A friend of mine is having a absolutely heartbreaking family health crisis. To help her cope I sent her Tnmmd of Almost Home by Masai. In the midst of her parents both being simultaneously hospitalized, for different reasons, a song from a genre she is fairly unfamiliar with made her cry cathartic, soul cleaning tears. The next time I talked to her she said to me “I didn’t know rap was for that!”
We are using Masai’s music on our podcast these days because we like it, of course. There is another reason too though. His music shares one of our favorite traits; it transcends it’s perceived genre limitations. Rap doesn’t help you deal with grief, comic books are for kids, and classical music is boring and hard to understand.
Like so much of how we interact with each other, perceive one another, and how we engage the world, our beliefs about what a specific kind of art should and can be are shaped by cultural biases. Even the creators who are aware of the prejudice and who attempt to live free from it are aware of the assumptions that drive mainstream understanding of whatever part of the world is being lensed by social norms. Some would say that the weight of these assumptions is even heavier on them.
The Vestrymen tend to love art that works to transcend its genre e expectations. The Sentry reminded us that superhero comics can deal with addiction, loss, pain, and alienation in staggeringly honest and difficult metaphors. Blankets reminds us that faith, sexuality, and intimacy can be addressed through panels and speech. Almost Home lets us know that race, grief, and humor are not the anthemia of spoken word set to beat. The Absorbascon’s and The Astroboys humor and warmth reminds us that not all comic book bloggers and podcasters can be a positive way to talk about and promote the medium that we all love.
As artists transcend the expectations they force us to transcend ourselves. The surprise and pleasant elation that we feel when we are confronted with something better than expected mirrors the surprise that Huck Finn feels as Jim constantly upends his racial expectations.
I know artists struggle with the belief that in order to be successful they must make the art that is expected of them. I don’t think that Almost Home or The Sentry will ever sell as well as Detective Comics #18 or Who Let the Dogs Out. I can only hope that making the world a slightly better place is enough of a consolation prize for Masai and Paul Jenkins.