Episode 104: A Brief History of Analogue to Digital Media

This particular section serves as the intro to Chapter 4. Right now I’m feeling a little iffy about it. more a gut feeling than anything I can specifically look at over the editing process. Perhaps a new set of eyes can help shed some light on the situation so if anyone is interested in throwing their own two cents to the mix I would very much appreciate it. The section in question appears just below today’s story.

During a recent trip, I was able to witness a very interesting example of maternity in action. If you have ever flown on a plane, you know the dread that comes with noticing that there is a baby in your nearby vicinity. Even if the toddler were at the opposite side of the plane from you, the shrieks it can emit are almost at Black Canary levels of intensity. During a recent flight, I sat across from a youngish mother with her teenage daughter whose primary reaction to all things is eye rolling and sighing, a fairly talkative five-year old, and a little boy who is probably over a year old but whose date is still counted in the months. The young one was passed around various laps during the four-hour aerial voyage and during that time he did a lot of crying and was really interested in the mechanics of how the window would open and close. Of course, the sun’s light would come in and score a natural 2o on my eyes every time.  My patience has been tested a lot before so I just took deep breaths and hoped the kid would fall asleep eventually. Other passengers however spoke up and voiced their concerns to the nearby flight attendant. At that time, the mother loudly declared in Spanish (which is my other native language beside English) what the Hell were those old bitches talking about her. Afterwards, she was also saying loudly the exact things to follow:  “what exactly did they want from me? He’s a baby you are lucky he’s behaving at all. What do you want me to do, you want me to kill my baby?!?!” Yes, that did indeed escalate quickly. Near the end of the flight I ended up talking to five-year old for a bit. Good thing I worked with kids for years. The mom was still pretty pissed through the end of the flight.

Crazy times indeed. Anyway here comes the chapter intro.

Introduction to Digital Media and Webcomics

What makes the digital process unique from the analogue model of traditional writing is not the visual output of letters but rather its method to produce them. The physical process of handwriting boils down to manipulating a pen or pencil to be able to make lines on a piece of paper that represent letters, thus allowing them to be read. The use of a typewriter requires a mechanical process of pressing on the corresponding key of the letter that one wishes to write, the pressure of this action activates a lever that pushes an imprint with ink onto the paper, which the machine then moves accordingly after each key stroke. Printing presses follow a similar principle but work at the scale of the page, making copies of one imprint in fairly rapid succession. Even Morse code still technically counts as an analogue process of exchanging spaces and lines for traditional letters but the “translating” is done at the human level. As the machines for communicating became more complex, the process of writing now required the machine to do more before the visual form of language could appear.

Digital media works at the level of input and output on a machine, which is what computers are first and foremost. The early days of computing revolved around being able to get the machine to recognize certain forms of input in order to perform a desired output. The most basic form of communication with the machine involved taking a point which would be empty or full, which led to what we know as binary. Punch cards from the very first computers were designed with binary as a way to provide multiple inputs at one time. As technology increased, more complex forms of input became available and programming languages now allowed for letters and words to be a relatively straightforward effect of proper inputs and outputs. Nowadays, computers have radically simplified their interfaces because programmers and developers want their machines to be “idiot proof”. Programs and websites run many of the complex coding in the background, beyond the people running them, i.e. the users’ line of sight.

This brief history of analogous and digital media glosses over many human and technological milestones developed over the years but it provides a clear purpose for this study. Digital media has become so prevalent that many users equate it with the transition of typewriters to computers and forget that one is not just the high-tech descendant of the other. The “qwerty” keyboard layout has been kept for all typing formats long after the need for commonly used letters to exist under different stamping points to avoid jams, as they did to solve the most common problem with typewriters. Digital media has reached a level of accessibility that one not need advanced training in computers to be able to do complex tasks that, even a few years ago, required proficiency in programming and code writing. To sum up, a lot of work online is done through systems that we are not aware of and that lack of understanding of anything deeper than what is currently on the screen is a disservice to digital media, especially authorship within this medium.

