Dave's Cerebus Archive: Report to the Cerebus Newsgroup II

Don’t Touch That Clicker! It’s Time For

Report to the Newsgroup:

Initial Responses to the Cerebus Archive

Gerhard printed out the initial responses for me, so I thought I’d take up the discussion from there.

Jason Trimmer – Well, for good or ill, I have basically declared the Newsgroup to be the official site mostly on Gerhard’s recommendation. This is where he goes for his Cerebus “fix” on the Internet. I do appreciate your hesitance to see the Newsgroup (or Yahoo, for that matter) as long-term propositions. Because the Internet is so new and because I have very limited knowledge of it, there’s no question that anything can happen. I do tend to side with those who hold the view that technologies don’t so much tend to get eliminated as they do to get displaced. Television didn’t kill radio, but it did change its nature and its focus. That’s very likely to happen with advances in computer technology but I think you’re always going to have people whose preferred method of communication is in print or, in the case of the computer “in print”. I tend to think that people who communicate in whole sentences which make up paragraphs and which in turn make up an entire text are the best bet for what I am driving at here—how to maintain Cerebus over the long term after I’m dead. Maybe I can communicate more clearly what it is that I’m intending by presenting what is possibly the only alternative structure that I could envision; A Cerebus Foundation staffed by those charged with moving all of the various aspects of Cerebus forward. The problem that I see with that is that the sort of people who staff Foundations tend to be Foundation people, artistic bureaucrats with all of the dynamics that go into a bureaucracy—How do I hire people to do my work for me so all I have to do is go to parties and fund-raising events and schmooze-fests? That was my experience with Aardvark-Vanaheim, as an example. Deni wanted to hire a secretary/assistant because the job was getting to be too much for her and then proceeded to spend most of her time on the phone running up phone bills. Then the secretary/assistant wanted a secretary/assistant and so on.

I don’t think Cerebus Legacy is quite that deep a trough and I don’t think it’s quite that “hands-on” a need. It’s more about the ideas behind Cerebus that set it apart from just about every environment in which it exists and which I have been very careful to maintain through its history. As small a thing as colour being abhorrent and unsuitable for the story proper to as large a thing as creative autonomy being the driving force behind it. The creative world is still largely dominated by the vandalism of editors and art directors and adapters. I can protect Cerebus from them while I’m alive but only while I’m alive. Non-creative vandals, of course, don’t see themselves that way which is why I see a need for an environment which is aware of the viewpoints behind Cerebus and will exist as the final arbiter of what constitutes the maintenance of Cerebus and what constitutes vandalism of Cerebus.

Maybe what I should have specified is The Cerebus Newsgroup or Whatever The Cerebus Newsgroup Evolves Into as a result of changing technologies. I assume that one of the next moves in the chess game would be the advancement of the Vandalism Viewpoint—that just because I’m the creator of Cerebus that doesn’t mean that I know what is best or more appropriate for the book. Here I’m thinking of the poisonous influence of Deconstructionist Theory in the academic world. To me, Deconstructionist Theory is a less pejorative way of expressing the Vandalism Viewpoint—you can never go too far wrong in dismantling something based on your own prejudices of what it ought to be.

By my count, I have about six pages worth of reactions here, which I think is pretty good.

sheridan - I think it was helpful that “Sheridan” mentioned “okay, the bits of it I did read”. It made me think that one of the elements that would be helpful in this dialogue is if everyone is up-front about their level of interest. “Vaguely interested” or “largely disinterested” is certainly a valid viewpoint that, it seems to me, indicates that you might have an idea or two to contribute but as soon as the dialogue starts hitting double-digits in terms of page length you are not apt to be following it. I would imagine that there’s a distinction between “lurkers” and “skim lurkers”—see if there’s a subject that interests you, skim through the text to see if its as interesting as it subject head indicated and ditch if it doesn’t live up to its promise. Gerhard, as example, just skips anything marked “O/T”. He isn’t checking out the premiere Cerebus website to find out which was the best Star Wars film in someone’s opinion.

