Issue #35

Most of you will be familiar with the concept of the meme: the idea as virus. I sometimes think of writers as viral factories, horribly susceptible to infection, disgustingly efficient at infecting everyone around with conceptual clap.

I posted the following on my message board system, The Warren Ellis Forum (http://www.delphi.com/ellis) earlier in the year.

"Inkies" are what we used to call the British music weeklies. Big old tabloid-sized things on newsprint -- "inkies" because they'd leave your fingers black with ink. NME had lots of "little optimums" over the years, and MELODY MAKER in the late Eighties was home to some of the best writing on any subject anywhere during that time. Their content split very easily into news/interview/reviews/editorial content such as letters and a comedy/gossip page.

It's a very simple structure and a very simple system; and you do it once a week.

The trick is to bring the same passion to it that the inkies did. To be ready to put not the creations on the cover, but the creators. To treat comics not as a hobby, but as a vital piece of the culture, and as a vital piece of people's lives and dreams, just as music is.

A team of volunteers working to a strict editorial vision running a weekly "inkie" could change the face of comics commentary on the Web. An "Ideological Freeware" approach inviting and even urging the printing-off of material for physical-world circulation could possibly effect other changes.

This is, in essence, a viral magazine. In its pure form, a "web-inkie" would be available to download and print off, with all creator information kept intact, as "ideological freeware" or "copyleft" material - like The Old Bastard's Manifesto run here in CIA some months ago.

I was infected with this idea by Bruce Sterling's Viridian Notes. The Viridian Notes are the first and main public manifestion of The Viridian Movement, or The Viridian Design Movement, and it is an organisation that doesn't exist. The Viridian Movement's goal is, in very short, to make carbon emission management a sexy thing. It's very big on viral effect. Many Viridians use Viridian epigrams in their email signature files, linked to some Viridian archive or text. I used "Email burns oil and shits filth into your air" for a long time. And unless the electricity your computer and phone system uses is derived from solar power or nukes, then your email probably does burn fossil fuel and probably does belch more carbon into the air.

Sterling has frequently issued works as "ideological freeware" - including central Viridian texts and the excellent reportage book THE HACKER CRACKDOWN. There wouldn't be a Viridian Movement without the concept of ideological freeware. The EFF like their own sticky meme of "information wants to be free", but what they really meant is "the internet likes free information." Look at bloody Napster. That is nothing but the movement of information, and nothing would be moving if it wasn't free. Manifestos are free. Broadside ballads - reportage converted into simple doggerel for a first-stage-literate society and pasted on trees and walls - were entertainment and news, therefore information, for free. This was early technology entertaining, educating and politicising a culture.

Ideological freeware is nothing new. And it is used for activism.

Soon after I posted that message, someone took up the implicit challenge. Matt Fraction and his terrible cronies put together SAVANT along exactly the Web Inkie lines. It's at http://www.savantmag.com. It is made available both as simple HTML and as Adobe Acrobat files. So anyone - or, at least, anyone with a working copy of Adobe Acrobat, my PC really fucking hates Acrobat - can download SAVANT, print off SAVANT, photocopy SAVANT, and distribute SAVANT. And this speaks directly to something in the Old Bastard's Manifesto and several other statements of mine about changing the comics store culture.

Because the absolute best place to distribute SAVANT is, of course, in comics stores.

Just copy off a bunch of them, collate them up and dump them. Your comics store gets a weekly newspaper about comics for nothing. It's costing you a minimal amount, and, let's face it, you're not going to do it unless you can afford that minimal amount, are you? In fact, comics retailers could very easily do this and write all the costs off to tax. It's promotion. Print off SAVANT, supply it as a Good Thing To Do For Your Customers - and put your store stamp on every single copy.

The other use of this device is as marketing. This is something I've been planning for a while, and urging others to do. The "virtual ashcans" often found on the web for books like CLOCKWORK ANGELS, or the intro strips like the much-quoted short webcomic for FINDER, are enimently printable. I've recently gotten my webmaster and friend Chad Michael Ward to knock up a quick printable webpage for POPPY, a sequence of short back-ups I've written for Lea Hernandez to draw and use for her RUMBLE GIRLS serial. It's at http://www.warrenellis.com/poppyflyer.htm. It's very, very simple, as you can see. There was no time for anything flashy - Chad needed to get this done before San Diego - and no requirement for anything heavily worked in any case. It just needed the info and the picture. Anything much denser would have taken much longer to load, and not everyone has a fast connection. And I want this virus to spread. RUMBLE GIRLS has a marginal profile, so people will not be falling over themselves to report this, nor will they immediately turn to the requisite page in PREVIEWS and read the solicitation closely. So we put together this flyer and posted its location in a couple of places and said: if you want to be able to read these stories, the best thing to do would be to print off this flyer and hand it to your local retailer and say, "look at this."

This is grass-roots activism. This is people providing you with the tools to change comics and the comics store culture. We're not saying you have to use these tools. Pick and choose the ones you want to use. If you don't like SAVANT, if you don't like manifestos, if you don't like me - that's fine. No-one's forcing you to. But understand that the tools are being provided. And comics are in such a state of flux right now that individual action can change the medium. All you have to do is do it.

Understand: if you think that WIZARD is stupid and its attitudes are poisonous and you hate the fact that it is the first strain of writing about comics that most people will discover, then you can do something about that. You can provide SAVANT, or anything else made available as ideological freeware. You can distribute The Old Bastard's Manifesto or Larry Young's New Vanguard brag if you're of a mind to subvert and shit-stir. And if you want to alter buying habits and move money away from the tired old horseshit to places where it is deserved and needed, you can use creators' activism tools to educate your retailer.

You can infect people with ideas.

And ideas are what comics are all about.

I can be contacted by email about this column at warren@comicbookresources.com. My voluptuous website, just updated with a new front-page essay, pretty new pictures and containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read SAVANT at http://www.savantmag.com, SEQUENTIAL TART at http://www.sequentialtart.com, POPIMAGE at http://www.popimage.com, and stand by for NINTH ART at http://www.ninthart.com and TRADE DRESS at http://www.trade-dress.com/ (the latter is currently in beta). All of these people can also be found at The Warren Ellis Forum, at http://www.delphi.com/ellis.

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