The webcomics blog about webcomics

Mea Culpa

Well, what can I say about my little sabbatical? It seemed like an increase in work (uh, and rollerderby) coupled with a drop in the number of webcomics I’m reading. Every once in a while I hit a slump and this one was amplified by two autobio comics of which I’m fond both ending. You’ve read about Chris Baldwin’s, a recent favorite with the home-field advantage, and Matt Reidsma’s High Maintenance Machine, a long-standing favorite (and not only because it’s full of cats).

I can’t give them too much grief; each has other equally interesting projects on which he plans to work. I can empathize, though, with that feeling of waking up and thinking, Okay, how is this work helping me? Is it challenging me? What am I getting out of it? There’s something to be said for ending the run, the experiment, whatever, before it feels like it’s getting to be a chore. I was thinking about these ideas in the context of friends of mine who have a very cyclical webcomics reading pattern; they’ll follow daily for a while, get bored and/or get absorbed in other things, and then read a whole stack of archives when they have some spare time. I fell into this over the last few weeks, where I’d wake up in the morning, check my email, check CNN, and go to work. When time became precious, webcomics got squeezed out.

And then somebody dropped this into my inbox. It’s a donations webpage for a guy named Sean Tevis who’s running for State Representative in Kansas, who created a xkcd homage to raise money and win the election. Seems to be working so far; he’s raised a pile of cash and gotten some notable press.

The site’s been up for just about a month (yes, I’m late to this party too) and it seems like an interesting, different way to campaign, particularly because he hit his fundraising goal in about a day. Mostly it’s a good idea; novel approach, interesting webcomic, and brings attention to the medium and traffic to xkcd. Not bad things.

At the same time, I wonder, is it about the novelty, something about webcomics and politics? Something like 90% of Tevis’ donors are not his constituents, according to the NPR piece, and it’s kind of fascinating to think about the shape such things may have on future elections. It’s nothing new for non-constituent donors to back a candidate; people donate from out of state all the time. Of course, the piece is an homage done in a certain style; it’s not swiping or appropriating though I wonder if there was communication between Tevis and Munroe prior to publication, and what could possibly happen if, someday, let’s say, a candidate’s political views were in sharp opposition to the webcomics creator he or she was referencing though an homage such as this.

I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here; I’m not sure of anyone’s political leanings (well, aside from Tevis’s after looking at his homepage) nor is that really where I want to focus. Mostly I’m landing at being impressed by a guy who did something different and made a point while making money for the campaign. It’s interesting.

Imagine if all campaigns ran this way…

I must admit, while I don’t have any negative feelings towards Tevis for his strategy, I have negative feelings towards a lot of his donors. An imbalance has been created. People read his comic and give him money simply because he has an XKCD style comic. I doubt most of the people donating have any care for the issues at hand.

It kind of presents an unfair fight for any other candidate running for the same position. Tevis gets loads of money to help his campaign and even gets people in state that would otherwise not care or vote to get into the action, even if they leave themselves ignorant of any other candidates perspective.

If Tevis wins, congratulations, but I have a feeling he’ll be winning for all the wrong reasons, and I’m not one that believes the ends justify the means.

But if our governing politicians come to power through skillful applications of comics, don’t we all win? There’s something really attractive about the concept… but I know what you mean. If I like the comic, I may donate… WITHOUT being IN the district, WITHOUT having any concept of who this guy is. (Regardless of what his comic says, his voting record might say otherwise!)

I think it’s GREAT that at least this one politician now knows the true power of comics to attract people’s attention and convey information. I just hope he’ll then support vital stuff like comics in education, comics literacy and community comics resources, etc. …

I don’t think that a candidate co-opting popular culture for political gain is anything particularly new. (Listen to any political ad: if the music isn’t immediately recognizable, you’re probably not the targeted demographic for that particular ad.)

The history of comics is almost entirely political in genesis. That which wasn’t designed as political critique (editorial cartooning, Socialist Woodcuts) or outright propaganda (triumphal sculpture, friezes and murals) was theatrical bombast designed as plank in the struggle between media empires (empires defined by political agenda).

I think the success of this particular campaign is in choosing a comic with such particular (and copacetic) niche appeal. If you’re going to talk about scientific issues, I can’t think of a better comic to borrow from.

Although, I do suspect that political leanings of the creator of 300 and XKCD don’t exactly line up. Unless Randall Monroe is also planning a Batman vs. Al-Qaeda comic.

As for the excitement of using webcomics in modern politics, this was inevitable. I’d imagine that webcomics readers are –on average– younger and more technologically savvy than newspaper comics readers.

I’m guessing that in districts skewed heavily towards older voters, we won’t be seeing political ads borrowing from webcomics.

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