Saturday, August 20, 2016


There's a standing piece of wisdom that I increasingly feel I disagree with. It got touted a lot at the annual graduation speech-thing my high school did every year (amazingly and wonderfully, every year 12 student got a chance to make a speech, I hope it continues though they were telling us we had a minute each in our year, then politely ignoring the restriction).

The advice was thus: 'Take what you love and figure out a way to make money out of it.'

On the one hand, I still agree. I come across this problem with my fellow artists all the time, most artists get in their head that there is an inherent compromise in making money. An ever present dilemma between artistic vision and financial viability. That the only 'true' or 'good' art has to be something that drives you into the ground. Whereas I would say that if you draw the Venn diagram of 'what I want to create' and 'what people will pay money for' there will probably be sufficient overlap to keep your head above water all your life. At least in terms of concepts and ideas. You may not be able to execute. So if it referred to doing this exercise - then yeah, I'm all for this as advice - fucken enlighten yourself that your dreams are probably more viable than your fears credit them. Work that shit out on paper.

But the anecdotes told to me were: 'One of my sons friends wanted to be a musician, but it's hard to make money, but then he became a sound engineer so he gets to work with musicians and he makes a steady paycheck.' This interpretation I am less for.

Enter Geek culture, or nerd culture, or Otaku culture.

Infantilisation is a topic that seems to be out there in the zeitgeist right now, and I'd like to write more on it, but I bring in the geeks/nerds because of a different quality, not so much that they are a significant cluster of man-babies.

This is about a specific man-baby, whom I don't really want to pick on or single out, except that he judged it a wise idea to document a video of him complaining about his issues with Youtube.

So before I explain what I find distasteful about his complaining, allow me to give him a plug such that it is:

Rob curates his own Youtube channel 'Comics Explained' which was revealed to me via Youtube algorithms that cough up recommendations it thinks I'll enjoy, particularly enjoy while I sat in my studio drawing something that was easier for me to sit still and do, while playing youtube clips, keynote speeches or audiobooks so that I could get 4-6 hours of drawing done a day.

And along came Comics explained. I have a personal interest in comics, and furthermore, I'm always interested in ways to avoid reading the 90% of shit that true to Sturgeon's law makes up most of comic book publication history. (Probably actually higher, for all the pre-Alan Moore/Frank Miller years).

To paraphrase Rob himself (because I can't be bothered transcribing accurately) he 'woke up 2 years ago and realised nobody was making comics that explained characters publication history.' For those who don't have much experience within the DC - Marvel universes, you have a bajillion characters walking around, and some obscure character story can be told chronologically like this: Thor issues 272-274 (first appearance) The Incredible Hulk Vol .2 #14, Deadpool #46-49 and so on and so fourth. And it can be over periods spanning a decade or 6.

So Rob's value proposition was to piece together this diaspora into succinct videos one character at a time. Combining this proposition with his dream of being able to live off Youtube revenues, Rob seems to be living that advice. He took something he loved, and figured out a way to make money off it.

Except that's not my plug, my plug would be that I feel just as it is good to travel in order to get perspective, and not from Canada to Australia (though better than nothing) nor even US to France, but say Australia to Cambodia, US to Cuba etc. to see that other people on this planet live very different lives, normal people should look in periodically to nerd world, to observe as just as there are people on this earth that are concerned about clean drinking water and who their arranged husband will be, there are people that really care about the netcode on Street Fighter 5, and even Sony's next attempt to revive the Spiderman movie franchise.

Comics Explained is not the best lens to see the magical world of stuff nerds feel is important, but it is one none-the-less. Maximillion Dude's channel is probably a better one, he does 'Real Talk' videos that are eye-opening to me and probably to you.

But the difference is that I like Maximillion Dude, and Rob I don't.

And it was never more clear to me than when he published this video.

Even in the most progressive of internet forums it would require no trigger warnings, yet I found it so distasteful to watch that I don't blame you if you clicked the link and lost interest quickly.

The subject of the video, appears to be a legitimate complaint, as far as I can deduce. He licensed music to use in his introduction of some 163 videos, and then long down the track some automated system at Youtube flagged them for copy write infringement, shutting down his revenue streams and he was having to deal with the administrative bureaucracy.

And worse, the only way he can have peace of mind, is to go and transcribe every video he's ever made to make sure it features no music or some shit. He's going to hire writers to transcribe all his videos for him, and that's where the video gets really distasteful, because he starts to get angry about the videos he wanted to release to coincide with upcoming film releases but wont because he has to get his peace of mind back.

Now, I've watched probably some 20 of his videos, which is to say, not when he takes to his channel to talk about himself, but his videos where he explains comics. Probably more even, but in terms of time after three weeks I made the conscious decision that I was done with this guy.

My reason being, that he was basically a parasite. A landlord. He had, true to his own revelation - recognised a gap. A gap that Marvel and DC hadn't bridged. So he did.

And it is true to say that he does explain often in detail, the entire publication history of characters ranging from obscure to face-of-a-franchise. As well as detailing 'events' which have been the bane of everyone that enjoyed comics but didn't give a shit about 90% of the titles the big two put out for decades now. So that's when comic fanatics to understand what happens to Batman between this comic and the last need to also buy an issue of the reviled Aquaman in order to find out.