Episode 103: Allow Me to Introduce Myself and My Dissertation

For the longest time I have kept a certain air of anonymity within this blog. Sure you could follow certain clues and my tracks through social media aren’t exactly covered but there was just enough for plausible deniability. There is a certain freedom when it comes to authorship when it doesn’t directly apply to one’s own identity. I never planned to write something that would rustle the jimmies of anyone or any particular group but those that know me are very aware that things that I say can be misunderstood if you don’t get the light hearted tone that my rhetoric possesses nine times out of ten. However, that lack of a defined entity meant that this was not something I could directly state as my own work and as an academic a blog even at its most informal can still count as a way to expand your ideas plus it might just count as a publication in some lax circles. So now, I believe it is time to uncover the veil and formally place my personal stamp as to my own authorship and identity.

My name is Gabriel Romaguera. Most people know me as Gabe. I have BA and an MA in English from the University of Puerto Rico in my hometown of Mayaguez. I’m a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island and am working on my dissertation. My main shtick as an academic is the idea of serialization, mostly in popular culture. Webcomics are one of my favorite things to analyze. I like way too many things and will ultimately apply critical theories in one way or another to any of them. If you go back through the previous posts you will learn a lot more about me.

As per the dissertation passage for today, here we have the most recent version of my dissertation proposal. I swore that the last version was the best it could be but a few rounds of feedback form my committee showed how much I still needed to work through. If there are any things that you feel need more clarifications then comment away and let me know. Let’s start adding some circles to this circular draft.

Foregrounding Authorial Performances:

Exploring Notions of Authorship in Contemporary Serial Fiction across

Print and Digital Media.

            Who is the author and why is it important to know? In one way or another, this question has arisen when analyzing literary works through diverse critical theories. Different schools of literary criticism answer this question in order to obtain information like historical context, authorial intention, and/or some degree of insight into the creation of narratives. Like many critics and theorists who have analyzed the concept of authorship throughout the years, my dissertation will focus on the figure of the author by drawing from “The Death of the Author” and “What is an Author?” by Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, respectively. These essays serve as a benchmark for defining the author from the perspective of the reader through the concept of the author-function. Foucault explains that one of the “point[s] concerning this ‘author-function’ is that it is not formed spontaneously through the simple attribution of a discourse to an individual. It results from the complex operation whose purpose is to construct the rational entity we call an author” (1483). Rather than seeing how readers construct and ascribe the title of author, I wish to analyze how contemporary writers and artists design and publish their stories over time as they create a long term relationship with their readers. I study authorship through the publication of an ongoing story in multiple parts because it better reflects a growth of personal skills and an increasing level of familiarity with the readership through the development of the text. This dissertation expands the analysis of authorial identity and performances in contemporary serialized texts in order to explore different notions of authorship in diverse literary incarnations.  I believe that these different forms of authorial identity have a profound effect on the narrative production of serial fiction and the readerships reception throughout the publication of the multitude of instalments that make up the story.

The purpose of this study is to analyze current forms of authorial functions within the context of contemporary serial fiction. This publishing format allows for narrative production and reader reception to be segmented with each installment. While each piece can be read individually, the task of interlinking all the different parts over time to complete the story is complex for readers and author alike. To paraphrase Dante Gabriel Rossetti, if every literary work is a moment’s monument, then every installment adds to the collection of moment’s monuments over the serialization of a given narrative. Each of the individual pieces is narratively linked to each other, which makes the study of authorship far more dynamic over the writing/publication process than analyzing an author’s single literary work or collection of unconnected works. I contextualize my research within the realms of serial fiction because it permits me to witness the changing nature of authorship throughout a single developing story. Writers and artists hone their crafts with each new installment so it is generally accepted that they are getting better over time. On the one hand, this maturing ultimately permeates into the text through changes in style and tone that show a separation from the desires of the original readership. On the other hand, the author can choose to better cater the story to his/her fans in order to ensure the economic viability of the text and that further installments will keep being published. Serialization provides a unique challenge of the author’s struggle to write an ongoing narrative that maintains the interest of a fairly stable readership while keeping the story accessible to new potential readers.

