Archive for April, 2009

in a supreme irony, it took me forever to compose this

By and large, Rolling Stone may be the poster child for the obsolescence of the print magazine, but one thing they’re still good at is the in-depth, Cameron-Crowe-style artist profile.

Reading through Mark Binelli’s Lil Wayne profile in last month’s issue, we learn a few facts about the “best rapper alive”:

  1. Lil Wayne is always stoned.
  2. Lil Wayne releases tons of music for free over the internet.
  3. Lil Wayne goes to a recording studio every day.

Now, I don’t know what to make of the first one (as I understand it from the article, he literally chain-smokes weed. His assistants roll blunts and put them in packs which he carries on him at all times. Like Lyle and Ray’s Perfect Jays.). But #2 and #3 made me think:

Lil Wayne is to music as webcomics are to comics.

It was #3 that surprised me, but it’s starting to make a lot of sense. Studio time is expensive if you are a garage band, but not if you have the #1 album in the world and you own a dozen studios. It’s also pretty easy to do it yourself these days, even for garage bands. And if you are prolific and talented and like making music, why would you ever not be recording?

It’s a completely opposite model to the standard rock process (write songs privately, spend intense time in the studio perfecting the recording, then release your finished masterpiece into the canon). In music, call it the U2 or Zeppelin model. In comics, think of Craig Thompson or David Mazzucchelli.  It’s also distinct from the corporate deadline/assembly-line model, exemplified by the early pop singles industry, the syndicated comic strip, or the Big Two comic book.

Instead, it’s what people have been saying about the Internet for years: removal of middlemen, instant delivery, zero barriers between creation and distribution. Lil Wayne (or Randall Munroe) has an idea, he gets on his computer, he lays it down, he clicks a button, and 50 million people download it.

Art as blog.

Andrew Sullivan (who does more or less the same thing for political commentary) has written thoughtfully on blogging:

The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. … The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts

Apparently Wayne doesn’t even write his lyrics down anymore, he just records whatever comes to him during his (again, daily) recording sessions. Webcomic creators like Chris Onstad and Jeph Jacques improvise on a similar day-to-day basis.

And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers… When readers of my blog bump into me in person, they invariably address me as Andrew. Print readers don’t do that. It’s Mr. Sullivan to them.

That matches my impression of both webcomickers and Lil Wayne: the immediacy and unmediatedness of their work is intoxicating, and they blur the line between personal diary and product, between friend and fan (with sometimes frightening results).

I hasten to add that I don’t think this is the sole future of artistic or literary production. It’s just one part of the cultural ecosystem. We will always need thoughtful, well-crafted, large-scale pieces in every medium. Some creators are better suited to one type or another (God knows if we were all bombarded with Twitter updates and Myspace diss tracks from Bono or Thom Yorke we’d shoot ourselves in the face). Some can tackle both, just as Sullivan finds time apart from his blog grind to compose the occasional essay or book.

But as for the New York Times’ much-mocked anxiety about the upcoming xkcd book — if this comparison holds, Munroe doesn’t have much to worry about.

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Review: FIGHT OR RUN by Kevin Huizenga

fightorrun

FIGHT OR RUN: Shadow of the Chopper
Kevin Huizenga
Buenaventura Press, November 2008
$3.95

Huizenga, as ever, blows minds six times per page without breaking a sweat, but my first read through this project felt unsatisfying. On almost every page I found myself asking “why did that happen?” and resorting to “because he felt like it, I guess.” The victor of each fight is pretty arbitrary, which I don’t mind, but in some fights the apparent loser is declared the winner — which has a certain rock-paper-scissors logic (what the hell does a rock care if it’s covered by paper?) but still struck me as unfair.

Fight or Run is described as “an open source comics game” on the back cover (H doesn’t even list his full name anywhere in the book), which implies that other artists are encouraged to try it out for themselves — it’s an activity rather than a story. Things happen less because of logic and more because Huizenga simply enjoys drawing them. A character has two heads? Let’s go ahead and have him grow another! And then another and another! But what if the head-stack gets severed? Ooh, then each head could sprout its own body — wait for it — made of heads! Once you get into it, the goofy improv fun of the thing is infectious. Of course, Huizenga being Huizenga, he doesn’t even make it halfway through the book before he’s already diagrammed out the Platonic algorithm of the concept, broken his own rules (with a sub-fight taking place between the personified “Fight” and “Run” options themselves), and conducted a deconstruction of the old cartoon dustcloud “fight” symbol.

There’s also a lot of classic animation influence here, I think, where you have two characters engaged in a battle for completely arbitrary reasons (Tom & Jerry, Roadrunner & Wile E., Bugs & Elmer), giving the animators license to just come up with goofy visual gags and tables-turnings. No consequences, just fade to black and fade in with the next gag.

It does seem like a great loosening-up exercise, along the lines of the 24-hour comic, with the added benefit of not requiring 24 hours… and also (though Huizenga doesn’t explore it) the possibility of collaboration. James Kochalka has done similar projects (both “The Conversation” series with Jeffrey Brown and Craig Thompson and the monster fights with his son Eli). Mostly it made me want to hang out with a bunch of cartoonists and try it out… New SPX tradition, anyone?

As a demonstration of the possibilities of a new game, FIGHT OR RUN: Shadow of the Chopper is definitely successful, and certainly worth your $3.95. But like most games, I bet it’s more fun to play than to watch.


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).

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Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.