People often call the internet a “social space” and refer to what we do on it as “social networking”, but during a conversation on twitter I started thinking that really that’s a pretty inadequate way of looking at what the internet is, does and enables. I decided to call it a “collective stream of consciousness”, which I’m sure isn’t a particularly original thought, and Anna Fitzpatrick responded “twitter is like a can of beans to our collective brain bowels” which sounds much better – hence the title. However, what I’ve been pondering is not just what the internet does to connect us all, but how that relates to making comics (or any art for that matter) for a living.

I’ve been putting comics and art on the internet and using it for “socialising”, or “brain farting”, since I was 16, a good 11 years ago now, and it would be horribly dishonest of me if I didn’t admit that one of the motivators for keeping at it quickly became (and has remained ever since) getting attention and being noticed by people I admire. It’s a real thrill to be acknowledged by someone that matters to me, or to get a compliment from a total stranger, so I’m not at all surprised that I’ve found this aspect of the internet extremely addictive. I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of other artists out there who feel the same too – although it doesn’t seem like many people like talking about it directly.

Just so I don’t sound like a total ego-maniac, I’ll add that my other motivations are creative passion and the desire to tell beautiful and enduring stories… but that’s all by the by.

Over those 11 years, being noticed and talked about hasn’t happened all at once, and although there are a moderate number of people that follow me and my work on various social networking sites and I can find articles about me scattered across the net like bizarrely-easy-to-find-bubbles-in-an-ocean, there’s never been a single point at which the amount of attention I’ve received has changed dramatically. It’s like watching someone you’re around every day get taller – if I compare today with that day I first put a crudely knocked up website on angelfire.com the difference is startling, but if I think about it all from day to day, it never felt like much was changing.

It’s pretty common to hear people say how important the internet is when it comes to work and promoting yourself, and I’d have to agree, without it I’m really not sure what my career would have ended up being. However, the internet has changed drastically since I started using it. It began as a sort of asteriod belt of websites: dense from a distance, but a lot of space between them when you get up close. The only way to “network” was by manually including lists of your favourite sites on your own website, and relying on other people’s lists to find more. There was no twitter, facebook or deviantart back then. Now there are so many websites for mediating and enhancing connections between websites and individuals that it’s genuinely daunting. If I spent any more time tweeting or writing blog entries I’d have to start trying to monetise it directly in order to pay for the time it takes up. What was once a neat piece of advice that might have taken the form “it’s useful to have an online portfolio”, has become like a silent mantra, implied by the clacking of countless keyboards all across the world: ALL THIS IS VITAL. ALL THIS IS NECESSARY IF YOU WANT TO BE FULLY CONNECTED. YOU’RE MISSING OUT IF YOU’RE NOT ONLINE. POST. TWEET. BLOG. LIKE. +1. FRIEND. NOW. FOREVER.

It would be nice to say that this is all an illusion, but unfortunately, collective illusions occurring in a social space are more succinctly called “social conventions” or “the way it’s done”. All you need to do is buy into it, and you’re there alongside everyone else, doing it the way it’s done.

So if you want a career in illustration or comics, being connected is part of running the business. On at least a basic level, it’s quite unavoidable. The tricksy thing about the internet though is the beguiling (and rather false) feeling of anonymity that it obviously gives people. It’s more than a social space, because the unspoken rules of many actual social spaces barely apply here. People are more willing to talk to strangers, quicker to speak their mind, quicker to spill the beans, more easily moved to anger or annoyance and more sensitive to undertones and implications. Sometimes it feels like the final effect is to take that drunken moment at 3:00 in the morning at a party (with a phone in your hand when you feel like all the things you’ve been meaning to say should really be said right now), apply it to everyone and extend it indefinitely. Except this time it’s on twitter for all the internet to see, instead of in a text message for one person to roll their eyes at.

So, if the internet is this complicated for someone who just uses in their spare time, it’s become like a maze for people who use it both professionally and socially, and like a Gordian Knot for people whose professional and social lives overlap – like many comicbook creators I know. Some people really do make a career out of it, they take on and become a net-specific personality in order to attract followers and protect themselves from those same followers (“uncle” Warren Ellis being a good example of this). Some people just seem to be able to hack it being slightly unstable versions of themselves. Some people genuinely find it a struggle.

It’s interesting to note that in a quick thought-survey of very well known artists and writers, being on the internet 24/7 seems to have very little correlation with success. Some creators manage it mostly disconnected, and some creators do it for all the net to see. I’d love to know how that pans out when followed up properly.

I’m lucky enough to have always had a disproportionate amount of self confidence, but that’s not to say that I don’t get upset when I see people badmouthing my art, or desperately search for implications and innuendo when people refer to someone without naming them, or leave me out of a list I feel I should belong to. I think these are all natural feelings that the majority of people experience, made all the more intense by this strange collective brain-toilet we’re swimming in. Right now there may even be someone reading this terrified that I’m referring to them in a negative way somehow (I’m not, I promise)!

