scott mccloud

scott mccloud

[Laughs.] Okay. Well, my name is Scott McCloud. I'm a 59-year-old comic-book artist living in Southern California and I've been making comics since 1984.

I also write about comics and I'm probably known for that about as much as for my fiction, and best known especially for a book from 1993 called Understanding Comics. So, I tend to write about comics as an artform and how they operate and how the mind processes those images in sequence and what happens between the panels. That sort of thing. I also have a keen interest in comics and technology.

So, when I asked you via email, "Do you pay attention to videogames?" or if I say the words "game industry," does either of those conjure up any sort of image to you? Does anything come to mind? Do you pay attention to videogames at all?

Well, you know, I'm very industry-agnostic but I'm interested in videogames as an artform as well. Just as with comics, I think there is a kind of creative DNA at the heart of most mediums of expression or entertainment and it often gets obscured by the circumstance of various companies, characters, genres, habits that people fall into and sometimes we can mistake an artform's history for its potential future.

I think videogames are certainly in that category, and I think that there are a number of people who see videogames as having tremendous potential to grow and to move in little bit of a different direction and grow beyond the stereotypes. It can sometimes be an uphill battle because, of course, expectations are very much shaped by what people have already experienced. So, just as comics didn't always have to be stapled superheroes, and just as the last 20 years has really proven that, I think that games will probably go through a similar transformation in the next 20 years.

So, I don't know. I forget when that VR thing was that I followed up with you about originally, and I'm not really going to dwell on it but since you mention the last 20 years and the next 20 years: Can you talk about the early days of CD-ROM and whether there's anything about this particular push of VR or even the '90s push of VR that reminds you of those early days, breathless excitement for CD-ROM?

I'm actually gonna place myself on the optimistic side of the fence.

I don't think that the current interest in VR is any kind of overhyped bubble. I think that it’s the real thing. I think that probably in the next few years, we're going to be experiencing something that actually delivers on some of that early promise, that early hype back in the '90s. Paul Saffo, I think, had said something to the effect that it takes about 20 years for new ideas to kind of go through their hype cycle and go through early implementations -- a lot of hype and a lot of excitement and then kind of dying on the vine and be buried and forgotten and then actually happen.

And we do see that with a number of things. The web itself went through something like that, with people like Ted Nelson making lots of noise in the early '70s, but it wasn't until the early '90s that things got interesting. VR is like that for a number of reasons. I think that -- I mean, there were certainly technical limitations, of course. Latency and processing and all that. It's not a simple problem to implement that stuff. But I think maybe there was also a misunderstanding of its value.

Something that I've come to understand recently is the ways in which we're able to cognitively model and see experiences from different sources -- things like moving about a scene or occlusion or foreshortening or atmospherics and all these things that help create a sense of a 3D space in our minds, so that when you add parallax in the form of, you know, let's say 3D glasses at the movies, that helps bolster the effect of 3D but it's not as transformational as I think many of us really expected.

We expected that once true 3D movie-going experiences came along, that it would just knock our socks off, that it would become indispensable. That hasn't happened. And that's because we were able to produce that interior sense of navigating a 3D space pretty well previous to that. But where parallax is very important, where having those two eyes, those two subtly different vantage points on the world through those two eyes becomes enormously important is in the manipulation of things in 3D space.

That's, I think, one of the reasons why it was exciting for me to try Tilt Brush recently. The business of creating something in a 3D space, where painting a line and painting another line in front of it or between it? That's a very different experience because it's not a spectator sport. It's not a matter of just leaning back as you might with those New York Times videos on your Google Cardboard viewer. You know, it's different to make something. It's different to manipulate something in space with your hands. And that was the missing ingredient. And I think that's going to be the game changer.

It's still siloed in this high-end expensive computationally intensive little ivory tower and we're not entirely sure when it's going to be released from that and become more mainstream and more accessible, but I'm interested to see what happens with low-rent alternatives like the controller that's being introduced. The cardboard. Anything that will help get it out there in a more affordable way or PlayStation and whatnot.

You mentioned movie-going experiences, and I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the rise of superheroes in movie theaters. I think there's a similar parallel in videogames with things that are superheroes or superhero-like have dominated the mainstream releases for a long time. Maybe this sounds like an obvious or abstract question, but why do you think things have settled to be that way? That superheroes are not considered niche, and things that are not are?

