The H.E.Buddy

2017/05/14

hebuddy

I live in Texas these days, and there’s a supermarket chain called H-E-B out here. HEB stands for founder Howard Edward Butt, which is a funny name because butts are funny.

Its mascot is the H-E-Buddy, sometimes styled Hebuddy.

Like all mascots, H-E-Buddy is alive. However, this instantly creates problems, questions that must be answered.

Is the H-E-Buddy just the bag and it’s carrying the food around? Or is the food part of H-E-Buddy?  The carrots form its hair, so I fall in the latter camp.

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What happens when the carrots rot? When the meat spoils? When the bread goes stale?

What happens if I eat the bread? Does H-E-Buddy lose motor function? Does it replenish itself

How thick is the bag? Are there eye stalks on the inside, brushing up against a box of Peanut Butter Crunch?

What does it eat? If I eat its contents… does it eat mine?

Consciousness

2017/03/22

I feel like I have a couple of things to add to this ongoing conversation between materialists and dualists about where consciousness comes from, and with identifying/observing consciousness.

I was reading this article about Daniel Dennett and his attempts to cut through the bullshit of the discussion. Seriously, you’re going to have to read that article, I’m not going to explain whole discussion because I’m not familiar enough with all the parts, nor am I studied in psychology. I can give you what I learned from the article. I simply think what I think–and what I think comes from connections I’ve made.

Remember that. That is important.

This will probably sound pretentious, but a lot of Dennett’s appeal to me, because I’ve sort-of thought about them myself. And I’m going to admit I’ve only read about his thoughts through interviews and articles like the one above. But hey, a copy of the Complete Crumb volume 5 just came in for me through Interlibrary Loan, so.

The first idea is that consciousness can’t be observed. Sure, the octopus, the robot, the zombie may all respond to stimuli (from seeing, touching, etc.) but how do we know they have consciousness? I’d argue that consciousness can be observed–we created a word for the concept, after all–by looking at our own.  Each of us agrees that we–that is, that I believe/you believe that I am/you are conscious. For all we know, we could be brains in vats. I mean, the Matrix movies were proof of concept. Point is, we have a definition of consciousness*, so we can observe what it does.

I’ll skip every part of the argument about whether anything’s real and, for the sake of argument, you and I share a reality made up of cars and trees and air and tables and camgirls and “premium” products. You know that you are conscious; you know that you are a human being; you know that I am a human being; blah blah blah. Let’s also skip the discussion of whether anyone can “know” something. For the sake of argument, you can. So conscioussness, as far as I’m concerned, can be observed.

But this is where you get into the materialist/dualist arguments, as well as the physicalist/design stances. Just by observing what conscious things do, we get the thin descriptive concept of consciousness. On the other hand, you’ve got the thin evaluative concept (which kinda has to do with moral stuff? I’m learning) by dint of ideas like choice and right/wrong. That, if I understand correctly, would make consciousness a thick concept (two thins make a thick, evidently. I’m learning).

Okay, so, materialists say that consciousness derives from the physics going on inside your brain (yes, it’s chemicals too, but they and the electricity in your brain move). Dualists think that consciousness must come from something else.** Thus the zombie problem.  But I think this is where the dualists must be conflating consciousness with life, and specifically human life. They seem to want to believe that humans can never be explained, to not believe that we can be reduced to billions of equations. (An aside: zombies don’t fit the current definition of life–no growth; octopi do; a robot could, if we’re talking somewhere around the middle of the movie Bicentennial Man, be composed of cells and maintain homeostasis, but at the moment, I don’t think we’re quite to the point of robots being able to reproduce.) And this where you have to address religion. There’s this clinging to some vague idea of someone smarter, something inexplicable, somewhere else whither comes consciousness.

The physicalist and design/intentional stances refer to the material actions of life forms. I’ll just steal the examples from the article: a protein folds (physicalist), but an eye sees (purpose/design/intent).  I’ve come to hate that latter kind of language. It’s too loaded with intelligent design kind of stuff.  The purpose of spinach is to give you iron; animals evolve into other animals.  I think we need a new kind of passive tense to talk about evolution.  So-and-so evolved the ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen? Feh. So-and-so had a happy mutation that created the ability to do so; the ones that didn’t all died out.

Dennett falls on the physicalist side of things, but to read this article it sounds like others just don’t get him. He laughs at the idea of the zombie problem.  And I can get that maybe some problems arise because people use words the wrong way.  Obviously, these philosophers struggle with these concepts, and they struggle with words.  I know you are a human, and that you are conscious, but I don’t know that you think about equality the way I do. Or spark plugs. Or butt plugs.  If you have a different concept of a word, it’s a different path you go down, with different questions. Maybe those questions are the key ones that need to be asked. Or maybe a different/incomplete/misunderstood concept of a word can create a problem that never needed to be asked.

Can God make a rock so big that even He couldn’t lift?  This question assumes that God has physical strength (or maybe I’m misinterpreting how He’d lift it). Theoretically (according to Christianity), there’s a physical (presumably swole) Jesus still hanging around somewhere in the universe, but that’s beside the point.  I’m also concerned about the idea that God would go about making rocks in any way other than the way they’re always made.  If you’re into the idea that God has some sort of Sim City type of software and could put a deer out into space as a goof, and then watch to see how quick it dies, fine. Not my idea of God. My idea of god isn’t that it doesn’t exist, so the question makes even less sense to me.

