April 27, 2005

The ear knows no logic but its own

a webcomic about earworms

Intertextuality: Blessing or Curse?

a webcomic about intertextuality

April 29, 2005

Blessing or Curse, Part 2

a webcomic about mnemonics

May 4, 2005

Biorhythmically speaking

a webcomic about biorhythms

May 6, 2005

Blessing or Curse, Part 3

a webcomic about hexadecimation

August 12, 2005

Cat & Girl

Cat & Girl

May 5, 2006

Happy Birthsday

A comic wherein I wish KB a HB

Is it just me, or is Kenny B a little snippy today? Oh well. Please join me in wishing a fine, fine day to both Derek and Donna as well...

That's all.

August 9, 2006

In Xandiego did ComiCon...

A while back, I aggregated Henry Jenkins' site, Confessions of an Aca/Fan, but it's taken me too long to add it to the ol' roll, a mistake I have since corrected. One of the grad students in the CMS program at MIT, Ivan Askwith, is guest-blogging some reflections from his trip to ComiCon out in SD. In particular, I'm interested in his discussion of the Long Tail and its appropriateness as a model: "recent entries both here and in the C3 Weblog tempt me to describe what I saw at ComicCon as a living illustration of Chris Anderson's Long Tail." As he ultimately concludes, though:

For all of its strengths, however, I don't think the Long Tail is designed to explain the lesson that I would encourage the entertainment industry to take away from their time at ComicCon: that a small audience of super-committed fans can be worth more, in economic terms, than a massive audience of casual viewers and readers.

I'll discuss that lesson in a bit, but first I want to second Ivan's insight that the LT isn't quite enough to explain things there. For me, one of the biggest lessons of Chris Anderson's LT work is the importance of aggregation, and the ways that the Web has enabled a kind of aggregation previously unavailable to us. In other words, aggregation is largely thought of, still, as geographical, and I mean that both materially and metaphorically. Please to explain?

Niche cultures can't support a material infrastructure, unless the threshold is set significantly lower. The stereotype of poorly lit, ugly comic stores springs to mind, or often somewhat archaic, single-screen art house cinemas. The profit margin on places like these is often just used to keep them afloat, while blockbuster joints can afford stadium seating, big fluffy chairs, big open aisles, lots of employees, etc. You pay money to keep a store/site open, regardless of whether anyone comes, and the more specialized the need you're meeting, the less your potential traffic. There's a certain threshold below which it's just impossible to afford to do this. That's material geographic aggregation of one sort.

Another sort is the con circuit, with CC being perhaps the most conspicuous. But we have em in academia, too, as do a lot of other professions. Unlike retail outlets, cons practice aggregation as event, gathering a whole bevy of like-minded folk in one place for a few days. And if you don't think that we have our own costumes, autograph sessions, celebrities, etc., I invite you to spend a day with me at MLA in December.

There's a third sort of geographic aggregation that's more metaphorical, represented by the finite limits of bandwidth, whether radio, tv, or what have you. I think network tv, for example, with very few exceptions, is one of the most underinnovated wastelands I could imagine. It's as though a bookstore took the top-5 selling books, and then gave over all its space to attempts to imitate them. The near-predictable success of quality alternatives just doesn't seem to sink in, but oh well. It's not geography per se, but it operates according to the same principle: scarcity requires centrist optimization.

The LT businesses that Chris looks at are those that built models on working around the scarcity problem. We can debate about whether it's as revolutionary as he says, but that misses one of the bigger points of the Long Tail, which is a much lower threshold to entry, especially for niche cultures (like academia, for instance). I've written about this a little bit before: Amazon, I think, learned early on that they were both in the book and the loyalty biz. By making academic books available to me, they all but guaranteed that I would make other (less LT) purchases there as well. Features like Amazon Prime and the auto-rec system (which allows me to see forthcoming stuff better than any other single source I consult) only hammer it home.

One of the things that goes unnoticed, though, is that niche stores/sites often exist symbiotically with niche communities. You wanna go where everyone knows your name, and all that. Amazon encourages the illusion that I'm known--I don't fool myself into thinking that the site actually does know me, but its features are the features of being a "member" in addition to a "customer." They don't just aggregate products but people as well. Barney Nubble doesn't have to do that--it's one of two bookstores in town here, and while a couple of the baristas do know what I like, I definitely don't feel at "home" there.

