Story-telling liberty

29. April 2010

I’ve had a few requests for a copy of the speech I delivered at the 2010 Liberty Forum last march. My presentation was recorded on audio and video, but some have wanted a text version. Here’s what I wrote, and I mostly kept to this script, although I wandered away from it a few times. Also, there was a slide show that went along with this which is not included here.

Thanks everyone for showing up to hear me blather; I’ll try my best not to bore you.

To achieve a libertarian society of course we must develop and spread the ideas of liberty, and do so in a manner that persuades. There are various means of doing this, and we each choose means that best suit our own particular talents and skills.

These days libertarians mostly tend to favor two general means: academic discourse, and political theater. Libertarian ideas originated in academia so naturally they must spread initially through academic discourse. Also, since we live in a society in which electoral politics is, we are instructed, the preferred means of changing our governing culture, we formed the Libertarian Party almost 40 years ago with the intent of injecting libertarian ideas into the national political conversation.

Academic discourse has been and remains vital, while political theater has become more controversial of late within the movement. But now I’m going to talk about a different means of spreading ideas, and that is, story-telling.

Humans seem hard-wired to want to hear stories. We tell stories, of different sorts, all the time in our daily lives. The most popular types of stories are rumors.

Rumors can be true or untrue. For example, one rumor has it that Sarah Palin strongly dislikes gays. This is UNTRUE. Her hair stylist for her first major campaign (her town’s beauty pageant) was gay, and she thought he did a fantastic job with her highlights, and used just the right amount of hairspray, and was a pretty likeable person considering his abominable lifestyle.

Jesus of Nazareth was, arguably the most effective spreader of new ideas in history. And he loved telling stories, which were called ‘parables,’ to illustrate some point he wanted to make, and helped his followers remember them.

He told one parable many of us can relate to: the Sower and the Seeds: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”

The point of the parable being that as you spread your ideas there will be some who will reject them, some who will accept superficially but not be ready to truly understand, some will be too distracted by other concerns to pay attention; and finally, those who are prepared to receive the ideas and take them to heart – and these are the ones who make your efforts worth-while.

Of course, many people like to tell stories about Jesus:

Jesus came across an adulteress crouching in a corner with a crowd around her preparing to stone her to death. Jesus stopped them and said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Suddenly a woman at the back of the crowd fired off a stone at the adulteress. At which point Jesus looked over and said, “Moth-er! Sometimes you really tick me off!”

Here’s another one:

A burglar broke into a home and while he was looking around he heard a soft voice say, “Jesus is watching you”. Thinking it was just his imagination, he continued his search. Again the voice said “Jesus is watching you”. He turned his flashlight around and saw a parrot in a cage.

He asked the parrot if he was the one talking and the parrot said, “yes.”

He asked the parrot what his name was and the parrot said, “Moses.”

The burglar asked, “what kind of people would name a parrot Moses?”

The parrot said, “the same kind of people who would name their pit bull Jesus”.

The first story works when people know the background story about Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary, and relates to the frustrations many of us experience when our mothers show up at work and embarrass us.

The second story works even if you don’t know much about Jesus, or Moses, but you should have some passing familiarity with pit-bulls.

Now, the interesting thing about parables and jokes like these, is that it doesn’t really matter whether they are true in a literal sense. What matters is that they ring true, that is, that they conform with the experiences and expectations of the listeners. So long as a story rings true, the listener or reader will willingly suspend disbelief, in order to accept the story; and whether consciously or not, by accepting the story he will on some level accept the ideas embedded in the story.

The defining nature of sci-fi is that it takes some basic ideas, not just of science but also of ethics and social organizations, and uses them to construct an alternative world, fundamentally different from the mundane reality in which we find ourselves. When done correctly, these alternative worlds are believable – that is, they ring true. When they are compelling, they can persuade people as to the value of those embedded ideas. This makes science-fiction uniquely suited for describing libertarian cultures, while we must yet live in and deal with a statist world.

We would hope, of course, that those embedded ideas are libertarian, but unfortunately they don’t have to be for the stories to be effective.

The science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, in accepting his recent Prometheus Award, notes how “we’re all familiar with [the television program] 24 ginning up these situations in which it seems moral and ethical for Jack Bauer to stick his revolver in someone’s thigh, pull the trigger and blow a bullet into the meat of it in order to get him to tell where the ticking bomb is going.” And how “in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game we have an incredibly powerful and ultimately manipulative argument for the doctrine of pre-emption, where you have a character who is really one of the most sympathetic characters in science-fiction, I think, who repeatedly finds himself bullied by people who make him feel uncomfortable and who responds by killing them.”

L. Neil Smith, author of The Probability Broach and more than two dozen other novels, notes that our adversaries have long noted the value of story-telling, including that sub-set of stories we call science-fiction. The most famous of the 19th-Century sci-fi writers, H.G. Wells, was a fabian socialist; less famous now but no less influential was Edward Bellamy, author of Looking Backward; at the turn of the last century Jack London produced Iron Heel, about scholars from a 27th Century socialist world finding documents depicting a fascist oligarchy in the United States and a worker’s revolt against it; most famously from the 20th Century, though he was a TV producer rather than a writer, was Gene Roddenberry, who didn’t use the term “socialist” but presented a compelling vision of a society militarized, politically centralized, and utopian in the sense that people “had moved beyond the need to accumulate wealth” and somehow manage a complex economic system without money.