Linda Hughes and Michael Lund define the serial as “a continuing story over an extended period of time with enforced interruptions” (1). It is that enforced interruption that divides installments at the temporal level which allows readers to reflect and react to the narrative. While Hughes and Lund focus on works of serial fiction from the Victorian Period, many of the challenges that faced authors of serials back then still apply today. One of the unique features of serialization is that it allows for the author to respond to these critical and fan reactions and alter his/her narrative production accordingly. Authors give life to their work through publication with a potential readership in mind and yet the process of serialization shows the actual responses of the readership, which leads to better tailoring texts over time. Editorial theorists and textual critics already analyze this form of recursive feedback in the context of tracing different editions in addition to the process of writing a manuscript and transforming it into a book for publication. These analytical models provide a familiarity and insight into author functions and that is why I choose these theories to construct my own methodology for this study.

The main theorists from textual criticism and editorial theory that I utilize for this study are George Thomas Tanselle and Peter Shillingsburg. The first of these two provides a central terminology which will serve as a base for my analysis of various works of serial fiction. Shillingsburg works directly with Tanselle’s terminology and focuses on what he calls the different performances that take place while constructing a text. He subdivides these “textual performances” into the creative performance where the literary work is first invented, the production performance where it is ready to be transmitted or published, and the reception performance where the reader interprets the text (Resisting Texts, 76-78). For the purposes of my analysis, I expand Shillingsburg’s textual performances to actions that writers and artists engage in during narrative production and direct engagements with the readership. Henceforth, I refer to these kinds of actions as authorial performances because they encompass everything authors do during the production and publication of their texts. To put it simply, authorial performances are the other side of reception performances by readers in the metaphorical critical theory coin.

In addition, I draw on John Bryant’s The Fluid Text and his findings on the different stages a work goes through in its publication process (specifically, his concept of a “circulating draft”,) and adapt them to the context of serial fiction. The circulating draft is the stage of the manuscript when it is completed and it goes to a select group of editors, friends, and family to get their opinions on it and potentially change something before the text goes out to full publication. As part of the serialization process, installments go through the same kinds of revisions before they are published to the general populace plus another editing process based on reactions from a more substantial part of the readership before a compilation of all parts into one document can be made. Tanselle, Shillingsburg, and Bryant provide a strong base for my methodology for the analysis of authors as they are constructing their works, through the different stages of drafting as well as the publication of different installments, until the story is officially concluded.  Other theoretical paradigms like narratology and reader response primarily deal with the finished form of the story and while they are important and are present in my analysis, they do not provide the lens into the authorial performances that go into narrative productions that textual criticism makes available.

In order to further study different forms of authorship, this analysis will not limit itself to equating authors with writers. People create narratives outside of the traditional print format and their authorial performances provide further insights that are rarely included in studies of authorship. For example, while Alan Moore is considered one of, if not the greatest, writers in comics, his authorial identity seldom appears without the caveat of his preferred publication medium. To help fill this gap in the literature, I juxtapose traditional print novels with those that fall under graphic narratives; which are defined by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner as “any story that employs image to transmit an idea” (Introduction to Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative). The most common forms of graphic narratives include films, television programs, and comics (which is the umbrella term for comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels). The first two contain a complexity in its authorship that makes it almost impossible to distinguish who is responsible for the final narrative product. Even with a clear demarcation of roles such as writers, directors, actors, and editors (to name only a few), outside of having complete access to backstage production there is no definitive way to isolate individual authorial performances in these graphic narratives. Hence, film and television fall out of the purview of this study, though they are prominent features of my additional research endeavors.

The graphic narratives of comics consist of what Scott McCloud famously defined as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or an aesthetic response in the viewer” (Understanding Comics 9). The authorial performances of the cartoonists, writers, and artists of those responsible for composing these comics follow the same format as those of classic works of serial fiction. I extend my analysis of authorship to include the creators of serialized comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels because these men and women have helped to create some of the most iconic characters in literature and have extended their narratives for many years and even decades. In short, a proper analysis on my part of authorial performances in serial fiction requires the inclusion of the writers and artists that produce comics because they have developed continuing stories that span hundreds of installments with no end in sight.

Perhaps the most significant change to authorship that has come in recent years is the advent of the digital medium. The replacement of pens and typewriters for computers as the standard tool for writing, in addition to the later inclusion of online digital distribution via the Internet as a method of publication, has altered our notions of authorial performances. In addition to studying the digital dimensions of contemporary serials, I analyze this medium on its own merits through authors whose work is primarily developed and distributed in this format. I focus on digital storytelling done primarily through webcomics, in addition to blogs and other narrative centered programs, because they follow many of the serial narrative models from their print predecessors while taking advantage of the tools of this medium.

