I joked with my partner that this behavior feels like stacking my pocket change. “Look! I can make a pyramid! Or a square! Ooh this one has rust on it, but the other one doesn’t! I WILL CATALOGUE THEM.” It’s fun, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change the fact that I’m just stacking five pennies as many ways as I can.
BUT THIS IS DIFFERENT, I PROMISE. IT REALLY MIGHT HELP.
I just went and spent some time with Roget’s Thesaurus trying to figure out how I’d classify that distinction. Community vs. audience? Supporter vs. spectator? I’m still chewing on it. And the “support” I’m referencing isn’t always material! It’s just “people with a more pronounced interest in being close to the work,” and I’m trying to remember how to put them first in everything I do.
Is it gauche to quote your own writing from a different platform on your own blog? I don’t care! Heck the rules!! This is what I’m up to right now!!!
Got to catch up with the inimitable Matthew Bogart on the phone the other day after an embarrassingly long lull in communication (although his Patreon updates make me feel like we’re good pals just chatting away on the regular, so maybe that’s why I lost track). At one point he said “That’s the entirety of comics for me: turning story into space” and I think that’s a REAL GOOD LINE! I wrote it down immediately because YES! EXACTLY! What a great form of wizardry to practice.
But now I’m thinking about why it is that pictures occupy spatial real estate for me in a way words…don’t?? I’m tired and it’s the end of the day so I’m not going to dig into why right now. Just chucking it into the posterity machine.
Anyway: Matt’s a good dude. The last time I saw him he was letting me borrow his corner rounder during the Pandemic. That’s a real friend.
Saw a comic that made me laugh in queasy recognition. Didn’t want to link to it on Twitter, so I went hunting. Coni has a blog!
But the comic isn’t on the blog. THE COMIC IS NOW ON THE BLOG, RENDERING THE REST OF THIS POST SEMI-MOOT! Coni has a Patreon with lots of comics on it! But not this one. Coni has an Instagram with this comic on it! But the formatting loses a lot in the jump to square panels. So: a Twitter embed.
Two demons 😈✏️ pic.twitter.com/K75T3NbFmC— Coni Yovaniniz (@kurisquare) November 10, 2022
I don’t say any of the above as a criticism! I do the same thing! There’s some obscure internal logic that dictates when I make the effort to cross-post things and when I don’t. Sometimes it’s about formatting, sure, but other times it’s about tone. Certain comics or posts just fit better in different parts of my online presence.
I’ve wondered with increasing frequency whether it makes the most sense to start consolidating everything on my own site, but the fact is there’s something valuable about maintaining these different tonal environments. I like having Patreon as a space to talk (mostly) about craft and maintaining a creative practice; it keeps my blog free of any pressure to produce “worthwhile” content. Maintaining a little distance helps combat context collapse, keeping certain things within certain circles and keeping those circles relatively small.
(I keep thinking about the era when comics friends would warn that Twitter became unusable for them after they’d surpassed 10,000 followers, a threshold I’ve been over for some time.)
But there’s something else under this: the idea of being a Word Person and/or an Image Person on the internet. Some people certainly play with both (I’m thinking of Robin’s essays), and you could even argue that cartoonist is the definition of a Word and Image Person, but I think the way we treat platforms online splits these categories by necessity. I have split myself.
A lot of this crystalized after I read Alexis Madrigal’s lovely thread on Word People:
I read this thread and think “Yes! That’s me!” Or at least the Me that occupies this particular corner of the web. The Word Person part of my brain is the one that wanted to go to a liberal arts college and get a degree in Something Other Than Art (although I fell at the final hurdle and ended up with one regardless). The Word Person is still reading like it’s her job and keeping a journal and talking too much. She even controls how I read comics (words first, images as a sort of subconscious afterthought), which is a source of much self-judgement. (I know how long those pages take to make!!)
The Image Person struggles to keep up, or speaks in a register that’s harder to hear.
And then there’s the coding angle! Most of the blogging services my internet friends are gushing over these days focus on the written word. Introducing images of all different sizes and formats to the experience of building a website automatically shoots it into a realm beyond my limited technical ken.