Of course, sometimes statists tell stories on themselves – George Orwell was a socialist who fought alongside communists in the Spanish Civil War, and yet is most famous for two novels, Animal Farm and 1984, which are cautionary tales about socialism run amok.

But libertarians have made their mark in science-fiction, as well. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is not generally regarded as sci-fi but it did posit a near-future society, and had some sci-fi tropes such as the advanced metal alloy “Rearden Steel,” the holographic screen concealing Galt’s Gulch, and of course John Galt’s own invention, the revolutionary engine that draws power from the static electricity in the air.

Better known as a sci-fi writer, of course, was Robert A. Heinlein, whose political philosophy evolved into libertarianism over time and flourished in his stories The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Stranger In A Strange Land, and I Will Fear No Evil, among others. Neil Smith has remarked that when the libertarian movement began forming in the 1960s, 80-odd percent of the people calling themselves libertarians said they’d joined the movement because of Rand and Heinlein. A survey by Liberty Magazine conducted in the early 1990s indicated that the fiction books by Rand and Heinlein were more likely than any other, including the highly-respected non-fiction works of Rothbard, Von Mises, Nozick, or Friedman, to have lead people onto the libertarian path.

Of course, Rand and Heinlein were not alone. We also were fortunate to have, for a while, writers such as Poul Anderson, Robert Shea and H. Beam Piper; Larry Niven and James P. Hogan are still around but appear to be retired [Ward Griffiths informs me that both Niven and Hogan have books coming out soon -- sorry, gents]. The most explicitly libertarian authors still active that I’m aware of include L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Schulman, Victor Koman, and Victor Milan.

Now, through most of the time we have had novels, authors have required publishers. Publishers not only get books printed but they also have set up distribution networks which get books into bookstores. Thus, publishers are positioned to act as gatekeepers – in theory, they separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure that only those stories worthy of the sacrifice of many trees make it into print and the distribution channel. In the process, they also can decide which theories of ethics and social organization get a hearing, and which die on the vine.

Heinlein, when he began his writing career, had the advantage of a flourishing market in adventure-story magazines, where he could hone his craft. One of these was Astounding Science Fiction, whose editor, John W. Campbell, nurtured Heinlein and many of the other “golden age” sci-fi authors. Heinlein later published full-length novels, and had his short-stories collected, by Fantasy Press, Doubleday, Scribner’s, Putnam’s, Fawcett, and Del Rey.

Although science-fiction movies have been made since the 1920s, and a few notable motion pictures were made in the 1950s, the locus of science-fiction shifted from the textual to the visual media in the 1960s through the 1980s, as improving technology began to make possible the realization of fantastic worlds as vivid as one might imagine from reading a magazine or book.

The success of movies like Star Wars and Avatar on the large screen, and Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica on the small screen, show that people are still hungry for visions of worlds that aren’t, but might be. Even while the market for science-fiction novels seems to be shrinking even faster than the market for fiction books in general.

So where does this leave libertarians? Not in very good shape, unfortunately. Since the passing of Heinlein and the retirement of Niven, libertarian authors have faced an increasingly up-hill battle in a New York-based publishing world that seems increasingly indifferent at best, and hostile at worst. Neil Smith has not been able to get a novel published by a New York house since 2001. Victor Milan had a book published recently but it was a straight-up adventure story with only low-key political themes. We have one libertarian movie producer who is a box-office success, Clint Eastwood, and he doesn’t do science-fiction.

It seems that the gate-keepers in publishing and cinema who used to at least tolerate libertarians, are excluding us now. The best we can hope for from the establishment entertainment media is to try and glean some second-hand elements of partially-libertarian themes in stories whose authors would object mightily if you accused them of being libertarians.

So while libertarians are spreading through academia and making some inroads in political activism, in the culture war we have sustained losses. But while we might get knocked down, we get up again. And our best hope lies in the fact that the game in popular entertainment is changing.

That game-changer, you might guess, is the Internet, and the alternative distribution opportunities it creates. Print-on-demand publishing has become a viable option, and is quickly losing its earlier stigma. Neil Smith, for example, has signed a multi-book deal with Arc Manor Publishers, to both re-publish Smith’s classic works and several new stories as well under the Phoenix Pick imprint. J. Neil Schulman and Victor Koman have moved into independent film making, and are presently raising funds to produce a movie version of his seminal Alongside Night.

And then there are upstarts like my brother Frank and myself, the people behind Big Head Press.

Big Head Press started because I left the computer game businesses in 2001 so I could home-school my sons, but also needed to work from home so I could help my wife pay our bills. I was able to pick up some free-lance work, including a commission from Susan Wells to co-write and draw A Drug War Carol, but I needed more and steadier work.

I had discovered Neil Smith and his works a few years earlier, and several of our mutual friends thought it would be a good idea to create a graphic-novel adaptation of The Probability Broach. This seemed like an idea whose time had come because in the book business, graphic novels were the only growth segment. We put together a pitch package and shopped the project around to comics publishers, but had no takers. Although both Neil and I had each done some comics work in the 1980s, by 2001 we were unknowns so far as that industry was concerned.

So, in the grand tradition of libertarian visionaries, I went and found an angel investor. Who it is my good fortune to be related to. I called Frank, we developed a business plan, and dove in.

Starting a publishing company is a highly risky business, even in boom times, but we knew that Neil already had a fan base we could build on, Amazon.com and Diamond Comics Distributors offered viable distribution channels, and the Internet promised new marketing tools. So in 2002 we founded Big Head Press, and as I completed A Drug War Carol for Susan, Neil wrote a comic-script adaptation of The Probability Broach. In early 2003 I began the illustration work, which I completed in the fall of 2004.

