You Don’t Have to Revere Your Influences That Much

It’s a bit like the zen koan “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” You need your influences, your artist heroes, and you stand taller on their shoulders. But you can’t focus on them too much or your own style won’t progress. Or, at least, progress will be slower. And life, as a wise philosopher once said, “moves pretty fast.”

Counterintuitively, the more you love your favorite artists, the more you have to dismiss them when you work. Steal liberally, but broadly, and the mix will become your own.

Harlan, and Good and Bad Things

He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.

Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.

He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.

Here’s my Ellison story:

I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.

I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.


Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.