Archive for the 'interactivity' Category

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.


on immersive reading

I’ve had some thoughts brewing for a while about the artist-audience dance, and the ways that different art media encourage participation.

It would seem that roleplaying (or any kind of creative writing, of which roleplaying is a subset) is the extreme end of this spectrum – you’re creating everything yourselves, with the audience essentially taking on so much creative agency that they swallow the artist and assume his role as well.

But every form of art invites some amount of responsive creation on the part of the audience. I’m interested in investigating how this response is encouraged or discouraged by specific aspects of the original creation:

  • works that imply a whole unexplored universe (like Harry Potter and Star Wars, or really all kinds of sf/speculative fiction) obviously invite it.
  • Serial works also seem to be more inclined to support this: when you only get a weekly or monthly (or less) dosage, you’re inclined to fill in some of the gaps yourself.
  • As I was saying to somebody, serialized works literally take longer to consume – maybe not a longer total length of time, but they’re spread over months or years, and therefore an investment in that work is an investment of a sizeable portion of your life.
  • They also invite a community to form, one which follows the work as it comes out, discusses what’s come before, and anticipates what’s to come in the future.
  • Is that anticipation essential? Are non-serial, one-shot works automatically less likely to inspire audience interaction, because the story’s over and done with the moment it comes out?
  • What else? What makes some works more successful than others in eliciting audience involvement? And how can this knowledge be used to make more immersive art in the future?
  • Am I right in suspecting that thanks to JK Rowling and the internet, a generation of readers is arising that is accustomed to reading art in a more immersive way than in days gone by? I can only offer anecdotal evidence from things like Scans_Daily where I can watch individual fangirls getting into superhero comics for the first time, and automatically start looking for pairings and making icons and applying this whole “fangirl reading vocabulary” or “toolkit” to a new target. I know that fanfiction is nothing new, even in superhero comics, but I still get the sense that this interactive reading method is booming across the board. Look at “claiming” lj communities, where you can literally declare ownership of a celebrity or album or fictional character. That’s as strong an image as I can think of, of this new audience-empowered reading technique.

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).


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