We promoted the book on the Internet by offering the first 42 pages on-line for free viewing. This seemed to help a bit, but in 2005 we decided to try some-thing bolder. We commissioned three new works, two partially-drawn shorter stories with libertarian themes written by comics-industry legend Mike Baron, along with an all-new story co-written by Neil Smith and Rex F. May, who is better-known as the cartoonist “Baloo.” ROSWELL, TEXAS was illustrated by me with colors by Jennifer Zach, and it was serialized on-line in its entirety, a week at a time, as we produced the art pages.

When the stories were completed, we had them printed and sold them through Amazon and Diamond and Baker & Taylor, a trade-book distributor we hooked up with. This worked well enough that we uploaded the entire Probability Broach graphic novel in 10-page installments in 2006, and doubled our total sales of that book from 2004 and 2005.

We of course were not the only people trying this give-it-away-to-sell-it model. Hundreds of fresh young cartoonists, unable to find deals with the newspaper syndicates, have been putting their gag strips on the Web for free since the late 1990s, and the best few dozen of them have been able to make enough money selling book collections and merchandise that they could earn a full-time living this way. A few of the most popular web-cartoons support small businesses with five or six employees. The most successful strip, Penny Arcade, has its own annual conventions attracting thousands of fans.

Also, Cory Doctorow has been publishing his stories on-line, building an audience for his work, and since he’s only partly libertarian he can get a New York publisher, which he did for his Prometheus-Award-winning Little Brother.

Big Head Press has continued with new projects, including La Muse, TimePeeper, a print version of A Drug War Carol, Odysseus The Rebel, and currently Phoebus Krumm, which is a sequel to Neil Smith’s Henry Martyn books.

Also, noting that Web-browsing readers seem to strongly prefer their stories to update more frequently, we took a shot at re-creating the daily adventure strip. That strip is ESCAPE FROM TERRA, based on short-stories written by Sandy Sandfort, adapted into comics-format scripts by me, and drawn by Lee Oaks, an artist introduced to me by Mike Baron. EFT is a space-adventure set in the late 21st Century, features an explicitly libertarian culture in the Asteroid Belt, and is far and away our most popular on-line feature. We are producing a print-collection of the first 300 or so strips which we plan to premier at the Libertopia festival in San Francisco this coming July.

[Note: Libertopia has subsequently been re-scheduled to October, but we are still releasing the EFT collected volume in July.]

While our reach to date is still pretty small, our potential to break out into the mainstream is good. Every year scores of graphic novels get optioned for movie treatments, and every year the best half-dozen or so movie adaptations actually get produced. Hollywood loves comics as source-material, because both comics and movies are visual media. Producers can look at comics pages and more easily visualize how a movie would look.

Relative to political activism, doing libertarian entertainment has some draw-backs. Almost anyone can attend a political rally or carry a protest sign, but there are only a small portion of us with the skill sets conducive to working in entertainment media. And producing graphic novels costs many thousands of dollars; and even “low-budget” independent films costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the advantage of books, graphic novels, and movies is that, generally, more people will pay attention to them, than to academic works or protest rallies. And they will regard entertainment works with a more receptive frame of mind, that “willing suspension of disbelief” our literature teachers always blathered about. In terms of the parable I mentioned earlier, these are seeds more likely to take root in a trod-upon path, or a rocky ground, or under a thorny bush.

Those of us who aren’t able to be story-tellers themselves can still help out, simply by buying libertarian books and movies, and giving them to friends and relatives as gifts. If you know someone who reads and is curious about libertarianism, give them Rothbard’s For A New Liberty; if they’re already sympathetic to liberty but cynical about politics, turn them on to Konkin’s Agorist Primer; if they’re seriously interested in learning about economics, turn them on to any of Von Mises’ works.

But if they’re none of these, but enjoy fiction, give them a copy of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, or The Probability Broach in either version, or Alongside Night. Or, Roswell, Texas; or Odysseus The Rebel; or ESCAPE FROM TERRA when it comes out this summer. At worst, they’ll get an entertaining read, and at best, there’s a chance you’ll start someone along the path to libertarianism.

Kategorie anarchy, Big Head Press, comics, Posts, Webcomics | 9 Kommentare »

Editorial cartoons: the end of an echo of an era

12. April 2009

When I was in college — at least, the first time around — my career goal was to ensconce myself in the editorial page department of some large metropolitan newspaper as the staff editorial cartoonist. To that end I got myself into the analogous position on my college newspaper, The Daily Texan, as soon as I felt my skills were up to it. At the time I was taken on, it was with a small pack of other cartoonists, the idea being that each weekday (the Texan being a weekday-only publication) we’d get a shot at the cartoon slot on the page. Through my 3-year “career” there I grew and shined and pretty much elbowed out my competition, except for a certain hot-shot from Los Angeles named Berke Breathed. But Berke was more interested in comic strips than editorial cartoons, so by the third year he had his regular comic strip (“The Academica Waltz,” which was a sort of precursor to his later and better-known strip “Bloom County”) and I had my regular editorial cartoon slot.

(I should also give a nod to another Texan cartoonist at the time, Sam Hurt, a law-school student who contributed numerous op-ed cartoons as well as a very original and mind-bending strip, “Eyebeam.” Sam’s a nice guy who still dabbles in cartooning although I haven’t heard from him in years, although he does maintain a website.)