Anyway, back to the what-goes-where-ness of platforms. Other Robin had a bit about that in his latest newsletter:
It’s not enough to make something and post it online; you must also inject it into some channel that will carry it to people. The web itself doesn’t do that; you need an extra layer, some reservoir of attention and/or curiosity, whether it’s Google, the blogosphere (RIP), StumbleUpon (RIP), Twitter (RIP) … hmm, there seem to be a lot of dead channels out here.
Back in the 2000s, I thought I knew things about distribution, about attention and networks — but I didn’t really.
It was, honestly, the experience of publishing a book with FSG that showed me what distribution really looks like, and taught me that you just cannot be starting from scratch every time. You need supply chains — not only (or even primarily) physical, but commercial and intellectual. Emotional, even.
I love the idea of a reservoir of curiosity coupled with an emotional supply chain. And those features don’t need to be built! They live in the people I want to spend time with! Curious people who maintain relationships over time and space, even when those relationships lie fallow for a spell.
I don’t measure the health of my friendships by whether or not we speak every day. Why should I then transfer that pressure onto my internet spaces?
Everyone is making so much stuff so well all the time and I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else but also I am so tired. I tire myself when I sit down to list my accomplishments with Erika and Danielle during our monthly check-in meetings. There’s surprise and pride, yeah, but also this reflexive sense of embarrassment at how much I’m doing. Knowing that I’d rather be present than productive, but still falling prey to the urge to do make distill grasp learn post share.
I know that social media is a big part of this. I know my own perfectionism is part of it too. And capitalism, that’s in the mix.
There are a lot of ways to do what I do, none of them necessarily right or wrong, but all different, all with their own pros and cons. I’m looking for a space on the web that isn’t shackled to a particular platform, but at the end of the day every avenue for getting paid for my work is owned by somebody.
(This site, at least, is mine.)
What am I asking for when I ask my audience to support me financially? Freedom and permission.
It feels selfish to take that without giving anything in return. (Just two months ago I was yelling lovingly at a comics friend for saying something similar, as if her work isn’t achingly personal and helpful and vulnerable and funny. As if she’s not giving back via her art. I guess I’m guilty of thinking that way, too. Worrying I’m a mooch.)
I’m tired of packaging myself and I know I need to share what’s going on under the hood in order to welcome people into the tribe that makes my life and my work possible. I know I am braver creatively when I have that community around me.
I know the way we’ve built an industry around producing graphic novels burns people out fast fast fast.
I don’t want to get burned.
I’d never even heard of Infinity Zines before, but this one Kori made is just stunning:
Then there’s a tiny essay Anne sent me in the mail that’s modeled on a cootie catcher. It’s about care and capitalism and giving and receiving, but it’s more complicated to photograph than I have the energy for tonight, so this is just to say that I am having a lot of feelings about unusually-formatted zines lately. I think they’re very good.
I’m inking my entries from Hourly Comic Day, which knocked me on my ass this year. It’s not that it was a lot of work (I mean, it was), but more that it forced me to really look at what’s happening in my life during this season. To examine the monotony and poignancy and fear and humor of caregiving. To feel as if part of me is still trying to maintain a life like the life I had when I did Hourly Comic Day last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on x 10).
Not wanting to draw my dad because to draw someone you have to really look at them and sometimes it’s too painful to look at him.
And then also understanding that sometimes the best thing I can do is look at my pain.
I hosted another Chill Drawing Hangout on Zoom earlier today and it was lovely. I’m grateful to know so many people who are willing to gather and be generous with each other and enjoy making art together. I’m going to do my best to make it a monthly practice, which means next one’s March 4th from 12-2pm Pacific. (That’s one day before we’re due to open a show of the collages I’ve been making with my dad, so I’m anticipating that I will be a mess, but that probably also means a couple hours friendly drawing will be much-needed.)
