How Comics Promote Delayed Gratification

Image Comics. Used for non-commercial purposes.

I just finished reading Volume 2 of Lazarus, the excellent Image Comics series from Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santi Arcas. Let me be honest right up front; I am no serious comic book fan. I bought a few random issues of super hero stuff (mostly Batman) when I was kid in the early 90s, because that was what people were doing, before quickly losing interest. My recent interest in comics is mostly through The Walking Dead (which I don’t actually own), two issues of The Wicked and the Divine (which I didn’t actually like) and the Lazarus series. Not to mention that I am buying these things in “volumes” on Amazon, not actual comic books, which I know seriously hurts my street creed. I just don’t have a comic book store anywhere close to where I live, and I enjoy reading them this way for now. Essentially, reading and following comic series is a fresh, new experience for me at the age of 29.

What struck me today was the intense feeling that I needed to read the next installment of Lazarus immediately. Unfortunately for me, Volume 3 does not exist yet, and will not for at least another 3 months. 3 months?! Even if I was able to shop for the individual comics, there are only two new issues out now, with just one new issue every month. If we think about comic books as episodes, that would be like waiting a month between episodes of Game of Thrones. When I have to wait a week for a new episode of Boardwalk Empire, I absolutely lose my mind! How I am going to wait months for Lazarus?

Comics are a unique medium. Reading a good one resembles reading a novel, looking at a painting, and watching an episode of a TV show, but at the same time is nothing like any of those things. The visual sequences feel like watching a movie in slow motion, giving the reader an opportunity to really absorb and enjoy the art. The unraveling of the story, character development, and cultural relevance can rival some of our best literature.

Yet, comics are almost more unique in their distribution. I think it goes without saying (since you are reading this on the internet) that we live in a world of instant media access. When I want to read or watch something, I don’t have to wait for it. I don’t want to ever have to wait. And if I do have to wait more than 20 seconds for something, I am going to fill that time with a quick look at Twitter or Instagram. I love this world. But it frightens me to think of what it may be doing to our psyche. We may be too quick to lump comics in with this category of fast media since they are so popular and engrained in our culture through Hollywood movies. However, comics demand that you wait for them. Even if you are reading them electronically, you still wait the month for the next issue. And when they’re really great, you are brought right back into the story, the world that has been created by the artists. When we are forced to wait, different things happen in our brain.

Perhaps this delayed gratification for comic books is a good thing, a counter balance to the overwhelmingly rapid pace of information. I often cite reading a novel as an opportunity to slow down, but I will be adding the experience of waiting for comic book releases to that list. It is an important list, even though it is a short list. For now, I will embrace this long period of waiting for the next volume of Lazarus. Will it get any less painful? I don’t know, but I think that pain is good for my health.

What is your experience of following a comic series? Is there any value to this delayed gratification? Discuss in the comments.

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The Circle by Dave Eggers – Book Review Part 2

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Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Andrew Currie

Yesterday I posted my impressions of the first half of Dave Eggers’ new novel The Circle. I initially intended to write a final post at the end of the book, but I am feeling inspired to write more today, because there are more things that Eggers got right that I left out of the first post.

I love the juxtaposition that the author sets up between nature (kayaking in the story) and modern technology. There is a parallel conflict at work between privacy and sharing. Whenever Mae gets into a kayak (which is rarely ever planned) she does not talk about it to anyone, she does not post about it, she does not take pictures – nothing. She never even considers documenting the experience or inviting someone along. Despite how great she feels as part of this community and the excitement she feels from sharing online, she stills desires some private moments, even if she does not realize it at this point. Eggers also conveniently locates the kayak drop between Mae’s parents house (her old life) and The Circle.

The story is becoming a cautionary tale of connectedness and powerful technology. We are starting to see what would happen if data tracking, online sharing, and digital transparency are followed out to the extreme. Instead of community, Eggers shows us surveillance, power, and control. There is an overall sense that this is not a desirable outcome, though we don’t yet know exactly why.

As much as I share online and enjoy using products from the biggest technology companies, I appreciate the way the novel is making me think a bit more critically about those dynamics.