By 1979, my graduate year, I’d become quite full of myself and hadn’t really done proper research of the market I intended to enter, or thought things through. At that time there were about 350 newspapers in the United States which had staff editorial cartoonists. Positions did open up from time to time, and I suppose I might have grabbed one in the year or two after I’d graduated except for one problem.

I’m a libertarian, and I don’t compromise my political principles.

I was vaguely aware that this was a handicap in the business — newspapers prefer to hire staff cartoonists whose views are compatible with the editor and editorial staff. This left me, really, only two possible employers: The Santa Ana Register (now the Orange County Register) in California, and The Colorado Springs Gazette, both owned by the libertarian-minded R.C. Hoiles family under the name Freedom Newspapers (now Freedom Communications) Inc. Both of these papers already had cartoonists they were happy with, and so I was effectively shut out of a career for which I’d spent the better part of three years preparing myself.

Aside from the blow to my ego, this dashed my hopes of immediate middle-class income and comfort. Those staff cartooning jobs started in the $25k per annum range, not bad at all in 1980 dollars. And syndication was likewise denied to me, as the syndicates would not take on editorial cartoonists who did not have newspaper staff jobs.

After a short span of time working as a small-paper news reporter and newsletter editor I more or less abandoned journalism and turned my attention to commercial art, further developing my skills in design and illustration so that I could design publications, and later, web pages, as well as illustrate advertisements and comic-books. By some luck I managed to spend a decade-plus doing animation and art direction for a computer game company.

And thanks to my connections in the libertarian and gun-rights movements, I even manage to sell a few editorial cartoons from time to time, on a pick-up basis, which get published in activist newsletters.

But through all those years I often paused to wonder how my life might have been different, had I managed to land one of those treasured editorial cartooning jobs. I might have gotten a house and started a family nearly a decade earlier than I finally did, and avoided several years of hand-to-mouth existence. I might have become nationally famous, with syndication deals bringing in a very comfortable income. I might have …

Fast-forwarding to today: I now think I was far luckier than I used to believe I was.

In 2009, thirty years after my last year on the Texan, newspapers across the continent are downsizing, even dying, and taking with them those cushy editorial cartooning jobs. Every week we hear of another editorial cartoonist, who’d been loyally serving his newspaper for 10, 20, 30 years, getting a pink slip. Just the other week, this happened to Ben Sergeant, who I’d long envied for having the job at The Austin American-Statesman. I often wished I could be him, not so much because I liked the A-S, but because it allowed him to live comfortably in Austin, Texas, which is still one of my favorite cities.

These are people who had spent a very long time developing a very specific skill, which does not really have any use in any other sort of job. And the market for this skill is going away. It must be a terrifying situation for these people, most of whom have mortgages and dependent children and who were counting on their jobs lasting until they reached a comfortable retirement age.

And if I had been “luckier” in the early 1980s, I’d be one of those guys now.

Instead, I’d been obliged to learn other skills, including computer graphics skills, which are still very useful. I have joined the ranks of the web-cartoonists, who are still struggling, for the most part, but still have a brighter future than those guys who are only trained to produce single-panel, stylized drawings full of labels, using pencil, brush and paper. Whose minds are trained to gentle chastisement of political elites under direction and guidance of their own elites, the great newspaper editors.

Other forms of cartooning are finding new ways to thrive on the wild and woolly Internet, where there are few or even no intermediaries between cartoonist and audience. But classical editorial cartooning isn’t finding this, and can’t, really.

Which leads me to wonder what relevance editorial cartooning really has to the larger scheme of things, if it ever did.

Nearly all cartoonists know the story of Thomas Nast, the German-American illustrator, caricaturist and cartoonist whose career began in 1859 and lasted through the 19th century’s end. Mostly, he drew for the news-magazine Harper’s Weekly at a time when the news-magazines and their cousins the newspapers were the mass media. He was credited variously as President Lincoln’s “best recruiting sergeant” for his support of the War Between the States, helping to elect Presidents Grant and Cleveland, and perhaps most famously for bringing down Tammany Hall’s infamously corrupt Democrat power-broker William M. Tweed (although the Tammany Hall group managed to recover and regain its dominance of New York politics for decades afterward.)

Nast was also known for his sympathies for Chinese Americans, freed black slaves, and American Indians. He is less known for his antipathy for Catholics in general and Italian-Americans in particular, who he regarded as inherently corrupt and enablers of crooks like Boss Tweed. But beyond all that, he was regarded as not just the father of American political cartooning but the inspiration for all political cartoonists who followed him.

And yet — who among those who followed enjoyed the real-world influence of Nast? Did any other cartoonist significantly contribute to the election or defeat of a President, or even the downfall of a big-city power-broker? I can’t think of any. Perhaps the only political cartoonist to even approach Nast’s relevance was Bill Mauldin, who is best known for the cartoons he drew for the military newspaper Stars & Stripes during World War II. These cartoons were a-political, slice-of-life pieces focusing on the trials of front-line troops (of which he was one). After the war, his left-of-center, civil-libertarian cartoons were not well-received, but in 1958 he managed to get a job working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, moving soon afterward to the Chicago Sun-Times, and his star rose again.

His most famous post-war cartoon remarked on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In it, he drew the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial — the statue is leaning forward, face buried in its hands, presumably weeping that a successor should meet the same fate as he.

