March242014

I started another blog for my thoughts about comics that try to teach us stuff…

learnwithcomics:

Some Illustrations by Cecily Taylor for the Frontline story "What Are Teens Doing Online", connected to the rather horrifying episode "Generation Like."

Evan Wexler receives the main by-line for this story, but there is no accompanying text — the entire story is contained in Taylor’s illustrations — so it’s hard to know who contributed what to this piece.

Wexler calls himself a "Visual Journalist", and most of his other work for Frontline has an infographic aesthetic, involving images which look a lot like sans-serif fonts and attempt to convey the same myth of neutrality that’s attached to typeset text.

This piece with Taylor is interesting in that it has a more tactile and subjective feel to it. The smudged ballpoint pen ink and yellowed photographs pasted onto graph paper come close to mimicking a student assignment from the years before Microsoft Office.

There’s an emotional component to the way this data is presented, a nostalgia for the “simpler days,” when sharing a newspaper photo meant actually cutting it out of the newspaper. It’s a good illusion; I found myself staring at my computer screen looking for traces of eraser dust on the images of the paper.

And yet — a closer look at these images reveals a digitally manicured sheen. The smooth gradient colours behind the drawings, the copy-and-pasted heads in the “7/10 teens” graphic, all reveal that these images have been constructed with Photoshop, not gluestick.

It wouldn’t have been difficult to digitally massage these images to look more authentically handmade, but I don’t think that’s the point. The digital effects, subtle as they are, mark this piece as having been processed, at some stage or another, but a computer, of being buffed down and shined up by a professional designer using an expensive suite of software.

There’s just enough obvious fakery here to let the reader know that, no, of course Frontline didn’t just publish scans of some graphs drawn straight onto graph paper with a BIC pen. That’s just not how journalism works.

More educational and informational comics at www.learnwithcomics.com and www.aaronhumphrey.com

May282013

An anonymous prior reader added an annotation to this copy of The Media is the Massage: “electric media ends mental confinement.”

Hmmmmmm. Can’t say I agree.

7PM

McLuhan has a kind of optimism about “electric media” that might have seemed right-on in 1967, but today feels hopelessly misguided.

On pages 55-56 of “The Media is the Massage,” he argues that since the Renaissance, when techniques for using visually depicting realistic 3-D perspective were developed, symmetry and visual resemblance have dominated Western consciousness.

He says it doesn’t have to be this way: “primitive and pre-alphabet people integrate time and space as one and live in an acoustic, horizonless, olfactory space, rather than a visual space. Their graphic presentation is like an x-ray. They put in everything they know, rather than what they see. A drawing of a man hunting a seal on an ice floe will show not only what is in top if the ice, but what is under it as well.”

Aside from the fact that this is a rather horribly naive and paternalistic portrait of “primitive” art, that manages to paint huge, huge stretches of history and culture with the same “x-ray art” brush, McLuhan stumbles ever further when goes on to claim:

"Electric circuitry is recreating in us the multidimensional space orientation of the ‘primitive.’"

(Surely this must have sounded ridiculously utopian even in ‘67!)

If our technology is really helping us reclaim this lost, “boundless, olfactory space?”, then why when I close my eyes to go to sleep, do I only see windows and screens and layer upon layer of places to “click to comment?”

6PM
The text on pages 53-54 of The Medium is the Massage is printed backwards, meant to be read in a mirror. But I can read it with Photobooth on my MacBook, because it takes mirror image photos…

The text on pages 53-54 of The Medium is the Massage is printed backwards, meant to be read in a mirror. But I can read it with Photobooth on my MacBook, because it takes mirror image photos…

6PM
Incredibly straight and precise pencil lines have been traced by a prior reader on many pages of my copy of The Media is the Massage, usually to underline particular passage … Here they also OVERline a phrase. Strange.

Surely this prior reader must have used a ruler or a straight edge to get such clean lines, but … Who does that?

 I guess at least they defaced the book in an aesthetically pleasing way…

Incredibly straight and precise pencil lines have been traced by a prior reader on many pages of my copy of The Media is the Massage, usually to underline particular passage … Here they also OVERline a phrase. Strange.

Surely this prior reader must have used a ruler or a straight edge to get such clean lines, but … Who does that?

I guess at least they defaced the book in an aesthetically pleasing way…

6PM
“Whence did the wond’rous mystic art arise,
Of painting SPEECH and speaking to the eyes?
That we by tracing lines are taught,
How to embody, and to colour THOUGHT?”

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Massage,” 1967, pg 48.

He’s being a bit too cute here, but I appreciate like the emphasis on “teaching” and “tracing” here … Language gains power only through repetition, and his affected Olde Style English here has the effect of reminding the reader that what they are retracing has a history and is not simply spontaneous or unencumbered.

5PM
Writing is pretty hard if you haven’t got proper paper. Even small post-it notes can be frustrating. (I copied McLuhan’s text longhand and then pasted it over the original printed text. The words in quotes are his, the others are mine.)

Writing is pretty hard if you haven’t got proper paper. Even small post-it notes can be frustrating. (I copied McLuhan’s text longhand and then pasted it over the original printed text. The words in quotes are his, the others are mine.)

5PM
I finally got a proper coffee!

I finally got a proper coffee!

5PM

Turns out I needed more coffee. More coming a bit later on

4PM
Here’s the context if the page I just quoted from. I reckon you could read the whole page if you squint, but that might hurt your eyes.
The gross fingerprint on page 45 is not mine, I promise!

Here’s the context if the page I just quoted from. I reckon you could read the whole page if you squint, but that might hurt your eyes.
The gross fingerprint on page 45 is not mine, I promise!

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