Part 1 of this book review – initial impressions

Newsies, and the Unique Experience of Live Theater

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Photo: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by dedi

While visiting my family in New York this summer, we to a trip to Manhattan’s theater district to see Newsies, the Musical. The movie version was a favorite of mine and my siblings when we were kids, so going together as a family was a nostalgic and meaningful experience. I do not regularly visit the theater, but I often have such a full, enjoyable time when I am there. This time around I was really thinking about what makes live theater so full of emotion and excitement. With video entertainment so ubiquitous in our lives – quite literally in our pockets – what is it that keeps live theater alive and successful?

There is a power to a live performance, any live performance, that is not present on a video screen. Even video recordings of live performances lose that certain edge, as the audience knows there is the possibility of editing and polishing. On stage, there are no second takes. Mistakes are possible – almost inevitable – and the most skilled performers learn to react and move forward. This is one of the best lessons I learned from my early music training. If you make a mistake on stage, just roll with it. Don’t make it obvious to the audience, because you are probably the only one who noticed.

When I really started to think about the fact that there is no editing of material for the show, and that these performers have to be perfect night after night with acting, singing, dancing, moving of sets, and music from the pit, I was just in awe of everyone’s talent and expertise. Considering this element of the show forged a connection to the cast and crew, one that is usually subconscious for theater goers.

During intermission, I walked down to the stage because I always love to peek into the pit to the see the musical equipment and the people who are so essential to the performance and are never seen by the audience. When I looked back up at the second floor of the theater, I saw several black and white video screens mounted along the front of the balcony. There was an usher standing with me, so I asked her what those were for. “They are so the actors can see the conductor,” she said. Now, I could see where the camera was pointed. Brilliant! While connecting with the audience, the actors can still see the conductor for cues and tempo. So there is some modern technology that is useful to this oldest of forms of entertainment!

I began to reflect more on this issue of technology being used to enhance a Broadway show. The music from the pit was mic-ed and projected through large speakers to the audience. I know this is nothing new, but think about how much that impacts the experience of the audience. The sound quality was excellent, and people in every seat in the audience could hear every instrument. Much of the backdrops were projected, rather than constructed. I imaging this would be less expensive and less labor intensive. Also, this musical did include a use of technology that I have never seen before. There are several scenes where someone climbs up a ladder to write on a giant chalkboard for the price of newspapers. Rather than having the actor write, the action paused and the words would write themselves across the board, which was some type of animated screen. It was an interesting way to use the technology in the show.

I was afraid that using more digital technology would take away from the theater experience, but it did not. The audience comes to see a great performance, whether or not it includes technology, and all of the people involved are the ones who create that wonderful performance that touches the hearts and minds of everyone in the audience. More than any other trip to Broadway I felt surges of emotion throughout the show. I don’t know if it was because I was so appreciative of the talents of everyone involved, or the way the songs tapped into warm childhood memories, or the collective feelings of the live performance, or a combination of everything. Regardless of why, the swaying of overwhelming joy and excitement that I felt was something I could not have experienced in front of any screen. I suppose this is why so many talented actors are drawn to the theater and why audiences fill Broadway theaters every day of the week.

Creative Commons – The Evolution of Copyright

3421327165_ddbf65fec7_zPhoto:  LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Giuli-O

Creative Commons (CC) is an organization that has developed a system of licensing of creative content (images, audio, video, animation and website) for distribution online. Content creators choose one of six licenses, delineating how their work can or cannot be used. Does the artist need credit? Can the work be used in a remix/mashup? Can it be reproduced on a blog? Other people online can search CC images and use them in their digital projects. This gives creators the opportunity to share their work in the way they want to, giving internet users the chance to legally use high quality media in their own projects.

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Photo:  LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by jorgeandresem

What I love about Creative Commons licensing is that it does not involve policy debate or legislation. It is something for content creators and users. Offering this alternative system to copyright takes out the interests of government and corporations. I become frustrated when large organizations with big money interests get in the way of what individuals can achieve. Creative Commons is a simple system to understand (if you can shed your traditional copyright-induced expectations) and provides more options than copyright law does about how to share and use content. Interestingly enough, CC accomplishes all of this while embeded within copyright protection. Technically, CC licenses are statements that qualify your copyright by communicating how the work can be accessed. The website has an easy to use tool to help you choose which license to use based on questions about the intented use of your work.