This study focuses primarily on the authors of contemporary serials. However, the chronological category of what falls under “contemporary” is difficult to objectively qualify. Since Barthes and Foucault are at the root of my analysis of authorship, it seems fitting that the starting point should be the year 1968, when the former of the two famously declared the “death of the author” in his essay. This space of approximately 45 years allows for many works of serial fiction that have been published since then to be analyzed. I also include works that began publication before this temporal window opened but continued to be serialized beyond it, especially with works that maintained their production by passing on the author mantle and/or through a dynamic succession of authorship. One such example is the multitude of writers and artists that have continued the exploits of the character of Batman long after Bob Kane and Bill Finger first envisioned the Dark Knight’s first adventures in 1939.

One particular element of serial fiction and authorship that bears inclusion is how reader reception is measured economically through the sales of installments. Although readers can react to particular installments, story arcs, or even the text as a whole in the process of authoring their own critiques and reviews, the act of purchasing the parts of the story (and its speculative figures) provide an immediate response by the readership that can assure the works initial and continued publication. Because of this reality, I expand the critical theory of reader reception to include an economic analysis and focus on this financial dimension in this study. While a story may be far from officially ending, low sales have the potential to make the narrative endeavor of continuing to publish installments be delayed, or even stopped, as selling the narrative any longer becomes financially unfeasible. From a publishing perspective, the author has the choice to continue even as the numbers are not coming in his/her favor but other entities like publishing houses, or even the owners of a narrative property, are the ones that make the decision to cease publication based on business and not when the story has concluded. Sales are often used to determine the apparent “success” of a particular narrative, and while these figures do not denote an objective quality for the story, they do indicate an initial response by the readership towards supporting the publication of present and future installments. The potential for profit, not the status of the text as a creative endeavor, is what motivates serialization to continue for all but the most stalwart of self-publishing authors, though there are cases when greed entices an authorial performance to keep publishing after the story has run its course and get more money in the process. Because of the importance of this economic dimension, I incorporate sales and other financial figures into my analysis in each of the chapters of this study to show the practical reality of up-and-coming authors whose narratives are the primary basis of their incomes and how the readership’s first response to the text is a pecuniary one.

Another notion of authorship that is worth discussing throughout each of the chapters of this study is that of ownership. While authorial performances can be done by the singular writer/artist/author, they can easily be shared, passed on, or even delegated to others without much trouble. Ownership, on the other hand, is based on the complexities of copyright law and is normally ascribed to a very specific person, group of people, or entity, regardless of how many others helped with carrying the authorial burden. The general belief that being the creator of a particular work of literature or other field automatically provides ownership through copyright laws is mired in many legal intricacies. Original authorship is an almost permanent point of identity but ownership can be purchased through buying the rights for use and reproduction of a particular story or character by major publishing houses and other companies. The acquisition of specific characters is most commonly found within works of serial fiction or those that will become serialized in the near future. Because the majority of the works that I am analyzing for this study are done by American authors and the cases of corporate authorship I focus on are in the US, my work with copyright law will revolve around the American version of it, though I will include international laws when appropriate. While the complexities of copyright law go beyond the critique of this dissertation, it is important to note how such legal issues appear to complicate and challenge notions of authorship in specific cases, which will be discussed accordingly throughout this study.

This dissertation will be divided into four chapters, each of which will be focused on a different medium of publication. Chapter one will serve as an overall introduction and literature review for my critical methodology. In order to properly analyze the differences between each medium, I utilize media specific analysis and comparative media studies, both of which were pioneered by N. Katherine Hayles. I base much of my analysis on each medium on her writings and several other new media critics. These different media contain their own limits and expectations for authorial performances, which serve as logical borders to separate this study. However, it is important to remember that each medium is not completely independent since they were designed with the foundations of their technological precursors. That is why I employ remediation, as first developed by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. I look at different forms of media (especially digital media) as a progeny of sorts of previous media and how authors both follow and break the molds to see how the medium of publication affect the narrative process.

