Out of the Box

I’ve never been one to go with what’s necessarily popular or even mainstream. I like my entertainments to challenge me a little bit, to be outside my comfort zone.

Monsters and mutants! How can you go wrong with that? Art by John Byrne. Copyright owned by Marvel.

That’s weird, I think. At least it’s weird to the thinking of the rest of the world.

Well, that and the fact that I want to be a full-time writer sooner or later.

So what I like isn’t necessarily what’s at the top of everyone else’s list. I like comic books like X-Men: The Hidden Years and Crossing Midnight. Hidden Years died because editorial at Marvel thought that having the original X-Men working in the shadowy parts of the team’s history when the book was effectively in reruns (before it stormed into pop culture with a relaunch in the late 70s/early 80s) would be confusing for readers. Midnight died because so few people read it.

So what’s taboo in regards to these two examples? One was a reimagining of the history of some VERY popular characters and the other involved the stealing and corruption of children. Both inspire people to unreasonable heights of rhetoric and invective, but ultimately they’re about entertainment.

In both cases there were reviews that were positive and negative. (In the spirit of full disclosure I only bought Hidden Years as it came out. I got the collections of Midnight once I was aware of the title.) Reviews don’t really matter to me, though. I like previews more than reviews. A preview tells me whether or not I want to plunk down $2.99 or more for  a book. I liked both books, wished they’d been allowed to continue. Sales are a better indication of what people want to read rather than editorial dictates that are designed to maximize the characters in other media.

So I’m not really influenced by tastemakers. I’m not put off by taboo subjects, either.

I mean, really. Who hasn’t watched The Silence of the Lambs and thought that Hannibal Lecter wasn’t creepy and cool at the same time? He was (and probably still is) a cultural touchstone. “Fava beans and a nice chiANTI” are emblazoned on the brains of a large portion of the population. Almost makes you forget that he’s a cannibal.


Look, Hannibal Lecter’s a certifiable, capital-M Monster. He’s even scarier in the books than he is in the film versions. The scene in the literary sequel Hannibal when he’s stalking Clarice and he’s in her car and he takes the time to smell the steering wheel is terrifying in the context of the book. (Spoilers coming up.) That he convinces Clarice at the end of that book to run off with him is even more terrifying. It wasn’t convincing enough to Ridley Scott when he made the film, so he changed the ending, but still. Think about it. (End of Spoilers.)

Typically, taboo topics have to do with things that we don’t want to acknowledge as part of our humanity. Sex and violence (or death). I’m not a psychologist, I don’t even play one on TV, but I have to say that being a prude about things that happen in the world is just plain silly. Does it need to be a big part of our everyday lives? Not at all. Should it be fair game for our entertainments? Certainly. Do those topics need to be there simply for prurient reasons? Absolutely not.

Too often people drop these taboo subjects in stories just to be edgy or cool or outre or to show they’re so disaffected and uninvolved in the world around them that they can present these monstrous acts… Well, there I go. I’m acting like I’m a psychologist.

I just know what I like. I said I like being challenged by a work of fiction and I do. What I don’t like are people who act holier than thou and include taboo topics poorly in their fiction simply to be titillating.

In my own work, I don’t often tackle taboo subjects (at least not yet) because I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. I may some day, but not now.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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