Where Does Creativity Come From?

On Creativity, Perspectives from Philadelphia FanExpo 2022 Artists

FanExpo 2022, the first in-person revival of what the event bills itself as “three days of fun filled, fan culture,” and I struggled to sum up the most important, most universal, link between all those who attended and all those who were presenting in an official capacity. It seems creativity is the bond. Artists, writers, actors, cartoonists, programmers, vendors, they’re all trying to express what it means to be alive, to share what they’ve made, what they’ve seen, what their voice means to the world and how it pours out through their work.

I chose to ask only one question, to as many as who were willing to answer. Where does creativity come from? 

Before delving into the answers, here’s a brief, dry, explanation from a scientific perspective, but as you will see the respondents below gave answers as varied as they are varied as human beings.  

Science says, “If creativity is defined in terms of the quality of a product, such as a song, invention, poem or painting, then the left hemisphere plays a key role,” said Drexel University’s John Kounios, who led a study along with David Rosen. “However, if creativity is understood as a person’s ability to deal with novel, unfamiliar situations, as is the case for novice improvisers, then the right hemisphere plays the leading role.”  NSF Public Affairs – click for their fuller explanation.

My first answer came from the great Billy West, of voice acting legend, Jackie Puppet fame, and the indelible Fry, from the heartfelt sci fi cartoon, Futurama. Billy said, “it has to do with physics, it has to do with energy, and things that effect your brain, electrical energy, vibrations, so many things… sound can inspire you to be creative, visuals, all our senses, touch, touching things may give you an idea for something… not everyone has creativity, but I think it can be nurtured and developed.”

In addition he allowed me to ask about his favorite piece of science fiction. “Something that had a real profound effect on me, was the Time Machine.” Mr. West then, in infinite happiness, showed me his phone, and a picture of a miniature he owns and keeps in his home. The time machine itself from the 1960 movie version. Beautiful in its velvet and steam punk time traveling glory. Mr. West summed things up by saying, “it’s a good time to be alive.”

Next, I asked Jonathan Frakes, a Star Trek legend, who gave a succinct answer indicative of his role as Commander Riker. No nonsense. He replied, “the meeting of the heart and the mind. How’s that for an answer?” Well, it’s excellent, and reflects his decisiveness, synergistic style, and openness all at once.

Another Star Trek icon Brent Spiner, gave an answer that may not explain creativity, but rather his role in its manifestation. Honesty, I did not get off to good start with him, as I mispronounced his name and feel awful about doing so. To be clear it’s Spine-r, not Spin-er. Regardless, he was still gracious enough to answer, “I am an actor, I play the part I am given.” He did not elaborate further, but I think his answer shows great confidence to portray a character his own way, to give it life, to make it real. The evidence is clear in his portrayal of Data, a character grappling with the meaning of humanity and what it means to be human. He is pitch perfect in the role, always has been, always will be.

From a different TV show, but more similar than you may think, The Office’s, Kate Flannery, who played Meredith, gave perhaps the deepest, most existential answer. “From our hearts, a higher power. I think creativity is bigger than us, and when we get out our own way, we receive the most creative things, ideas, emotions that we can express. I think it’s a gift, and it needs to nurtured, kept sacred, and honored, but not in a way that’s patting ourselves on the back. It’s not about the cash and prizes, and it’s not all us, we are very lucky to be the conduits. The more we force our ego side of it, the weirder it gets. This is why the collective unconscious becomes so important. As we all go through these changes, in our lives, on our planet, we have to be open to all those changes because that’s where the gifts come from. And anything that feels like it’s being taken away from you is being added. Don’t keep going straight, make a left. It’s a roadmap, you’ll end up somewhere, and hopefully other people will connect to it. I really think it’s the greatest gift.”

