Tuesday, October 23, 2012

TEDxUCLA This Saturday

I'm very pleased to announce that this Saturday, October 27th, I will be participating in a TEDx event at the UCLA campus. I will not be giving a TED Talk, but I will be using art to "spread ideas," as it were; using digital drawings to report and comment on the day's events as they happen.

This interactive experience is kind of a last-minute addition to the program, conceived of by the event's organizer, Scott Hutchinson (avid TED fanatic and the Program Director for Visual Arts at UCLA Extension). Scott will have me set up to do digital sketches of all the inspirational speakers as they do their thing on stage, and my drawings will then be projected live to the blog(s) covering the event, and possibly projected up on stage at times.

Honestly, I don't know what to expect, but I know it will be fun, and an interesting challenge. The Talks are all pretty short... some only 5-6 minutes long... so, I'm not sure how detailed my drawings will be. It's my hope and aim to get across a general impression of what it's like to be there, from a different point of view than what the video cameras will record. I'm thinking it will be a little like doing courtroom drawings...but with a lot less time to dwell on the subjects.

Last year, UCLA hosted their first TEDx event, and it was an enormous success. If you're in the area this weekend, and want to do some networking and hear some passionate people spreading their ideas, I urge you to come down to Westwood and join the conversation. Tickets are still available, but probably not for long. And come say hello to the dude drawing on a big computer screen in the front row. That would be me.

I imagine it will be exactly like this...

(I'm kidding)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Kick it!

We're a week into Kickstarting Don Hudson's new graphic novel project, and we need your help to keep (and grow) our momentum! Check out the link to see the fundraising page on Kickstarter for all the project details... if you think it looks cool, please show your support and help spread the word!

Don's got some great rewards set up for donors, including the printed graphic novel itself, once it is published. This new trend in comics gives independent artists a leg up; donating to campaigns like these is like pre-ordering the book, while helping the artist realize their vision! What could be wrong with that?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rambling Thoughts About Facebook, Politics, Privacy, Blah, Blah, Blah...

While walking the dogs this morning, I was thinking about the value of Facebook. My wife and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about FB and social networks, in general. She hates the whole concept, while I have always enjoyed using Facebook, even though I'm aware of its perils--especially as a time-suck. When we've discussed it in the past, I always say that I like keeping in "light contact" with a large group of friends and acquaintances. She thinks it's a superficial waste of time.

It's the difference between having an intimate dinner with one or two other couples and having a big, blow-out party where you invite everyone you know and encourage them to bring friends. The truth is, I like BOTH types of socializing, while my wife dislikes big parties for the same reason she hates Facebook. The small dinner allows for real, quality time with your guests that just can't happen in a big party. However, a big party lets you mingle with a larger group of friends all at once, meet new ones, and help foster connections between different groups. It wouldn't be possible to plan small dinner parties to include everyone in our combined social and professional groups, unless we had multiple dinner parties per week. Actually, that sounds awesome, but the idea is neither practical nor affordable!

Big parties and Facebook interactions may not be inherently "deep," but I find real value in maintaining these online encounters and feeling that I have a general sense of what's going on with my friends. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that I work at home by myself, and I don't have the "light contact" that everyone who works with other people take for granted. No water-cooler conversations going on here between me and the dogs, I'm afraid.

Anyway, this morning after a brief Facebook interaction, I got to thinking about the description "light contact," and I feel that I may need to revise that term. Before I continue with that let me tell you MY general "Facebook Policies:"

 #1. I only 'friend' people who I actually know in some way (either 'real' friends, relatives, people I've worked with in some capacity, and a few colleagues who I know by reputation). Because I work in comics and other parts of the entertainment biz, I get a ton of 'friend' requests from comics fans, but I generally don't accept those (sorry!), and refer people interested in my work to my "fan page." Many of my friends and colleagues will connect with anybody because they use FB primarily as a means to promote stuff, but I prefer to keep my page somewhat personal.

#2. That said, I do tend to keep things "light" on my FB page. I don't get too personal, and generally do not post anything political, religious, or otherwise controversial. I'm also very private about my family, so my friends won't find pics from my kid's birthday or anything. People who know me well have access to that in other ways, I prefer to post goofy stuff like photos from Comic-Con, or my new hat, and links to The Onion are as political as I like to get.

Which brings me to this morning, and the point of this blog post. Sort of. Yes, I tend not to post anything political on my FB page, but occasionally I can't help but comment on somebody else's post. When I do, it's almost always because I'm pointing out that something is unfair, inaccurate, or illogical; never to make a partisan argument in support of one party or the other. You can call that 'wishy-washy,' if you want, but I'm not interested in blasting my "friends" with my ideology. Frankly, from what I see every day in social media, I don't think anybody is actually listening to differing points-of-view anyway...