I’m not sure if there’s any legal framework required, which is one of the things that appeals to me about it, but I do take your point that this isn’t a newsgroup, it’s a mailing list. I suspect what I am looking for is a structure rather than a legal framework—a conscious compartmentalization that this section is where we are discussing (for want of a better term) Cerebus Policy and that it would be appreciated if here, people could avoid going “O/T”.

What are the level of Yahoo sensitivities to having their future called into question and how likely does everyone think that Yahoo is temporary and that it might be worthwhile to relocate to somewhere else? Would it be a safe assumption that it’s solid enough for the time being so its not as if we’re in an a-frame house suspended over the San Andreas Fault, but we might still be in earthquake territory and we should have an alternative location in mind?

Colin M. Strickland - This seemed helpful. The problem that I see with a “decentralized cluster of loosely coupled peers” is that you tend in the direction of co-equivalency. I’m trying to initiate a dialogue on Cerebus Policy that I don’t think would be well-served, as an example, by being linked to www.deconstructcerebus.com and cerebusmustdie.com. Both are valid viewpoints and fully protected examples of free speech but, to me, not useful in a “what happens to Cerebus after I’m dead” discussion.

Likewise, I think it’s difficult to assess “popularity/traffic demands” as fixed commodities. The attention paid has dropped since issue 300, for obvious reasons. To cite one obvious example—Robert E. Howard’s Conan—Conan tends to go through distinct cycles of popularity and obscurity. We won’t know for a number of years if Cerebus is in that category or not and thus needful of an elastic structure in which Cerebus Policy can be considered which is suited to the size of the mailing list now and the size of the mailing list five years from now, ten years from now. One of the advantages of seeing Hollywood as inherently perverse and, therefore, having a complete disinterest in a Cerebus movie or TV adaptation is that one pitfall is avoided—the artificial bulge in interest which is actually about the movie and which will ultimately sink the originating intellectual property nine times out of ten (Conan being an exception to that rule. The lousy films created a series of artificial bulges in popularity but didn’t sink the intellectual property after they had run their course). I suspect Cerebus will always sell as it sold when it was coming out, slow and steady and that the interested audience will always be roughly the same size and made up of departing members, newly arriving members, returning members and serial departing and serial returning members. There are very few people who have stuck around from the beginning and very few people where you could say that “Cerebus is in their blood”. At the same time, I’d be interested in any feedback on the elasticity factor. Is there some structure that could be adopted which would preserve the dialogue on Cerebus Policy in the face of an unexpected influx of vandals/deconstructionists (however well-meaning and I must say that I do think most vandals and deconstructionists are “only trying to help” and that the road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions)?

Since I have no experience with the mailing list except tangentially, I really can’t over-estimate or under-estimate the amount of actual Cerebus dialogue that takes place. Is it possible to separate the “O/T” from the Cerebus Policy content? is one of the questions that I wondered about. I think I understand the dynamic. You start by discussing something related to Cerebus and cite an example from a movie and then a bunch of people start discussing the movie. Is it possible to have that take place in personal e-mails or elsewhere so that the Cerebus Policy area stays on the subject of Cerebus Policy. Just looking at these initial postings and this one in particular, everyone seems to have stayed on the subject, but then this is early on in the proceedings.

I do think I detect a natural division here in subject matter, however. As soon as you start discussing the technical aspects of preserving the material, I think you are in a different area that is critically important to Cerebus Policy but more concerned with overall nuts and bolts than with course direction and pitfalls. Is it possible to separate this so that those interested in the technical problem of how to preserve the material can be discussing those parameters in their own frame of reference.

Lenny - I might be reading between the lines here, but I suspect that what Lenny is worried about is that I’m going to waylay the whole operation from a fun on-line social club where Cerebus is something that everyone has in common into something it was never intended to be. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in that which is why I’m pointing in the direction of sequestering a Cerebus Policy forum from the rest of the Newsgroup. I’m not sure what the ratio of “O/T” to “Cerebus” content is, but I really have no desire to interfere in that. If that’s what the Newsgroup is, that’s what it is and that should be maintained as the natural expression of what the mailing list, collectively, has evolved into and what it’s interested in.