At any rate, as the article hints at–even those wrong directions can spur better, newer ones. Dennett is quoted as saying that he was able to take the foundations of an article he thoroughly disagreed to make a rebuttal out of it. I’m going to take a page from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity here, where he critiques those who say Christianity is a step back by saying that if you’ve taken the wrong turn on a trail, you must go back to get where you want to go.  Pinpointing where exactly your ideas stray from others was one of the key concepts of my rhetoric and writing classes in college.  I’m often saddened by how other people don’t realize/utilize this, or realize that I ask a lot of questions in an attempt to get to whatever highest level of belief we share. 😦

Anyway. Questions. Problems. How to answer them. Daniel Dennett gets into the idea of different complexities of consciousness. The article only touches on this briefly, I feel, but I really do like Dennett’s idea that lower forms of life have a “sort of” consciousness.  I like this because it has instant connections (remember that word, now) with other thoughts I’ve interacted with.  One is that I’ve encountered that idea before, from a Jewish professor of mine, who said the same thing. I assumed it came from his knowledge and experience of Judaism.  I imagine that the scene in Numbers 22:28-30 where God “opens the mouth” of Balaam’s donkey, letting it ask Balaam why it whips him so much, is somewhere within that view.

Also–and finally we reach connections–I read Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress about eight years ago.  A repairman for a giant supercomputer on the Moon finds one day that the computer can now talk; it proceeds to read all of literature and history and calls himself Mycroft.*** The best the repairman could ever guess as to why the computer became conscious is that it must have had far more connections than the human mind.

And, well, think about it.  Our brains are bigger than a dog’s, or than a mouse’s.  In my rudimentary understanding of dendrites and whatnot, human brains should have more connections.  I was going to say that human brains evolved to solve different problems than those that dogs needed to solve, but that’s just bad language.  But they both solved those problems by interacting with their environments.  The predecessor beings that had better abilities at making connections were the ones who solved them; their crotchfruit survived.  Plus, there are more things for the human brain to connect to.  I mean, we have knuckles. Fish don’t have knuckles. Please don’t argue with me on this one; I’d lose for lack of knowledge of philosophical theories.

Anyway, connections, problem solving. Dogs and apes never had to “figure out” the problem of what to do with all the phonemes their tongues could make. Some people, at some point, likely took some mushrooms and came up with a new way to use those sounds and start naming things.  Not even kidding, I truly believe some cavepeople were sitting around chompin’ shrooms and one pointed to a woman and said some ur-word for boobs and probably made a hand motion or pointed at a woman and somebody else laughed at the word and said it too. In this case, the connections were forged by chemicals let loose in the brain in the right amount/right time.

An aside–I’d argue that human evolution has probably all but stopped since we do have so many communications in our brains. As in, diseases that hit you in old age are never going to be selected against. We can mess up our own–if you want to call it this–evolutionary trajectory. I mean, old people got to live longer once somebody(ies) invented/developed the spoon. With that, old people could more easily eat soups or whatever even after they’d lost their teeth.  We take better care of little people, or disabled people, because the connections in our brain gave us the concepts of compassion and that everybody’s human and equal. As Zappa said: “we are the other people / you’re the other people too”.

Some connections are based on interactions we have with the world. You read a certain selection of books, you’ll have different connections than the person who read some other set of books. A jack-of-all trades may be master of none, but may also have an edge in creative problem-solving across domains. If you want to read a hilarious imagining of what would happen if someone instantly had all of Western literature shoved into their brain, I highly recommend The New and Improved Romie Futch, by Julia Elliott (the book’s last chapter is also one of those the-end-explains-the-whole-book things like the end of JR or A Clockwork Orange.

What I’m getting at is that the more things there are, the more possible connections there are. The more connections there are, the more possibilities arise, within the brain and within groups of people.  As Dennett is quoted in the article, “A whole can be freer than its parts”.

So why is the argument that beauty and love and compassion and art must come from something other than physics just completely unappealing to me?  Because I believe in emergent qualities. Spirals happen in nature, the Perfect Strangers Reviewed post from last week gave me (maybe) insight into Bronson Pinchot because of the emergent theme of shoes.  These are connections I made because of everything I’ve interacted with in terms of that show, explained through psychological concepts I’ve integrated into my thinking. I believe that these qualities can arise through enough of–and the right–connections. It’s also why I can believe that the materialist view is enough to explain the “soul” (which, there you go again with religious “residue”, as the article calls it, but let’s just equate soul with beauty and love and all that), and enough to explain subjective experience. People have made different connections with their environments, and within their own brains. Some people may have made fewer connections than others.

(One could argue here that the implication is that, just as animals are “sort of conscious”, then some humans must be more conscious than others.  Before you go off to the store to buy a do-it-yourself genocide kit, let me remind you that people are people.  There’s a substantive difference between a person’s consciousness and a dog’s. That said, there must be a range of how physical brain connections there might be in the totality of human brains. And… so what? They’re people too, they’re going to mostly behave and think the same way I do.  You could also try to say here that, okay, neither “dumb” people or “smart” people (whether you want to look at it physically or experientially) are using their brains to their full potentials. Yeah, and who ever could? And why would it matter if we do? It’s like those video games where you’re basically assigning points to various aspects of character–charisma, strength, intelligence, etc.–based on what you feel you need to survive and thrive in the environment you’re in.  And in my definition of consciousness, you’d have to just turn every connection on and experience everything to do so. And we’ve thrown a wrench (that’s a tool-making joke, y’all) into our own potential evolution… and now we’re back to how people get off on different tracks because of understanding of words, and how philosophy seems so hard but that’s probably because all the major human brain evolution happened when we were just trying to survive and didn’t have to come up with such specific words and definitions for consciousness.)

