Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Save the Internet

Congress is going to be voting on whether to hand over the Internet to corporations like AT&T:

"Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn't speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online."

Contact your representatives and tell them "Don't give the Internet away to AT&T. Oppose the COPE Act as it is currently written." While all of your representatives would be good to contact, its especially good to lean on the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. These concerns transcend partisan issues and affect the freedoms we all experience on the Internet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More essays... kinda

In my noble attempts to categorize my papers more clearly, I've broken up the Essays page of my website into a few different parts. So, now the main page is primarily just for downloadable essays, and the Visual Language Manifesto page for articles on the comic industry. Added are a separate page for my now ongoing Comic Theory 101 essays, and a brand new page pointing to notable blog posts.

Hopefully, this will help make it easier for people to find the things most interesting to them.

Wired: Marvel should embrace digital distribution

This month's Wired Magazine features an article arguing that Marvel and DC should sell digitized versions of old issues online. While venturing into new material online has yet to show how it would be financially advantageous given their manufacturing model, back issues could provide the ideal stepping stone to digital distribution. Of course, that's if they can overcome their corporate-phobia of the Internet.

An interesting line:

In 2004, Marvel had net sales of $513 million. Of that, only 16 percent came from comics. The rest was from licensing characters for movies, TV, and toys. In other words, comic books - the actual printed artifacts - have become little more than marketing materials. Scary as that might be for fans, the publishers must have realized it. But it begs the question of why those publishers aren't embracing digital distribution when it could be free and easy evangelizing for the next summer blockbuster.


Marvel and DC have written off comics as a medium of worth in and of itself – to them its all just an avenue for better methods to make money. Time to shift to some new perspectives.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Visual Language Glossary

Over the years I've created a lot of terms for all this visual language research. Early on, I did a lot more than I have lately, but I think creating terminology was one of the ways I could be sure I was expressing exactly what I wanted rather than risking rubbing up against an existing term with another meaning. Whether this is a good technique or not... I can't say for sure.

In any case, I had intended to post a glossary for visual language terms about two years ago, but had gotten sidetracked for one reason or another. Thankfully, an email from Kelly reminded me about it, so its now online. Hope it helps for those reading through my papers.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Back from Beantown

So, I arrived safely (and exhaustedly) back from Boston tonight after an enjoyable and draining trip. Don't want to jinx anything, so more details coming soon hopefully.

However, I did have a great endcap to the trip with a quite spontaneous meet up with Alexander Danner and his wife. They quite graciously showed me around downtown Boston as we chatted about comics, libraries, and Aaron Sorkin, and had our full of laughter as a souped-up sedan with enormous almost-monster-truck-sized tires rolled by blasting music. It was absolutely ridiculous looking. With the webcomics community built up around digital interactions, it's really fun to meet up and give a face and personality to an otherwise digital persona. Thanks again, Alexander!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some links

Dirk sends along his interesting interactive comic blog about his adventures in Japan. He's got a really cool idea where people can send him "assignments" about exploring Japan, and then he goes out and tries to do it, then writes a comic about it afterwards. Definitely worth checking out and maybe sending him some assignments.

I've also found this site that has maps of the US showing the population distribution of various religions. Noticably absent from the listing are most all Judeo-Christian religions like Hinduism or Buddhism (and, ahem, for all you Superheroes are myths people – none of those either :-P). Given that these were compiled from data garnered by a Catholic research center, I'd guess this is omission out of cultural bias not sufficient populations of those religions. I'd think there would be at least as many Hindus as Amish. Looks like other people noticed these absences too, and added the Pastafarians.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Update and potentially not

I've glad to hear that my last post is generating some discussion in various places. I'd like to reply more, but I've been nursing wrist ailments that keep my typing limited (or at least I'm trying).

Today's update of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is now online, though I might not be able to get Thursdays up this week. I'm traveling to Boston for a few days (details to come later perhaps), and I'm not sure if I'll bring my computer yet. Looking like "no" right now, but we'll see...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Superheroes are not Mythology

This was originally to be a blog post, then an article, and now its back to a (rather long) blog post. I hope it stimulates some good conversation. Enjoy!

I'd like to address a common thread among comic analysis/scholarship: the belief that superheroes are modern myths. While I usually refrain from discussing "interpretive" issues like this, I can confidently say that superheroes are not modern myths in any real sense comparable to the cultural functions that myths serve.

First off, myths provide an understanding of the world for people. They can be spiritually oriented, and can give insight to daily living. This is true as much for the myths followed by people practicing the dominating religions today as it was for ancient civilizations.

