Archive for the 'internet' 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.

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Traduttore, traditore

Dan Walsh, who runs the Garfield Minus Garfield site, has chipped in to my previous entry to correct some misconceptions about the new GMG book. On August 2 he created a FAQ for the site, including:

Q. How did you come up with the idea for Garfield Minus Garfield?
A. I wasn’t the first person to come up with the premise for Garfield Minus Garfield but I think it’s fair to say I did champion and popularise it. The idea had been floating around on message boards for a couple years before I started posting them.
As far I know, I was the first person to create a site devoted to it.
I’ve said this to every interviewer who has asked me but it’s rarely published. And it’s pretty much impossible to find who did it first, believe me, I’ve tried.

“I didn’t invent this” doesn’t make for good copy, it’s true. For a publicist trying to sell a new Garfield book to suburban housewives, it makes sense to play down that angle. But exploring the issue does lead to a fascinating debate about the future of content creation and the growing pains as traditional business practices clash with new ways of interacting with art. Some of which I tried to address in the original post.

In any case, I did unfairly tar Walsh with the same brush that I attacked the endlessly-irritating Cheezburger guys with, which I gladly retract.

On some level I really get where he’s coming from. I’ve daydreamed from time to time about writing a serious analysis of /b/ and why it’s important in far more ways than anyone’s articulated so far. It’s interesting — in the process of recommending John Darnielle’s brilliant book Master of Reality to a friend, I said:

Given the nature of metal’s core demographic appeal (young, working class, outsider, etc), it’s frustratingly rare to find articulate writers who genuinely “get” the genre. I identify closely with Darnielle; I think we both discovered that appeal despite being outside that demographic, which leads to a delicate balancing act between wanting to serve as ambassadors to the outside world, encouraging the sophistication of a relatively infantile artform, and trying not to patronize the existing fanbase. As somebody who has repeatedly found myself fascinated with various forms of “low” culture, I think about this kind of thing a lot.

There’s always that dance when you discover something cool and edgy and feel like it deserves more exposure. There’s a temptation to serve as curator or even translator, sanding off the rough edges or repackaging it in a way that helps new people understand it — without taking credit for something that isn’t yours or destroying what made it great in the first place. Like any task, it can be done well or poorly. It’s something that every publisher does, but it seems especially central to Top Shelf’s mission: treading that boundary between artsy and populist.

For instance, though I had no role whatsoever in its creation, I’m pleased to say that Cave Adventure is the most “mainstream” thing I’ve ever seen Michael Deforge do, and for that reason my favorite. I’m happy that he’s able to use his insane imagination to tell a coherent and hilarious story, and I think it actually fits in really well with Top Shelf’s aesthetic. I’m looking forward to more involved editorial relationships in the future (when I find the time — ha); when it’s done right, everybody wins.

I certainly never thought I’d describe /b/ as “innocent”

EDITED TO ADD: Since Dan Walsh has showed up to shed some light on the situation, there’s an update here.

Sean T. Collins (whom I’ve now actually met, as well as e-published) posts a press release from Ballantine Books and Jim Davis’ Paws, Inc announcing the publication of a Garfield Minus Garfield print collection.

Paws, Inc. and Ballantine Books, a division of the Random House Publishing Group, announced last week at Comic-Con International that Ballantine will publish a book inspired by the popular webcomic Garfield Minus Garfield.

Garfield Minus Garfield (www.garfieldminusgarfield.net) made its online debut in February 2008 and quickly became an online sensation based on a simple premise: What would Jim Davis’ Garfield comic strip be like without its lasagna-loving fat cat? Without the presence of Garfield and other characters such as Odie the dog and Nermal the kitten, the strips “create a new, even lonelier atmosphere for Jon Arbuckle…Jon’s observations seem to teeter between existential crisis and deep despair.” (New York Times)

The full-color book format will give readers the experience of having both the original and doctored Garfield strips together on the same page for comparison. Dublin, Ireland-based Garfield Minus Garfield creator Dan Walsh will provide the foreword to the book.

Garfield creator Jim Davis was intrigued by—and pleased with—the concept. “I think it’s an inspired thing to do,” Davis said. “I want to thank Dan for enabling me to see another side of Garfield. Some of the strips he chose were slappers: ‘Oh, I could have left that out.’ It would have been funnier.”

Garfield Minus Garfield site creator Dan Walsh says, “When I looked at Jon and laughed at his crazy antics I thought ‘He’s just like me.’ As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one saw myself in him: millions of visitors from all over the world visit Garfield Minus Garfield and tell me they think the same thing. Now, thanks to the awesome generosity and humor of Jim Davis, Garfield Minus Garfield is going to become a book and I’m absolutely honored to be part of it.”

First, let me echo Sean and applaud Davis for seeing this as an opportunity rather than an attack. But this story is still pretty upsetting to me, actually.

I suspect this is only going to be a bigger and bigger problem as time goes by, but “Garfield Minus Garfield site creator Dan Walsh” is making a heap of cash from a meme that’s been around for years. Realfield dates back at least to fall 2007, this one to fall 2006, and this “Garfield minus Garfield” was posted to ED six months before Walsh launched his site, for Chrissake.

I just found out that Eric Nakagawa sold Icanhascheezburger.com for $2 million. The new owners, “Pet Holdings Inc,” now apparently operate a whole family of irritating ad-ridden sites based on the principle of stealing from underground net humor. Don’t even get me started on this. I guess now I know how old-school hip-hoppers felt when Vanilla Ice sold 15 million.

These kind of thefts were mildly amusing when ebaumsworld and SA and 4chan would squabble amongst themselves about who invented what. But now that the big money has started to arrive, it’s all become much less funny. Nothing actionable, but this kind of stuff is by nature collaborative, born out of the rapid-fire oneupmanship of a thousand Anonymous nerds doing it for the lulz, and it’s actually kind of sad to see that exploited.


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.