But another reason why it’s so easy for me to be a materialist is because there are too many examples in the real world–and mine specifically–to not believe in emergent qualities. You have a color wheel with six colors? Oh, a rainbow with seven?  Well, lookee here, I’ve decided to assign 260 gradations each to three different “basic” colors. Now we’ve got over 17 million distinct colors!  Or look at what they keep doing with ice creams and candies these days.  Ever had a Take 5 candy bar? That bar literally could not exist until all five of those types of snack food had been invented, someone thought about putting them together, and a candy company needed something new to test out.

I write and draw simulacrums of people I created. I have at least 30 characters now. I had particular stories in mind that I wanted to tell when I started making Jimmy Jone. But then my co-writer came up with other characters, and suddenly they had to interact with the ones we already had. Those interactions meant that the characters had to, well, shape themselves to each other, like the ongoing arms race between the common cold and the human immune system. The world I write has grown through these interactions–THESE CONNECTIONS–and I’ve gotten stories out of it that never could have been told without those characters, with those interactions, within those settings, drawn by me, written by me and a couple other guys. There are characters who haven’t interacted yet–but they will, and it will create stories my original ideas never could have. There are characters who have no reason to interact.  Take Darryl (the one who, though some animal magnetism or perfectness of character, has constant sex with a variety of women) and Sappho (the cartoonishly-extreme feminist character).  Darryl has no need to be upset with Sappho; his ego isn’t wrapped up in sex; it’s just his way of relating. Women come to him for sex, he has sex with them and makes a personal connection. Think how much he knows about sex for a 21-year-old!  Think how little I know about it for a 32-year-old!  Sappho, on the other hand, thinks that the women who would have sex with Darryl aren’t the kind of women she wants in her campus feminist group.  In a way, Darryl helps her weed out members with no potential in her eyes.  What would they say to each other if they ever met? Probably at least “hello”, at most each others’ names, and probably just wander away from each other with no awkwardness at all.

And just as the brain can be studied through those who have sustained damage to theirs, you can look at the lack of connections in a created world to see how things should work, or could work better.

Take Perfect Strangers. The show is so insistent on focussing on the relationship of Balki and Cousin Larry, there’s barely potential for any other relationships to have any sort of impact on the show. Balki almost got married just so he could not get married. Balki and Larry have girlfriends just so they can get into fights about how to relate to them or treat them or understand them. There’s only one connection between two cousins.  Other connections are there–to their girlfriends, to their co-workers, to their neighbors–but these are all one way at best. No one has an impact on the cousins that lasts week to week.  And that’s the maddening thing about sitcoms.  Even though there were, what, 7 main characters on Full House, by the end, Danny’s still single, Joey’s still single and not successful in his comedy career, Jesse’s still not successful with his music career, and Michelle is still cute (I guess).

Fuckin’ Joey.

It’s maddening that these characters can’t change because of the sitcom format of the soft reset every week.  After 8 years, these people hadn’t changed any of their behaviors to suit the needs of others. They connect, butt heads, change each other, learn a lesson, and do the same thing a couple of months later.

I think I kind of summed up most of what I’m trying to say seven paragraphs before, so let me try to do it a little better now that I’ve put all my parts in and made connections.**** I’ve been writing both comics and blog posts for years now, which has given me insights into connections, and the emergence they produce (running jokes, new situations, etc.), plus I’ve encountered many of the ideas that Dennett gets into in other places (novels, professors), so the pre-existing connections in my head (that is, my subjective experience) allowed Daniel Dennett’s idea to clarify, modify, and polish some of my own nascent beliefs about human consciousness.

I will see if I can actually get through my to-read list enough this year to read Dennett’s newest book about consciousness.

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*those silly philosophers probably got like fifty by now

**I just learned that the phrase “ghost in the machine”–just like Schroedinger’s Cat–was created to ridicule the idea.  I feel bad for these thinkers who, in their attempts to deny competing ideas, had their phrases hijacked to support their opposition.

***Now you know whey they’re calling that new “AI” Mycroft!

****Everybody scream real loud!

 

 

10 years

2017/01/17

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Shit, I don’t know what to say.

I hate when people say that, by the way. I hate it when webcomics make their first strip about how they can’t come up with a joke. If you can’t come up with a joke, don’t bother telling me.  I mean, obviously I have something to say, and it’s going to follow this introductory paragraph. There’s a message implicit in “I don’t know what to” that there’s a specific thing that ought to be said, a right thing that ought to be said. Hell, anything I say about my webcomic is right. Even if it contradicts what my co-writers think of it, even if it contradicts what you think of it. I decided it wouldn’t be mine alone when I wrote it with them, and when I gave it to you. We’re all right. I just have more to say about it.

And there it is, I can revise my first statement: I don’t know what all to say.  What do I want to say about it? What do you want to read about it? Will I be completely honest?

Who fucking cares, let’s just ramble for a little while.

Jimmy Jone started as a nine-tenths boy: some visual pun on the national nuclear family averages that have been parroted to my generation for years. That whole 2.3 kids thing, the origin of which I’m too lazy to track down right now.