They're just being done well. Fantasies are a pretty basic kind of button-pushing that a narrative can provide. [Laughs.] I think previous to this era, they just weren't done particularly well. Along came people who better understood what the appeal was and how to leverage it -- who understood how to take something that had a certain amount of ridiculous to it and turn that ridiculousness to their advantage.

I'm thinking of, you know, like, the terrific sense of humor in a movie like The Avengers, for example, which, nevertheless has a fair amount of gravity and drama to it. Not in spite of the humor but to some degree because of it. It doesn't have this humorlessness that can sometimes weigh down things like that.

It's important when looking at comics and superhero movies, I do want to stress that superheroes are a genre which was born within that artform but it's not synonymous with it. One of the first battles that we started fighting way back in the '80s was trying to get across the message that comics are not a genre, they're a medium.

And the genre is just a subset of that medium. Obviously, the same is true with games. But it's not -- the problem is not success breeding success. The problem occurs when you have a field in which it's either our attention or literal shelf space in the case of physical markets, brick and mortar markets, such that even as a popular genre may be growing and thriving, it still needs that open space for other new ventures, new genres, new subject matter to at least be born. And for much of the 20th century that was impossible. As soon as you had a genre which was selling 20 percent better than the other genres, it took up 100 percent of the shelf space.


It didn't reflect its potential proportionately. It simply took every atom oxygen there was.

It's interesting in the case of superheroes I think we're talking with, even some of the more mainstream superheroes, some of these characters have been around for 50, maybe 60 years. Sometimes longer.


And yet, I feel sometimes when they're marketed that they're maybe trying to tap into the nostalgia element. I don't know if you agree with that, but how can we be nostalgic for something that never really takes a break? [Laughs.]

Yeah, I don't think the nostalgia really drives the current spate of superhero movies. I think it may produce nostalgia for some, to look at that stuff and remember the comics they'd read as a kid. But nostalgia is certainly not the selling point. Not for most of its audience.

Most of the audience for most of those movies probably -- they haven't read old Roy Thomas, John Buscema issues of The Avengers. [Laughs.] I mean, that's a pretty small slice of the public. I think most are picking up on it because it's really fun, people are flying around and hitting things, and it's cool. [Laughs.] They're just cool. People enjoy them. I think they're good movies. I think a lot of the Marvel movies were good. I think that other stuff like Scott Pilgrim or American Splendor or Ghost World were fantastic movies. Persepolis was a great movie.

There are a lot of comic-based movies that I think are just really good movies. Some of them manage that by -- my feeling with those adaptations is that ideas from the source material can make it a better movie. I hope that they'll take that opportunity. In cases where the source material does not necessarily serve the picture, I hope they ignore it. All that matters is that the filmmakers have as much pride in their work and in their medium as the original cartoonists hopefully did in theirs.

I wonder if it's a similar thing -- you mentioned Scott Pilgrim, which may be the closest thing to a videogame movie that critics think was well done and audiences think is well done.

Yeah. I certainly do.

I've talked to people for this where there's speculation or the attitude that we're not seeing good videogame movies yet because the source material isn't good or there isn't that much of a narrative taking place. Or do you think it's similar to what you said with superheroes where regardless of the source material, it's just that someone hasn't come along yet and done them justice?

Well, the thing with games is tricky because comics were more like movies to start with in the sense that they are authored narrative works that are meant to produce something of a lean-back experience. I mean, they're interactive to a degree but still it's a fully created and authored narrative experience. Whereas, games, by their nature, at their heart, that experience is authored by the user. And so, it can be frustrating having something that's overly constructed as a narrative experience. You know, the frustration of cutscenes, for example. Who wants a two-hour cutscene?


There is something conspicuously missing from any videogame, and that's you. That's your agency, that's your ability to effect the work, to create the work. You're the creator of the work in a good game. And I mean that in the broadest sense. In a game of chess, in a game of badminton, in a game of video poker or something. [Laughs.] You are the author of your experience. And that's not just my idea. That goes way back, designer Doug Church had first mentioned that to me -- some of them who first met back in '99 were already toying with this idea.


Not to quote you back to you, but you had mentioned in a TED Talk -- you were talking about how all media provides us with a window back onto our world. Maybe that sounds familiar, maybe not.