Often times, people think of myths as something in contrast to the belief systems we currently have, forgetting that myths are just as much a part of modern life as they ever were. At present, we have a variety of myths that have been popular for several millennia, featuring such memorable cast members as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Laozi, and many other figures. These myths inform and instruct their followers (and non-followers sometimes) on how to live good lives through the stories they tell.

Granted, superheroes might inform people's lives with moralistic advice, such as Spider-Man's "With great power comes great responsibility." However, the ethics they impart are not unique to the superhero genre, and don't do so any more than other forms of literature.

The second reason that this belief is troublesome relates back to my ever pervasive interest in language. Beyond a system of beliefs, myths also provided much more for many ancient cultures, where the stories began as oral traditions and only later became written down. For these cultures, myths created a memorization system to record and pass on knowledge.

In today's literate societies, when we want to know information, we can reference a book or the Internet. In a literate society, recording of events can be done with writing, so it can be looked up at a later date. Oral cultures lack this sort of permanent and fixed record, and in its stead myths can fill the same roles.

For example, some plants are poisonous. In our society, we can record which ones are dangerous in writing to reference and pass that information on to other people. Instead, an oral tradition might use a story of some god or spirit becoming that plant -- with some aspect of the story giving the reason for why the plant is shaped as it is.

Let me make up a myth to illustrate this:

A particularly stand-off-ish woman breaks the heart of a spirit because of her "poisonous" and "sharp" tongue. Out of despondency, the spirit transforms her into a plant with pointy leaves. Thus the plant is called a "heartbreaker," and is avoided at all cost.

Myths like this are found across the globe. It not only gives a name and reason that the plant is poisonous, but also offers a way to remember the plant through a purpose for its identifying features.

This is a practical function of mythology. These stories can then be passed on orally in a package that people can remember. It is far easier to remember a series of stories than to remember a catalog of encyclopedia entries.

Superheroes do none of these things.

Sure, superheroes may be a genre with fictional reflections of our culture. But saying that they are "myths" implies that the term means just "stories" of a fantastical nature. People have often emphasized how modern narratives follow the same structures as myths, like Luke Skywalker in the Hero role popularized by Joseph Campbell. However, this only means that these modern stories draw on the same "raw materials" as myths (or the myths themselves). It doesn't mean that they are myths. Literature and myth differ to the extant that they affect people's lives.

Of course, most myths are just stories -- but the cultural context of their use makes the difference in what distinguishes them. In many ways, I think equating modern comic book superheroes to mythology denigrates the belief systems and cultures of people whose lives are or were infused with mythology. If, and only if, superheroes can serve an equal function in modern society can they be thought of as mythological.

Once you consider the practical roles myths can play to a cultural system, superheroes carte blanche do not fulfill any of the same sorts of functions. Nor should they need to. Superheroes can do just fine as a literary genre reflecting the culture we currently live in, without needlessly attempting to be legitimized through unsubstantiated comparison to other inappropriate contexts.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Styles and genres

Cross-posted to comixpedia... I think a reasonable argument can be made that certain styles insinuate certain genres. This isn't to say that genres are drawn in those styles all the time or that those genres can't use other styles, but that when we see a certain style, we think of a certain genre. I'd like people's help in formulating a list of these, if we can...

In American styles, I have:

Superhero
Cartoony
Dramatic/Romantic comic strip (?)
Art comix

This is of course leaving out imported styles like "manga"... I'd even be up for hearing "substyles" within genres too. Got any more? (examples are always helpful)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Matilda's Dream on WCN

So, its not exactly new to the web, but I've added my 24-hour from 1999 (!!) Matilda's Dream to my webcomicsnation site. The story is still in the same place, now just with more sites aiming to it. Perhaps more people will read it now?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Plug o' rama

So, a couple weeks ago I finished reading Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong (of MyDD.com) and Markos Moulistas ZĂșniga (of DailyKos) and I keep meaning to comment on it. I got the prerelease edition, but hadn't been able to get to reading it for a while after I got it. It is a very well written book with great substance to our current era in American history.

In my book with Thom Hartmann, We the People, we pointed out that the only way progressive voices can compete seriously is by taking over the Democratic Party, not by flocking to third parties, which are ultimately useless in the American politcal landscape. Crashing the Gate takes that ethos and dissects the current problems found in the Democratic establishment, while laying out a strategy for making it an effective political machine. The book is clear, concise, and a must read for anyone who want an insight into the broader political establishment and what must be done to return it to the hands of the citizens.