Mauldin and several other 20th-Century political cartoonists have been well-regarded: Herb Block, Jules Feiffer, Jeff McNelly, Paul Conrad, Jim Borgman, Patrick Oliphant, Don Wright, Doug Marlette, and dozens more … and yet, what were their accomplishments compared with Nast’s?

It seems to me that throughout the last century, and into the first few years of this one, editorial cartoonists lived in the glow of the 1800s. In those days, newsprint was the only mass medium; the only images viewed and shared were the illustrations, drawn in ink and charcoal and painstakingly hand-engraved. It was only in such an environment that a cartoonist could play the role of king-maker or king-breaker. The first crack in that edifice came with chemical photo-engraving, which allowed photographs to convey news stories in a way that was once the sole domain of the illustrators.

Then, radio arose to challenge the pre-eminence of newspapers, and cinema and television ended the cartoonists’ monopoly in the words-and-pictures department.

Some cartoonists moved into comics-books and fantasy illustration, where they could create the sort of fantastic visions that the camera could not capture. Political cartoonists filled a different sort of niche — instead of challenging people to think, or to take action, they became little more than entertainment for political junkies, and a sort of prestige emblem for the great newspapers. Nobody to my knowledge offered a 20th Century political cartoonist a half-million-dollar bribe to close shop and go away, as Boss Tweed had to Thomas Nast. Many politicians instead rather enjoyed the cartoons that poked fun at them, appreciating the attention. A few even sought to purchase the original drawings of published cartoons skewering them. In my Texan days I even sold a half-dozen drawings to Governor Dolph Briscoe, one of my frequent targets (hey, I needed the dough.)

This is not principally the fault of the cartoonists. The newspapers which were their platform had become more tame and staid, increasingly so through the century; their kept cartoonists enjoyed just a little more room to poke at their targets. But only a little. I know that Ben Sergeant used to chafe under the restrictions he faced, but he kept his head down and kept his job for more than 30 years — up until last month.

And now that those platforms are withering away, political cartoonists are desperately casting about for ways to shore up those platforms, because they can’t see any alternative platforms on which to perform. For most of them, there may not be any — at least, not for the sort of performances they’ve been doing for the last several decades.

I don’t see much hope for shoring up most of those dying platforms. Perhaps, in 20 years, a few dozen major newspapers will successfully transform themselves into news websites, and bring their kept cartoonists with them. Perhaps a few dozen more of these cartoonists will find a way to continue their work freelancing for various print and web publications. Most of them will either have to do other sorts of illustration work, from greeting cards to children’s book illustration to advertising, or retire from cartooning.

But the true glory days of editorial cartooning died with Thomas Nast. His echo lasted a century, but that echo is now fading away.

Kategorie comics, Free speech, Webcomics | 5 Kommentare »

The problem with “folk activism”

7. April 2009

A tip of the hat to Perry Metzger for alerting me to the essay by Patri Friedman on the Cato Unbound site, “Beyond Folk Activism.”

Friedman provides a cogent theory for why electoral politics and what we normally think of as “political activism” cannot achieve libertarian goals. Rather than restate that theory here, I invite readers to peruse Friedman’s essay.

Friedman also highlights a quartet of alternative strategies, which he denotes as “Free State Project,” “crypto anarchy,” “market anarchism,” and “seasteading.” He examines what he sees as the strengths and weaknesses of each, and seems to regard seasteading most favorably.

“Free State Project” here refers to the movement seeking 20,000 libertarians to relocate to New Hampshire, so as to provide a sufficiently large concentration of activists to wield political clout at the state and local levels. As Friedman himself notes, this is really a variant on traditional activism, and the only really “alternative” aspect of this strategy is that it’s a response to the libertarian movement’s failure to develop the massive following necessary to change national policy.

(I should note here that I am nominally a part of an alternative to this alternative, the “Free State Wyoming Project,” promoted by Boston T. Party, attempting a similar strategy in Wyoming. Boston felt that FSP chose the wrong state, and I was inclined to agree with him. So far, FSW appears to only be a tenth the size of FSP, and is currently focused on just getting libertarians here and so far has had zero impact on Wyoming politics at any level.)

The second strategy, “crypto anarchism” refers to employing the Internet and encryption technology to carry on economic activities outside the state’s purview. So far, this strategy has not had much success either. PayPal was reigned in by the state and now reports cash flows to the IRS. E-gold’s principals have been arrested and are being prosecuted on money-laundering charges. Other digital-currency schemes simply don’t have the kind of widespread participation needed to liberate its participants from the Federal Reserve-run economy. I can’t spend e-money at the grocery store, or the gun shop, or the furniture store. However, this strategy yet holds some promise, when combined with other strategies, as I’ll explain in a moment.

The third alternative Friedman lists is “market anarchism,” which he lauds mainly as a promising “ecosystem” with the sort of institutions and incentives built-in to serve a free society. And I agree. The problem, according to Friedman, is that there seems to be no path from here to there. Contemporary state institutions have formidable inertia and a strong tendency to preserve and propagate themselves. Market anarchism as developed by, for example, Murray Rothbard or David Friedman, lacks a cogent strategy for establishing itself.

But it is here that Friedman is mistaken. For one variant of market anarchism, developed by Samuel Edward Konkin III and denoted as “agorism,” does have such a strategy. In a nutshell the strategy is for libertarians to withdraw from the legal economy as much as possible and participate in the black and grey markets, and in the appropriate times and places to develop alternative institutions which will replace the state’s monopoly on such things as dispute resolution and law enforcement. SEK3, who died in 2003, outlined his theory of revolutionary change in his book The New Libertarian Manifesto, currently available in print from KoPubCo and in PDF form at the agorism.info site. Konkin’s other book, An Agorist Primer, also available from KoPubCo, presents a more general outline of agorism, including his theory of how-to-get-there.