Do you feel like some media are better suited to different types of exploration of different parts of our world? Are comics specifically better at things that maybe videogames are not?

It stands to reason that each artform is going to have certain strengths and weaknesses, but I'm a bit allergic to declaring something off limits, to ever saying that a given subject might be ill-served by a given artform because everytime I think there's something like that that comics can't do, somebody goes and disproves me.


You know, disproves the theory, and in fact does indeed use comics to explain that thing, to explain, say, higher mathematics or quantum theory or something you thought wouldn't really work in that medium. So, at this point I kind of have a blanket policy of, while acknowledging that in theory that certain artforms may have blind spots, may have handicaps, that it's not my place to ever try to nail them down or try to figure out something that comics can't do or that games can't do or that movies can't do. Because chances are better than even that I'll be wrong in the long run.

I think that's a good thing, right? Don't we want to be proven wrong about these kinds of things, to be surprised by the potential?

Yeah. Yeah, the one constant is that everyone carries with them a presupposition of the limitations of any artform, which is the gamut of which is far too small. That's the constant. That's the one thing I can say again and again. It's very rare that somebody sees in any medium or artform too much potential. It's almost always the reverse. And you can go back to the early days of radio and television and see the exact same conversation. It's usually something to do with education. But they were never proven wrong by history. They were merely reduced because of overlooked profits by shortsighted implementations of the information and technology that followed.

Meaning, they weren't wrong. They weren't wrong about the educational potential of radio. They weren't wrong about the potential of television. That's just simply not where audiences and industries happen to go.

Similarly, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the internet and the way that it has changed things for creators. I think rather than talk specifically about videogames, I wanted to dip back to something that I think you were one of the first or among the first supporters of, critics on, and commentator on, which was micropayments for creators.


I know obviously -- you said you were reluctant to hammer things down, but you do have that Creator's Bill of Rights.


How have your opinions on micropayments changed over the last, what is it, 15 years now?

Well, for years I'd have to say micropayments was kind of my Waterloo. [Laughs.] I was fascinated by and extremely passionate about several different aspects of comics and technology, about digital production and digital distribution, and maybe most passionate about the creative possibilities of comics when released from the constrictions of the printed page -- something that I think a lot of people still don't fully understand. But when it came to the business end, I saw what what I called that frictionless economy -- I saw the most important component to that as the ability of people to pay fairly small amounts of money very quickly and easily. The equivalent of just tossing nickels and dimes back and forth. Some said that it was technically impossible, which at the time, I thought was ridiculous and I think it's ridiculous now. And some like Clay Shirky insisted that it was a poor fit to the way people actually consume media and it was just wishful thinking on the part of producers.

He was definitely right in the short term, but the principals have talked about the outsized power of the consumer dollar, when that dollar was only trend rather than reduced fit size. That dynamic has since been pretty clearly demonstrated by crowdfunding in the years since. I still think it's important that there needs to be some very simple way to trade very small amounts of money transparently and quickly, but the pay-for-play aspect of at this point -- it's pretty unlikely that we're going to have anything quite like what I envisioned in the next 20 years. Now, on the other end, micropayments themselves may turn out to be fairly inevitable. I was at Foo Camp recently -- the Friends of O'Reilly gathering, this sort of think tank-y thing up in Sebastopol, California, hosted by O'Reilly Publishing. They'll always get a bunch of very interesting geeks up there. I've been up to a few. There was one interested in alternate payment systems, and her feeling about micros was that they were inevitable if only because what we look at as a very small amount of money in some parts of the world could be the price of a meal, and so this idea of trading the equivalent of five and 10 cents was essential in a lot of developing nations. That makes a lot of sense. She also thought it could be very decentralized. I thought there had be a centralized form of alternate currency with a trusted vendor, and she thought there could be many vendors of the currency, which is interesting and not something I'd really considered at the time. But then, you know, I'm a cartoonist, so what do I know?

[Laughs.] Don't say that a half-hour into my interview with you. I'm hoping to learn some things here.


[Laughs.] No pressure, though.

Yeah. [Laughs.]