I want to write properly about how long it’s taken me to realize that one of the MANY reasons I’m in love with Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting is that it’s basically a blog in book form. So many small chapterlets subdivided into loose categories, all titled with brief words or phrases, all circling similar themes. It’s how I think about what I’m doing here (or with my Rambles)—building a database over the course of many months of Stuff I Am Thinking About so that someday I can surprise myself by finding out the seeds of the next thing have been germinating for longer than I’ve known.
Nisabho’s been recording meditations and sharing them online, which I only realized recently while trying to Google the name of the monastic community he’s working to establish up in Seattle. We went to college together (he features very prominently in True Believer, the first comic I funded on Kickstarter) and he’s remained one of my lighthouse humans. Anyway, Wednesday this week was rough and so I found myself listening to this half-hour talk on grief and mourning to try and cope. It was so lovely—like we were still walking together in the early dark of Portland in October 2020. He recited the same Mary Oliver poem for me on the sidewalk there. I got to share my 100 Day Project with him and his parents.
This post is basically Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, although she was caring for small children when she wrote it, but I feel an increasing affinity with anyone who’s doing 24/7 care work these days.
Okay that’s enough small things, back to doing dishes.
Trying to get better about sharing these things across my different internet haunts, so! I just posted my second monthly update on Seacritters! over on Patreon. If character design notes and thoughts about capacity and sustainable pacing for making graphic novels and also goofy bespoke dancing gifs appeal to you, get thee hence. These updates are Patron-only from here on out to preserve goodwill with my publisher, but the first one is still free if you want to get a sense for what they’re like. The Data/Art/Ritual format is really working for me, since those do feel like the three pillars of my creative practice. I’m excited to leave myself this paper trail and see where it goes.
Also, y’know, possums.
(Also I’m noticing that it feels weird to post this kind of promotional, audience-addressing stuff on my own blog. I’m assuming an audience in writing this (“if you want to get a sense…” etc.) and realizing that I don’t often think that way when I write here. I’m writing to myself, about my own thoughts, and acknowledging in the back of my mind that some people might read those thoughts, but not actively addressing them when I write. Don’t have a solution to it, really, just thinkin’.)
If you’ve been here for the last couple years, you might remember that I’m an authorized representative of an intergalactic entity known as The Boat Gnome.
If you haven’t been here for a couple years, here’s a visual introduction:
This spacefaring nautical merchant, operating in association with known Space Gnome representative Shing Yin Khor, accepts trinkets and trades via post in exchange for a special Trusted Trader pin. (You can also trade with the Space Gnome for pins by becoming a Patreon supporter of Shing’s, but you didn’t hear it from me.)
I’m delighted to announce that the Boat Gnome has now updated her ledgers and is open for the 2020-2021 trading season!
Desired items for this season are as follows:
- A favorite passage describing the ocean (from an artistic work of your choosing)
- A (mailably small) piece of driftwood
- A design for a flag
- A sea creature in any condition (illustrated, bottled, described with words—ideally not live because the ship has no aquarium in which to keep them)
To participate, print this intake form, fill it out, and pack it up with your trade item of choice AND a self-addressed-and-stamped box or bubble envelope (5×7” or larger) with at least $3.50 in regular postage (for US residents), or the equivalent for a 4oz package (for international residents). This envelope will be used to mail back your Trusted Trader pin. The Boat Gnome regretfully cannot accept thin paper or cardboard envelopes—padded is best!
Mail your trade item and SASE to the following address:
Boat Gnome Mercantile
c/o Lucy Bellwood
PO Box 734
Ojai, CA 93024
In exchange, and under no specific timeline, you’ll receive one of these shiny Trusted Trader pins in the post:
That’s it! The Boat Gnome is very much looking forward to pawing over all your mailed offerings and I, as her Representative, can’t wait to file all the necessary paperwork.
Yours in aquatic shenanigans,
Boat Gnome Representative
Some thoughts after a long absence from this practice:
Between the weight of the world and my new role as a full-time caregiver, I’m barely managing to do my own work, which means I have no time for the work around the work—the work about the work. It feels like this second kind of work is what actually brings people to my door. The art is fine, but the thinking and talking ABOUT the art (and the craft, and the business, and the being-human-ness of it all) is what I’ve come to rely on for my livelihood. It also gives me a sense of greater meaning within the landscape of my chosen profession. It helps me feel connected to something bigger.