I note here that this is an area where “crypto anarchism” may be employed to enhance the development of alternative institutions, while the state is still strong enough to otherwise suppress them. In this sense, agorism might be regarded as a combination of market and crypto anarchism.

Agorism is a relatively under-developed branch of market anarchist theory, but also a very promising one. In fact, novelist J. Neil Schulman wrote a science-fiction story, Alongside Night, dramatizing how agorist theory might someday rescue civilization from a future crisis — a crisis which looks alarmingly similar to what we face presently. Schulman has developed a screenplay adaptation of his story and is endeavoring, with the aid of activist Jim Davidson, to raise the capital needed to produce a feature film.

(I have also been asked to produce a graphic novel version in the event the screenplay is green-lighted.)

Friedman’s fourth alternative, seasteading, involves developing floating cities which would float about the world’s oceans, outside of any current state’s jurisdiction. Currently various technologies are in development which promise to create stable floating platforms which could be linked together, (or un-linked, where appropriate) to form stateless communities. Friedman notes the principal weaknesses of this approach: 1) the dangers of the ocean environment (think hurricanes and tsunamis); and the likelihood that states will interfere either to prevent establishment or to destroy or enslave these communities after the fact in the name of “fighting terrorism” or closing tax havens or what have you.

This suggests a rather more fanciful fifth alternative — space colonization. If some technological breakthrough or breakthroughs can allow inexpensive access to space, then we have a “new frontier” similar to that which eventually birthed the United States. Colonies on the moon, Mars, the asteroids, etc., could be established beyond the easy reach of existing governments wherein stateless societies may develop. This of course is an idea my writing partner Sandy Sandfort and I explore in our adventure web-comic, Escape From Terra.

Kategorie anarchy, Big Head Press, comics, movies, Posts, Wyoming | 20 Kommentare »

Kindle Comics

26. March 2009

I figure the way to get ahead in this funny-book business is to stay on top advancing technologies that have relevance to making and selling comics. That’s why I pioneered air-brush coloring in 1986 and why I got myself a Macintosh back in 1988 and taught myself how to use it, and with it produced Cyber-Lust, the world’s first computer-generated porn comic. Actually I don’t know if there have been any others, but these days computers dominate comics coloring and lettering and are making advances in penciling and inking, too.

I wasn’t the first to bring long-form comics from print to free-on-the-web (Lea Hernandez is to my knowledge the first to do that, and Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius and Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series are much better known), but I see a lot more people coming up behind me on this path than in front of me.

So when Amazon.Com unveiled its Kindle2 dedicated e-book reader, I took notice. The specs said it has a 600×800 screen with 16 greys. Maybe, just maybe good enough to be an e-comics platform?

Since my brother Frank was also curious about this, he sprang for a Kindle2 and I went to work, experimenting with putting comics on this thing.

I found very quickly that, in the first place, that 600×800 spec is a tad misleading, because when the comics pages are compiled into a book they display at more like a maximum of 512×626 pixels. There is a “Zoom” feature that will bring a graphic up to the full 600×800 range but you can’t flip though pages in “zoom” mode. Hitting the “next page” button returns you to “normal” view mode and it requires three more button clicks to get the next page zoomed up. Clearly, artwork intended for this platform needs to look good within that 512×626 pixel frame.

I also found that a normal-sized comic page will not work in that resolution. The tones tend to get muddy and the lettering is too small to read. What’s required here, as with comics-on-phones, is to break the pages down into their component panels and re-assemble them into a frame about one-quarter the size of a typical comics page.

So, after fiddling around with samples pages and panels, I decided to create an actual Kindle comic, put it up for sale, and see what happened. For this experiment I took the political mini-comic I made last year, The Last Sonofabitch of Klepton, and spent about 6 hours cutting and pasting frames, adding an “apology to Siegel and Shuster” page and re-working the cover from its former landscape shape to Kindle’s portrait shape.

The book is now in the Kindle Store: you can see its Kindle web-page here. If you have a Kindle or Kindle2, you can buy it for 99 cents. If you’re a cheap bastard with a Kindle, you can get a free “sample” that contains almost half the book.

I think the results are pretty good, and apparently I’m not the only one: My Twitter tweet announcing the story has been bouncing around the Twitterverse, and someone who runs a blog called “Kindle Culture” gave it a favorable review.

So, onward. My next Kindle project will be reformatting TimePeeper, by L. Neil Smith and Sherard Jackson, and putting together Big Head Press’ first Kindle GN. This will take more than a few hours, and has to be done in my spare time, so it may be a few weeks, but I’ll announce it when it’s up in the store.

Kategorie anarchy, comics, Webcomics | 9 Kommentare »

Launching ESCAPE FROM TERRA

25. September 2008

I’m expanding my comics efforts to include scripting as well as drawing. Today, Big Head Press is launching our latest feature, ESCAPE FROM TERRA. This is a 5-days-weekly, sci-fi adventure web-comic co-written by Sandy Sandfort and myself, with art by LEE OAKS! (That’s how he wants to have his name styled, all caps with an exclamation point.)

Our promotion keys off of two principal characters, Guy Caillard and Fiorella Stellina, two intrepid agents of the United World Revenue Service, in the late 21st Century. The promotional copy is a bit tongue-in-cheek, written from the perspective of the characters, who see their duty in bringing the wild miners of the Asteroid Belt to heel and collecting a “fair share” of their wealth for humanity.

