman. In the article, Kirkman is asked if he would ever make the same decision as Martin. Would he share details of his future story ideas so that AMC could continue the show without the source material (you can read the original interview with Kirkman here)?
This is Kirkman's response, "I would never do that. That's the one thing I'm disappointed in George R.R. Martin for doing. He should have just been like, Fuck you. You make it up now, I'll get to mine when I'm ready."
THE QUESTION(S): After reading the quote from Robert Kirkman you may be left with a number of questions. For starters, did George R. R. Martin really make a mistake by sharing the broad strokes of his story with HBO? Is Kirkman's solution of turning the reigns over to HBO with zero guidance really a better answer? And finally, why does Kirkman seem to care so much?
MY ANSWER: To understand the vitriol of Kirkman's response, we have to draw a hazy line between "art" and "entertainment". While these two terms will often overlap, they may, in fact, also be mutually exclusive. So let's start by defining "entertainment". I would like to posit that "entertainment" is a public display intended for the enjoyment of the audience. In the other corner, I would define "art" as a display intended to evoke emotion and introspection in the audience.
Can these two rivals, "entertainment" and "art," coexist? Absolutely! Think of your favorite song and undoubtedly there is enjoyment, emotion, and introspection all blended perfectly together at the same time. However, "entertainment" and "art" can also stand at odds.
For example, when I was dating my wife Vanessa in high school we went on a date to see Saving Private Ryan. When the movie ended and we left the theater (still in shock from the D-Day scene at the beginning of the movie) we drove home in complete silence... Worst. Date. Ever. I would argue Saving Private Ryan was much closer to "art" than "entertainment" (and a terrible date movie. What were we thinking?).
SO WHAT: What does this mean for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead? I would argue that when Martin revealed his story to HBO, allowing them to preempt his upcoming novels, he was effectively sacrificing his "art" for the sake of "entertainment" (and in this case, making his choice to earn a tidy sum of money). To put it another way, he was "selling out."
MY NOVEL: Finally, what does any of this have to do with my novel ANOM: Awakening? It serves as a reminder that when "entertainment" and "art" exist in conflict, a writer must always choose to take the side of "art." There is certainly a temptation to make the audience happy - it's part of human nature, after all, to want to be liked - but there is a greater obligation on the writer to create emotion and introspection . . . even when that emotion may be unpleasant or the introspection may prove difficult.
I hope that ANOM: Awakening is both art and entertainment! But if I had to choose only one, I hope that I would choose "art." Entertainment is fleeting. It distracts us for a moment and is soon enough forgotten. Art is different. It forces us to change and grow. It becomes a part of us, and in so doing, it stays with us forever. That kind of "art" is priceless. If you don't believe me, just ask Robert Kirkman.