Monday, March 16, 1998

A game for fools

So I graduated from UVA with a BA in English and a portfolio of my cartoons for The Declaration. Circa 1978, I showed up at The Sarasota Herald Tribune to see if they could use me as an illustrator.

The editor I talked to laughed.

Let me show you something, he said.

And he took me into the back room. It was something like the warehouse in Citizen Kane, a huge, dusty warehouse space rimmed with steel girders. One wall, it seemed, was filled to the top with bolted in industrial metal shelves. These shelves were stuffed to bursting with clipart books.

The man reached out and grabbed one of the books

And started flipping.

Here, a chef twirling a pizza. Here a chef twirling a mustache. Here, a chef twirling his mustache and a pizza. Here, a whole page of "YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF" illustrations, right next to a page of "HIRE THE EXPERT" illustrations. Damn hypocrites.

Predicting the future is, obviously, a game for fools.

I am that fool.

We're in the middle of an extremely bloody revolution though it's easy to miss because, in most cases, what's being bled isn't blood but money. The revolution is the revolution of digital imaging and what that means is, well...

Consider, by way of analogy, the world of music.

Once upon a time if you were a musician you played music and, if you were lucky enough, you were paid. There was nothing else.

Then Edison invented the phonograph.

Slowly, very slowly, the recorded-music industry came into being.

And, in less than a century, live musical performance is only a small subset of the music industry.

The same thing happened to acting. Once upon a time if you acted it was on stage -- or nowhere.

Then, once again, here comes Edison, this time with the movies...

But this kind of thing hasn't happened to the visual arts world -- not exactly -- even though there's printing...

Because printing to painting just ain't the same as a CD of a musical performance is to a performance...

The visual arts world is divided into two harshly opposed camps, namely commercial artists and fine artists.

Fine artists make static objects: paintings, sculpture, drawings. An object. One. You buy it and hang it on your wall or put it in your garden.

There may be reproductions, but the reproductions are very different and controlled via the whole dance of signed and number prints, limited editions, etc...

And then there are artists who do illustrations, artists who draw cartoons, artists who, by and large, feed what they're doing into the world of print.

The original ain't as important as the result -- though, in some cases, the original art may become valuable -- to begin with, it's just a tool, often disposable.

And it's often hard to tell -- even if you're the artists -- what's the original and what's the copy. You do an ink line drawing, copy it, then shade the copy. Which one's the original?

The particular cruelty of this, for static visual artists in general and cartoonists in particular, is the devaluation of what you do -- because what it's going into is, essentially, disposable -- and, unlike high-profile forgeries in the fine arts world -- what any cartonist does is very easily duplicated. This has the effect of making it very easy to steal. This also has the effect of allowing a handful of high-profile cartoonists to dominate the print market.

Each week, the daily newspaper gets a bundle of cartoons from the syndicates. Some are editorials, some are syndicated strips. Each packet (depending on the syndicate and a formula based on circulation) costs the newspaper anywhere from $25-$60.

Which means, essentially, that approximately 30 to 50 cartoonists can handle the daily cartooning needs for a nation of 250 million people.

Illustration is a different world, as are magazine cartooning and illustration. What these worlds have in common is fierce competition and a very, very limited supply of jobs.

Enter the digital revolution.

It's changing things, so slowly that it's hard to notice...

What it's doing, first of all, is allowing illustrators to be illustrators.

Marketing directors, editors, publishers and advertising agency honchos of course don't want this. What they want is $8 an hour grunts who, like busy machines, will grind out page after page of completed mechanicals, slapping clip art into the empty holes whenever possible--never their own work, because that's not what the grunts are being paid $8 an hour for.

But clip art is digital now.

Which means you can modify it -- easily. Flop it, distort it, clone it, colorize it. All that clip art has become digital which, instantly, turns it into one big swipe file -- opening up more possibilities of showing what you can do, or learning what you do better enough to move on.