Next up, former Editor of the illustrious MAD magazine, and the cartoonist who refined the animation of, and helped propelled, The Simpsons, and The Simpsons Comic book series. The renowned Bill Morrison. “I am a person of faith, I believe in God, and I believe creativity comes from God. God is the ultimate creator in my opinion, he created Earth and everything else in the universe. I think everybody on Earth, everybody who’s been born has that desire inside themselves to create. And I think it’s manifested in different ways, to produce things, create a new life, and for other people it’s art, music, or dance.” To say the Simpsons is important is an understatement, and the same can be said about Mr. Morrison.

Sitting at a both on the corner of a busy isle and greeting fans, I meet DJ Croft, a well respected Cosplayer from Atlanta. He was dressed in striking Superman garb, and spoke to me with great feeling and warmth. “I think creativity comes from passion. I think it’s how you feel too. Because creativity is art, it can be anything, in any shape, any form, any dimension. I think that’s where creativity comes, passion and imagination, and I think you bring it life.”

Along signers row at the back of the massive Convention Center hall, I found the gentleman from Clerks, a cult classic and it’s equally hilarious and important sequel. There I received a very honest answer from Trevor Fehrman, “I have a somewhat pathological need to impress people. You reach inside yourself to come up with something so that people will pay attention to you. I don’t think of it as defense mechanism. I feel the need for people to be as impressed with me as I am with myself.” Asking only one question I want to assure any reader that Trevor isn’t being self aggrandizing, quite the opposite in my opinion. His answer speaks to the need to release a creative energy he recognizes within himself, and so he delivered a great performance in Clerks II, and will continue to do so no matter what project is next, or what direction his life takes. He was incredibly kind to this author and very encouraging. His attitude and acting skill are impressive, and you should damn well recognize it.

On Trevor’s left, I found and spoke to the Clerks OG, Brian O’Halloran. I received another answer that was quite direct, but spoke volumes, as well as being a hopeful message on how humankind may seek alternative forms of communication without relying on a ‘might makes right’ attitude. He answered, “I think creativity comes from a need to express oneself without violence.” Brian too was incredibly kind to this no name semi-journalist. His work in the black and white original Clerks is recognized by the National Film Registry run by Congress, and will be eternally preserved.

Amy Chu, an author who runs Alpha Girl Comics, seemed put off by my question, and a tad bit suspicious, or at the very least annoyed with me. She’s right. I am annoying. I apologize if I seemed a bit crazy. However, she did give me an answer that is straight to the point. “I think a lot of it comes from life experience.” Amy Chu is a Wellesley, MIT, and Harvard grad who produces wonderful work, and in all likelihood is too smart for me, and in many ways I enjoyed her dismissive attitude, as she has seen more around the world and truly’s done greater things to help humanity than I ever will.

Before I was too tired to ask anyone else, I spoke with Sean Von Gorman, a comic artist and writer. His work is a subversion of the superhero genre. His comic, The Pedestrian, has its hero help people and fight crime without ever breaking the law. About this limitation on a superhero he said, “it’s a game changer, if we actually had superheroes, as soon as they touched someone, they’re going to jail, or at least being served a serious lawsuit.” He wants to deglamorize the fantasy of violence. His thoughts on creativity are as follows. “It comes from desperation, that’s a big part of it, like when you don’t have anything and you need to create something from nothing. I grew up poor, and used card boxes to make things… it’s a need to create something that doesn’t exist.” This was one of my favorite answers. His response speaks to many creative’s own origin story. Going from nothing to something. It also seems to be an accurate description of invention and the act of creation of itself. Bringing into the world a “thing” that never before existed.

Well, that’s all. But, I feel the question was fruitful, and allowed these creatives to expound on the essence beneath their work. FanExpo 2022 in Philadelphia was a success. The crowd was vibrant, dressed in every style of costume across the various genres. I witnessed hordes of friends, groups of families, and individuals of all type enjoying the scene, letting themselves exude their own creativity in a safe, happy environment. The in-person events will continue as FanExpo 2022 rolls along to other destinations throughout the country, hopefully it provides a pleasant respite from the world outside any convention center’s doors. 

Finally, a special thanks to the organizers, Jerry Milani, and Jim DeLorenzo for allowing me to cover this event. Learn more about FanExpo.

LINKS to the artists

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