It might be a case that lenny is in the “largely disinterested” to “completely disinterested” camp. I can’t emphasize enough that I see that as completely valid. There might only be six people out of the 600 or so on the mailing list who have any interest in the dialogue I’ve initiated so all I can do is hope that the other 594 can be as helpful as possible in finding us a little meeting room off in the corner where we can talk about this stuff in a focussed fashion without interfering with what the other 594 are interested in.

B. - The domain name and “jurisdiction/governance” are key points. My gut instinct all along has told me that we—that is, Ger and I—don’t want to be running our own website. That was one of the reasons that we’ve gone with the Beguiling for the art auctions that are posted on their website then move onto eBay. We might be taking that over just because Peter represents so many artists at this point that we have to wait our turn.

But, in terms of communication—again, Cerebus Policy—it seemed more appropriate to me for me to come to environment formed by elements within the Cerebus readership than for me to build a structure and say, “Okay, Cerebus readers, come on in.” I had already done that. 6,000 or so people “came in” to Cerebus. One percent of that number came so far in that they build their own environment attached to Cerebus—the 600 or so members of the mailing list. In order to maintain that structure, I’m coming right up to the borderline and saying, “I’m over here, but I’m interested in having a dialogue with anyone interested in the subject over there.” I would strongly suspect that the “one percent construct” will hold and roughly 60 of the 600 participants/members of the newsgroup will be interested. And the motive is comparable. The Newsgroup was formed as a vehicle for people who wanted to discuss the book on different terms than “what a misogynist Dave Sim is and how crazy he is”. Answering the five questions and wildcard once a month seemed like an appropriate way for me to participate in that. But, of course, for me it’s about as challenging as filling out a questionnaire. I know the answers to all the questions. When you fill out a questionnaire about yourself and your work, you usually get 100% of the answers right. I’m glad the Newsgroup wants to keep doing that, but my long-term concerns are very much centered on Cerebus in the real world and maximizing the possibility that the book will still exist and be vital after I’m dead. A lot of the questions attached to that are very much up in the air and in need of attention, in my view.

I was glad to read that B. is “always very entertained by this particular group.” I’m hoping that the dialogue on Cerebus Policy will be entertaining as well, just in a different way.

Lenny – I’m not sure if lenny’s question “is there a site on the web that has MORE Cerebus talk than we do?” is rhetorical or not. Personally, I’m inclined to take it at face value as a key element in determining the nature of reality. Are there other sites where Cerebus is discussed and how distant a #2 would the #2 site be—assuming, as I do, that the Newsgroup is #1 in the category?

Colin M. Strickland – The http://www.archive.org reference raises the interesting question: is this the direction that things are just generally going and all materials on the internet will be preserved in one form or another? It still seems to me that you need an activist aspect to your intellectual property to preserve it in its entirety and then scan everything in and also preserve all of the scans on disk in the event of a catastrophe (hacker created or otherwise). With the DVD technology, all of the Cerebus Archive is going to fit comfortably on one disk, at which point it’s just a matter of duplicating the disks and posting the material to any relevant website. Those are definitely the sorts of things that I’m interested in, but I also think that a lot has to be done in the here and now if the technology doesn’t evolve quite as fast as the computer optimists picture it doing. If it takes twenty years for things to “come together” and I’m still alive, I’ll be 68. I’m not really interested in that level of uncertainty about the material when I’m on the cusp of becoming a septuagenarian.

To indicate an analogous situation: the reason that I solicited Cerebus Archive testimonial letters in issue 300 was for the exact reason that, like everyone else, I have no idea how much time I have left and having testimonial letters seemed like the best hope of preserving the material if I died in April of 2004. Likewise, it seemed to me valuable to start negotiating for a home for the Archive while I am still relatively young and, so far as I know, in reasonably good health. As a result of making those efforts, I’m reasonably confident that the material would be preserved at NYU or the University of Waterloo in the event of my death if it took place next week. I hope to have other candidates to pick from if I live another five years and still more candidates if I live another ten years.