Chapter 2: From Cover to Cover: Analyzing Traditional Print Publications

The model of serialization can be traced back to the 19th century with the US, France, and most popularly with Victorian England when literary magazines like Bentley’s Miscellany and All the Year Round were a popular source for distributing a variety of materials. These magazines are considered to be book length by today’s standards and would normally contain hundreds of pages. This format showcased a myriad of different literary categories like current events, advertisements, poems, drawings, short stories, and various installments of different serials throughout each issue. I draw on these historical molds through the writings of Victorian historians, especially Linda Hughes’s and Michael Lund’s excellent study of this area in their book The Victorian Serial. This historical context provides a base for all forms of serial storytelling that applies to all media but is incredibly helpful when understanding those found in traditional print. The model of having installments end at a dramatic moment or cliffhanger would entice readers to wonder what would happen next and pique interest into obtaining the next part was then, and still is, a fairly standard practice.

Victorian era authorship evokes the image of the sole writer, carefully crafting his/her story to fit into the designated length of one installment. However, the idea of narrative carving into appropriate lengths disregards many additional authorial performances that were undertaken by others. Editors of literary magazines went far beyond policing word and page counts as they ensured proper narrative quality and overall consistency. Illustrators had many conversations with the writer as they decided how to best draw important scenes and characters for the image that would be included in each installment. Other writers would serve to incite interest in a potential readership by producing previews of an upcoming work that will soon be serialized in that literary magazine. In short, while a perceived sole authorial identity can be found since the cradle of print serialization, several authorial performances are the responsibility of others and this model of a plurality of authorship continues to exist in the contemporary narrative production of serial fiction.

After discussing the historical context of serialization, I flash forward into analyzing contemporary writers of print serial fiction. The main author that I analyze in this chapter is a woman who recently reintroduced serialization at the global scale with the Harry Potter series of books. JK Rowling’s seven books cover seven years of the life of the eponymous protagonist as he and his friends battle the evil Voldemort. With over 450 million copies of her books sold across the world in multiple languages, this series is the most recognizable form of contemporary serial fiction, especially if one takes into account the film adaptations as well. Rowling provides a unique example of sole authorship of a serialized narrative wherein her authorial performances expand with each installment and even beyond the publication of the final book in the series.

Rowling’s authorial identity is cemented with the fact that she is the sole writer of these books and exerts control over many facets of her work. Rowling demonstrates her control of the medium and publishing practices when she increased the page count of the texts, something easily visible when comparing the widths of each title, in order to fit the story that needed to be told in each installment. She also instituted global release dates with the final three books to ensure that the fans would have a more synchronous reading experience and to minimize parts of the story being leaked beforehand and spoiling the narrative. Editors, publishing houses, illustrators, and even translators provide several authorial performances but Rowling is still the one who gets top billing for each publication, even for the adaptations.

Rowling’s role as an author extends to far beyond the narrative production of each installment. She defends the ownership of her work from copyright infringement claims, including one from the creator of a character named Larry Potter, but all of these cases have been successfully defended. In addition, Rowling and her legal team stopped the publication of the Harry Potter Lexicon book, which was already online and she had even admitted to using it as a resource before, with the pretense that she was going to publish such a book in the near future. My analysis of these authorial performances shows how the role of the author extends beyond creating and continuing the story. Rowling serves as an example of sole authorship whose responsibilities and power expands with each installment. While other collaborators take on some of the authorial performances, it is she who still gets the acclaim.

One other authorial performance worth noting that JK Rowling does is that of interacting with her readership. Long after completing the serialization of her work, she continues to exercise her authorial performances for this particular narrative through Pottermore, the digital fanbase where Rowling herself provides additional insight into the writing process of the Harry Potter series. Her identity as author and almost celebrity are further enforced with websites like http://www.accio-quote.org/, where readers have compiled and archived any and all public statements she has ever said or written about the Harry Potter series or any of her other writing endeavors. This sense of popularity translates to sales outside of fantasy and young adult works as is evident in 2013 when almost all copies of Robert Galbraith’s crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling sold out once it was revealed that this was Rowling’s pen name one month after the original publication. Here we see a point where authorial identity was not initially passed on to another work and was not seen with the context of her previous books. This authorial performance by Rowling to produce a momentary writer incognito helped this new text in being critiqued under its own merits; thus, the reverence of authorship that Barthes wants to eliminate was not ascribed to this story, if only for a short while. She did not have that opportunity to be critiqued outside of the Harry Potter spotlight in 2011when Rowling published The Casual Vacancy, as it was heavily compared to her famous serial texts.