But I think when you break it down to the fundamentals that you wrote about a while ago -- and I think this is still true -- for payments like that to work of any stripe, like you said, for it to be viable you have to make it clear that your work is worth their time. But I do wonder maybe 15 years later, as the tools of distribution and creation for so many different artforms are so readily available, it feels like there is something more that creators have to do to demonstrate that their work deserves compensation -- beyond the fact that it's just worth their time. Would you agree with that, or --

Well, clearly the value proposition is one of those things that sunk micros. I'm sure the critics of micropayments would point to other aspects of it as well. and I don't have a lot of authority to contradict them at this late day.


I mean, we failed. But I do think maybe the value proposition for any economy requires a certain amount of stability.

You mean in the greater economy?

In any economy, generally, you need a series of reliable experiences repeated over the course of months and years and decades such that if there is a ramping up of value in a given case that everybody is very clear on exactly what that is. And at the time we were trying to push this in 2005 -- my God, I mean, it was the Stone Age --

In internet terms, yes.

[Laughs.] We didn't even have reliable JavaScript yet. Yeah, I think back then the value itself was in flux and value requires a certain amount of stability.

It's probably not a surprise for you to hear -- I mean, if I tell you I'm a writer and a journalist you can assume certain things. I've known musicians and artists, and artists of all stripes have always had trouble paying rent.


But the consensus among my circles is that there seems to be a disappearing or just a complete lack of "nobility obliges" dynamic of the conversation, where people who have more maybe should be a little bit more inclined to give back or to be patrons. Do you sense that? Has there been an erosion of that? Or has it just been a constant?

[Pause.] I think patronage is kind of absent from the landscape, actually, for much of my life. It's only recently that the notion of patronage has been becoming more mainstream. [Pause.] I mean, it was all business for a few decades there.


I mean, I think of patronage of the early 20th century and what is it? William Randolph Hearst putting Krazy Kat in his newspapers even though nobody wanted to read the damn thing?


[Laughs.] Now we have the era of Amanda Palmer and the various denizens of Patreon and Kickstarter.


That seems, to me, to be a much more robust landscape of patronage than anything we had, let's say, in the '80s. I'm not even sure. Like, apart from people giving money to their local symphony or NPR, I mean, what was patronage in those days?

I think it feels like a centuries-old concept.

Yeah. Yes. And with some centuries-old baggage and potential toxicity, but no, I think the disenfranchisement among a lot of young artists has more to do with what used to be a more broad and stable entry-level industry. Yeah, you could always get work somewhere doing something for somebody.

Like, when I was an illustration major in Syracuse in the late '70s and early '80s, it was understood that if you're an illustrator, "Well, you could always work for Screw. [Laughs.] Apparently there was this magazine called Screw that a lot of alumni of Syracuse or schools of visual arts -- could always get some illustration work at Screw. That was kind of like getting work at the post office: "Yeah, you could work at Screw for a little while." That's one of the things that's disappearing, that sort of guaranteed shitty paycheck for artists.

This is true.

But that wasn't patronage, of course. That was just the industry. That was the flotsam and jetsam of the industry.

It was a job.

It was a job. It was an actual job.

[Laughs.] In games -- I'm not sure if you've heard about this, but there's this thing called Fig, which is basically micropayments by way of microinvestments.


So, unlike Kickstarter or Patreon, which are both seemingly fairly saturated platforms, with Fig you're actually getting equity. It's sort of a new thing, it's untested, I'm not really asking for you to have a "hot take" or opinion on it.


But what do you make of that dynamic, of allowing your fans to be investors and then profiting off the work that they're giving you money to do instead of, "Here, have some money and go off and do the thing you want to do."

[Pause.] You know, one of the interesting things about that stuff is one of the things that fuels solutions like that is income in equity, right? So, the degree to which the society is progressively unequally is the degree to which that sort of thing seems increasingly attractive. Like that woman up at Foo Camp telling me about how micropayments might be macropayments in a developing nation. Which, of course, brings us back to -- fuckin' Adam Smith and his invisible hand. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Yeah. Yeah.

[Laughs.] You know, my little libertarian wonder if, "Okay, maybe one way or another things really do have a sort of reversion to the mean built into the system, just built into the physics of economics that one way or another things sort of tend to flow back in a tidal fashion.”

But I don't know. I'm not sure. Like, some of it runs on faith. Just as Kickstarter runs on faith. People do give to projects that are not fulfilled. People do give a dollar every month to the Patreon accounts of artists who they don't realize for years aren't producing much. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] They just like the idea of giving them money.