Hopefully, whether it’s ten years from now or twenty years from now, everything will be locked into place and the structure can be adapted to whatever the technological advances are that might apply. Personally, I don’t see computers as being as central to societal reality as most computer people do. I still think that life needs a lot of careful planning and specific decision-making and that technological advances are largely in a separate category. Remember that in 1979 when I decided to do Cerebus into the 21st century it was universally believed that I was crazy because printing presses wouldn’t exist by then and everything would be done on computer. If I had believed in the computer people then, I would never have made the commitment. I don’t see reality, in those terms, as having changed substantially in the interim.

Andrew – My own view on whether 664 is a huge number centers more on the nature of the interest rather than the numerical level of participation. I think it’s a bit “dodgy” to be comparing the Cerebus mailing list to the Beach Boys mailing list. I think one of the things that seem to have escaped most people’s notice is that the Internet—apart from files swapping—exists at the opposite end of the spectrum from music. There just isn’t enough content in any musical group’s entire output to sustain a meaningful level of discussion. The old “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. In order to have content you need to have content to discuss. All you can really do in discussing music is to discuss how it made you feel or what you picture in your mind when you hear it which is usually about as interesting as descriptions of other people’s dreams. The meaning is egocentric rather than general and consequently of little to no general interest. vAs you say a programmer’s discussion for the development of an Open Source computer database program is going to attract a lot more interest. The medium is the message and the Internet is a technological construct and within any technological construct, all relevant discussions are composed purely of content. There would be no place for discussing how an Open Source computer database program makes you feel—only for applicable ideas which might advance or refine the program. This is one of the reasons that I’m advocating for a division between the two—technology and policy—in these discussions. Technological choices need to be made and technological applications debated to find out which is the best suited to what it is that we’re trying to do. And one of the goals that I think is implied is the development of a template for the preservation of intellectual properties like Cerebus, either inside or outside of the comic-book field. My gut instinct tells me that the pre-eminent Internet presence of that intellectual property becoming a debating society/think tank/policy group with the goal of preserving the material is infinitely preferable to the only other present-day construct which is popularly viewed as viable: selling the rights to make a movie and hoping the movie is a big enough hit that it spawns a franchise and that the success of the franchise preserves the source material. I would argue that that doesn’t preserve the intellectual property at all, it just changes it from whatever it was into a movie franchise. How many copies are printed every year of A.A. Milne’s original Winnie the Pooh books versus the number of publications with the Disney version on them? How many of the original Ian Fleming James Bond titles are in print versus the number of videotapes of the Sean Connery movie adaptations? Movie franchises preserve movie franchises. Books are left to fend for themselves.

And with all deference, when you say “there’s simply no precedent for an on-line community surviving for that length of time [twenty years]” that’s only true because that’s how old the technology is—and that’s going back to the cybernetic stone age. It’s like saying in 1932 that you can’t picture movies lasting another twenty years because there’s no precedent for it. I do think the technology will change, but just in the way that computer technology does so now. You’ll all have to invest thousands of dollars in each new wave of computer technology that comes along, upgrading your equipment so you can continue doing what you’re doing now. You’ll probably be able to carry your folded up computer screen and keyboard in an inside pocket of your jacket, but I suspect you’ll still be typing for a number of years to come.

And Ger and I don’t plan on falling under a bus in the next couple of years, but then, no one does. I think I will have lived up to my responsibilities to the best of my abilities if I die suddenly having set in motion a dialogue on the preservation of the material and I will have lived up to my responsibilities to a greater extent if I have everything locked down tight by the time that I go—and to the greatest extent if the template that I’ve come up with in collaboration with the audience can be used as a template by others who suspect that Hollywood is a magpie, robbing the nests of others rather than an able custodian of intellectual properties.