The second thing it's doing is opening up more space for cartoonists and illustrators to get their stuff out their -- an alternative to the nosebleed world of fine arts, and the nasty, poor, brutish and short world of commercial art-for-print.

Sunday, March 15, 1998

The Bob Marley Trial

INT, Jamaican courtroom...seedy, tropical, with slow, creaking ceiling fans. PUBLIC DEFENDER and PROSECUTION are irritating, British and white. The JUDGE is laconic and black.

BOB MARLEY is in the dock. The PROSECUTION is grilling him.

PROSECUTION: Did you or did you not shoot the Sheriff on the day in question?

BOB MARLEY: I shot the Sheriff, but I didn't shoot no Deputy, oh no!

PROSECUTION: I didn't ask you about the Deputy.

BOB MARLEY: I shot the Sheriff but I didn't shoot no Deputy.

JUDGE: Defendant will please direct his responses to the current line of questioning.

PROSECUTION: Could you please tell us what happened on the day in question?

BOB MARLEY: Freedom came my way one day and I started out of town, yeah!

PROSECUTION:  "Freedom came my way one day"...what do you mean by that, Mr. Marley? You were not, in fact, incarcerated at the time -- yet you say "freedom came my way one day." In what sense were you not free? Is that simply your way of saying you had decided to leave town? Is there some reason you suddenly felt free to leave town, a reason, perhaps involving Sheriff John Brown?

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Objection! Leading the witness.

JUDGE: Sustained. Prosecution will please rephrase the question.

PROSECUTION: What did you mean by "freedom came my way one day" . . . ?

BOB MARLEY: (shrugging) Freedom came my way one day.

PROSECUTION:  In what sense?

BOB MARLEY: What sense?

PROSECUTION: What do you mean by "freedom come my way one day"...? What are you talking about?

BOB MARLEY: What am I talking about?

PROSECUTION: I asked you first.

BOB MARLEY: Talking about freedom, mon. That's dread.

PROSECUTION: What are you talking this specific instance...when you say "freedom came my way one day."

BOB MARLEY: Just freedom came my way one day, mon. Freedom. You know what freedom is?

PROSECUTION: I... (thinking better of it) ...never mind. So, what did you do when "freedom came your way," Mr. Marley?

BOB MARLEY: I started out of town, yeah.

PROSECUTION: What happened when you started out of town?

BOB MARLEY: Then all of a sudden I saw Sheriff John Brown. He was aiming to shoot me down.

PROSECUTION: And what did you do?

BOB MARLEY: I shot, yes, I shot - shot him down and I say, yeah...

PROSECUTION: No further questions, your honor.

BOB MARLEY: By-by-by - I shot the Sheriff...I didn't shoot no Deputy. Oh, no! Oh!

PROSECUTION: No further questions!

BOB MARLEY: It was I shot the Sheriff, but I didn't shoot no Deputy. Oo-ooh...

JUDGE: Defendant will please refrain from these outbursts. (to the PUBLIC DEFENDER) Your witness.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: You shot the Sheriff?

BOB MARLEY: But I did not shoot no Deputy.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Let's talk about the Sheriff.

BOB MARLEY: Deputy ain't got nothin' to do wit me...


BOB MARLEY: Ain't got a damn thing to do wit' it, mon.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: I believe you -- but let's talk about the Sheriff. Why did you shoot the Sheriff?

BOB MARLEY: Reflexes had the better of me.


BOB MARLEY: All of a sudden I saw Sheriff John Brown and he was aiming to shoot me down.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: So you shot...

BOB MARLEY: I shot him down.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: And this was in self defense?

BOB MARLEY: I swear it was in self-defense.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: You had no motive other than self-defense to shoot Sheriff John Brown?

BOB MARLEY: No, mon.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Why would Sheriff Brown want to shoot you?

PROSECUTION: Objection, your honor. Calls for speculation

PUBLIC DEFENDER: To your knowledge, did Sheriff Brown have a reason for attempting to shoot you?

BOB MARLEY: Sheriff John Brown always hated me.


BOB MARLEY: I don't know.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Then what made you think he hated you?