But then, you know, you might give money to the guy sitting on the corner who's gonna -- like, you don't know that he's gonna use it for food or drugs.

Right. Right.

You don't really know but you're not gonna sweat it that much because it's just a buck and it's a way of living to put that message in a bottle, to just send a little goodwill headed across the ocean without any guarantee of where it's gonna end up. I think there's something appealing about that. It's a kind of tribute to one's understanding of one's own good fortune that that's even an option for you.

I know obviously the web-comic gold rush is long over, but I'd be curious to hear you talk about before the internet of today became the internet of today -- in TV, the goal under the old model was to get to 100 episodes and be in syndication.

[Laughs.] Yeah.

But during that era, what did success look like for an aspiring or even burgeoningly established writer or artist in comics?

Which era precisely? What years are we talking?

I guess I'm talking about the ‘70s and '80s and '90s.

Yeah, things were in flux during that period. What I often tell young artists is that when I got into comics in the late '70s, let's say the top 10 most successful people in my business were all successful in exactly the same way. By today, the top 10 most successful people in my business are all successful in 10 different ways. Each one of them has invented their own definition of success. They created something which couldn't be ignored, something that incited a certain degree of passion and devotion on the part of an audience, and then that simply became the rushing river that they had to either divert or build a dam around or make a water wheel or start selling off by the bottle. One way or the other, the water was money, but each of them found a way to make it so. I think that's healthy because just sort of the way perception works, that draws focus to the constant, and the constant is the work rather the method.

Do those people wanting to break in, do they understand what you mean when you say that?

I just tell them that all they have to do is create something really great and then tell somebody and then wait to figure out how that's gonna make them money. But then I always caution them that step one could take 20 years.

Yeah, and that's if you're lucky because it might never happen at all.

Yeah. Creating the great thing. And I also tell them that "good enough" isn't good enough.

That's true in videogames as well. I think of everywhere, now.

Well, videogames also have the additional challenge of scale unless you're going to do something as part of an indie-game jam or something.

The people who are the 10 most successful people in comics today, what do they use their clout for? Are they able to get clout? Are they able to do anything with it?

Oh, I mean, at the end of the day people want more or less the same thing, which is they want a pile of money so they can take care of themselves and their family and so they can keep making what they're making assuming that they enjoy making it, which they usually do.

And they want to reach as many people as possible and just improve their lives and the lives of the people reading their stuff. But money takes care of most of that, doesn't it? [Laughs.] If you make enough, you can keep making it. And then, really, I think the goal of most of the really good artists is to stop thinking about money entirely and having enough of it is usually the best way to do that. Then you can just think about the work. I was grateful my agent got me a good deal on the last graphic novel so I could spend every single waking hour thinking about the graphic novel instead of thinking about money. It was great.

When I have conversations with people in comics, they tell me they have a lot of the same problems as the people in the videogame industry. A lot of the same labor issues, a lot of the same issues with toxic or abusive portions of the audience, so when people get clout in the comics world, is it rarely used to address or assuage those types of problems? Because they really don’t in games.

[Exhales.] It's a little different.


Gaming is more of a collective. Most people working in games are working as part of large teams, so labor issues often have more of a conventional consciousness-raising union-style concern to them. It's a matter of a community trying to advocate for better treatment. That sort of thing.

You're saying by definition, it's bigger groups of people to produce --

Yeah. It's bigger groups of people, so it has dynamics more in accord with other forms of labor. In comics, of course, we're all our own little weird little idiosyncratic fiefdoms. [Laughs.] Very often it's just a single artist forming their own little cottage industry, and many of us don't have to deal necessarily with a publisher or we might be self-publishing online. I don't personally, but a lot of people do.


And also, in terms of community, while community of comics readers can be challenging at times, I think the fever is running a bit higher in games at the moment in terms of the stresses of gender dynamics and other issues. It's just right now that's an especially hot topic in games.

Right. Right.

It's a little more muted in comics, which I think is just not so aggressive but whatever. [Laughs.] We're just a little bit more bucolic. We're just a little bit more laid-back and hippie-ish, maybe, in comics. Whereas, with games, there's always a monster to be slain, real or imagined.