To top it all, it’s no secret that creators are an emotional lot. Although it’s a big, steaming cliché, I think it’s one with a lot of traction because there’s a simple and compelling reason for it: even if I may not be an overly emotional person in general, when I draw and when I write, that’s not just a job, that’s ME I’m putting on the page. That’s the product of my passion, so I feel strongly about it, and put a lot of myself into it. Consequently, if someone publishes an opinion on my work, it isn’t just about my work, it’s about me, unwritten implications and all. Despite having high levels of self confidence, I still have to try constantly to remind myself to take a step back, take a breather, see it objectively, take it in my stride, not get personal.

So here we are, fragile creators, all with our own complex lives and issues, pouring our hearts out into a big toilet for brains and hoping to encounter unequivocal support, instead of the oil-slicked stream of consciousness that really runs down the tubes. No wonder that the results are often exposing parts of ourselves we’d rather no-one saw, or seeing parts of other people we wish they’d kept hidden! This swings both ways – criticism and support, animosity and friendship. It’s all there, it’s all at a potent distance, it’s only a few buttons away, and it should be used with caution – especially for the professionally social!

creators I know. Some people really do make a career out of it, they take on and become a net-specific personality in order to attract followers and protect themselves from those same followers (“uncle” Warren Ellis being a good example of this). Some people just seem to be able to hack it being slightly unstable versions of themselves. Some people genuinely find it a struggle.It’s interesting to note that in a quick thought-survey of very well known artists and writers, being on the internet 24/7 seems to have very little correlation with success. Some creators manage it mostly disconnected, and some creators do it for all the net to see. I’d love to know how that pans out when followed up properly.I’m lucky enough to have always had a disproportionate amount of self confidence, but that’s not to say that I don’t get upset when I see people badmouthing my art, or desperately search for implications and innuendo when people refer to someone without naming them, or leave me out of a list I feel I should belong to. I think these are all natural feelings that the majority of people experience, made all the more intense by this strange collective brain-toilet we’re swimming in. Right now there may even be someone reading this terrified that I’m referring to them in a negative way somehow (I’m not, I promise)!To top it all, it’s no secret that creators are an emotional lot. Although it’s a big, steaming cliché, I think it’s one with a lot of traction because there’s a simple and compelling reason for it: even if I may not be an overly emotional person in general, when I draw and when I write, that’s not just a job, that’s ME I’m putting on the page. That’s the product of my passion, so I feel strongly about it, and put a lot of myself into it. Consequently, if someone publishes an opinion on my work, it isn’t just about my work, it’s about me, unwritten implications and all. Despite having high levels of self confidence, I still have to try constantly to remind myself to take a step back, take a breather, see it objectively, take it in my stride, not get personal.So here we are, fragile creators, all with our own complex lives and issues, pouring our hearts out into a big toilet for brains and hoping to encounter unequivocal support, instead of the oil-slicked stream of consciousness that really runs down the tubes. No wonder that the results are often exposing parts of ourselves we’d rather no-one saw, or seeing parts of other people we wish they’d kept hidden! This swings both ways – criticism and support, animosity and friendship. It’s all there, it’s all at a potent distance, it’s only a few buttons away, and it should be used with caution – especially for the professionally social!

Comments

  1. Yep, totally with you here Paul.

    The difference I guess between you and me is that I am the opposite kind of person to you in many ways. I am extraoooordinarily emotional and that’s coupled with some serious self esteem issues when it comes to my art. So while someone like you who’s tough enough to sort of, push the negativity of internet bowel movements aside, someone like me, man, it’s just so detrimental to the way I conduct myself. The analogy of drunken texting is a good one for the situation I often find myself in, bemoaning on twitter and bleating for the love I feel (wrongly) entitled to.

    SO the solution for someone like me is ofen prescribed as “get off twitter” etc. But as you say, Tweeting, facebooking Deviatarting etc. is expected these days. I’d love to just delete my DA account just like that and never have to worry or wonder about if this is “the day” I’ll finally get the Daily Deviation I’ve never gotten (as if I deserve one? hah!)

    But then I find myself at an event or workshop and someone who isnt so web saavy asks what my DA is rather than my own personal website as it always seems more attractive to some people. If I delete my DA… well… I’m caught out there, aren’t I?

    Same application goes for Twitter and any sort of social media rather than a plain, uncommentable website. As you say, in order to be a fully functioning illustrator these days, you need to have these basics up and running.

    So where does it leave oversensitive messers like me? Well… fuck knows! That’s the problem with it. It’s hard to only half be on the internet. The internet is a new thing in human sociology. There are no real rules yet as such as to how to deal with dilemmas like this. Frankly, it has me flattened :C

  2. I honestly think you can make do with a portfolio site, checking your email every morning and evening, and chatting personally with people you know are more connected for weekly highlights so you hear about stuff like open-submission anthologies or competitions.

    All that extra time can go into doing things like practising, learning new skills, asking for critique, producing short portfolio comics, submitting work everywhere you can find etc.

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