BOB MARLEY: Every time I plant a seed, he say, "Kill it before it grow." He say, "Kill it before they grow."

PUBLIC DEFENDER: No further questions.

JUDGE: Prosecution may cross-examine. Your witness.

PROSECUTION: You shot the Sheriff...and you swear it was in self-defense?

BOB MARLEY: I swear it was in self defense.

PROSECUTION: Why did you shoot him down?

BOB MARLEY: I already said.

PROSECUTION: Well, please refresh my memory, Mr. Marley -- why did you shoot him down?

BOB MARLEY: He was aiming to shoot me down.

PROSECUTION: And of course, Sheriff John Brown was the one who raised his weapon first, hmmm? We're supposed to believe that? He had no possible provocation -- he wasn't trying to defend himself from you?


PROSECUTION: You didn't draw first? You didn't have a gun in your hand?


PROSECUTION: You weren't waiting for him?


PROSECUTION: Here you are, walking out of town -- "all of a sudden" you see the Sheriff gunning for you. He's got the drop on you. You've got only microseconds to react -- and you do. You reach for your gun and you "shoot him down." You outdraw him -- a trained law-enforcement professional?

BOB MARLEY: Reflexes got the better of me.

PROSECUTION: And it's just a question of reflexes?


PROSECUTION: You had no reason to suspect that Sheriff John Brown was waiting for you?

BOB MARLEY: No, mon.

PROSECUTION: You weren't already holding your gun -- waiting for him?


PROSECUTION: So this was totally unpremeditated?

BOB MARLEY: Just reflexes, mon.

PROSECUTION: You must have pretty good reflexes Mr. Marley, pretty good reflexes indeed. Where were you carrying your gun?

BOB MARLEY: My troousers, mon. In de belt.

PROSECUTION: Could you show the court? (pulling out a gun) With the court's permission...this is of course not loaded...

JUDGE: Court will allow.

PROSECUTION: (handing gun to BOB MARLEY) How were you carrying the gun?

BOB MARLEY: I told you. (sliding gun into belt) Like dis, mon.

With blistering speed, the PROSECUTOR draws another gun, aims it at MARLEY's head. BOB MARLEY blinks, slowly, like a lizard, then reaches for his gun -- reaching for the wrong side first -- then reaching for the other side, fumbling. Then laughing...

BOB MARLEY: Oh, I see mon. You setting me up...

PROSECUTION: (sarcastically) Such lightning-fast reflexes. My, my.

BOB MARLEY: That's not fair, mon...

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Objection! Prosecution is attempting to prejudice the jury with obvious theatrics...

BOB MARLEY:  Dem rude boys keep me up in jail all night.

PROSECUTION: With the court's permission...Prosecution is attempting to show that his ganga-soddened reflexes aren't...

BOB MARLEY: I and I fucking tired, mon'...

JUDGE: Court moves to disallow -- and instructs the jury to disregard -- and instructs the defendent to please restrain himself.

PROSECUTION: We'll proceed with another line of questioning, your honor. So, Mr. Marley -- you shot the Sheriff?

BOB MARLEY: But I did not shoot no Deputy.

PROSECUTION: Stop talking about the Deputy. I'm asking about the Sheriff.

BOB MARLEY: No way did I shoot no Deputy.

PROSECUTION: Right. Well, let's move on to the Sheriff, shall we?

BOB MARLEY: I liked the Deputy.

PROSECUTION: I'm sure you did. But what did you do after you shot the Sheriff? You ran, didn't you?

BOB MARLEY: All around in my home town, they trying to track me down. They say they want to bring me in guilty for the life of a Deputy.

PROSECUTION: Oh not that again...

BOB MARLEY: For the life of a Deputy....

PROSECUTION: What Deputy? (starting to get a little shrill) I'm not asking about the Deputy.

BOB MARLEY: But I say, yeah...I shot the Sheriff, but I swear it was in self defence.

JUDGE: Order!

