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Archive: August 2004

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People

Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People: Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Blogging technology is transforming journalism and extending freedom of speech, but the government and corporations want to clamp down free speech with freedom-of-information restrictions and copyright abuses.

See also: We the Media

12 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Comics in Unexpected Places

Rose and I got some fun books from Half Price Books the other day. They’re published by Icon Books, which publishes “intelligent non-fiction.” We purchased Introducing Derrida, Introducing Foucault, and Postmodernism for Beginners (which seems to be the same book as Introducing Postmodernism listed in Icon’s catalogue).

(I hesitated to call it the “same” book, as I was reminded suddenly of the Philosophy 101 problem of identity and ships. One plank on the deck of a wooden ship is replaced with a new one. Is the ship with a replaced plank the same ship as the pre-replacement ship? How many planks must be removed before the ship becomes a different ship? One plank? All of them? A single splinter of one plank? Does the ship have a constant identity which survives replacements of planks? What about humans, in whose bodies cells constantly die and are replace with new cells? An obvious answer [to me, anyway] is that the ship is both same and different, or neither same or different.)

Not all would call these books comic books, I guess. This excerpt from Introducing Melanie Klein illustrates what the books look like:

Postmodernism for Beginners usually clearly distinguishes typeset text from comics with handwritten speech balloons, but the two often mix together. Introducing Derrida blurs the distinction by setting the speech balloons in type and mixing text and pictures more freely. Are these books comic art, or are they prose illustrated with comic art? What is “comic art?”

I know of two well-known and widely used definitions (I’d like to learn of others if any of you readers know of them): Will Eisner’s “sequential art” and Scott McCloud’s elaboration: “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (Understanding Comics, p. 9).

In Understanding Comics, McCloud takes care to create a definition of comics that doesn’t encompass written words. Comic art must include pictorial images. That means Seaguy—a sequence of pictorial and other images—is a comic, but War and Peace—a sequence of non-pictorial images (letters, punctuation, etc.) is not a comic. This blog post is a comic. An illustrated War and Peace would be a comic.

Craig Thompson’s Blankets is called an “illustrated novel” on its cover. Illustrations are used to clarify or explain. In an illustrated text, the illustrations are subordinate to the text (in my experience). In Thompson’s comic book, his pictures are stronger than his words. The pictures convey powerful meaning, and the words are often pale illustrations of the pictures. Why is Blankets called an “illustrated novel?” Probably because Thompson, or somebody, thought it sounds better (i.e., most people don’t associate it immediately with comic books) than “graphic novel.” “Pictorial novel” is too obvious—people would realize it’s still a comic book. But I’m less interested in why Thompson (or somebody) would want to superficially obfuscate Blankets’s status as a comic book than in why he chose “illustrated novel” as the obfuscatory term, whether he considered the connotation of subordination in the word “illustrated.” (See also Rose’s “But ‘comic book’ doesn’t work for what we do these days.”)

(”Novel” causes as many problems as “illustrated.” “Raina” is a combination of two of Thompson’s ex-girlfriends. Thompson neglects to mention in the book that he has a sister as well as a brother. Is Blankets autobiography? Autobiographical fiction or fictionalized autobiography? Fiction or nonfiction? Both and neither?)

Should pictorial images dominate in comics? Or should they never be subordinate? Both seem risky additions to the definition of comics. The latter at least would likely lead to the rejection of Understanding Comics as a comic.

What is comic art?

Memetic fun for the whole family

Because it’s easier than writing a substantive post, I’m going to get infected by a meme. Quoth Steve Lieber:

I’d like to challenge other bloggers to come up with their own list of eleven titles that libraries should shelve. No rules, but participants are encouraged to cite a variety of genres, and you get extra bonus points if you can avoid repeating a publisher. One-line summaries are nice, but not required. And no, they don’t have to be all-ages books, though all-ages lists are certainly welcome. (Links open in new windows.)

Eleven books from eleven publishers makes for an especially arbitrary list. I could list fifty comics that libraries should have, but sticking to the rules does keep the list reasonably short and diverse. The first six are good for readers of all ages, the latter five are probably not OK for younger children but may be enjoyed by intelligent young teenagers. They’re all good comics for adults to read.

  1. Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf Comix)
  2. Sock Monkey by Tony Millionaire (Dark Horse)
  3. The Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler (Active Synapse)
  4. Dog & Pony Show by Pam Bliss (Paradise Valley Comics)
  5. Amy Unbounded by Rachel Hartman (Pug House Press)
  6. X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, et al. (Marvel)
  7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
  8. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (HarperPerennial and DC)
  9. True Story, Swear to God by Tom Beland (AiT/Planetlar)
  10. Kabuki by David Mack (Image)
  11. The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, et al. (DC Vertigo)

Spider-Man? Spiderman?

Like costumed heroes? Confidentially, we in the comic mag business refer to them as “long underwear characters”! And, as you know, they’rea dime a dozen! But, we think you may find our Spiderman just a bit… different!

I hate it when people mispell “Spider-Man.” A lot of people, even superhero comics readers, consistently spell it “Spiderman.” Can’t they remember a simple hyphen?

Apparently Stan Lee had trouble with the name as well. I just read Spider-Man’s debut from Amazing Fantasy #15 (reprinted in the Marvel Age Classic Origins collection), and I note that Lee spells the name “Spider-Man” twice during the story and “Spiderman” ten times.

I also learned that Spider-Man had a show-business career before he devoted his life to Great Responsibility. I knew about his brief pre-superheroic wrestling career, but I had no idea he made television appearances and became “the sensation of the nation.”