One of the things that the LT doesn't really account for, as it's not intended to, is that loyalty. In the title to his post, Ivan references the "devoted niche," which I think must be distinguished from the niche in general. There's a level of fan devotion surrounding many shows, writers, bands, etc., that is hard to account for in economic models. Ivan mentions "fans [being] ready and willing to pay well in excess of $1000 for an original out-of-print comic featuring their favorite character," and this is a strange combination of the prestige economy of a collector culture (where s/he who has the rarest objects has the most respect) and luxury items (yeah, i have better things to do with a K). Luxury industries drive their products the wrong way down the LT curve, technically, because they make up for scarcity by overpricing. But collector industries can often make up price with artificial, superficial ploys (variant covers, anyone?) to get collectors to buy 5 where normally they'd only buy one.

It's a wonky combination of features, and one that I think that Ivan is right to note that industries like the comics oligopoly don't really understand it. They don't really seem to fully understand their market, and signs are that it's not really getting better. The Big 2 (DC/Marvel) are trotting out Infinocuous Crises on a faster and faster schedule--company-wide Events designed to force readers to buy dozens of cross-over titles that they normally wouldn't. They're taking writers with cult followings and putting them on their mainstream titles, trying to feed their niches back into the head of the curve to boost sales. Joe Queseda has been getting a lot of heat for making some truly moronic remarks about the homogeneity of the inner circle at Marvel, and he doesn't seem to have any idea how to address what are some pretty accurate critiques of the way he's running the company. In a lot of ways, the Big 2 has mistaken the inertia that allowed them to survive the industry implosion in the 90s for validation, and that's only been perpetuated by recent cinema successes, I suspect.

Wow. This has become a Thing, a little out of control.

What I wanted to get to is the idea that companies can aggregate people, but they can also disaggregate them, get them to feel that their loyalty is not only unwarranted, but in many ways taken for granted. It's happened a lot lately on Spiderman titles, for instance (Gwen Stacy affair, cannibalism, unmasking, etc.). As long as the Big 2 are the Big 2, they'll be able to get away with much of it, I suppose, but the counter example of Snakes on a Plane should be instructive. Collector cultures are driven in part by their desire to be part of the thing that they're collecting--the devotion translates into the collecting. In fact, I wonder if it's not accurate to say that the devotion isn't another aggregating force, one that corporations producing for niche cultures ignore at their peril.

Hmm. Lots more to say and think about, but I've let this spiral a bit. Time for me to get along. So that's all for the moment...

September 1, 2006

Jorge Cham coming to SU

Local fans of Jorge Cham's PhD Comics should be aware that he's coming to campus next week (Wednesday at 4 in the Maxwell Auditorium). Unfortunately, I've got myself scheduled for something right smack during his talk, and it's not something that I can sneak out of in order to get a color print of the above signed, much as I might like to.

Instead, I'll just continue to settle for the b/w copy I've got right below my nametag (on my office door), and the certainty that there has never been a more accurate portrayal of the core truth of my life as an academic.

That is all. Later on this month, Art Spiegelman is speaking, and I'll try to catch/blog that...

September 13, 2006

Comic zen

There are days where I wish I could do more with Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen than just send adulatory links his way. But oh well. He has a great piece on translating Scott McCloud's work on comics into presentations. Maybe it's more accurate to say that he's talking about learning from comics when it comes to presentations. Either way, as I gear up for what will be several talks this year, I'm going to keep going back to PZ over and over as I plan out this year's presentations. You should, too.

Update: It is a conspiracy. McCloud is giving a talk next Monday in Rochester, and where will I be? Yes, that's right. At a faculty meeting. AARGH.

September 18, 2006

McCloud revisited


After whining about not being able to go to Rochester today to see Scott McCloud, I learned that in fact, he's coming to Syracuse on Wednesday, in an event remarkably free from any sort of local promotion. Not only that, but it's at a time on Wednesday that doesn't conflict with any meetings. Not only that, but my copy of Making Comics (Amazon) arrived in time for me to have him sign it.

Not only that.

Update: Not only that, but I'll get to see Art Spiegelman the following evening. I'll probably bring in my copy of In the Shadow of No Towers for signin', mostly because I think Maus I & II are boxed up somewhere...

November 29, 2006


Fully realizing that this implies some sort of big payoff tomorrow, I thought this an appropriate link to lay down today:

The Silent Penultimate Panel Watch

29 down, 1 to go.

March 26, 2007

4 Cs, 4 days, 16 panels

Inspired in part by Donna's theme review of CCCC:

CCCC 07 summed up in 16 panels

There was more to it than that, to be sure, but as far as my presentation went, at the risk of sounding like I'm fishing for sympathy, having a featured presentation on Saturday afternoon was a lot like being called up to the big leagues the day after one's team is knocked out of competing for the playoffs. Hard to know when or if I'll be back.

I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Glenn for the opportunity, grateful to those good people who did come, and grateful to Derek and Deb, whose presentations were excellent. And I'll go ahead and screencast my talk this week, for all of those who couldn't make it.

