Beautiful Canvas (Ryan K Lindsay, Sami Kivela, Triona Farrel, Ryan Ferrier) released on 2017 through Black Mask Studios, as part of the extensive efforts of this editorial to combine comics that place intriguing stories and deep social commentary. The main character is Lon, a hitwoman whose girlfriend Asia is pregnant of their baby (accidental possible trans representation or just artificial insemination, who knows!), and the conflict posses Lon with the mission of killing a child (Alex), which she refuses to go along with. Through the analogy of her future daughter as a creation, and opposed to the vision of destruction that chases her from past killings, we’re presented with two main concepts through all the book: responsibility (usually through the characters as parents or as creators) and acceptance (through the vision these characters pose over their relative others, themselves and the world, and what that reflects back into the world).
But I want to put my vision in another character of the book, far more interesting for my purpose: Milla, the villain. She’s literally a billionaire killing people and experimenting on people for the shake of “chaos as art”, with an associated director guy who records the murders she orders. There’s some anti-capitalist subtones in the message this comic gives about its main antagonist, like the “I’m a billionaire, I own you” reasoning or going as far as recording torture and murder to make “movies”, as well as showing the greater social conflict that Milla causes and that some of its victims are trying to navigate. But, to further up why I’m talking about this comic in 2020, and why it is extremely relevant in today’s discussions around art and author, I’m gonna focus on the display of violence and the real violence related to it, and what it says about responsibility around art and artists.
Starting with the content of it, art (especially cinema and the likes of Lynch or Korine, but of course also comics) has given some thought without a clear answer around if representing pain, horror and trauma by a violent light does good, with various degrees of answers from the dangers of romantifying said pain to the potentiality of being an empowerment tool for people who need to communicate their own pain. Beautiful Canvas places itself in various degrees of that conversation; it is, indeed, a gritty and violent comic, but it’s far from showing any pain for the shake of, always coming for it in light of criticism and learning, growing from violence and the struggle to not to cause pain. There’s weight to every blood drop and every harsh scene the detailed art navigates, and a core message of parenting difficulties, as well as acceptance of others as a way to create loving relationships in the world. Lon is both creator and destructor, and her responsibility with the awful things she has done mirrors the lack of responsibility of the villain, who just wants to make a show. And that starts my second point around Beautiful Canvas: that we can pinpoint horrible unknowable pain to a creator that fully intends it that way, Milla.
From 2006’s Tarana Burke #MeToo pioneer activism, to 2017’s rise of its popularity till 2020’s recent comics industry sexual abuse allegations, we are going through a shift in how we consume art and in which environments that art is generated. Of course, this has always happened (going as back as Polanski or Hitchcock’s cases of sexual assault), but 2020 has seen a rise in the recognition of violence and the demanding of responsibility like never before. We also are learning that these environments remove around a cult of personality that so often gets mixed up with the “author”, like Milla in this case.
Specifically in comics, we’ve seen how one serial abuser of women created a forum with his name on it to further impact both his art and the lives and careers of over 60 women. We are seeing every year how movie sets are filled with violence directed against everyone from actors to stunt doubles or camera specialists by personality-revered authors. For too much time too many places have centered both great minds and a great silence. And, with the recognition of the violence that was too long hidden, there is every year recognition of the violence that stories sometimes promote or perpetrate, like whitewashing, rape fetichism, harmful transphobic stereotypes and other violent stories told by authors who promote that violence.
But back to Beautiful Canvas. I personally consider it a beautiful piece of art cause it helped me shine a light and think questions on violence in the context of art and creators. Plus, the too dramatized story of a billionaire killing people to give herself the pleasure of creating chaos and a filmmaker that loves to record tortures might not be so far from what we sometimes watch on and off the screen. And it’s that deep message of the violence art can perpetrate, both in material and symbolic ways, what drives me to it.
Further on, it’s that, like me, Beautiful Canvas doesn’t have a clear solution. To get spoiler-y, Lon finally gets revenge for her abuse by Milla, but with harmful consequences for a lot of other people Milla abused (like Alex), as Milla secured her “work” by releasing further chaos. That mirrors a social preoccupation with how harm is undone. And, for this specific discussion, with ignoring pieces of art created by wide teams unaware of the harm or even affected by it, or not learning from something by censoring it. These are all open questions, and everyone must do their own answer, but sometimes doing it with a comic helps, instead of burdening it.
Responsibility In Art Through Black Mask Studios’ ‘Beautiful Canvas’
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