It came together from a bunch of disparate pieces. I had tried doing a comic strip for my college’s newspaper. I was turned down initially, but something like a month later, I got a call–I think late on a Wednesday night; the paper came out on Thursdays–if I could provide them a strip. It wasn’t funny. If you want to see it, ask me, there’s no reason for you to waste your time tracking it down.  Anyway, there was a proto-version of Stuart in there.  I’d been drawing a Wendell (almost exactly as he is now) for a while as well.  Matt (the main co-writer) suggested I throw those in there, too.  One of the gags you see in issue 42–the mad scientist messing up his hair–preceded the writing of the first issue completely.

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The first four issues are fairly directionless–I take that back, they were completely directionless. I didn’t even start thinking long-term that much until issue 11/12 or so, when I started planning out some Future Stuart arcs. I think our initial burst of creativity for those first few issues may have come from the excitement of having made fake instructions to a fake game called “Steinpoker”–the excitement of having seen something through, making a joke real.  The writing has (so far) always been by me, Matt, and Dan beginning with issues 12/13.  Matt at one point suggested bringing someone in that we worked with at the language-immersion summer camp, but I nixed it.  I didn’t know the guy very well, I didn’t trust his sense of humor yet. But I trust Matt’s, so maybe I should have let things go that way.

And I’ve been thinking about that a lot the past few months: how I saw the whole story back then at the beginning.  How it was going to end, what different characters would do; particular jokes and storylines I could see clearly in my head. Fun fact: Matt commented once during our early writing sessions that he wished some long-running show like Frasier would have the balls to kill off its main character in the season finale; as a result, for a long time I wanted to kill Jimmy off at the end. Reality catches up with everyone, right?

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At the very least, it caught up with me.  Jimmy Jone will never be a realization of my initial dreams. In many ways I’m happy about this: you’d never have met the Reasoner, or Tatsuo, or the hobo gang, or the Psi Pi students.  In other ways I mourn what never was.  There are plenty of jokes and stories that may now never make it into the comic.  In some cases they’d feel shoehorned in; in other cases they’d be that much more I’d have to draw. This thing’s going to go at least another 80 issues, more likely another 100. You’ll probably never see Jimmy and Chloe traverse the underground tunnels between the women’s dorm and the math computer lab in the middle of the night (the only place on campus with a particular software program that Jimmy needs to finish an assignment), and along the way they run into the second generation of a lost group of students who have built up their own mythology about the upworld (think, like, the kids in Mad Max 3).

An aside about lost stories and petard-hoisting: having time-travel as a plot element itself bars you from doing particular time-travel stories.  Matt and I had planned out most of a story where one of the eternally-ill-fated school dances is transported back in time to a day in the 1950s when absolutely nothing of import happened, as a measure to prevent monsters/aliens/wormholes from ruining the fun.  There was even a really good and stupid prank war joke where the Twins change the course of history by calling people “neds” instead of “nerds”, resulting in Ned’s ridicule in the present day, as well as the movie series Revenge of the Neds.

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Where was I? Oh yeah, 80 comics, 100 more. Comics takes time, and while I was working through all the stories Matt and/or I had come up with, new ideas came along and felt right. Characters bounced off each other and created new possibilities. Professor creates crayon child; other professor steals crayon child; crayon child ends up in the possession of a mad science student who happens to have created a simulation of Chester A. Arthur. So I proceeded to write babysitting stories. Meanwhile, I felt I needed to explain why the first professor even created the kid, which was a result of one of those tail-wagging-the-dog things that I had planned for the very end of the comic. And meanwhile, I’m publishing the story serially, meaning that with every advance in any of the stories, there are fewer options for what you can do later on, lest they disturb the timeline.

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A, B, C, but then M demands D be changed, E and F start begetting P, Q, R, and S, and then Y and Z say, um, no, fuck M, Q, D, and you’re going to need some new letters soon.Like humans in middle age, expanding in their middles.  A two-way erosion, like characters on a long-running TV drama losing their defined edges, or a Rubik’s cube, multiple paths blocking each other until you find the ones that finally agree. Or maybe knitting. I’ve never knitted, but I bet knitting can be hard too.

And on top of all that, hell, it’s been 10 years. It’s been the last one-third of my life. I’ve grown, I’ve diminished, I’ve changed, I’ve stymied. There’s a potentially tone-deaf rape joke in issue 8.  The TV-show issue “Garage Barrage” is me and Matt borrowing language patterns from our pop-culture understanding of Latinos. I have no idea how offensive that issue is, because despite living in Texas for 5 years now, I have damnably few Latin@ friends. In an issue I posted in just the past week, I have a older white male character (who is eternally half-clueless to boot) tell a younger black girl–one of two black characters in my comic–how she’s going about her intimate relationships wrong.  Shit, we named the feminist character Sappho. And I’m having to deal with that as I go. Another metaphor I think of when I deal with these things is that I’m fixing a car as I drive it. As I said above, whatever is in the comic now is there–is canon–forever.

So I try to fix those problematic things, those brainchilds from a younger, less enlightened me. And let’s keep talking about Sappho. For all you know right now, based on what’s explicit in the comic, Sappho’s the only gay character.  That’s not the case, but I’m also not sure when you’re going to find out who the other ones are. But Sappho’s a villain. She’s a nasty character drawn, again, from understanding of others through pop culture. And once I realized that my inner thinking about her (she’s a lesbian who happens to have some fucked-up thoughts about herself and what her relationship to the world should be) wasn’t obvious, I tried to change that. Issue 43 was a start, and there will be more to address Sappho, and what she is, right up through the end of the comic. She’s not going away. Everything she is, everything she’s done, is there–is canon–forever.

But here’s another thing that’s happened in the past 10 years: I’ve come to love my characters, every single one of them.  I put them through hell, I watch them struggle, I watch them lose, I watch them hurt. I want them to be as real as the limitations (mine, the format, the fact that I want to finish this thing before I die) allow.

A few years ago, I read all of the first forty years of Doonesbury.  Garry Trudeau has never been divorced, but he sure did seem to unequivocally hate the character of Mike Doonesbury’s ex-wife, J.J. Caucus. She was always wrong, always self-centered, nary a redeemable quality in sight. And maybe Sappho’s not redeemable either. But I love her, and she deserves better than what I’ve made her into.

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Sure, I want good things for my characters, but I want them to fight for them. Or not fight for them. Or die. Or kill. I want to throw in as much as I possibly can. I want to learn more, I want to better myself and my writing and my art, I want some damn diversity in my comic.  I mean, seriously, who wears just jeans and t-shirts all the time? For those of you who watched Parks & Recreation, here’s my main beef with the show starting with maybe season 5: everybody got everything they wanted all of the time. Sure, there was struggle, but no storyline really had what you could call an unhappy ending.  The show was lousy with it by its final season. So I don’t want (all) my characters to be horrible and miserable and cursing their own existence (forever); but I also don’t want them (all) to get everything they want (or need). I want some reality in here…

…here, in my webcomic about superheroes, mad scientists, and a guy missing the top of his skull. I set up table at the Small Press Expo once, and one attendee criticised my comic for feeling like it was just a mish-mash of tropes and stock “funny” stuff. She admitted hers was that way too, and, yeah, what isn’t when it comes to webcomics?  Yes, The Simpsons Did It (and what they haven’t, South Park Has). At least I’m not doing two guys on a couch. At least I’m not aping the CalArts Style/Steven Universe/Pendleton Ward/whatever the fuck you call that constellation of styles in the Superjail! or Matt Furie or Alex Schubert vein. Or doing that damn thing where everyone’s nose is red. Yes, that’s how they look in real life. But red noses have too long been cartoon shorthand for a cold or alcoholism that it’s just unsettling to me. Also, like the teeth on the new McDonald’s mascot, it breaks the cartoony style too much for me. Whatever. Different discussion for a different day.  What I meant to say is that Matt and Dan and I have gone far deeper down our rabbit holes. We blew through the four or five basic time travel jokes in no time flat. Where else will you find a joke about someone using their past self as a mirror to fix their hair? (And what’s more, the number of people who read that issue and got the cover’s reference is 1: me.)

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So, yeah, if you just want to look at the component parts of my webcomic, it doesn’t sound like anything special. But like the alphabet stuff from before, these things all bounce off of each other. Events, reactions, characteristics, thoughts, motivations, goals, and my long-term plans make new things out of the mish-mash.

Or, they’re supposed to.  I guess I have to talk about Jimmy, huh? Jimmy’s been a fucking nobody for so much of the comic.  There’s shades of what many of us gifted kids go through when we get to college, or when we enter our adult life: we’re not special anymore. And that theme lasted all of, what, the first couple of years of the comic? Up until issues 73 & 74, Jimmy’s behavior was almost entirely in reaction to what was going on around him.  You can make a broader, bigger statement about that–and I’ve tried to. Even though he likely hasn’t been able to articulate it to himself, he knew that he wasn’t bringing much to the table in his relationship with Diana. (Go re-read issue 38 with this in mind.)  He was a follower, until, you know, 8 or 9 years into the comic, when he decided he wanted to take some control over his life and his emotional state.

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By the way, yes, Jimmy is me.  I try to keep Ron based on Matt. Dan’s in there, but I’m going to let you guess who he is.  Also the Brueckner twins are me–the way my family in Northeastern Georgia talk (fun fact: “buddy-ro” comes from the same uncle whose LPs I’m digitizing for Dumpster Vinyl). Also Stuart is some pastiche of me and Matt and the fandoms we aren’t a part of.  Jimmy’s music taste is mine. Priscilla’s music taste is what I wish mine was. Chloe is made up of equal parts of things I hate about myself (addiction) and what I wish I was (more confident in myself sexually). (And since Jimmy is me, go re-read issue 38 again with this in mind.) Lastly, College State University mirrors many aspects of the college I attended as an undergrad, and many of the buildings in the backgrounds are from there or University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I got my library science degree. In many ways, I want this webcomic to be a repository of everything I’ve ever been, liked, or wanted to make sure isn’t forgotten.

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Anyway, I was Jimmy. He’s a predominantly reactive follower, someone who avoids/avoided social interaction for the same reasons I did when I was in college. In a way, not writing much personality into Jimmy paid off over time. Once I saw my blind spot, it let me write him as me in a more complete way. I look forward to when I finally get to use him to tell my personal experience of getting sand and gum wrappers stuck in my cortical sulci.

At this point I’m not sure what else to say. Matt and Dan and I have written through issue 102 at the moment, with things kind of stalled because Matt’s got two kids now, and I’m doing the Perfect Strangers Reviewed blog. And because I’ve been doubting myself and getting more and more anxious about the comic over time. And because the issues are longer. And because I’m trying to write them better, and because I’m trying to draw them better, and because I’m making more forays into throwing in some tiny motif-building symbols here and there. And because I have a girlfriend now (this is the best reason for getting less done, by the way).

I have some complex stuff planned out for the second half of the comic (the first “half” will end with issue 88).  I wrote a fifteen-page Google Doc for the endgame of the whole thing–everything that has to happen in the second half of Jimmy’s senior year. I’m all wrapped up in this big mess, and it will take me another 10 years to finish it if I’m supremely lucky and diligent. But it’s in the forefront of my mind now that I really oughtn’t screw around and take too many unnecessary detours from now on, even though doing so gives you new characters, situations, and even dialogue lines you can repeat in different situations and pretend you’re as funny as the Arrested Development writers.

I think that’s all I have on my mind about the past 10 years. Thanks Matt and Dan for helping me bring this to life, and for hundreds of hours of laughs, for all the jokes that never made it in, and for helping me keep the website up. Thanks Tracy for explaining my female characters to me; thanks Lance and Becky for reading and buying the books and getting the in-jokes that I wrote specifically for the both of you; thanks Sarah and Chris for pointing out my shortsightedness in terms of jokes about rape and homosexuality; thanks Adam and a different Sarah and Lisa (and I bet even Vivian) for stopping by my livestreams; thanks Resi and Phil and Dan again for commissioning art because sometimes I need a break from this thing; thanks person whose name I won’t say that I used to have a crush on that was the partial inspiration for Diana; thanks to everyone who bought any of the books; thanks everybody I forgot that contributed to this in some way; and thanks to the ISSN International Centre for making me the only webcomic with an ISSN. I’m sure I forgot some people; thank you for forgiving me.

I could go on about my influences (Firesign Theatre, Arrested Development, the webcomic Goats, Rat Fink, JR by William Gaddis, etc., etc., etc.). But that’s for another milestone, maybe 15 years?

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Until then, I’m going to keep on making this webcomic; in fact I’m working on issues 81 through 84 right now. And then I’ll work on issues 85-357.

I hope you enjoy it.

Jimmy Jone Commentary part 4

2017/01/17

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Here’s commentary for Jimmy Jone #s 9 through 12.  Start with #9 and just keep hitting the link at the bottom of the page to advance to the next one.  I’ll have more to say later about the 10th anniversary!

Jimmy Jone Commentary part 3

2017/01/15

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True tales of people in dorms! Bad physics! The beginning of the Prank War!

Commentary for issue 7 and issue 8, the two-parter “Revenge and Beer”.

Jimmy Jone Commentary part 2

2017/01/13

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Hey again!  Here’s more commentary, this time for these issues:

Issue 5: The Rising Sun

Issue 6: Zero Hour

I don’t have too much to say about the commentary. I like metatextuality as much as I like the next guy liking it, but commentary commentary is where I draw the line.

Jimmy Jone Commentary part 1

2017/01/11

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Other than working in libraries and wiping my butt, Jimmy Jone, the 9/10 Boy has been the only constant in my life for the past decade.

Making comics is a slow process, and my work on Jimmy Jone has slowed down at various points: when I lived with a girlfriend, when I got dialysis, when I’ve been depressed & anxious.  We (my co-writer Matt and I) have generally written about 20 issues of story ahead of what I publish. Every aspect of this takes lots of time.  I say this not to excuse the fact that I haven’t published in months, but to preface the commentary you’re about to listen to: it was recorded two years ago.  Matt/Golo had visited after my kidney transplant surgery, and we recorded audio commentary for issues 1 through 12, which constitute the first year of Jimmy Jone.

Here’s what I’m going to do for the upcoming 10th anniversary of this comic: alternating commentary and new issues up through the 17th. Plus I might do some sort of post on what the thing means to me (the short answer: a lot, but I’m not sure what).

Today you get commentary from me and Matt for issues 1 through 4, which are the worst issues in the whole run of the comic.  Tiny necks! No shoulders! Jokes that had been in my head since high school!

You’re supposed to listen to it while reading along, so here are the links for the issues:

#1: The Early Years

#2: College Bound

#3: Strange Headfellows

#4: Tube Boobs

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I’m so, so sorry about the CSS. I did fix it, but it only wants to work on some issues.  If you can do CSS, get with me. I will pay you to unfuck my site.

20/17

2017/01/01

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hey what if I did, like, 20 weeks of posts about Seventeen magazine, wouldn’t that be great, and wouldn’t you be surprised, like, halfway through it, you realized it was not only great, incisive writing about how influential messages about body image can be to young girls (and, within that, how Photoshop exacerbates the problem), but had a triple meaning based on the current year, the name of the magazine, and the fact that an often-overlooked aspect of unattainable ideals comes from the long practice in film and television to have teenage roles played by actors in their twenties, wouldn’t it be great if I did that, huh?

Year in Review: 2016

2016/12/31

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2016 was worse than 2015. You already knew that. 2017 will be worse.  I have a suspicion that next year will outdo this year in terms of celebrity deaths.  I think that kind of thing will track population growth.  I have a justified belief that next year will be worse than this year in terms of the political sphere.

2017’s going to suck, but I’ll talk about that next year.

I had plenty of things that sucked this year, and I bet you did too.  I had a post written up saying what I went through this year, and tried to make something hopeful-sounding out of it. But then I decided I didn’t want to air all that stuff.  If you already know what things sucked for me, that’s because I wanted you to know.

What I will share is that I didn’t publish as much this year. I hope I do more next year.  Here’s a roundup of everything I did:

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Dumpster Vinyl

I posted one digitized disc. One is more than zero!

I made fan art for a public service campaign that was part of a commercial radio package, meaning that it was probably heard only a few times by a few people, many of whom are now dead.