This morning I commented on someone's much-forwarded, election-themed meme, just because I thought it was completely nonsensical, and couldn't help myself. I only commented on the illogic, but I'm certain that someone I don't know, who is connected to the poster, will mistake my comment for championing the "other guy." I'm just waiting for the thread of abuse and party-lines that will follow in my comment's wake! This often happens when I chime in like this, and I'm always shocked at how vehement, disrespectful,or downright rude people will be to complete strangers posting on their "friend's" wall. Last time I did this, someone made all kinds of (incorrect) assumptions about my positions (and intelligence!), and called me many nasty things. Imagine if I'd posted something that actually took a side!

This whole election cycle makes me think about the concept of "light contact," and how eroneous that description might be. It seems to me that a huge percentage of my Facebook friends regularly post comments which may actually be a deeper view into their character than we'd normally find around the water cooler at work, or even at a party. On any given day, my news feed is filled with strongly stated opinions on politics, religion, news items, etc. It's definitely not all fluff and, in an era where everyone is conditioned to avoid hostile workplace accusations, much of the discource is decidedly "not safe for work!"

It's actually alarming to me how many people don't edit themselves online. In the past few months I have been shocked several times by the posts of people who made the cut into my 'friend' list. I've seen some truly stupid, hateful and even SCARY-CRAZY stuff posted by people I thought I knew... at least a little.

 I guess when you work with people, and have the friendly "light contact" that comes in the workplace, it's easy to assume that they are reasonably intelligent, relatively decent, and open-minded. Why not? The deepest conversation you may have had was about last night's episode of "The Walking Dead."

Could it be that Facebook is actually a means to really get to know someone on a deeper level than you ever could in person? I guess this is what people mean when they talk about the 'end of privacy.' The ironic thing is that Big Brother is irrelevant if you volunteer all your personal thoughts, beliefs and private information in exchange for the attention of an audience.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Help Support My Pal's Project!

My good friend Don Hudson is currently trying to raise enough money to finish his epic western graphic novel, Gunpowder Girl and the Outlaw Squaw: Escape to Mexico!

This is a 96-page sequel to the original GGATOS graphic novel published in 2005 by Active Images, and the awesome thing is that Don is already finished writing and drawing it! He has been working on this book steadily, in his spare time, for the past eight years, or so, since finishing the first book. Today he is raising funds to help pay for the stuff he can't do himself. That includes, coloring, lettering and package design, among other things.

Please follow the link to Don's page on Kickstarter, watch the video, look at all the pretty art, and check out the incentives he is offering to supporters. I am helping out by offering to color the work of some generous backers, so if you are an artist or publisher who would like to receive my services, this is your opportunity to do so, while simultaneously helping Don out with his project! Everyone wins!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Crowd-Funding Quandary

Not exactly breaking news, but the project-funding website Kickstarter continues to be a big topic of conversation among comic book creators and other creative professionals like me. This summer during the San Diego Comic-Con, I was surprised how often the subject came up. Since then, truly a week does not go by without at least one appeal for help from someone in my online social networks.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, Kickstarter is one of a few online fundraising sites that are set up to enable individuals or groups to finance their personal or business projects using "crowd funding." If that last sentence makes sense, you may skip my oversimplified explanation in the next paragraph...

Crowd-funding is an interesting concept. On Kickstarter, you can basically pitch your project idea out into the ether for a campaign lasting an average of 30 days, and hope that generous sponsors will back you with donations as small as $1.  The project creator sets a monetary goal, and if that number isn’t reached by the end of the campaign, the project is not funded, and money is returned to the backers. Backers support projects because they either know the creator personally or professionally, or because they are interested in the incentive rewards offered, or out of the goodness of their hearts. Other crowd-funding sites have different rules, but Kickstarter is the most popular website of it’s kind-- at least, in my business. Make sense?

Like most people I’ve talked to, when Kickstarter first appeared on my radar, my feelings were mixed. I didn’t know what to make of it. All of a sudden, there were these frequent ‘tweets’ appearing in my social networking feeds, with people asking me for money. Many of them “friends,” some even actual, honest-to-god friends. What is the etiquette for ignoring your friend’s public pleas for financial aid?

Whether it happens on the street or in a tweet, most people have an adverse response to being asked for money. As recently as this June, I snarkily referred to the practice as “digital begging” in a podcast interview.  Even then, however, I was already coming around to a more nuanced position on the issue. Due, in part, to my close observation of my brother Brian’s own Kickstarter campaign, as well as having many conversations on the topic during Comic-Con, and since.

I want to use this post to express my own evolving feelings on the subject, but first I must state that in many cases, crowd-funding WORKS. Plain and simple. If you have access to a large online network, or are smart or creative enough to communicate your project’s needs in a way that appeals, this is a very exciting way to help realize your goals. For indie-comic book creators, this actually opens up a lot of possibilities in a market that is nigh-impossible to penetrate.

