Scientific Progress goes “Moo”*

12 May, 2014 at 8:30 pm (comics, webjunk)

Sometimes the internet astonishes me: you put money into it, and you get stuff out of it.

Obviously, this is both most people’s common experience and a completely foreign experience to many. Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Etsy, etc. wouldn’t all exist and thrive if people weren’t putting money into the internet and then receiving something in return. And also a great number of people turn to the internet in order to acquire things without having to spend any money on them. This ranges from the relatively innocuous — MP3s and digitized images — to a significant trade in films, software, books, credit card numbers, and the like. And as much as we use the internet to reinforce our pre-existing worldviews, creating streams of personalized content that provide us with feeds and pings and alerts about the things and people we already like, it is the surprises that drift across that are the most wonderful, the unexpected pleasures.

Chainsaw Vigilante commissions: Erica Henderson, Lars Brown, Katie CookLast summer at the Boston Comic Con, I commissioned sketches from attending artists for the first time. Travis Ellisor had been trumpeting his expanding Karate Kid vs. commission gallery for a little while, and I liked the concept: a single factor of commonality, but the opportunity to allow the artist to also feature his or her chosen creation. (I also have a bit of a soft spot for the classic LoSH Karate Kid, whose solo title was the first comic I actively tried to collect as a kid, saving up for back issues from the archive bins of local stores.) And the final grace note is that the character is a bit odd. Many people have con sketchbooks of obvious corporate populist characters, but finding that odd tertiary character that people fondly recall but haven’t thought about in ages is the real cherry on the sundae. I’d finally decided, after much musing, that my own original sketch collection was going to be different interpretations of The Tick‘s Chainsaw Vigilante engaged in combat with DC Comics’ Ambush Bug. Then I did some research on how much two-figure commissions tended to run, and I decided to start by just getting some drawings of the Chainsaw Vigilante to start with and to work my way up.

So I went to the Con, and I experienced a strange anxiety: I was going to be handed a drawing by the artist, and I was going to have a reaction, right there in real time, of exhilaration or disappointment in the result. In front of the creative person who was asked to interpret a paid command for which he or she may have had no particular artistic inclination. This is a character I like, but it doesn’t necessarily inspire or movie the person drawing it. Would I be able to tell by the composition? Would my face visibly blanch as I took the commissions from their hands?

My Advanced Art teacher in high school often said that she thought the worst thing a person could say was, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.” As willfully ignorant of a statement as that may be, I believe people have strong, instinctive opinions about aesthetics, regardless of their ability to articulate or contextualize them. I think that comics will forever be a minority art form simply because the presentation of the visual narrative either will or will not appeal, aesthetically, to the reader, and one can’t read the story without looking at artwork that either pleases or assaults the eye. Obviously, if one is commissioning a drawing, one would surely only pay out money to an artist whose work one finds appealing, but that still doesn’t mean that the selection of infinite artistic choices made will end up being those one would prefer. Will the drawings be the sort of thing one would automatically reblog in one’s curated stream of aesthetic content, or not?

Luckily, all of my commissions have hit the sweet spot of surprise (which I believe is also a channel on RedTube). They have combined the familiar visual voice of the artist, the comforting content of the form of the character, and the simple act of not being what I would have done. Surely it’s this last misdirect, this last moment of dissonance that is what makes getting something from the hands and minds of other people the most worthwhile, the sudden veering into unpredictability. And while there may be some anxiety about cost and result, the most important bit is that whatever the result it sprang from someone else and is therefore something that would have been impossible for you to acquire or create or establish on your own.

Which is why the internet is wonderful. You put money in, and you get something unexpected out of it. This week I received two commissions: one virtual and one physical.

A month or so ago, The Comics Reporter posted a link to a commission page by Kevin Cannon, wherein he would draw for you your favorite intersection. Cannon is part of Big Time Attic, the Minneapolis-based comic studio that worked on two graphic novels for Jim Ottoviani and which is also comprised of Zander Cannon (no relation), who wrote and illustrated the bizarre and convoluted Chainsaw Vigilante series for NEC Comics back in the day. When I read about the intersection project, it made perfect sense and was surprising at the same time: I knew that BTA had done a number of maps for various magazines and publications, but I simultaneously couldn’t think of anyone who would have a favorite intersection, let alone who would want a drawing of it. My old boss used to have drawings made and photos taken of each of her apartments whenever she moved, collecting a mini-gallery of her past history, but I didn’t think that people would be able to say, “Ah, yes, the corner of 16th Street and Prospect Park West… that’s my favorite place.” But as I was contemplating that, I suddenly found that intersection in my memory, that place where I used to walk and feel a particular balance of familiarity and opportunity, of destination and arrival. And so I had him draw it: the pedestrian walkway between the Royal Crescent and the Circus in Bath, a block away from my apartment. He put the image up online, and it was wonderful, but it was even more amazing to receive the elegantly packaged slim, black envelope with the actual square of Bristol inside. It was the place I remembered, but interpreted, compressed, idealized, and filigreed in such a way that I was surprised and gladdened.

Additionally, one of the ways in which I have been attempting to acquire Chainsaw Vigilante drawings from comic artists is as incentives from Kickstarter campaigns. One of the open secrets about Kickstarter comics is that the perks tend not to be priced at the same level as commissioned con sketches, and one can occasionally make out like a bandit. I was already a fan of Periscope Studios on Etsy, as it had been a way to directly support Whiteout and Underground artist Steve Lieber, so I was interested when the studio announced they were going to be using crowd-funding to publish portfolios for artists in the collective. And this was where I first discovered Spoilers!, the movie review web comic by Natalie Nourigat. I wasn’t able to work out a combination of bonuses where I could support both Ms. Nourigat and David Hahn — who I’ve loved since Private Beach, and felt I owed primary allegiance — so I wasn’t able to exercise her perk of having her review a film of my choosing on her blog. Until I noticed that she had a standing PayPal donation button on her blog that allowed me to ask just that! I noticed a tendency for sci-fi and action films on the blog, so I requested The Abyss, which has long been teetering on the cusp of my top-five favorite movies. What’s fascinating about her response comic is that this was her first time ever watching the film in 2014, so her perspective is completely different from mine. I saw the film when it was a new release on video, whereas her perspective is one influenced by the internet and texting and memes in a way that mine never could be. I will forever re-watch that film through the filter of my memories of having first watched it, whereas she could see it through the eyes of all the time that has passed between now and 1989. Which was fascinating and compelling and — the key word in this post, and the reason I’ve written all this nonsense — surprising.

Kevin Cannon: Intersection: Bath, England Natalie Nourigat: Spoilers! The Abyss

Related Links:
+ Chainsaw Vigilate by Erica Henderson
+ Chainsaw Vigilante by Lars Brown
+ Chainsaw Vigilante by Katie Cook
+ Kevin Cannon’s official website
+ Natalie Nourigat’s official website

*Alternatively, the Interrupting Cow goes “Boink”.

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