Imagine if you will, if some TV exec decided to understand what had transpired between two episodes of Game of Thrones, or The Walking Dead (eg. why some key character was now dead) you had to watch an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians or Dance Moms.

Comics Explains does that work for you. Succinctly.

I ditched him though, because it wasn't a service like 'Basketball Breakdown' where you are having a Basketball game 'explained' in terms of coaching decisions, tactics, plays ie. the mechanics of the craft if you will. But lengthy synopsis complete will scanned pages from the comics he is explaining.

Those scanned pages are comics that were written, pencilled, inked and lettered by professionals. Who worked hard to get where they are and are probably exploited by the Duopoly of Marvel and DC. Those pages are nothing but the IP of these companies that bought these characters and paid these artists and writers who probably put in close to 10,000 hours mostly unpaid to get the opportunity to contribute to this tradition for better or worse.

And Rob of Comics Explained who has the decency to license the music he uses in his videos, scans it, gives you a run down of multiple issues of comics with slow panning shots of the artwork and page spreads of the pivotal scenes and simply describes what happened in the story.

Explanations of the craft of writing or illustrating comics are minimal, if close to non-existent. As I stated previously I was initially interested in this channel because I felt it could save me from having to read the 90% crap. After 3ish weeks, I stopped watching it because this is the exact service it provides.

In a follow up video Rob explains something, I don't know it's here if you care about his plight with the music licensing issue. He does in the section I watched, briefly outline his rationale as to why his channel is ok - namely he is educating people and thus helping people get into comics who otherwise wouldn't.

I'm sure this is somewhat true, he could produce testimony from a subscriber who would say 'I used to only read the Alan Moore masterpieces like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell, but Comics Explained got me into reading the Fantastic Four and all the other shit.'

But I suspect the majority of his subscribers would testify thusly 'I got really excited by the trailers for the new X-men film, and in the past when I've been looking forward to a comic-book movie I'd hit up the comic book store and try and familiarise myself with the lore, I bought a copy of Watchmen off a big fat stack back in 2009, but now thanks to Comics Explained, I didn't have to hunt down and purchase collected volumes of X-men, it was all right there in one convenient Video.'

Rob said he didn't get onto Youtube to be paranoid about when they were going to take his videos away (or something like that) but he should be paranoid.

I am not savvy enough nor motivated enough to establish it, but I feel back in the early 2000s, Wikipedia provided much of the service Rob thinks he provides Marvel and DC. You could look up any comic book character and get detailed run downs of their publication history, galleries of artwork of them and now... it's all gone. Not all gone, but you can get a cursory summary of plots depending on how iconic the character is, only a few images (but for lesser characters, none) and almost never a whole page spread.

I can only assume this is not a lack of creative innovation among comic fans, but because comic-co lawyers hit up Wikipedia with cease & desist orders, or Wikipedia actually had the communal conscious to get it's current guidelines and content policies in place.

Comicvine kind of stepped into the gulf that Wikipedia left, and it does an adequate job of what Comics Explained takes (in my non-legal opinion) too far. Comicvine gives you a short text-based summary, tells you the publication history in terms of the issues any character has appeared in, and generally features a gallery of user submitted art.

I'm sure it's all under fair-use, or something, and perhaps Rob knows his 'fair use' but just on a personal level, I disagree. He doesn't really 'review' comics, he 'explains' the publication history. He claims to be an educator, but there's almost nothing about the craft, one could not learn how to make comics from comics explained (unless you were pausing it and learning to draw from the artwork he appropriates), if anything we are simply being educated as to the content of products we would otherwise have to pay for (or steal ourselves).

He may tell himself and Marvel & DC that he's introducing people to comics that otherwise wouldn't. But I don't feel he has the means to prove that this actually happens, as opposed to allowing people who may actually have bought the comics he explains to now save their dollars.

'Find something you love and figure out how to make a living off it' can work if it means draw on your love to create anew what you love in the world. If you love art, make art etc.

'Find something you love and figure out how to make a living off it' is kind of sad and pitiable when you steer dreamers who may have had a shot to just do something safer at it's periphery.

'Find something you love and figure out how to make a living off it' I must also point out, applies to selling your daughter into sexual slavery, although that may be construed as evidence that you don't love her. I guess it depends how much you weep when you cash that check. It's also illegal, mostly, and where it isn't it should be.

I'm almost tempted to try and explain how Rob is living off the sweat of the working class, and rent-seeking and economic rents and all that but I'm sure Slavoj Zizek will get to it eventually 'rock star' that he is and he'll use such big words in such a thick accent that we'll all be really impressed and persuaded.

So I'll leave with this suggestion sometimes its interesting to watch someone speak on mute. Despite all those studies that say only 7% of communication are the words we say, it's a really useful exercise to dispense with them altogether. I did this with the first video and found without the verbalised arguments and rationalizing its impossible to feel sympathy for this guy. I'd describe him but if you're curious try it and see what you see. Probably more interesting to try on Trump and Hillary.

No comments: