Thursday, March 02, 2006

We Interrupt This Daily Blog for Breaking News in Webcomics Drama!

While I've still got a few more thoughts to finish up on the nature of webcomics, I thought I would give my opinions on the latest controversy in webcomics drama.

T Campbell, webcomics aficionado, has been an important figure in the webcomics industry. He has produced numerous comics, some more notable than others. He has also had a variety of pet projects, seemingly always trying to expand the technology available to the field. He has collaborated with many other comic artists and authors, served as editor of Graphic Smash, and in general, been doing everything he can to help make better comics, and help make comics better.

His latest work is possibly one of the most important to date - the History of Webcomics. A book that will, presumably, attempt to cover the important people and events in webcomics history. A relative brief history, admittedly - but time moves quickly on the internet, and there are surely events and change enough to discuss.

The latest controversy involves the two creators of Megatokyo, and their breakup as a creative writing team, and what the facts are behind the matter.

Now, I haven't actually read the book. I haven't actually seen what it says, so I can't say, for myself, exactly how well it covers the situation. Scott Kurtz and Rodney Caston and T have all said their pieces about exactly what is going on.

Essentially, the dispute at hand is that T compiled much of his information from impersonal fact finding - reading websites, observing dialogue, and so forth. He had some interviews - but many important people (such as Rodney, the 'forgotten' member of the Megatokyo team), were not contacted or consulted. The question at hand is, in short - how valid will his book be as a history?

Now, I can understand that interviews could become too much. When you are attempting to chronicle the history of thousands of webcomics, I can see far too great a difficulty in trying to interview every single person involved.

But part of T's explanation is that he came to distrust the interview process itself. He had to deal with too much 'spin' - too many people trying to put themselves in their best light. And admittedly, that is one of the hard things about an interview - it is getting one person's opinion alone, and only one side of the story.

However... that is no different, in my opinion, than any other source of information T could use. Blogs and newsboxes and comics and rants - every single one of those will be just as full of 'propaganda.'

Typed words are not somehow exempt from inaccuracies. Typed words do not ordain the utter truth. In many ways, written word is often more likely to be part of putting one's 'best face forward.'

There are no unbiased sources, and part of the work of assembling a collection of facts about the situation is compiling as many different sources as possible in order to see the bigger picture.

Which is possible, in theory, with or without interviews.

But when Scott describes what he has seen of the book - such as chapter 3, which covers the seven most important people in the creation of the industry... there seem to be a few names that are missing. Some names are weighted more than others. And the question arises - in light of the lack of consultation with certain involved entitied, how much of the information the book contains is influenced by the bias and perspective of the author himself?

And the answer is, well, all of it. Duh. He is writing the book. It's impossible, in many ways, for an author to distance themselves one hundred percent from what they write. Every history book ever has been similarly influenced.

However - that does not mean that they shouldn't try. That doesn't mean they should not seek out every single possible bit of information to try and get, if not an accurate picture on things, at least as accurate as perspective as possible.

And in my mind, failing to even contact 'Largo' demonstrates a break down in his research. When dealing with how the split between Rodney and Fred occured, just looking at the seperate descriptions on their respective sites shows me distinct omissions and different portrayals of what happened. The truth is no doubt somewhere between the two - yet it strikes me as difficult to really find the heart of the matter without digging a bit deeper than the surface.

Is this an area that should be pursued, of importance enough to the "History of Webcomics" to merit fact-finding? It is hard to say. But when one of the creators of one of the most successful webcomic strips is left out as an influential figure in the early days of webcomics, it does leave me questioning exactly what spin on things the work is taking - and what other such ommissions may exist.

I agree with a lot of the things that Kurtz says in his rant - there seem to be views in the book that I won't agree with. And I can't say for sure until I truly read the book - and I can't fault T for having his own opinions - but that worry is there.

Of course, I think Kurtz, as usual, comes off way to strong, running out with both guns blazing at the slightest alarm. He accuses T of just trying to ride the webcomics world to fame and fortune, an accusation as ludicrous as it gets. He accuses T of various deceptive information in the advertisement for the book - but in the end, thats the nature of advertising. Were there significant mistakes made with that ad? Well, yes. Not seeking permission, hyping inaccurate facts - definite mistakes.

But ones that T recognized and apologized for as soon as they were pointed out to him. I don't think he actively thought that it would be easier to seek forgiveness than permission - I don't think it even occured to him. I think it was overlooked in his eagerness to finish creating this project that he has invested so much in.