Miss EBS is not dead; she lives on in my heart.

And she can live on your wall, too, for only $23 plus shipping!

I have started digitizing discs again. I try to do it on Sundays, because Sundays are a time when I go a little stir crazy. I’ve also been doing some research on these.

You’ll see.

YOU’LL ALL SEE

Jimmy Jone

I do actually feel bad about not doing more Jimmy Jone. I had honestly planned to have posted four more issues than I did this year. But I got anxious and told myself the stories weren’t good enough, that the art wasn’t good enough. But every time I make comics, that feeling makes me make them better.

I released two issues, a Part One and a Part Two. I am proud of these!

Blogging

I did a couple of series of blog posts on things that have long been questions in the back of my mind. Now they are answered! I thought that the Cosmopolitan series would be an easy way to put up a post every week, but then I actually dug into it and had to do research and real writing.

Matt Groening’s signature was in Simpsons Illustrated more than once per issue, which is really all that was needed.

Cosmopolitan has cleavage on the cover because once apes started standing up, you couldn’t see and access the vaginas as easily.

Perfect Strangers

Perfect Strangers is a show about two grown men who spend all their time fighting with each other because once apes started standing up, you couldn’t see and access the vaginas as easily.

I am almost halfway done reviewing that show, and… damn, I’m not even halfway done reviewing that show. It’s still a very rewarding experience for me. Just like the webcomic, it’s proof to myself that I am capable and funny. Every week I have an existential crisis about how well I can write and whether there is a limited number of jokes, or of academic theories, in me.  I have the crisis, I write the review, I realize it’s good. As Balki might say, blather, wrench, repeat.

But I’ve kept at it. I achieved escape velocity from season 2. I posted every week. I wrote 51 posts. I threatened the families of respected academics to get them to write the other two. I’m very proud of my 6,000-word historiography of the first three years of the show.

I’m going to keep doing it. It keeps me regular.  Haha, that is a joke about pooping. I actually do get constipated.

I have 86 episodes left.

Music

I’m mentioning this because it was on my 2016 preview list. I did continue to listen to years’ worth of music. I finished 1984 (no post yet, give me time) and I’m just about done with 1976.  I… may or may not write about these. I realize I don’t have much to say other than “these are my favorite songs”.  I figure eventually, I’ll try to tackle every year in the 1970s and 1980s.  but next on my list is 1988, and, uh, I wasn’t thinking initially about how there are more albums each year. I will be listening to 1988 all through 2017.

Toys

Another thing on last year’s preview list. I did ramble on incoherently about some toys!

I have more toys; I need to get a good camera and a lightbox. I also need to finish some of these sets.  The toys I’m into are pretty rare, and it takes a long time to get a complete set of them. There’s also this idea that I’m holding onto that tells me I have to do them in a particular order. So, you know, if that’s what you want to see more of, let me know and buy me a lightbox.

Other

I made some promotional art for the Noiseless Chatter Xmas Bash!!!! If you buy a thing (print, duvet, leggings), the profits will go to the Trevor Project.

Year in Preview: 2017

  • More Perfect Strangers Reviewed. I’ll reach the halfway point, no matter whether you go by number of seasons or number of episodes. I am also working on a special livestream event to happen after I’m finished with season 4, likely late March/early April.
  • More Jimmy Jone. As in, real soon. January 17th will be the 10th anniversary of the publication of Jimmy Jone. I have four complete issues to give you. I plan to write a post about the anniversary, and I may even be able to have one special feature kind of thing to accompany the event. After that, I’m working on a four-part story that will get us close to the halfway point of the whole comic.
  • #moviepuke . This is actually something I’ve already done. It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever made. But I don’t want to talk about it yet, because it’s not finished. Sort of. There might be news with it in 2017. I’ll certainly write about it. We’ll see.
  • More blog posts. I’m going to be upfront and state that these are things I’d like to write about. No promises, though.
    • Dumpster Vinyl. Like I say, I’m digitizing still. I have ~150 discs more to digitize. I also need to buy a record player that can play 78s, because I can record a 78 at 45 speed, but when I try to speed it up in Audacity, it sounds like poop.
    • Problematic “sequels” and problematic conclusions for media that took a long time to be “finished”. Stuff like Fight Club 2 or Shock Treatment. Stuff like Jack Kirby’s Hunger Dogs. You know, stuff you haven’t read or seen.
    • Toys. Buy me a lightbox.
    • Trading cards. I really like trading cards as a format, and even though crowdfunding could herald a new age of trading card sets that reflect an artist’s vision as opposed to a business model, I think the format has had its heyday. And because I like trading cards so much, I want to showcase some of the absolute worst pieces of shit that were ever committed to cardstock.
    • Music?
  • A couple of comic projects? I joined a comics Meetup group, and the guy running it wanted to do a 12-page collaborative comic. I offered to write it and wrote probably 18 pages’ worth of jokes. Also, if you followed me on Twitter or Facebook this past year, you probably saw me doing the 100 Days of Making Comics Challenge. That group is going to try to put out an anthology, so I’ll make a comic for that.  If either of these things comes to fruition, you’ll see it here.
  • Fix the damn coding on http://www.jimmyjone.com once and for all.

Projects I’ll probably never get to, even if having had an organ transplant hadn’t significantly shortened my life expectancy

Last year’s list, plus:

A third Dr. Phibes story in comic form called “Black Vulnavia” where Dr. Phibes hires a black woman to be his assistant and some damn how has another group of people he wants to take revenge on.