Of course, anyone who knows me, or Sandy Sandfort, can guess what’s really going on here. EFT will describe a thriving and robust market anarchist culture developing on Ceres and elsewhere in the belt. The initial story arcs do indeed relate the struggle of this new culture to maintain its independence from the iron fist of Terra’s unified government, but later we’ll delve into some other happenings at the leading edge of human civilization in that time period.

This project has its roots in a prose short story, “World Ceres,” which Sandy wrote as an entry in a contest honoring Robert A. Heinlein’s fiction. He sent it to us and we thought the universe he described has great potential to be the backdrop for a continuing series. Sandy has no experience with the comics medium so we agreed to team up. He continues writing prose short stories, which I take and massage a bit, sometimes adding new elements and trimming away others (always in consultation with Sandy), and establishing frequent story beats suitable for a daily strip.

We then pass the script to LEE, a Fort Collins cartoonist to whom I was introduced by the legendary Mike Baron. LEE is also working with Mike on the fantasy web-comic BLACK ICE, which is running on the ComicMix site. It’s also worth a look. LEE took over that comic starting with Issue 8 from the original artist Nick Runge when Nick left that project for a better-paying gig elsewhere.

Kategorie anarchy, Big Head Press, comics, Webcomics | 1 Kommentar »

Cartoonist nailed for ungoodspeak

4. May 2007

Today I read a strange tale of a part-time web-cartoonist who lost his day-job just for talking about a .22 bolt-action rifle he was considering purchasing, while at work. As strange stories go, it’s fairly straightforward, and perhaps best summarized on the blog of yet another web-cartoonist, Robert Stevens:

Matt was working as a contractor for a branch of the government. He made the mistake of being interested in the hobby of paper target shooting at about the same time as the VA Tech shootings and talking to someone about this hobby at work. Keep in mind he wasn’t even talking about those shootings, in fact he was discussing how he wanted a gun which would make it difficult to kill someone.

He was promptly fired and not allowed back to work because people were scared of him.

To top it all off, he was later visited by police detectives for making a comic about his experience, because it was a “borderline terroristic threat.” (Is “terroristic” even a word? Did they get that from the Colbert report?)

The web-comic in question, Three Panel Soul, is not your typical web-comic. It is well-drawn, and usually funny, often quite funny. It is produced by Ian McConville and Matt Boyd, (I’m not certain but I think it’s Matt who writes and Ian who draws). But it’s a worthy addition to your RSS feed if you have one of those. The sequence involving the gun-interest starts here.

I have mixed feelings about this situation. The anarchist in me notes that Matt (I think he’s the one who was fired) was working for a major government contractor. So part of me feels, “serves you right working for the dark side.” On the other hand, I often miss having regular paychecks myself, and I can sympathize with just about anyone less morally compromised than, say, Condoleeza Rice, who loses a job due to a situation as stupid as this one.

It doesn’t help that Matt has since offered an apology not only for his remarks at his job but for penning and posting cartoons about what happened. In his rant box for May 3 we find this:

For anyone offended by this sequence of comics, I apologize. I don’t want to hurt people. I just wanted to write about what happened to me, and I did it in comics, because writing comics is what I do. I don’t want to make light of the VT shootings and my problems pale in comparison.

Well sure, getting fired is a lot less tragic than getting dead, but to my thinking Matt is not the one who should be apologizing. Whether he wrote this because the visit from the cops intimidated him, or because he really feels bad, or because he hopes he can placate and cajole his former masters into taking him back, only he can know.

What strikes me as most remarkable about this story is that there are so many people in this country who react the way Matt’s ex-co-worker(s) did. Anyone who talks of even thinking about buying a low-powered, single-shot firearm suddenly becomes A Menace To All Around Him.

I’m not the first to notice this, but we have developed in this country a Culture of Harmlessness which demands that everyone not presumably constrained by some command-and-control structure — that is, everyone not either a cop or a soldier — must render himself completely harmless and stay that way in order to be socially acceptable. Which makes things all cherries for cops and soldiers, and the plutocrats who command them, but it should be anathema to a free people.

Self-defense — which for practical reasons requires that one not be harmless — is as important and basic a bodily function as eating, breathing, and sleeping. Once we’ve forsaken not only the physical ability but also the mental capacity for using violence when necessary to defend our lives and our liberty, then we become something less than human. First we become slaves, and eventually we become extinct.

Matt Boyd, it turns out, is hardly a square-shouldered hero for gun rights. He is a part of this Culture of Harmlessness who, for a short time, showed just a bit of curiosity and interest in paper-target shooting. And got smacked down hard for it. Now he’s showing us his belly in the hope that he won’t get beaten further.

For his sake I hope this tactic doesn’t just bring more beatings.

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The Comic Strip Artist’s Kit

16. September 2006

Over on The ENGINE, graphic designer Brandon Blatcher has found and generously shared a bit of cartoon history that’s also a useful guide for aspiring cartoonists. It is “TheComic Strip Artists’ Kit” created by Carson Van Osten, the artist who drew and supervised other artists on many of the Disney comic books. It’s a series of 11 x 17 drawings describing common challenges in panel layout and how to deal with them.

You can see an overview with individual scans of the pages here, and download a .pdf file containing all the drawings here.

