Thank You GSCF and On a Much More Serious Note…

J. M. DeSantis blog post

This blog piece is a bit difficult to write, as I’m quite torn on precisely what to write. On one hand, this past weekend I was exhibiting at the Garden State Comic Fest and honestly came out of the event with some relatively noteworthy news to share. On the other hand, over dinner on Sunday, my girlfriend brought me up to speed about the recent shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and the intense backlash (on both “sides”, as it were) following this news. So, I am quite torn. I’d love to share my experience at the GSCF, yet I seem this time particularly unable to ignore what is happening in the world beyond my small and rather insignificant life (in the broader scheme of things). But, I suppose, like most convoluted stories or thoughts, its best to start at the beginning, though a part of me feels icky doing so.

Because I don’t want to take anything away from the amazing job that David O’Hare and Sal Zurzolo did in organising the show or the many friends and peers who I met or caught up with thereat, I will say just a little on the subject of the Garden State Comic Fest. To be direct, although it was sometimes unbearably cold in the ice rink (my drawing board was so cold my hand was cramping as I was attempting to ink pages of Chadhiyana #5), I am grateful that I had a space there, as somehow, though I paid and sent the application in December, I was not listed as attending the show. But to David’s immense credit, he actually knew me (by name–and at this I was taken aback, as I still feel I am a complete unknown in this industry) and that I had applied. So, my sincere thanks to you, David, for finding me a spot to set up shop on the fly.

Other than that, my increasing familiarity with the legendary Mark McKenna is becoming one of my favourite parts of doing shows. Seriously, the man is so cool and such a nice guy. So even if you somehow don’t know his work (and its great), you should stop by his table at a Con. And as usual, I got to meet some new creators, catch up with friends and colleagues and had the chance to introduce more people to Chadhiyana. I was even was asked to do a video interview at the show, which may include a shot of an in-progress page of the latest issue of Chadhiyana. I’ll let you all know as soon as that’s uploaded.

More, I was finally able to say hello to Kevin Eastman whom I haven’t spoken with since I did an illustration for Heavy Metal Magazine back in 2009. Kevin also remembered me, and that was the one major take away I had from the show, which is that (at least amongst other creators and event organisers) I feel as though I’m beginning to be recognisable to them, and my work is getting just a little bit of praise.

Of course, all of this seemed trivial when I learned about the recent police shootings and (in brief) all that followed. In fact, I’ve been particularly fixated on this and other (seemingly) connected subjects since the dinner on Sunday. I can’t seem to stop thinking about it, though the precise reason why is that, for myself, I’ve been wrestling with something for a long time: that is, whether to directly speak out on subjects I am particularly passionate about or to leave them to the subjects of my writing. Yes, my writing.

You see, there is still (for some) a particularly (and for me baffling) need to “typecast” me (as it were) as strictly an artist. Even professionals who know me think of the writing thing as this side hobby for my true passion. But I keep telling people, it’s really the reverse. And I consider myself a writer not just because I enjoy writing things and telling stories, but mainly because I actually have shit to say. Real deep, dark, passionate shit about life, death, people, society, religion, culture, government, racism–the list goes on.

The problem for me is (and how recent events tie into this blog post) I’ve never been particularly vocal about those opinions. I’ve left them to my writing and my art, as many do. Though, over the past year, I have begun to wonder whether or not that has been a smart move on my part. After all, if I’m going to write and illustrate a long epic about a (for all intents and purposes) dark-skinned Indian woman who deals with real misfortunes in her life and claim some deep motivating factors for creating and working so hard on such a project, should I not be more vocal about the things about which I am passionate about? Even the things which motivated me to attempt such a project in the first place?

Yet I am of two minds about it. On one hand, I admired George Carlin’s bold comedy and uncompromising ability to tackle any issue. Yet on the other hand, I truly appreciate how Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films tackled real social issues without ever taking a specific stance on them, leading to all sorts of interpretations of what those films were saying. More, I loved Shakespeare growing up and I was introduced to his work in high school with the statement that Shakespeare’s timelessness is directly linked to the fact that he wrote about “universal truths” (love, hate, strife, prejudice, death, etc). This has all influence me as a writer and an artist.

For myself, art (all of the arts) should be ambiguous enough that two people can look at, read or watch the same thing and walk away with different opinions about it. All forms of art should, for me, be thought provoking. Although I have tackled some issues in my writing in the past, Chadhiyana is my first attempt at being bold about it, but while still keeping a sense of ambiguity. Chadhiyana and her story (both the present comic and much of what I have planned) are a commentary on many things.

The other opposite stances I debate are whether or not my voice should be added to the “noise” of the internet (as I’ve written in the past, I’m very heady and indecisive, mostly because of how intensely I look at things from all angles). After all I have, for lack of a better term, cynical opinions of the internet (something else I’ve considered writing about in this blog), and how it’s allowed so many people to soapbox (as it were). And while on one hand I do think that creative peoples have a responsibility to comment on the problems of society, who am I to presume I am one of the creatives to comment?

Over the last year I’ve often debated adding my voice into the increasingly visible (and appallingly still prevalent) subject of racism and sexism in this country. I’ve had things to say about #BlackLivesMatter, about law enforcement, even what I really think about Marvel’s attempts at diversity in their comics and the new female Ghostbusters (and some of the latter might surprise you–at first), but I’ve remained silent on all subjects out of a fear that taking any stance will somehow either polarise me or my work or (worse, honestly) pre-determine how someone should approach my work and what they should take from it.

Yet as I’ve also been catching up on AMC’s TURN, and knowing some of the history of the Revolutionary War (I had a good history teacher and I love history, if that’s not evident), I have long wondered if we’re not entering another time of extreme turmoil in this country and, like the show’s character, Abraham Woodhull (based on the historical spy for the Continental Army), it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain so impossibly silent and seemingly neutral in such a time.

So, there it is. I’ve again said something (perhaps) without saying anything at all. Though as I am so motivated to write all of this in the wake of what has happened over the course of the past week in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas, I would hope that at least the creation and tireless efforts I put into my comic, Chadhiyana, would at least give some clue as to where I stand on the present matters in the news.

But to my fellow creators and even my fans, I do ask what you think about the questions presented here? Is it better for a writer to allow their work to speak for itself? Or should that creator be more up-front about their own stances on real-life issues? Even better, I’m curious what people would like to see from me? Leave it to the work exclusively? Or speak openly about things?

Please, leave your response in the comments section below. I promise to read them all. I’m curious. And thank you for reading.


  • Susan says:

    As someone who’s never shied away from giving my opinion on an issue and enjoys it. Its a personal preference and almost always leads to debate. Some will vehemently disagree with you and not everyone can simply agree to disagree on issues. Some take things very personal and become nasty, insulting, demeaning and aggressive in their responses.

    As a writer, I think you risk the chance of turning some people off to reading your work based on their disagreement with your personal opinions on issues. I’m sure you’ve seen it happen with certain celebrities.

    On the other hand stating opinions attracts people to the discussion and can also bring people to your site.

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