Interesting. Is that the media theorist in you talking, or do you just think that's how the audience has happened to coalesce? Because I've talked to a lot of other comics people who have said otherwise.

Nah, it's really just clumsy stereotyping of a misunderstood medium. I'll probably regret having even said that. [Laughs.]


I wanted to ask a little bit about the Creator's Bill of Rights. I don't know how long ago that feels to you, but how do you feel that the work-for-hire dynamic is taken too far in comics routinely?

It's changed a lot.

Yeah. Yeah.

You know, when we got together to talk about some of these issues in 1990 or '89, it's one or the other and I always mix up whether it's the 24-Hour Comic was one of those or the other. But the Bill of Rights, I suggested a meeting of creators at this creator's summit. They were pretty concerned with distributor issues in those days, but I suggested the Bill of Rights more as a document of rights that our individual artists have when negotiating with publishers. It's more about the publisher-artist relationship. At least, that's how I saw it.

A lot of those provisions really are standard now with a lot of contracts. It's not true at Marvel, especially now that they're owned by Disney, or DC, which has always been pretty grabby. I suppose that they've progressed only slightly. But my feeling was just that creators have quite a bit of power if they simply recognize it in themselves. That they have all that power, they have all that control until they sign it away.

And it's telling that two of the participants in that meeting where I proposed the Creator's Bill of Rights were Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who had created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Who retained the rights to their creations and became millionaires many times over as a result.

Yeah, I think I read that they helped fund one of your books. Was it the Understanding Comics book?

Yeah, Kevin Eastman created a publisher called Tundra and Understanding Comics was one of the projects that they funded in their brief existence. [Laughs.] For which I'll always be grateful, of course. But, yeah, so we had them, we had the Image boys shortly after the Bill of Rights, the Image Comics creators who struck off on their own to make their own new characters. There'd been something of an IP strike. I think for many, many years writers and artists were reluctant to create brand new characters that would then be owned lock, stock, and barrel by the company. Without the promise that they would have some control or at least some participation in the profit generated by those characters, there wasn't much reason to create them. And that's another reason why a lot of the old characters were persisting, because there just weren't nearly as many new ones being created for that reason.

Do you feel that -- should it be amended for today's internet age? I interviewed a political cartoonist for this, and she talked to me about how it's murky legal territory to have her work be redistributed on Twitter or on web sites that don't give her credit but embed her work without permission.


I'm sure this is among the least of the ways that piracy is rampant on the internet, but are there ways that you think are particularly damaging to cartoonists on the internet?

Well, I don't know. You really have to look at it holistically as part of a much broader issue of the vanishing of impermeable membranes, the vanishing of scarcity, the convergence of media. It's still a useful word, convergence.


It is a convergence of sorts. And the dynamics of it, I mean, there's almost too much to say, but it's all part of the bigger picture as people find themselves sliding down the long tail of an increasingly saturated media landscape. It's just -- riding those waves, the waves are getting shallower and I don't have a simple solution for it, except to note that there are still success stories. They do still exist. But they were always the minority, of course. I mean, those going into comics in 1981 had no better chance of being among the lucky few than artists now do. There was just a more well-worn path, that's all.

Sometimes I think back on bands I heard about in the '80s and '90s and, like, just a couple weeks ago I was trying to figure out: Is it more impressive that I heard about bands like that back then, or is it more impressive that I hear about bands I'm surprised I really like today? I ask a lot of people I interview this question: Have we become better gatekeepers than the gatekeepers we had when we had gatekeepers?

It depends. I think I'm probably a better gatekeeper than the gatekeepers I had.


Because I'm pretty conscientious about that. I keep trying to expose myself to new stuff. There's plenty of stuff that I enjoy in all artforms that's just from the last few years. So, I'm certainly not, as a 59-year-old man, I'm not sitting around the house moaning that there hasn't been a good cartoon since Scooby-Doo or anything like that.


[Laughs.] Which is just so wrong on its face.

Well, it's just a funny sentence.

Yeah. Yeah, I think some are, some aren't. Some people are lazy. Some people just don't want to bother. But for those who put in even a minimal effort, who at the very least check out the shows that all their friends are talking about, at the very least will click on the recommendations of a new album or something like that, they're in pretty good shape. And my God, network TV? Commercial radio? [Sighs.] Even at its best, even the really great stations like WBCN in Boston, when I was a teenager, or KCRW -- even that seems like a narrow pipe next to all the ways we have of finding things on our own.