Chapter 3: When Writer and Artist Collide: Reading Graphic Narratives

While serialization stemmed from the literary magazines that once featured Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, some of the most well-known forms of serial fiction started and continue to be published through graphic narratives. One of the first comic strips to appear in newspapers, The Katzenjammer Kids, has been published regularly for more than a century. Iconic super heroes have saved the day for decades in comic books with no end in sight. One of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, and its sequel are used in classrooms all over the country as a required reading for better understanding the events of the Holocaust. In short, while graphic narratives in comics technically fall under the purview of the print medium, this format’s combination of images and dialogue is one that easily fits the serialization model.

Out of the many titles and characters portrayed in graphic narratives, I focus my analysis on the Man of Steel, better known as Superman. Originally created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the iconic caped superhero first hit the stands in 1938. The concept of authorship in all works regarding this character is fairly complex and one that I will explore in detail in this chapter. Not only have multiple writers and artists been tasked by DC Comics to continue the tales of Superman for decades, but several lawsuits by the original creators, Siegel and Shuster, have challenged ownership and authorship of the multiple titles and adaptations. The transition from a shared authorship between writer and artist to a corporate authorship where the parent company (in this case Time-Warner) owns the rights to the character and employs others to carry on the narrative and take on various authorial performances shows how the concept of the author has drastically changed in this medium.

The character of Superman has appeared in multiple storylines across various titles throughout the course of over eighty years of publication, the majority of which were not done by the original authors of Siegel and Shuster. While there are many story arcs that span the decades of its serialization, I focus my analysis on what fans now refer to as “The Death and Return of Superman”. This event was recently anthologized in a recent omnibus edition (collection of relevant installments) that contains all pertinent issues which include multiple Superman and non-Superman titles and serves as my primary source. This story arc provides excellent examples of corporate authorship in the form of DC Comics Headquarters changing the narrative trajectory of Superman and then the collective authorship of many writers and artists that came together to collaborate on what would become a groundbreaking story. The significance of this story arc can be seen by the fact that the installment containing the actual death of the Man of Steel made national headlines as it came to print and the author function of reacting to controversy came to fruition as interviews had to be done immediately to defend killing off such an iconic character. When asked if they had done this “just to sell comics”, the writers and artists of the series agreed but were quick to say that this was one of the main purposes for publishing every other installment beforehand. The particular installment of Superman’s death broke several sales records, showing an immediate response by readers eager to see the event first hand, but sales plummeted once the Man of Steel was eventually revived and many readers felt toyed with and decided to cease following the story afterwards.

Since comics are often considered to be synonymous with superhero comics and mostly published by DC or Marvel, I wish to use another text that falls outside of this genre and the publication of these two business magnates. Atomic Robo, was created by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegna in 2007 and has been in publication ever since. Their work blends fantasy and historical fiction as the eponymous protagonist is the greatest creation by scientist Nikolai Tesla and his adventures intersect with real places, people, and events. While authorship is normally attributed to the writers of graphic narratives, Clevinger and Wegna as writer and artist respectively, publicly acknowledge that their storytelling is a joint venture; thus, it is only fair that they share the titles of creators and authors of Atomic Robo. In addition, both take on additional authorial performances like maintaining an official timeline of their nonchronologically told narrative so far and adding a geographical element through the Google Maps version of said timeline.

One of the authorial performances worth studying is their narrative production which can be witnessed through Clevinger’s and Wegna’s public conversations on Twitter. The back and forth banter between the two mostly ranges between jokes, complaints, and fleshing out ideas. They even have their Twitter avatars as Robo from different sides so that it looks like they are facing each other during their digital conversations. They expand their authorial performances through social media by openly running forms of public relations. Both announce when new installments are ready for purchase, advertise when sales of particular titles are being offered, provide links towards reviews of their work, and even answer individual queries from their readers. In fact, Clevinger himself answered back a tweet of mine when I mentioned that I was using Atomic Robo as one of the selected readings for this dissertation. Their work as joint authors demonstrates that the serialization of graphic narratives does not have to follow the corporate model of authorship that comic books are known for. Clevinger attributes his desire to stay with a low key dual authorship with Wegna and taking on these additional authorial performances from working for years on his webcomic 8-bit Theater, where he took these extra responsibilities on his own.