It seems to me that the people who can benefit the most are those who have built a large group of ‘followers’ on sites like Twitter or Facebook. Preferably by building their own ‘brand’ in a positive way.

The example I always think of is the indie artist who has been consistently working away on their web-comic, giving it away for free for a long time. There are a lot of these people, putting themselves and their work out there. They are not making any money, but they are growing a core group of loyal fans who want to see them succeed. They are trading on GOOD WILL, and we see it pay off again and again when their supporters step up and help turn their free web-comic into something more tangible.

So, let’s get back to me! My first impressions of Kickstarter were mixed-to-negative. Call me a skeptic, or just plain suspicious, but like everyone else, my responses are dictated by my own experience. So, when I see a bunch of people tweeting about how they need money to fund their self-published project, I automatically think back to my own forays into self-publishing. In 2002, I created the comics anthology magazine Comiculture. Several of my good friends contributed time and content, but the project was paid for out-of-pocket by my family, and put us in debt. It was a risk that did not pay off financially, but I knew the risks going in, and believed strongly in the project. I admit that part of me feels resentful when I see creators gambling with other people’s money instead of their own. Their stakes aren’t as high... we can only hope that their commitment is as high as it ought to be.

Another part of this complicated feelings-puzzle is that it’s easy to see how this system can be abused. There are a lot of campaigns on Kickstarter started by creators who are perfectly capable of getting their projects done by other means. Right now, there are  campaigns by well-established creators who would have no problem walking in to any publisher and making a deal. Some of these guys are very successful, and I’m pretty sure they have the financial wherewithal to invest in their own projects without help... if they really believe in them.

The problem is, creators like the the ones I’m describing are exactly the ones who are perfectly suited to make a Kickstarter campaign work! They are the people with 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook, and tens of thousands of Twitter followers. And, I’m pretty sure that with all that, they also have the resources to put together the slickest, most compelling viral Kickstarter video possible.

Sure, these guys have every right to work the system and take advantage of their star power. I assume they earned their fans fair and square (even if it may have been on someone else’s dime) Suffice to say that people like their work. But, I’m afraid to say, the practice of tapping into your fans as a resource you don’t need reminds me of the worst practices that our industry has perpetrated against ourselves and our fans in the past couple of decades (still talking about comics, btw).

It was not long ago when publishers (and even some big-name creators) used to routinely announce and solicit new projects, only to cancel them before publishing if the pre-orders did not meet their expectations. Similarly, if less egregious, many creators release and abandon their creations prematurely and often, in search of an instant hit.

What this does is to glut the market with a bunch of product that these creators and publishers have no commitment to. Throwing a bunch of half-baked story and character concepts out into the market to see what will sell, without any commitment, is a breach of the trust that holds together this thing we call “Fandom.”

It’s a little like the shopper who takes up an hour of a shop clerk’s time, only to seek a better price online. That waste of a person’s time is theft, plain and simple. I believe that putting out a glut of inferior product without committing to it is also a theft of a kind... a theft of that GOOD WILL. Why should I read your comic, or care about your characters, if there is no guarantee you will finish your story?

This is what I like the ambitious ‘web-comic’ guy in my previous example, and why I want to help HIS fundraising efforts, instead of giving to the guy with a dozen bestsellers under his belt. We know the little guy will see his project through to completion, because he has been producing for a long time without reward. This guy has earned the trust of his Fandom base, so why not help him get his project to the next level?

I know from my experience that it’s a hell of a lot of work to produce and stand behind a project you believe in if you don’t have the budget. It’s also a hell of a lot of work to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. Watching my brother’s campaign, and that of a few others by friends and colleagues, I have come to see that this kind of fundraising is not just “digital begging.” It may, in fact, be the hardest part of the project for some. Especially for people (like me!) who are not especially good at tooting one’s own horn.

Unfortunately, I can see no way to regulate this kind of thing to benefit the “little guy,” who needs it, over the abuser who takes advantage. In all likelihood, Kickstarter will reach a fatigue point, maybe sometime soon. Maybe due to cynicism produced by abusers like Amanda Palmer. In the aftermath of such a breakdown, wouldn’t it be great if the abusers just moved on to the next big thing, and left Kickstarter to the little guy?

To be continued...

Postscript: As an aside, I find the whole concept of crowd-funding and micro-financing to be fascinating! In March 2011, I attended a talk by Jessica Jackley who founded kiva.org and profounder.com, read about that here and watch the TED video

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Foster Signing

Just wanted to report back that the FOSTER signing at Phat Collectibles in Anaheim went really well. That shop is HUGE. The fans that came out to meet us were all very welcoming, as was the staff. I barely had time to socialize with my fellow creators, as we were so busy signing autographs and doing sketches. Thanks to everyone who came by to show their support!

 Below: Foster creator (and my bother); Brian Buccellato,
with some of the Anthology's creative team...
 Some sketchies...

 Family Business: me and my brother & nephew,
who also contributed to the book...