One of the reasons I started this blog was to make it a sort of digital bibliography for the comic-books I create. This is especially relevant to these three books: Trans-Alaska, Trans-Siberia, and Trans-Atlantis. All of the books are out of print at the moment. I’ve started working on new editions and I wanted to expand the notes section that can be found in the back of each book. I’m planning on a series of entries that hopefully will help me do that.
Trans-Alaska is the first book in the series. It was written and drawn over a period of about 2 weeks prior to the 2004 MoCCA Art Festival.
The notes section identified three main concepts that underpin Trans-Alaska. They are: Richard Florida’s Creative Class, Pat Kane’s Play Ethic and Momus’ Metaphysical Masochism of the Capitalist Creative.
Pat Kane’s Play Ethic is an attempt to create a new kind of philosophy of work in the 21st century. If the capitalist economic system has always relied on the Work Ethic as it’s engine, then in today’s (and tomorrow’s) post scarcity economies we will need something new: a Play Ethic. “If work doesn’t believe in you, why believe in work?” seems to be the general attitude. Kane is convinced that by embracing our inner homo ludens we can all become more creative, playful (responsibly so – hence the ethic) and happy. I sort of dismissed his ideas in the comic by pointing to the dangers of blurring the boundary between work and play in a capitalist context. At that time I hadn’t read Kane’s book The Play Ethic. I had only read his blog and some articles. The book is a much more nuanced examination of the possibility of a wider shift from work oriented culture to a ludic one. Although Kane suffers a bit from too much technophilia (for my taste) and is perhaps a little more over optimistic about the potential for play in a profit driven environment, nevertheless the book is a chock full of great ideas and concepts. I’m rooting for you Pat!
Florida is more of an urbanist and his concept of the Creative Class is deeply connected to cities. He sees the Creative Class (artists, designers, programmers, etc.) as the real economic engine that drives the vitality of cities… and economies. In that he is not that far off from the late and great Jane Jacobs. Florida’s book hinges on his Creative Cities Index. These cities, according to him, are attracting the creative work force necessary for competitiveness in the global creative economy. The book is almost a how-to guide for cities on how to re-create themselves to attract the creatives and by extension the businesses that want to hire them. And business brings all the ‘benefits’ like higher real-estate prices, more tax revenue, etc. This focus on the intersection of money and urbanism is pretty much what turns me off from Florida’s ideas. Momus said it best here. The influx of capital (and consequent rising prices) into creative city centers (often low-rent and marginal neighborhoods) chases those very creatives away. Soho in NY is a good example. San Francisco (number one on Florida’s Creative Cities Index) during the 90’s internet boom is another.
Speaking of Momus, he is probably the primary the catalyst for my doing these little theoretical comic tracts. Specifically I was very impressed by his Metaphysical Masochism Of The Capitalist Creative essay. In the essay Momus is taken by the ability of creatives to create metaphysical value out of the capitalist cesspool of money and greed. The equivalent of alchemical transubstantiation of shit into gold. Any designer trying to squeeze a drop of quality out of a clueless client will know exactly what Momus is talking about.
The notes ended with a bunch of Name dropping: Karl Marx, George Orwell, Chip Kidd, Witold Gombrowicz and André Breton. Karl Marx is a pretty obvious choice given the generally critical approach to capitalism in the comic. More will be written on him later.
George Orwell came to mind only briefly in the perhaps over-the-top assertion that the Play Ethic may be in danger of becoming a kind of newspeak version of Work Ethic. Following the 1984 logic of WAR=PEACE I was presenting my own WORK=PLAY. Pat Kane’s book rounded out his theory for me and I don’t think he implies anything of the sort. However the danger for that kind of misinterpretation is still valid think. Orwell will become more significant in Trans-Atlantis where I take a look utopias and dystopias.
I had read Chipp Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys some time before I made Trans-Alaska. One of the characters, Winter Sorbeck, struck me a perfect Masochistic Capitalist Creative. That’s really the only connection here… though the novel did made it easier for me to think of design and it’s surrounding issues as a valid topic for a comic-book.
Gombrowicz is one of my favorite authors. Right around the time I was starting to work on the comic I was reading his novel Kosmos. The novel is this amazing study of nothing and everything. The main character from the most random occurrences, signs and coincidences, concocts multitudes of paranoid meanings. In some ways I see this novel as kind of template for the comics… a kind of archaeology of contemporary culture… digging up weird books and objects until they all start making some sort of sense.
André Breton. I probably should have said Surrealism. The influence of Surrealism has been with me for a long time. There are some obviously surreal moments in the comic (like the Giorgio de Chirico moment – see image above the Momus entry), but I won’t really get into the surreallity of capital until later books.
Well that’s it for now. More soon.