Vocabulary study of the Billboard Hot 100 singles.

Sliders fanfic script that ties up all the loose ends from Season 4 and brings back Maximillian Arturo because he’s still alive dammit.

Citation analysis-style study of pop culture references in MAD Magazine and Cracked Mazagine.

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2016 sucked, and it sucked way more for people who don’t share my skin color or genitals. 2017 looks like it’s going to be the same, or worse. Let me know what I can do other than continue writing about how Perfect Strangers hates women.

Saturday morning addendum:

I wrote this a week ago, and I’ll admit I do sound pretty down. I’ve been pretty down. I do actually have good things going on for me that are unrelated to the work I do.  I’m making more connections, I’m trying to get things together, I’m doing things that legitimately make me happy. I was on a pretty big high through all of 2015 from getting the kidney transplants, and 2016 saw that wane. I thought I had my all of my shit finally together, and I felt some good mastery over parts of my life.  I’ve hit some walls this year, but that’s no reason to give up on trying to scale them. I imagine that’s the way it works, though, right? You struggle through the first Zelda dungeon until you get a new weapon, and it serves you really well until you get to the next dungeon, and  you struggle again.  The best I can offer for a message of “hope” is that, if you feel like giving up, sit on it for a little bit to see how much of it’s brain chemicals, and don’t give up without a damn good reason.

See you in… 10 days, I think? I’ll give you Jimmy Jone stuff.

The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 32

2016/12/24

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Similar to the Simpsons Illustrated series, this was just a way for me to try to answer/exorcise questions that have been in the back of my mind for some time now.  Reference librarian that I am, I’ve been trained to look for the question-behind-the-question, because often what we ask is not what we really want to know; it’s what we think will tell us what we want to know.  With Simpsons Illustrated, the question I asked was “how many times does Matt Groening’s signature appear”; the real question was “how many times did it need to appear?”.  The answer to the first question is 108, or almost 11 per issue; the answer to the second question is “not nearly that many, you’d think”.

For Cosmopolitan, the first question (“does it always”) was covering the other, more crucial one (“why”). I feel like I must have guessed at the why after my undergraduate college career, especially once I’d taken the Psychology of Women course. But, like I’ve been saying since the beginning, you have to verify these things, find out whether the opposite is true, before you can be confident in what you “know”. So the “why” of it turns out to have answers at multiple levels: the consumer level, the writer level, the editor level, the publisher level, the business level. When you put all those answers together, you do get a bleak picture. Businesses have an interest in upholding the status quo because businesses are a part of the status quo.  They want to propagate ideas that keep them in the black. Businesses have long traditions of hiring psychologists to work on advertising.  If you can make someone feel they have some lack, you can get them to buy the fix for it. In the words of Mr. Boogalow from the 1980 film The Apple:

Cultivate a need/ Grab them by the greed/ Slaves are guaranteed

Publishers and editors know that their job is to keep their bosses making money, and they know what will sell magazines. And when you factor in that many women don’t actually read the magazines, well, what are they taking in from it?  Images, promises, bold statements (the ones they see and the ones they hope to say). And, well, those parts of the magazines seem to be getting more gendered over time. And if the idea that people don’t even engage with the light reading they pick up, how can we expect them to seek out good information to make better choices for their diets, for their love lives, for their *sigh* political engagement?

This might be a good time to mention that I did pick up one of these magazines once (I want to say it was Cosmopolitan, but I’m not certain) and looked through one of those articles that promised 153 (or some high number) of sex tips.  There weren’t 153 discrete tips. There were 153 sentences.

I’m 32, and so is this series.  Cosmopolitan will continue to publish covers with celebrities showing cleavage, and I’ll continue to like cleavage. No big surprise there, right? We’d like to think that history tends liberal; that intellect tends liberal; that the universe is bending towards equality.  Rhajon N. Colson-Smith might disagree with you, at least in terms of what business selling messages do.  And I’m sure you know plenty of people who would love for the opposite to be true.

The truth is, as the globe becomes more connected, fewer and fewer people need to be thinkers and innovators for everyone to benefit. And when fewer people are making their voices heard, the bigger ones win. The ones with money win. More money=more chances and ways to get your message out.

How many articles/comics/videos/photographs have you shared on Facebook over the past year?

How many have you written/drawn/made?

If you feel I’m criticizing you, maybe I am. Maybe you deserve it. Maybe I’m just another American white cishet male with a degree and a career and a full set of working limbs and organs telling you what’s what when it’s not my place. But I’d like to think that I’m saying this as much to myself as anyone else:

You’re part of this world. Engage with it.

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Boner count: Haha sorry wrong blog

Bibliography:

Alexander, Katina. (1990). Cosmo’s queen of cleavage makes no apologies. Orange County Register, O01.

Baker, Christina N. (2005). Images of women’s sexuality in advertisements: a content analysis of black- and white-oriented women’s and men’s magazines. Sex Roles, 52(1/2), 13-27.

Colson-Smith, Rhajon N. (2005). Look Younger, Lose 10 Pounds, and Influence Your Audience: A Content Analysis of Popular Men’s and Women’s Magazine Cover Blurbs and the Messages They Project to Their Readers. (Thesis). East Tennessee State University, Johnson City.

Gough-Yates, Anna. (2003). Understanding Women’s Magazines. London: Routledge.

Smith, Stephanie. (2008). The science of covers: celebs, cleavage and sparkle. Women’s Wear Daily, 195(3), 12.