In other items worth plugging, Tim Godek alerts me that he posted a cleaner version of his story "One Night," which I find to be very interesting theory wise. The use of so many panels in a "iconographic" fashion (clocks, moon, sun, etc) creates cool effects to the extant that they are blatantly "concepts" as opposed to "narrative increments." I'll probably find good use for it in some future paper...



Oh, and more of my own "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is up as well.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Blog is where the action is

So, after great frustration, I've taken down the Emaki Forums. I hit several problems upgrading that I haven't yet been able to figure out solutions to. I think it may be just as well, since the spam was growing and no one's been posting there in quite some time. Nevertheless, I did like having them up for people to peruse the discussions at the very least.

I'll probably put them back up if I can figure out the bugs, or I may try to convert them to a different platform like Drupal instead of phpbb. We'll see...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Art v. Language

The debate rages on over at Comixpedia. Despite the baseless personal attacks against me and totally mischaracterization of my positions, I'm grateful for the help its lent in clarifying my ideas. I think that my articulation of the "Art vs. Language" issue was done clearer than I've ever done before, so I'm reposting it here:

I believe that the mentality of conventionality for creating graphic images is actually the predisposed nature for ALL humans. The cognitive preference for everybody is for imitation. The human mind is a pattern receiving/making machine, whether you're Japanese, American, Arrernte, Warlpiri, French, Chinese, Somalian... whatever.

The "cultural force" I speak of (that I call "Art") works against that natural inclination for conventionality that is naturally wired into all people by insisting on individuality of drawing style. The evidence that this influence exists is right in the quandry from the very first post of this thread, which is why I commented on it.

A community is a collection of individuals. Each of those individuals responds to the balance between conventionality and the Art pespective in different ways (probably more like a gradient, but discrete here for clarity):

1. Some use conventionality to a maximal degree and don't care about individuality at all (though as a unique individual mind there is always some degree of individuality).
2. Some embrace conventionality to a high degree and mark out their individuality in small and fine-grained ways.
3. Others make huge breaks with conventionality to create styles that hardly look like any other person or group at all.

Cultures are created by the collection of these communities composed of individuals. Various communities and cultures respond to all of the things I've described above in different ways, based on the choices the individuals make in response to the stimuli around them (both graphic stimuli and community attitudes). Some may respond more like #1, some may do more like #2, and some more like #3. These responses happen in all cultures, distributed in different ways: in America, in Japan, in Australia, in France... all of them. In no culture will every single person follow any one type of tendency, so long as the influence of Art is present in that culture (which is just about everywhere at this point).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Comixpederific!

This thread over at Comixpedia is worth checking out, which has turned into quite a heated discussion. I've mainly been discussing my Art versus Language perspectives regarding Japanese and American styles, to varying responses. I'm actually fairly grateful for the discussion and opposition to my ideas, since I've been working on some writing that pertains exactly to this topic. Nothing like a good argument to clarify my positions better.

I also think that discussions like thish are a good testament to the success of Comixpedia's site redesign. I think it allows for threaded discussions like this far better than the old one, and community stuff like this is always good.

And while I'm on the subject, I'll just throw out that I have another piece coming soon for Comixpedia... this time a little different than what I usually do... stay tuned!

Aside: Today's update of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" is now online.

Monday, April 03, 2006

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, continued

I've posted today's update of the new comic "La Belle Dame Sans Merci". This piece was drawn throughout the spring of 1999, my first semester at UC Berkeley, right after finishing Reminiscence. This poem was a favorite of mine from high school lit, and I'd often pictured adapting it into visual form.

Around the time of most of the Meditations stories, I was reading a lot of short vignette works by P. Craig Russell, Barry Winsor Smith, and old issues of Epic Illustrated. The visual style of this one is especially influenced by Russell's Magic Flute, in line with the sentiment of adapting a traditional piece into graphic form. To a smaller degree, the visual style was also influenced by Zander Cannon's most excellent Replacement God, or at least the chinks in the knight's armor.

I spent a fair amount of time doing photo references for this piece, as well as very carefully toying with the linework. Among the pieces in the Meditations stories, it's certainly one of the more clean and "elegant" pieces visually (if such a word can describe my work).

One of the other things about this piece is the care with which I did the lettering. I took a lot of time developing the font style, and it was all hand done. Shortly after this, I began doing most of my lettering by computer, so it was a nice "last hurrah" in that regard.