By Ben Boruff
Imagination and art have power, and some people fear that power. Author and artist Michael S Bracco explores this concept in The Creators, a comic about several teenagers with matter-creating imaginations. Like mystic versions of Dr. Frankenstein, these gifted individuals mold bits of imaginative thought into real-life creatures, most of which are odd, Cronenberg-style monstrosities. Art is a reflection of reality, and the often tortured manifestations of the Creators reflect the troubled minds of those who create them. The Creators begs readers to recognize the innocent intentions of those who use imagination to seal unpleasant cracks in reality. Many panels of Michael S Bracco’s comic are dedicated to disturbing images of violence and emotional instability, and these depictions of harsh realities encourage readers to respect the escapist power of the creative process. The Creators reads like Roald Dalh's Matilda if Matilda had the ability of imagination-guided manifestation instead of telekinesis—and if most everyone in the world was a copy of Miss Trunchbull. The Creators are persecuted for their powers, much like the X-Men. The Bureau of Creative Enforcement, an evil version of the Ghostbusters, violently hunts the Creators and mocks their creations. Agents of the B.C.E. growl insults at the creations—“ink stain” and “doodles”—and the rest of the world seems to echo the Bureau’s jeers. The Creators are misunderstood.
Like a purple-tinted blend of Donnie Darko and Pan's Labyrinth, The Creators exposes a dark world filled with gritty, unwelcome images. The artwork reminds readers that imagination—especially imagination used as a means of escape—can be messy, and imaginative thought (which, by nature, is often critical, progressive thought) can become a target. Bigotry plagues the Creators, just as it plagues visionary artists in real life. The original Creators were met with Trump-like propaganda—"Art kills" and "God is the only Creator"—and all Creators struggle to juggle the slippery, awkward balls of adolescent emotions, social pressures, and potent creativity. Like Sphere, 1998’s underwater sci-fi tale starring Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone, The Creators acknowledges the dangers of imagination but stops short of vilifying it.
Though they are intriguing, the comic’s ideas are not new. Nickelodeon's ChalkZone features an entire dimension of zoetic brainchildren, and Georges Méliès artistically captured the power of imagination on film in 1902 with A Trip to the Moon (which recently experienced a revival in the form of Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Hugo). Bracco assigns a Batman-esque origin story to one of the Creators, and the comic’s portrayal of collective skepticism toward superpowered beings tastes particularly stale in today’s congested market of films like Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. At times, the comic seems like a mildly strange Green Lantern origin story. One of the comic’s characters even mocks the hackneyed nature of the comic’s lack-of-understanding-breeds-fear theme: “We’ve all been told that a thousand times.” Then again, maybe cliché themes are cliché because we appreciate their simple honesty. As Community’s Jeff Winger says, “The biggest truths aren't original. The truth is ketchup. It's Jim Belushi. Its job isn't to blow our minds.”
Some of the comic’s approaches to imagination lack imagination, but the comic as a whole offers a few fresh takes on creative thought. First, The Creators attempts the dicey task of providing readers with a logical, faux-scientific explanation of imagination-based superpowers. Instead of claiming that imagination is magic, this comic explains the process of creation, and the explanations are impressively detailed. Second, like Daniel Greaves’s Manipulation, Bracco’s comic evokes true sympathy for the Creator’s creations, which helps the reader connect with themes like the marginalization of uniqueness. Third, the first volume of The Creatures flows seamlessly and features some goosebump-worthy moments of narrative and visual stimulation.
In the end, the most profound portrayal of the comic’s moral comes from its coloring: though the Creators’ purple creations can be dangerous, the rest of the world is dull and gray.
The Creators, Volume 1
Writer/Artist: Michael S Bracco