Kategorie comics, Posts, Webcomics | Comments Off

So Long, Sandy Eggo

25. July 2006

Just returned from four days schlepping cards and flyers around, attending panels, and meeting old friends at San Diego Con, which has gotten way too big to be sane. I heard an estimate of 125,000 attendees this year, and even the Big Two companies were overshadowed by the movie and game companies.

Herewith are some random observations:

Coolest object at the con:

The giant Lego Batman sculpture. Wish I had a picture.

Most gratifying experience at the con:

Seeing Rantz, Sean, Speed, Batton, Jackie, Peter, Craig, and Phil. I think I spotted a few other ENGINEers in the crowds but I’m not certain.

Second most gratifying experience at the con:

Spotting Tom DeFalco sitting at the Moonstone booth, and surreptitiously dropping a bunch of Big Head Press promo cards in front of a rack on the corner table where the booth guys couldn’t easily see them.

(For anyone wondering why I would do such a thing, see my blog entry here.)

Third most gratifying experience at the con:

Spotting Gary Groth at breakfast in the Hilton restraurant, and regaling my brother with the tale of how I got in the last word with him on The ENGINE.

Strangest annoyance at the con:

Since I’m in webcomics now naturally I meant to attend all the “Webcomics 102″ panels — but the line to the first one, about “how to find your audience” had a line with up to 500 people in it, for a room with classroom seating for 150.

Later I learned that these were not all new and wannabe webcomicers, but were largely fans of the “Penny Arcade” strip and wanted to meet Gabe and Tycho. One fellow who got in told us later that the panel was seriously crippled with fans who wanted to gush and talk about the strip, rather than the topic.

My brother opines that Holkins and Krahulik are “rock stars” now and ought not be allowed to appear at nuts-and-bolts panels such as this.

I have to give the convention organizers credit for recognizing the importance of webcomics but they’re still climbing the learning curve in terms of what works and what doesn’t. The “how to make money in webcomics” panel was pretty good, although the only thing I learned there that I didn’t already know was how huge a guy Scott Kurtz is.

And the “how to create compelling webcomics” panel, which consisted of one woman who did not have a good presentation style, focused mainly on the nuts and bolts of putting together a comic and getting it online. I was hoping for more in the way of creative tips and tricks for making one’s own comic stand out on the crowd.

Most harrowing experience at the con:

Getting poisoned. My brother and I had dinner at the Royal Thai on Fifth Ave., then smoked cigars purchased at the cigar lounge across the street. We wandered back to the convention center, intending to watch some animation programs, but never got past the Men’s Room. After some very ugly business, we made our way back to the hotel and collapsed in our beds, vowing never to do again whatever it was we did (the Pinot Noir? the spring rolls? the cigars?) that made us that sick.

Fortunately the malady was short-lived and we were back in action on Saturday.

Upshot: We are going to focus more on smaller cons going forward.

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No time for Heroes

5. July 2006

While it seems like everybody who is anybody in comics converged on Charlotte, NC this past weekend for Heroes Con, the Big Heads have been converging on Cheyenne, WY instead.

Bre’r Frank made the drive up from BHP Galactic Headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, bringing wife Jan and son Jake, showing up a day earlier than he said he would. Caught us in the middle of franticly cleaning up La Casa enough not to be embarrassing, at least. Frank said his “travel math” was off. He was leaving on the second for a two-day trip so he should arrive on the fourth, right?

As it happened, they showed up just in time for the great Cheyenne Deluge, Power Outage and Lost Dogs Round-Up. We had the biggest rain storm of the year open up just before they arrived; then after the weather cleared a bit we went out to eat and the power died before we could get our beer orders in. We found another restaurant in another part of town that had power — as it turned out, the outage only affected a roughly 8-square-mile section of the city — but when we returned to La Casa power was still off.

We heard our dogs barking in the backyard as we scrambled to set up my camping lantern and acquire some candles. We didn’t notice when they stopped barking, but I did notice when I called them in at close to midnight that they weren’t there. They’d managed to knock the gate open and escape. So we had a great time driving around the neightborhood looking for our prodigal canines, and find them we did by and by, and then I had to disappoint Frank by explaining that the next day would probably not be as interesting.

Kategorie Big Head Press, Posts, Wyoming | 1 Kommentar »

Flyers

27. June 2006

Whew! I’ve just returned from the Postal Orifice where I shipped off boxes full of promotional flyers for Big Head Press to the two of our artists (Andie Tong and Mike Kilgore) who don’t live within 100 miles of me.

The flyer is an 8.5″ x 5.5″ card featuring our three feature stories: The Hook, The Architect, and Roswell, Texas. Here’s a shrunk-down sample of how it looks:

Andie had mentioned that it was a bit difficult promoting the web-site to friends etc. without having something tangible to give them, with our site’s URL on it. So in addition to the flyers I printed up a bunch of business cards, one batch for each story. And those will be going out to BHP artists and writers as well.

Things got interesting because there’s a big comics con in London starting July 1 and I had procrastinated a bit getting this stuff printed. Then I had to box up the portion going to Andie, who will be distributing the flyers and cards there for us. Man, express-shipping a package to England these days is a major production — there are all kinds of forms to fill out, and the shipper needs to know exactly what’s in the box, and it has to be assigned to one of 87 categories, and they need both sender’s and recipient’s phone numbers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I’m not even going to say how much it cost to ship an 8-lb box guaranteed to get there in 3 days.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be drawing comics. Yeah, that’s what this is supposed to be all about, isn’t it?

Kategorie Big Head Press, comics, Posts, Webcomics | Comments Off