I wanted there to be more sort of low-orbit gatekeepers, tastemakers, and critics circles. That's an economy that I hoped would also be fueled by micropayments, but without the payments, it's just been a sort of a race to the bottom in terms of recommendation services --

And the rise of --

The algorithms --

Yeah, I was about to say, and the rise of algorithms.

Yeah, and the algorithms, actually, at the beginning I thought they were quite promising. I was very impressed with them with, like, Pandora at the beginning. Then they seem to just devolve into something less useful.

Well, as I'm sure you know, they also don't pay artists all that much money. So it's kind of a lose-lose.

Well, that's something else, again.


I'm talking about in terms of being able to analyze the musical tastes and intelligently discern what the formal qualities of that music are such that they can recommend other artists. That's one question. That's an AI question.

As far as the fraction of a penny stuff on Spotify, there are a couple of different dimensions to that. It's an unacceptable model when the service itself really is just trying to make money by other means, like Apple just trying to sell the hardware. It's also obscene when you have the previously indispensable middle man of the music publisher just raking in 90 percent of what dough there is. from an already small reservoir of money. There's just a lot of things wrong with that.

But the most unfurnished problem is us, because we really would like to have access to all music on the planet for the least amount. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] It's a reasonable demand.

I only have a few more for you. A while back, Simon Pegg had written this essay or blog post about this generation's "prolonged youth" of late Gen-Xers and millennials have "channeled [their] childhood passions into adult life." Do you remember that post that I’m talking about?

I remember that it existed but I have a very sketchy memory of it.

That's totally fine. I'm curious if you feel like you've seen the effects of that sort of nostalgia that I mentioned earlier in this way. Do you feel it influences mainstream comics in the way it influences TV and film?

To cling to one's youth can mean two different things. Are you speaking of clinging to the remnants of one's youth or clinging to the spirit of one's youth? I really don't see nostalgia as being the operative force. I don't know. Somehow I just don't think that nostalgia is driving culture right now. There are certain IP that's being kept going, in the case of the Marvel movies and whatnot.


And yeah, there's a lot of just remaking stuff because nobody really wants to take a chance on something that's genuinely new. But, I mean, just divvy it up by artform and I don't see the problem. You know? I don't think Steven Universe has anything to do with nostalgia. I think the really great stuff coming out of Pixar may spark a certain amount of nostalgia, but that's not why it's great and why we all love it. It's because it's great storytelling.

I think music is in surprisingly good shape, seeing as how all of them are starving and eat each other like the Donner Party or something just to survive. They're still making great stuff. In comics -- comics has actually kind of shaken off its nostalgia. There's very little nostalgia in the comics that matter. Even the superhero scene, I think, is trying to be a little more bracingly new than they have been previously. Remember, when I say comics, I'm not picturing the stapled superhero magazines anyway. For the most part, I'm thinking of graphic novels and the kids' comics movement, which is exploding right now, partially fueled by all those manga kids who grew up.And the stuff going on on the web and the graphic novels, which are -- yeah, the graphic-novel scene is new. I don't know. It just doesn't strike me as an age of nostalgia. I don't see much evidence of that.

Let me ask you one last question. I usually ask people this about videogames, but what do you think comics have accomplished?

Well, I'm on record as seeing each narrative artform as offering a window through which we can view the world that we live in, and the value the unique qualities of each artform is that it -- I mean, the proliferation in the number of those windows and the number of vantage points through which we can see the world that we live in. I think that's useful. Just like it's useful to see the world through the eyes of many others.

So, that diversity of all kinds, I think, has created benefits and benefits of knowledge. And I just see comics as part of that landscape. I don't want to elevate them to be better than any other artform. It's more that I think we have to have respect for every artform and we have to have respect for what makes each artform unique. That's been my crusade with comics, and I see others who want the same things for videogames. I hope they achieve that. The degree to which people are up in arms about wanting to keep videogames the way they are, I think they're really missing the boat.

An artform doesn't have to be lifted off of one square of the chess board and put down on another. Ideally, it should grow. Its territory should grow. To create new games of a sort that we've never seen before doesn't mean the abandonment of the old. It should strive in all those directions at once.

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