There’s more commentary and a list of links to things I referenced in this recording over on Patreon, but if you prefer you can just dive in and listen below:
[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]
It feels redundant to keep pointing wildly at everyone who’s coming to similar conclusions about the instability of this online ecosystem right now—BUT—every time I find another person doing it I start yelling “YES. YES!” and do want to catalogue them in some way because these conversations are unfolding in many different spaces concurrently. It’s not just cartoonists writing about being cartoonists. It’s dancers and authors and comedians and zinesters and activists and journalists and musicians all pausing to look around and say, collectively, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
I’m thinking about comedian Bo Burnham’s remarkable special Inside. About choreographer and quilter Marlee Grace’s latest newsletter. Jia Tolentino’s “The I in the Internet“. Rain’s documentary The Shopkeeper. Mara’s “Sex, Husbandry, and the Infinite Scroll“. How to Do Nothing. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. I could go on.
Robin called the other day and mentioned that I seemed to have stopped blogging, to which I say: it’s a fair cop. I was in Portland being consumed by my newfound ability to be close to other people and then I was moving and for the past ten days I’ve still been moving, but it’s the shitty back-end part of moving that we don’t talk about as much where you have to actually unpack and (in the case of this particular move) jettison decades of childhood ephemera from your tiny bedroom in order to make it a livable space for yourself as an adult.
The last piece of furniture I needed to move in was my bed frame, which I’d decided to stain and refinish because “Imperfect DIY Projects” was in my “More” column for this year. Now that I can sleep in a space with visible floor area and a desk I can actually sit at (though I am, in fact, writing this on the bed), it turns out my brain is far more capable of turning to the digital spaces I’ve been neglecting for the past six weeks. By returning to writing, I’m breathing a habitual sigh of relief—the kind that turns into a stream of words about shit I didn’t know I was even processing in the background of whatever I was busy doing while I was thinking that I’d never write another word ever again.1
So, after all that preamble:
Nicole Brinkley wrote this essay called Did Twitter Break YA? as part of her Misshelved series on Patreon and it’s fucking great. YA isn’t my community, but it’s adjacent to my community. And booksellers (the community Nicole talks about most frequently in her writing) are absolutely within my community. The patterns she describes in this piece—of context collapse and “morally motivated networked harassment” and parasocial relationships and burnout—are patterns I know like the back of my hand.
There are so many nod-inducing moments, but this was the one that really made my blood run cold:
After all, access to authors is the real product—and if an author missteps, they’re just a failed product. There are always more authors to fill that spot on the shelf.
Bluergh. Hurk. Ek. How often have I slipped into thinking of myself as a failed product on a shelf? Certainly every time I’ve stopped posting as often on Patreon, or expressed enthusiasm about doing a drawing challenge and then failed to follow through. Definitely in those moments when I think that if I just had a bit more energy and time I could start making content that would grow my following “in earnest”. When I take two years to send a new installment of my newsletter. When I disappear.
But it’s not just the disappearance. It’s feeling of one’s absence being invisible within the onrushing tide of Other People’s Output. Remember that Drew Austin essay I linked a couple posts ago? He gets into it there, noting that “Every social media feed is an endless parade of these fragmentary identities, disaggregated into units of content and passing by quickly enough to evade the scrutiny that would detect their incompleteness.” The incompleteness being that we are all also doing and contending with other things. We have to be. We’re not just on Twitter 24/7—even people who seem as if they are.
This is the price of trying to succeed within the ecosystem of capitalism, and maybe it’s also why I want to keep sharing here and here alone: I haven’t contaminated this container yet. It gets to sit apart from everything else, just me and my thoughts.2
Earlier in the Pandemic Mara made a rare Instagram appearance, posting a series of text-based stories from her new home in Winthrop, Washington. I transcribed them immediately because, as with most things she writes and shares and speaks about, it sparked something in me that I needed to sit with for a long time.
