I care not. The very notion of royalty is an insult to our common humanity.
Someone asked me recently what I think about the state of the web. Here was my reply:
I would definitely pay for a Free Web — which, as I write that, sounds ironic, but I mean an internet which I, and others who have the means, would pay to build and support as a resource for everyone, so it wouldn’t have to be skewed to serve advertisers or platform-owners who need to twist the thing and manipulate people in order to deliver quarterly shareholder profits.
In fact, I think the whole idea of shareholder dividends is the thing that could wipe us out as a species, because the ends of these activities will always be perverted toward profit — which, as we’re seeing, tends to run counter to human welfare.
But I don’t know how such a project begins. It’s not my bailiwick, so I just try to keep my activities to the small corners of the existing web that I can stand. More and more I find myself turning off the radio and just generally tuning out of any forum of opinions and news, because I don’t want to hear about politicians and businesses and world disorder anymore. That’s not the level at which I experience life, and I have no agency over these things.
Along those lines, the other day a woman started talking to me from her car in the Michael’s parking lot. “What are you making?” she asked.
“Oh,” I replied, “I’m just getting a few things for a zine workshop I’m teaching this afternoon” — I omitted “at a camp for queer kids”, because people can be awful and you never know who’s who.
The woman seemed perfectly nice, but then quickly made a conversational right-turn and started telling me about this movement God led her to, which was going to return all of our money because income taxes are illegal and everything we’ve paid is being held in a tunnel filled with gold that runs from the Vatican to Israel, and the 33 families who control the world are about to be overturned by the military and a cabal of not-dead people like the JFKs (senior and junior), Elvis, Marilyn Munroe, John Denver, Freddie Mercury, Prince, and TuPac. Trudeau is a bad guy because he sold Canada to China just before becoming Prime Minister (?!), but Trump is a really good guy, acting as a patsy in the whole Mar-a-Lago investigation so he can reveal documents to the world that prove…
She kept going on and on for what must’ve been fifteen minutes. It reminded me of the review I’d read about JK Rowling’s next book, a 1200-age brick about a thinly disguised stand-in for herself who’s been victimized for daring to speak out about trans people.
I am getting the distinct impression that exposure to the internet is driving some people crazy.
I felt mentally defiled by the whole exchange, and disturbed that this woman’s mind has been deranged in such a way that has become the primary concern in her life, which she feels compelled to pull strangers into.
So, yeah, less of that would be good. Not that I could tell you what the profit-motive is behind spooling out conspiracy theories on the web, but I suspect it looks something like getting people all het up about imaginary outrages so they stay completely inactive about the very real ones that are right there in front of us.
So how was the workshop?
I guess I’d been thinking of it as a chance to reach kids who were like Past-Me, to inspire them, to make them feel great about themselves, and maybe to find a new line of community activity for myself.
I won’t lie: It was very hard. I got nuuuuuuuthing back from the kids. They listened well, for the most part, but they just did not respond or feed back at all, so I had to keep talking and making suggestions and moving through the exercises I’d planned. Thankfully, most of the work didn’t involve any actual input or creation, just making a chapbook, notepad, and learning how to fold and cut a zine.
When it came time for them to create their zine, I was pleased that they were all heads-down, doing something. One even made a more advanced version of the zine, and I could see a few drawings in it that looked lovely.
The camp counsellors who participated were really fun, and I was so moved by what they had to say about the camp and its importance to the kids. And, strangely, once we were finished all the — y’know, actual workshoppy bits, the kids started talking and opening up.
I stuck around for dinner, where I got to speak to a few more of the grown-ups, because by Day Three the kids had already formed their little groups, so there was no real opening to join them at their tables.
That evening, they were doing a Queer Prom, which sounded brilliant, but again, it was for them, not for me. (Though I think I would really benefit from getting to re-do that right.)
The next morning, when my mom picked me up for church, I thanked her for persisting through raising me as a teenager. They are hard work, and I must have been awful. Kindly, she said she doesn’t remember Ian or me being any trouble. We weren’t allowed to be.
My mind can’t help drifting back to my bad reviews on Goodreads.
AND YET… This experience actually did me a favour: In approaching my next comic book project, I realized that I’m tired of plot, of conflict, of all my stories sliding into apocalyptic epics with so much going on that it’s hard to stop and spend any time with the characters. It’s probably the weakest thing about all the novels I produced.
Reading “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes” again lately, I’m struck by how much real life detail these classic strips are able to contain because they’re free of any over-arching plot. Sure, there are lots of little moments, but ultimately nothing really changes.
Then I re-read an old article about the Japanese storytelling structure of kishotenketsu, or “plot without conflict”. It seems to directly mirror four-panel comics, with an introduction (ki), deepening (sho), twist (ten), and resolution (ketsu).
I’m reminded of the beautiful, if slow, Ozu movies where stuff just happens, as in life, then kinda comes together in the end. Or even the Korean film The Host, which is about a sea monster, but not really: It’s about members of a family trying to resolve their differences.
To a lesser degree this kind of describes the wonderful Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is sort of a fast-paced time-travel action film, but, again, is really about a family, and things come together in spite of the main character’s attempts to take action.
I’ve always been disappointed by the way my sense of humour goes out the window when I’m facing a page, and now I suddenly feel free from plot, of having to do anything big or significant. Sure, the thing I’m working on is very high-concept (a billionaire starts a colony on Mars and our protagonist goes to work there as a janitor), but in mapping out the characters and setting, all I want to do is put them together and see what happens, like banging Barbie and Ken dolls together (which invariably results in pregnancy, right?).
The Charlottetown Comics Club is working on a collaborative publication, and I’m making a four-page prelude to the comic strip, just so I can put my brain to rest, knowing I’ve explained the thing somewhere. But I want the strip itself to just drop in in media res, and to let go of all notions of how everything’s all going to blow up in the end. (Though it’s going to be a shitshow, because how could it not be, right? It’s not like billionaires are doing any good for Earth.)
Maybe this is an offshoot of me surrendering, in therapy sessions earlier this year, the idea that I’m responsible for changing the world. Likewise, I don’t have to do anything important with comics — which, ironically, feels like it may free me up to produce my best work yet.
So this is where I’m at with storytelling.
P.S. Writing all this is my way of avoiding the overwhelming pressure of getting ready to leave tomorrow for three weeks abroad in Scotland.