Chapter 4: Of Bits and Code: Digital Authorship and Webcomics

The advent of digital technology allows would-be artists and writers to become full-fledged authors by bypassing many of the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. One no longer needs a network of editors, publishers, distributors, and other personnel in order to reach a potential audience. However, these authorial performances that were handled by others are now just one of the many additional tasks that one-person-operations (i.e. the author) must take on in order to achieve a modicum of success. Authorship goes beyond narrative production as one is now required to have basic knowledge of website design and maintenance, business management, and marketing. Several portals and services are currently not uncommon to assist in these endeavors but many of the early pioneers in these digital ventures were navigating uncharted waters, mostly alone. However, this sole authorship provides a level of accessibility to the material and the person creating it that was once unimaginable. Authors are now available through email and social networking and often provide insight into their narrative production and/or their everyday lives. The desire to stay connected to the readership and to show the process of their work, in essence reveals the construction site that is narrative production. As messy and unorganized as it may seem, this unveiling provides a better understanding of what authorial performances take place through the digital publication of serial fiction.

Digital storytelling can be done in many ways, but for the purposes of this study I will focus on webcomics, again because graphic narratives of this form are more commonly serialized for long periods of time. With very few outside sources existing on the analysis of digital authorship and webcomics, I focus on analyzing the direct comments that webcomic cartoonists provide about their craft. These personal accounts of authorship help in foregrounding the narrative process so that readers and researchers can achieve a new level of understanding into serialized storytelling from amateur and experienced authors. Such information can be found mostly in the print compilations of their work, in addition to blog posts, podcasts, and interviews (some of which I have personally done over years of research in this area).

One of the more interesting aspects of webcomics is the fairly unique business model that involves building a readership for months or even years (while providing one’s narrative material in most instances for free) before any semblance of a profit can be made. However, once one has built a strong enough community, then the primary author can pass along certain authorial performances to his/her readership. One such task is the ability to obtain starting capital before expanding or providing a new merchandise selection. Originally, such funds were obtained through pre-orders but crowd funding websites like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter simplify the process and clearly show what one obtains for certain levels of pledging. This model goes beyond the traditional business exchange of goods and services for capital as readers take on a role closer to producers or investors. The role of readers becomes blurred as they now take on these authorial performances by financially supporting authors before the actual publication of their work.

The webcomics I am focusing on are two fantasy adventure stories with almost contrasting levels of authorial identity as part of their online personas. In the first case, we have Rich Burlew, aka the Giant, and his webcomic The Order of the Stick (OOTS) which he has been producing for over a decade. Burlew rarely participates in the forums, only recently started using Twitter (mostly for announcing new installments), and only communicates directly to the majority of his readers for big announcements pertaining directly to the webcomic. One such communique occurred when he informed his readership that a car accident had injured his writing/drawing hand and that the already chaotic publishing schedule would be on indefinite hold. The authorial performance of keeping his readership informed is specific and deliberate when it comes to the online publication. However, the print compilations contain in depth behind the scenes information from Burlew about his narrative process in between each “chapter”. These self-professed moments of narrative insight have a twofold authorial function. First, Burlew provides his readership with further information into his narrative process, often clarifying misconceptions about the story that are voiced through the webcomic’s forum. Second, this additional material serves as an added incentive for readers to purchase these books, as Burlew’s primary income from his webcomic is done through the sale of merchandise.

The second webcomic cartoonist I analyze is Tarol Hunt, aka Thunt, of Goblins. Tarol is very vocal through social media like Twitter and the blog of his webcomic about many topics. In the process of reading his work, I have come to learn many aspects of Thunt’s personal life, to the point that I and many of his readers feel a connection with him that author-reader relationships ten or twenty years could never imagine possible. He is aware of this connectivity and the very literal lifelines that the readership has given him in various manners. Thunt even goes so far as to call his readers his “E-maginary” friends and has a standing invitation for any fan to spend the night on the couch of his house (which Goblins fans helped pay for directly during a donation campaign). His authorial performance to keep his readership informed on many aspects of his life, ranging from the trivial to the deeply personal, foments a sense of community and emotional investment that goes beyond the narrative. Reading Goblins is no longer just about what will happen next to the characters as the development of the life of Thunt as a cartoonist and an individual are just as much a part of the serial reading experience.