Ever since I first read about Creative Commons a couple of years ago, I have been fascinated by the concept and the benefits of the system as put into practice. I can speak about the practical side, because I use CC licensing as both a creator and user of content. In regards to photography, I would consider myself an amateur or “enthusiast.” I do not plan to make a business out of my photographs – I do it for the love of the medium and the challenges of capturing different types of images. This enthusiasm compels me to share my work with a wider audience, wider than what once was just my family and then Facebook friends. I share many of my photos under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.com. You can see how they look on this site, by clicking on any of my photos and finding the license information at the bottom right. I also feature some of these on my blog. I am now sharing my photos with a larger audience and giving that audience more options in how they may use that work. It is a rather democratic experience that I do enjoy. I think this system is balanced in how it values the rights of creators and is heavily informed by the philosophy of open access of information online.

Since I give to the community, I also take. When I write blog posts about technology, education, or other topics, I reach to Flickr and other collections of CC images to include in my blog posts. We know that pictures help us communicate ideas and hook our audience’s attention. When I use a CC photo, I copy the license type and link to the author’s page, and paste that information under the picture, as a caption. Not only is this legally and ethically sound practice, it also helps promote the work of other artists through attribution.

I understand that much of this can be compared to copyright law. Fair Use allows for work to be used in certain ways – does it not? The details of Fair Use are purposely ambiguous (according to a UPENN educational site), and unfortunately, the terms of use are determined by the government, not the creator. Creative Commons works around and within copyright law to make up for its limitations. So, although it revises and expands on copyright law, it is not completely separate from copyright. Despite its relationship with traditional copyright law, Creative Commons removes the influence of government and corporations from the equation, leaving it up to individuals to decided how they will share their work.

Why Audio? SoundCloud and the Power of Audio on the Web

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Image:  LicenseAttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by j_baer

The first time I saw SoundCloud a few year ago, I was blown away. Comments embedded in the music. Actually seeing the sound waves – the core of what sound is – displayed on the screen, normally hidden and forgotten about. It seemed like an audiophile’s dream. Although it did start with indie musicians, it has been gaining traction beyond that world. Lately, I have thought of it as the YouTube of audio, and I am sure I’m not the first one to use that phrase. In reality, it may be more like Vimeo, the premium video service, used by many filmmakers and other video professionals. Unlike YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud put substantial limits on uploads for free accounts, encouraging professional creators to upgrade to a paid account. In both cases, I think it is worth the cost.

SoundCloud offers channels, “likes,” following, and commenting just like other social networking sites. Comments are still embedded in the sound waves, as well as in a familiar list on the page. I have been thinking about SoundCloud a lot lately, and how it fits in to the internet media landscape. Given the relative longevity of the service, and its growing popularity, especially amount young people, I am left asking the question, “Why audio?”

In a world saturated with visual media, why would anyone, viewer or creator, choose audio over video? Music is the obvious frontrunner here. It has been the bread and butter of SoundCloud and will continue to be. Even after the internet resurrected the music video (thank you!), music is still essentially an audio-based art. Radio news is still prevalent, whether you are an NPR enthusiast or a talk radio junkie. SoundCloud and other internet services allow radio programs to expand their audience. News reporters create content for print, website, video, and radio, but posting reports and reflections about news events directly online to something like SoundCloud offers certain advantages. This could be more convenient for reporters who are looking to get information or interviews out to the public in a fast way. You can record a conversation and upload it directly to SoundCloud to make it accessible to listeners with limited editing. Podcasts are another purely audio-based form of media. I have used different apps to subscribe to and listen to podcasts, but they were purely for consumption. What is brilliant about putting podcasts on SoundCloud, as the show RadioLab and others do, is that it transforms listening into an interactive experience. While listening, you can view comments and post you own questions and comments at specific points throughout the show. Naturally, SoundCloud has this same effective on everything that is uploaded to the site.

I have provide my own perspective on why audio online is important. What other reasons do you see for its popularity? What makes it better and more useful (or not) than video? What other uses for online audio can you think of?