BOB MARLEY: I swear it was in self defence, yea-ea-eah! It was I who shot the Sheriff...

JUDGE: (pounding gavel) Order in this courtroom!

BOB MARLEY: Oo-ooh...

Judge gives him an evil look.


PROSECUTION: Right -- let's move on then, with no more talk of imaginary deputies. Now, Mr. Marley, without mentioning the deputy in any way, you have admitted that you -- supposedly -- an innocent man, ran. Why did you run, Mr. Marley?

BOB MARLEY: They say it is a capital offense.

PROSECUTION: Shooting the Sheriff?

BOB MARLEY: No, mon. Shooting the Deputy.

PROSECUTION: (closing his eyes, grinding his teeth, opening his eyes) What Deputy?

BOB MARLEY: I shot the Sheriff. But I didn't shoot no Deputy.

PROSECUTION: (ready to explode) The Deputy...the Deputy. You keep mentioning "the Deputy," Mr. Marley, yet so far no one has been accused of shooting any Deputy.

BOB MARLEY: Whoever he is, I didn't shoot him.

PROSECUTION: (exasperated) WHAT Deputy? What in bloody hell are you talking about?

BOB MARLEY: Oh no! Oh!

JUDGE: Prosecution is instructed to move to a more relevant line of questioning.

PROSECUTION: He brought it up! He keeps talking about the bleeding Deputy, doesn't he?

JUDGE: Don't.


JUDGE: Just don't.

PROSECUTION: Sorry. Sorry, Judge, of course I won't. Bit on edge there...I quite apologize...yes, of course, right, OK, certainly...where were we? Mr. Marley admits to shooting the Sheriff. Mr. Marley is running. Mr. Marley, Mr. Marley, yes, well. What was going through your mind at the time, Mr. Marley? You're an innocent man. You've just killed another man in self-defence, yet you ran. What were you thinking?

BOB MARLEY: What is to be must be. Every day the bucket goes to the well. I say, one day the bottom a-go drop out. One day the bottom will drop out.


The PROSECUTION stands there, blinking, for half a minute.

PROSECUTION: (shaking his head) I suppose that's it. No further questions, your honor.

JUDGE: (to the PUBLIC DEFENDER) Defense may now cross examine.

PD: Mr. Marley, is it possible that the "seeds" the Sheriff objected to were in fact the seeds of ganja and Rastafarianism and that, hypothetically, the missing Deputy sympathized with your point of view, growing whiteboy dreadlocks, listening to reggae in his spare time and smoking ganga -- ganga which he had bought from you and your "seeds," attempting thusly to buy coolness for his crackerass Barney Fife self as you, simulateously, were attempting to buy your way out of the poverty of this sinkhole of Carribean decadence by making a demo album for Island Records, the "freedom" you so dearly sought, and, one day, eventually obtained -- by the income you received selling ganga to the Deputy who, in turn, had become, in his newfound coolness, the object of sexual attention by the Sheriff's wife -- a Sheriff who, in his impotence and rage, eventually shot the Deputy, a fact which you discovered as, on the day freedom "came your way," you were at last leaving town and, as a matter of courtesy, had come to pay him one last call -- only to find the Deputy's newly-shot body -- which the Sheriff later disposed of -- you immediately surmised what was afoot, armed yourself, and attempted to leave this island and -- while not premeditating the murder of the Sheriff, you were at least able to defend yourself. In short, when the moment came in which Sheriff John Brown attempted to ambush you -- you, and your reflexes, were at least ready. Something like that?

BOB MARLEY: It was I shot the sheriff, but I didn't shoot no deputy, I didn't shoot no deputy. Oo-ooh. No-no-no-no-no!

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Defense rests, you honor.

JUDGE: Prosecution may cross examine.

BOB MARLEY And so - and so, read it! I shot the Sheriff, But I didn't shoot no deputy. Oh no, oh! I shot the sheriff, But I didn't shoot no Deputy. Oo-ooh.

PROSECUTION: Why bother? (throws papers in the air) No further questions, your honor. Prosecution rests.