In the case of both authors and for many other webcomic cartoonists, their expanding roles as their readership and narrative grows do not necessarily equate into taking on more authorial performances. Many of the veterans of webcomic publishing advise that building a sense of community amongst your readership allows for some tasks to be taken on by them. Passionate readers will take on the authorial performance of trying to convince their friends and family to join the rank and file of the readership with little to no prompting from the author. Some readers readily volunteer to defend ownership of the webcomic when other websites have installments on their site without giving royalties or even credit to the original webcomic cartoonist. In other cases, the author can promote readers to take on more roles, like an attentive forumite that can become a moderator for the website’s forum or a talented artist that does fan art that can take over as guest illustrator if your official artist needs a break. In short, webcomic publication shows the evolution from a sole authorship on almost every level to a shared one with the readership wherein they take on more authorial responsibilities. The rise of the reader does not have to come at the expense of the death of the author but rather through a connectivity/familiarity that the immediacy of digital publishing facilitates. Online forums and social media provide a platform for the readership to come together providing an immediate level of accessibility for communicating amongst themselves and with the author. These additional authorial performances, that now author and reader undertake, foreground the narrative process and help shed a new light on what authorship is and can become.



Works Cited and Consulted

(Formatting always gets weirded out when being transposed from word doc to blog post)

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Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge:                   MIT Press, 1999. Print.

Bryant, John. The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Ann             Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Burlew, Rich. Giant in the Playground: The Order of the Stick. Giant in the Playground, 2003.                  Web.

—. The Order of the Stick: Don’t Split the Party. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground, 2009.                   Print.
—. The Order of the Stick: Dungeon Crawlin’ Fools. Philadelphia: Giant in the Playground,                      2005. Print.
—. The Order of the Stick: No Cure for the Paladin Blues. Philadelphia: Giant in the                                  Playground, 2006. Print.
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Hunt, Tarol. Goblins: Life through Their Eyes. Goblins Comic, 2005. Web.

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Episode 102: Let’s Start This One More Time

It seems that every time I say that I am going to buckle down and write for the blog at regular serialization levels I unintentionally start a hiatus of sorts. For lack of a better term, it sucks big time. It’s not that I’m not writing or trying to figure things out for the dissertation, it’s just that blogging even the things I’ve already written falls down the priority line. I need to be better at a lot of things in life, such is the process of growth, of life, and potentially of serial fiction as the author hones his/her craft with each passing moment. So here’s my plan from now until further notice: Every week day I will post a subsection of dissertation chapters. I might put a lead up as to how I may be having trouble with this part or wording of a particular passage. In addition, I’m going to post a small story every day here of something interesting that is going on in my life outside of dissertation. Might be an observation on life or something cool I saw online that I want to share or maybe a stalker friendly post or two. I can’t let my entire mindset be solely dedicated to this academic endeavor or I fear that I will lose myself in the process of writing. I never really told anyone (though I’m certain a lot of people figured it out along the way) just how much writing my MA thesis pretty much emotionally crippled me. The back of my mind is constantly running some sort of idea of just how bad I can get should I succumb to that kind of darkness. Awareness and admittance of the problem is a big step towards it having less of an effect on you. And so I will write, to you my intended reader of friends and family who may see a post about this and even to the people who randomly find a post here through the magic and algorithms of Internet searches, with the hopes that you can learn something about serialization, about life, and about me.

I honestly don’t know what the future of this or of anything is. The one thing I do know is that fear will control me if I let it. So instead I should treat this endeavor in the same way that I should see life. Not as events occurring at my general direction but rather as a challenge that when encountered will help you grow. A wise old friend taught me that, I just hope that this time the lesson won’t be forgotten when faced with adversity. Maybe I get defeated, maybe I win, maybe it ends up being a stalemate, but along the line I still get experience. And once I get enough of those I’ll presumably level up (Bard 1, Paladin 3, that’s the dream).

So I will write and show my process, my failures and victories of the day. I have to. Or else. Well I don’t know what the “or else” will be but I don’t want to find out.