Der Hornen

Der Hornen: Christian comics.

5 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

License to Mural

License to Mural: Painter Mona Caron releases a street mural under a Creative Commons license.

Via: Creative Commons Blog
See also: About the mural

3 August 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

On Blogging

The Dark Secret

Just so you know, blogs are probably not the future of journalism. I don’t know if anybody actually said that, where Hector Reed heard it, but if somebody did say it then he or she is probably wrong.

Here’s the dark secret of blogging: most of us are arrogant enough to think people ought to be told what we think and that people will actually care what we think. This is quite obvious, when you think about it—why else would we spend so much of our time blogging? Most of us certainly aren’t getting monetary compensation. We must do it because we want people to read about what we think.

Here’s the dark secret of humanity: most of us are arrogant enough to think people ought to be told what we think and that people will actually care what we think. I think that must be why we created sophisticated languages that allow us to communicate complex and abstract ideas. Chimpanzees are happy enough warning each other about the large snake that’s about to eat them, but early humans wanted to brag about what great Mastadon hunters they were, or to give each other fashion advice, so they invented language. The problem in the past was that most humans didn’t have access to mass media, so their ability to communicate ideas was limited to the people within shouting distance, or the people whose addresses and telephone numbers they knew. Luckily, the Internet changed that. Today we can publish our thoughts for a potential audience of millions.


One big barrier to getting a web site is cost. It costs a lot of money to register a domain name and rent a web server from a hosting company. (It would cost even more to purchase and run your own web server, of course.) Luckily, there are plenty of businesses willing to provide free web hosting in return for placing advertisements on their clients’ web sites. When people in the mid- to late 1990s decided pictures of their babies and cats were important enough to share with the rest of the world, they got a Geocities web site.

Another big barrier is the technology. The web is extremely easy to use, but people still can’t figure it out. HTML and CSS, the common languages of the web, are simple and easy to learn, but many people with web sites consider learning them too great a burden. This laziness led to the invention of WYSIWYG HTML editors, which in the mid- to late 1990s were mostly junk. The vast majority of personal web sites consisted of horribly mangled HTML which produced ugly and illegible pages. The growing dominance of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser hasn’t helped. Most web users use Internet Explorer, and many of them don’t care if their web site doesn’t work in other web browsers. Some of them don’t know that browsers other than Internet Explorer exist at all.

Luckily, the tools for helping nontechnical people get over the technical barrier to the web have improved in recent years, to the point that current blogging tools—Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress—are capable of generating basically functional and standards-compliant web sites that aren’t ugly. The legibility and aesthetic quality of personal web sites has improved dramatically since the days of Geocities web sites.

A final barrier is informing people that your web site exists. Putting your thoughts on a web site is fine, but how do you let people know your thoughts are available for their perusal? There are more than 40 million web sites on the Internet—the web has democratized mass communication so much that it’s easy for your own little web site to get lost in the crowd. This is certainly the largest barrier to running a successful and popular web site. Luckily, there are solutions. One is pinging. Pinging, in this context, means sending a small packet of information about your recently updated blog to a web server which adds your name to a public list of recently updated blogs. People who want to know what they should be reading look at the list, see your blog on it, and go to your web site. Whenever you update your blog, hundreds or even thousands of people may be notified. There are now dozens of pinging services for blogs. Peiratikos uses a metaservice called Ping-O-Matic, which notifies 14 pinging services every time we update.

The web hasn’t created a mass-communication democracy yet, but it’s getting there. Anybody with access to the Internet can create a Blogger account and start sharing his or her thoughts with everybody else (at least, everybody else who also has access to the Internet). A lot of people can’t convince anybody to pay attention to their thoughts, and a lot of people don’t have any thoughts worth paying attention to. (Unfortunately, too few in the latter group are also in the former group.) But it’s getting easier all the time to cultivate an audience of hundreds or even thousands for your own little personal web site.

In Conclusion

Hector Reeder, in his Reeder’s Digest 4 column, seems to find bloggers’ vehement reactions to dismissive critiques both amusing and inexplicable. I think it’s pretty straightforward, actually. When Heidi MacDonald said:

I have been reading a lot of blogs lately. And I have to say a lot of them are really dopey. (No names.) Give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters and eventually they????????ll write an issue of Night Nurse or create a blog. And, except for a very few sites, I realized they can pretty much be safely ignored. When you give everyone a voice, no one can hear everything. (Comics Buyer’s Guide #1591, p. 10)

she contradicted one of the basic philosophical points of the web. It’s supposed to be democratic, not elitist. Yes, we all know that there are a lot of dopey blogs that aren’t particularly worth reading. But the point Hector seems to miss is that criticisms of Heidi’s article were motivated not by a belief that “all writing is of equal interest to read,” but by a belief in creating equal opportunity for people to communicate with the rest of the world. (Whether this is actually a worthy political issue is another question entirely, of course, as is whether blogs are a good way of pursuing the issue.)

Hector is also amused by bloggers’ supposed insularity. Again, though, this is pretty straightforward. One of the dominant paradigms in blogging is one in which conversational social interaction is emphasized. This involves not only the comments systems commonly found on blogs, but also interblog discussions. Blogs are linked together into a loose conversation-based network using standard HTML hyperlinks as well as technologies designed to support conversational blogging, like TrackBack and Pingback. (Why bloggers choose to use blogs instead of other conversational technologies—chat rooms, message boards, telephones—is another question entirely.)

By the way, those interested in the origins of the term “blogosphere” may find the “Blogosphere” in Wikipedia enlightening.