I may post a little more about the conference over the next couple of days as well. What won't I post about? The squawking that Alex references that's going on right now over whether or not it's better to read or speak.

That's all, except to note that I did this with Stripgenerator 1.0.1)

Update: You can find both my slides and Derek's at We'll both have screencasts soon as well.

April 10, 2007



I first caught wind of this over at Planet Karen, one of the few blog/comics I follow regularly. Seems that an artist (Todd Goldman) basically lifted this piece of "art" directly from a webcomic produced some five years ago (Dave Kelly's Purple Pussy), going so far as to reproduce even the details like the curl of the tail, eyelashes, etc. It's pretty egregious. And the cartoonists, they are less than pleased, needless to say. Most of the webcomic artists that I follow "give their work away" and struggle to make ends meet with Cafe Press tchotchkes, compilation books, etc. It's not tough to imagine why having someone else display their work in a gallery and sell it for $$$ might rankle them.You can find some links and more detail over at Juxtapoz, which is where the above graphic comes from.

I keep my ear to the ground, and typically forward to Becky mentions of plagiarism, intellectual property, etc., that I come across, particularly when I deem it unlikely that she'll have seen them. And I did with this case as well. What struck me, and part of why I forwarded it, as I was tracing out links was Scott Kurtz's suggestion:

David, you should make that panel open source. You should encourage everyone in webcomics to do a praying pussy strip. Make this one image synonymous with the act of plagiarism that Todd Goldman committed on you. Then ride the wave of attention and publicity and use it to bring your work the exposure it deserves. Turn something bad into a huge opportunity for yourself.

The idea here is that, rather than policing and seeking damages for the plagiarism, Kelly could get even more mileage from it in the long run by diluting the aura that Goldman is attempting to capitalize on. And that's something that I haven't seen much of as I come across the occasional discussion of plagiarism. I'm relying here on a pretty dim memory of Benjamin's "Work of Art" when I mention aura, but there's a sense in which Kurtz's suggestion turns Benjamin's point (which can be read nostalgically) into a creative (commons) strategy. And that's kind of cool.

(Oh, I should mention too that I'm not sure that there's a phrase right now that's abused and misused more than "open source." As sympathetic as I am to almost every context where it's used, I've heard a number of otherwise savvy people use it like a magic spell when they simply mean "free" or "non-proprietary." It's starting to work its way under my skin.)

That is all.

December 5, 2007

I'm sure he's just on another server...

Overheard this evening...

me and Mr. T, playing WOW

January 20, 2008

Holiday loot, part 2

You'll recall that part 1 of my holiday loot recollections actually began some time between the two December birthdays that I celebrate every year. Therefore, part 2, subtitled "Comics," and featuring an interesting triangulation of my tastes:

Exhibit A: The Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories (Amazon). You would be well within your rights to ask me why I got a book the content of which is already entirely online. You would be well within my rights, however, to remember that the book has been out for less than 3 months, received more than 27,000 pre-orders, and is heading for a 3rd print run already. I'm a big believer in supporting webcomic artists by picking up their books even if (and even because) their work is available online. Also, PBF is high-larious and utterly incorrect in the process. It makes me laugh and wince at the same time. Also? Here's from an interview with Nicholas Gurewitch:

I encountered a letter to a newspaper that questioned how I could make light of Jesus comically. She wondered, in her letter, whether I had any fear of God. Reading her question, I did have fear of her.

The Invention of Hugo CabretExhibit B: The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Amazon) is a graphic novel in the sense that it's a story told at least partly through images, but the illustrations and the prose alternate pages and sometimes sets of pages. Invention is a much more earnest story, and the drawings are (intentionally) much more cinematic. It won the Caldecott medal this year, and is in that sense a children's book, but honestly, it's a little more all ages than that. The rhythm of the illustration, and that the book features automata and references the birth of cinema, are part of its appeal for me.

Apropos of nothing, the author is the first cousin, once removed, of legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.

The Nightly NewsExhibit C: The Nightly News (Amazon) was the one book I saw over the holidays that made me cheer inside when I saw it. A lot of folks are putting it on their Best of 97 lists, and with good reason. Take one part V for Vendetta, update it by about 20 years, and add in equal parts of media fatigue, contemporary graphic design and infographics, and you've got the makings for TNN. Seriously, it's the kind of book that, 20 years from now, will either mark a milestone in the industry or a missed opportunity. It's that interesting, and that different from anything else being published. Hickman's working on several new projects right now, and it will be equally interesting to see how his style persists, changes, etc.

Interesting to me, at least. That's all for now.