I have so enjoyed every story and post by you all, dear friends. How does it work when I just observe you, and when to like/comment on what you make here is to feed an algorithm that watches and profits off of our affection? I don’t do it because it feels…violent?…to us. This platform is very hard for me. Thank you for understanding. It pales in comparison to being near you. The simulacrum of closeness feels nauseating. I know we are killing something important in the process of creating connection. I want you to walk through the door, for us to play. You’re all here always.
This is it—the heart of the thing. We chase engagement as if it’s the Holy Grail, and yet to play the game on any level means we’ve already lost. There are so many people I can think of who I’ve finally been able to see and embrace and laugh with over the past month and attempting to get that through social media does pale in comparison. The simulacrum is nauseating.
This handful of broken online platforms can’t be everything.
Past a certain point I don’t want to spend my time cataloguing people’s writing about this—or generating my own—because (and this is the curse of the over-informed over-thinker) I know it all already. I know it in my bones. I may not have the right terminology for it, but I can feel it. I fear I am admiring the problem, thrilling to ever more accurate descriptors that tell me precisely how and why I’m locked in this unfulfilling spiral, rather than taking steps to change my behavior.3
As Tolentino points out, “The internet reminds us on a daily basis that it is not at all rewarding to become aware of problems that you have no reasonable hope of solving.”
But Nicole is ready for that.
[…] I do not want to wear the armor of cynicism. I do not want to be trapped in the ouroboros of perfection just because the community I interact with demands it.
So here is what I will say to you, dear reader: You do not have to participate in this cycle.
The system is broken, but the system can be abandoned.
In addressing this head-on, she wins my heart.4 She admits that the piece started out as one thing and then turned into another. She describes the trajectory it might have taken had she chosen to focus solely on the issue of where actual teenage readers sit in the modern YA landscape, and then she recognizes that this is really a conversation about so much more. (I will never stop loving this pattern, wherever I encounter it.)
The Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It School, the Grit School, the Capitalism School—they all urge us to keep producing and grinding and persevering, trusting that clarity will come from more work (even if that work, at its core, is purposeless, unfulfilling, or even actively harmful). With no time to reflect or catch our breath, we feel we have no choice but to trust the systems we’re given, to push and push and push until we “break into” the spaces that are communally regarded as desirable, and then fight like hell to keep that power safe because don’t you know this is a landscape of scarcity? There’s only so much to go around.
When I think about the last year, I don’t think about pushing. I think about waiting.
I had to wait. I had to wait a long, long time. In some ways I’m still waiting.
So when Nicole says:
These days it’s okay to not be sure what Twitter is for. We can stop going there until we figure it out.
It feels like permission.
It makes my soul exhale.
“I don’t feel good when I’m here” is enough of a reason to leave. Even if the places I wish I could stay—or the people I wish I could stay with—sometimes bring me connection and joy and validation and money and, yes, even love. If my gut tells me that I am not, at baseline, nourished the way I need to be: I can walk.
That’s the new rule.
Thank you, Nicole.
1. I’m also kind of glossing over the fact that my obsessive nesting has masked a deeper discomfort with having to face the true emotional cost of this transition. That’s a conversation for another time. But, as my therapist reminded me: this grief is chronic, not acute. Avoidance is a tactic we use to survive ongoing adversity. It’s not inherently evil. ↩
2. Also, just a general side note in relation to all this: how often have I shared something like Nicole’s essay on Twitter or Instagram with the caveat “I’m fully aware of the irony of sharing this here, but…”? I want to stop doing that. If I’m reading something about how fucked it feels to still be on a certain platform and it resonates with me, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THAT PLATFORM. (I am yelling at myself here because this is a footnote and that’s what they’re for, I think.) ↩
3. Whoops this is the moment I realized that this essay is also about my historical approach to relationships. Surprise! ↩
4. She also reminds me of this stunning essay from adrienne maree brown about disrupting patterns of harm that specifically target Black women within movement work. I’m due a re-read because I haven’t stopped thinking about it for months. ↩