I briefly ranted about this on Twitter recently, but over the past week or so I’ve been thinking a lot about this weird era of indie/alternative culture online, a crossing over webcomics, blogs, and subculture message boards that took on lives of their owns outside whatever they were meant o be attached to. I was brought back to it all thinking a lot about that bright and bustling no-man’s-land era of early-2000’s webcomics, though of course it ended up also encircling blogging and comics/music communities online.
I used to have an office job before I taught, and while I took full advantage of having a lot of time being left alone in a room with no windows in a cubicle to write and freelance, I also fucked around A LOT on the Internet. I’m pretty sure I was on a ton of message boards dedicated to webcomics, early podcasts, comic books, and punk rock bands, and I’d basically follow links and read comics and blogs all day sometimes. It was before the heavy implications of what “shitposting” turned being an asshole on the Internet into some kind of racist faux-political movement (this is 2002 to 2007 or so I wanna say), so we (and I definitely include myself in all this) vied heavily to be sarcastic assholes following other sarcastic assholes, all the while immersing ourselves in the lives of the creators we were spending all day reading and re-reading and debating, in the open of the forum that is the Internet.
It’s not as common these days but before webcomics had evolved into the behemoth that they appear to be nowadays (there’s definitely a tipping point coming if it hasn’t already happened in terms of saturation) but back then, webcomics were still la world drawing heavily on newspaper comics and comic books (design-wise for page or strip-style layouts), with the more popular website templates allowing for blog-like spaces at the bottom. This, combined with the natural tendencies of that era of the Internet to allow for oversharing or the implication by the author that they were oversharing, created this bizarro-world wide that not only were you “friends” with this person who let you into their very-private mindsets so publicly, but also you were foisting, often-unwillingly, a sort of figurehead status on this creator in the cult of personality that seemed to grow around them.
I can’t possibly imagine what it would have been like to be in my 20’s and have people hang on my every word and every piece of art I created or word I typed, knowing that it wasn’t even a conventional fame that came with a ton of money or whatever. Ultimately, I can now see how it was a slow mental breakdown by a lot of these writers and cartoonists as they were forced into the very-odd parameters of “Internet personality,” something we now see in 2018 as a toxic bullshit job, but then was something we craved, a personality we both revered and and wanted to emulate.
Finding out nowadays, almost a decade later, about the state of a lot of these blogs and webcomics and the people from these online communities, and how a lot of them have moved on drastically from he online lives we’d built is depressing sometimes, but it’s also incredibly invigorating and refreshing. It’s nice and heartwarming to see people not allow themselves to remain trapped and break free from these imposed ideals and limitations set upon them to constantly be “on” by morons like me in 2004 on the Internet.
Most of this was ultimately trigged by seeing the newer and more personal (and sporadic) work of a cartoonist I adored from this era who was online a lot, and how that person is no longer feeling confined by the limitations and expectations put on them to constantly be “on,” and to constantly perform as this persona, and to constantly have to engage with people in an intensely-personal way. That implication of constant interaction that social media has taken hold of, spawned from the necessity of interaction through commentary and an assumption of having go to reply to every single response born out of interaction being an option on the Internet, makes a lot of assumptions about what people want to do or are comfortable doing. So many of these people that we the collective readership and “community” followed were basically having slow-motion realtime breakdowns, personal crises of faith, of work and inspiration, if not full-blown mental health issues all while we watched, commented with platitudes, and assumed through us “closer” to this person like some kind of bizarre one-sided friendship.
I think a lot of this is part of a larger and growing train of thought, a reevaluation about how much influence we want the Internet to have on our lives. For me personally it’s also been about not caring about what “known” names say or do online, recognizing just how little of the world at large these names and faces actually represent. It’s a struggle as I’m also one of those ones who created work to put out there for others to consume, enjoy, and judge on their own terms, which means that to an extent I want people constantly and actively engaging with my work. Maybe though I’ve learned my lesson in the way that I hope a lot of others did, in that the work being engaged with doesn’t mean I have to be engaged with, and that I shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of that necessary engagement.
Also, the term “engagement” is loaded and sometimes bad when it comes to art and content.