I certainly hope you’re right that Cerebus won’t “grow massively beyond its current obscurity”. Actually discussing ideas at great length and in meticulous detail, I assume will assist in keeping the intellectual property a manageable size and make this environment a safe haven for those who think and who find thought preferable to being unthinking. That is, I think if the environment can be made as attractive as possible to those who [primarily or exclusively] think it will become naturally repellent to those who [primarily or exclusively] feel and we’ll already be a number of steps along in establishing a template for the preservation of thinking material.

Matthew Fabb – Actually, we had a falling out with Amazon last year over the way their operation is set up. They would fax orders to us that usually amounted to one copy of High Society and then two days later send another fax order voiding that order and then a week later send a fax telling us that copy of High Society was overdue. They were also late in paying and usually required numerous reminder notices before they sent in their cheque for $37.71 or whatever it was. Just more trouble than they’re worth. I don’t know if they still have the books listed on their website but if they are on there, they are misrepresenting themselves as an outlet for the Cerebus trades. It was one of those situations where I saw us as doing them a favour by selling them books and they saw themselves as doing us a favour by carrying the books. We’re at the point now where we prefer to just have the books available from comic book stores although we can’t prevent our distributors from selling to mainstream bookstores.

I’m sure the technology will develop where it will be possible to post video links and I’m sure largely illiterate people will jump at it and the message boards will have far fewer postings than they do today, but I assume they will become more literate as a result. People who prefer to write will write, people who prefer to video will video. If it happened tomorrow, the Newsgroup might drop from a list of 664 to 68, but I suspect you wouldn’t notice much of a difference since most of the video people would be MIA lurkers.

I don’t think people are naturally inclined to read vast amounts of text on television or to view pages they have to “click on”. It seems to me that the fact that newspapers haven’t been wiped out would indicate that that’s true. Video people would shower inside their televisions if they could and eat breakfasts made out of computer bytes. My own view is that those people are and will remain a tiny minority in our society.

As I said in the above reply, I’m sure everyone will still be spending thousands of dollars of computer upgrades, probably every six months, but I think they’ll be getting the same basic package that they are now.

R.. – Yes, I’m interested in reading what you have to write about the various entities that you’re discussing and you do raise an interesting point that the material is more apt to be preserved in a greater number of places because it’s “not encumbered by intellectual property rights”. Part of what you are discussing seems to be policy-based and part seems to be technology-based. I suspect that as long as the Newsgroup exists where it exists on Yahoo! that that will remain the destination of choice. Even if you could make a persuasive case for everyone going elsewhere that was more secure or elastic in the long term or more compatible or logistically amenable to our overall purposes you’d still have to persuade everyone to go there and the best you could hope for is an even split, I think, 332 at each site. That’s my biggest concern with multiple sites is that you divide the group according to differing levels of interest. Part of my was hesitant to even bring up the policy/technology division for that very reason. But, I suspect that technology isn’t actually a division to the technology-minded. Their primary interest is still that the environment discusses Cerebus and they’re interested in Cerebus. They just tend to have a better-than-average perception of how the nuts and bolts of the context work.

Larry Hart – Yes, I think that the nature of the group—just what “this group” constitutes—is very much at the core of the discussion that I’ve initiated. You’re right, I—personally—don’t have a particular interest in the specifics of which domain the website is hosted on, but then I’m completely ignorant of the nature of the structure and technology involved. And in areas where you’re completely ignorant it’s better to try to achieve a greater understanding before you get too entrenched in saying that it doesn’t matter to you. You can say, in Weimar Germany, “As long as the Communists don’t get into power” but that’s only sensible until it becomes apparent what the Nazis are, to use an extreme example. Just from this initial response, it seems to me to be important to maintain a unity on this present site while determining what the different elements are involved in the discussion. I think policy and technology are largely separate. I think policy dictates the preferred technology, but then I’m a policy person and not a technology person. I tend to think that the primary answer to the primary technology question—“where and how and when are we going to hold these discussions?”—is already implicitly answered: here, via computer and once a month (in my case) and whenever I have an idea to offer (in everyone else’s case).