T Campbell has always struck me as desperate - as eager - to do all he can for webcomic world. On a lot of counts, he has succeeded. He has accomplished some amazing things. He has an intense dedication to the industry - not to his works in the field, but to the industry as a whole. That is more than could be said for many, many people out there.

I don't think he would ever intentionally go out of his way to harm another in the field by his actions - but sometimes carelessness can be as great a danger.

He has talked about his greatest fear - to one day discover that he has misplaced his principles without even noticing. One of these goals - to give credit where credit is due.

Did he fail here? Again, I can't say for sure until I've read the book.

But the fact that this discussion has even come up bodes poorly. There will be a taint on his work from this - from worries over how valid it is, how accurate. From those who wonder how they may have been misrepresented without consultation. From those who disagree with the views T shares in his book, and the methods he used to research them.

For myself, I think that the book will be filled with a lot of good information. I suspect it will be valuable resource for a lot of people, and that the goal of the work - to help people - will be met.

But again - from the discussion thus far, it does seem as though the work will not be as complete as it could have been. Which is a shame - though, in my opinion, a forgivable one... at least by myself. But I'm just a student of the field, not one of those directly harmed.

The book is already in its final stages. I don't suspect much could be changed at this point, so whatever damage may have been done... is done.

When explaining his greatest fear, T made a request of his friends - to tell him when he has made a mistake.

Now, I can't lay claim to being his friend, or anything more than a concerned outsider. I've met him once, at a con, when I was just another fan, and that has been the extent of my contact with him.

But I do want to give him my thoughts. I think a mistake was made in not seeking out more direct consulation with those discussed in the book. With not, at least, giving them the chance to give their perspective on the words written about them.

I don't think it will be a fatal mistake. I don't think the industry will abandon T because of this. I suspect he will have as many on his side as not... and that, eventually, the drama will die down, and be, for the most part, forgotten. Some friends may now be merely associates, but others will stay true, and T will still remain one of the prominent figures in the community. The book itself will succeed, by and large, and be treated by many as the resource it was meant to be.

But I still feel a mistake was made. And if nothing else, an apology is due to those wronged.

4 comments:

T Campbell said...

It's given.

Scott Kurtz, it seems, was the only one who wanted off the cover-- but that doesn't mean I shouldn't've asked beforehand. I should've.

As for interviewing Largo, it still seems reasonable to me that if he was unhappy with the record, he might have used his own website to put something up there more elaborate than the fairly neutral assessment that currently stands... but it's not too late for him to send me stuff if he wants to change that policy now.

Great post. Thanks.

Mr Myth said...

I can definitely understand the desire for viewing over the public record to assemble the facts, but I still disagree with it. Eric says it better than I on exactly why.

Still, I'm not the one writing the book or investing time and effort in it - and I definitely acknowledge that with a work such as this, spanning such a broad spectrum of individuals, not all that information could be tracked down personally, and still have the work completed in the timeframe it was.

In the end, I'm hoping that the taint from this drama won't impact the book to much - and if, when the book comes out and people can actually read what it has to say, that any disagreements about the material lead to discussion, not more dissension.

Pester said...

[quote]In the end, I'm hoping that the taint from this drama won't impact the book to much - and if, when the book comes out and people can actually read what it has to say, that any disagreements about the material lead to discussion, not more dissension. [/quote]

I'll drink (mountain dew) to that. I'm a latecomer to this crazy world of webcomics, and I want nothing more than a comprehensive, well researched, user-friendly, explanation of where it came from, what it's here for, and why it claims over half of my computer time a day. The industry (if webcomics really are an industry) needs more documentation than Scott McCloud. Although a comic book about comics is clever, I can't help but feel that he missed a lot. I don't think the phrase "Webcomic" was even used.

From what I've seen of T Campbell, I have to agree that his goals have been towards enriching the webcomics community as a whole, and that this book is part of that. However, I agree with Eric Burns when he had issue with how the comic was researched. If it's a history, a history that's still happening, than he should've dug deeper when there are conflicting responses. Which, obviously, there are in the Caston and Gallagher split. Maybe he should've consulted with someone with journalistic training, who captures history as it happens, but I think that not doing so is more a sign of naivety then malice. Even in High School journalism we learned to watch for that kind of discrepancy and to seek multiple viewpoints.

In the end, this is the first book of it's kind, and I hope it's not the last by either Campbell or other experts. I just hope that the controversy doesn't hurt it too much.
And I apologize for making a comment longer than the post again, heh.

Mr Myth said...

Apology unneeded and feel free to post away. As has been said, brevity can be nice and elaboration can be nice - in the end, use as many words as it takes.