A quiet golden age
also: announcing Pille’s Boutique
OK, first off: make sure to read to the end, because I’ve got kind of an announcement down there just above the Closing Stuff section that I’d like you to see! All right, then! On with the newsletter:
So, like I’ve mentioned, I’m going to be teaching a class this Fall through Minneapolis Community Ed about making fully do-it-yourself comics. And I’m really excited for it! The thing is that, to a very big extent, this class is an attempt for me to take my master’s thesis*, which was essentially a manifesto on the power of DIY comics, and put it into action. Or help other people put it into action.
*Technically, it was called my qualifying paper, but no one outside of St. Thomas seems to use that terminology.
About that thesis: Basically, I looked at the work of three women who are independent cartoonists, Julia Wertz, Deena Mohammed, and Ariel Schrag, and argued that all three of them used different modes of creating and disseminating comics about themselves as a way to go around existing power structures to tell the world who they were/are. I spend a lot of time arguing in the paper—and I sincerely believe—that this is an amazingly powerful thing, that a person with access to some pretty basic tools can get their story out there without the help of the enormous, all-strangling media establishment (being me, there’s also a Marxist methodology section where I rail a bit about big media entities).
So this is going to be the point of this class: to teach a group of people the nuts and bolts of each step of using easily-available tools, both analog and digital, to tell a story about themselves and get it out to the world. Because, despite everything that’s wrong with the world right now, here’s a magical truth: I don’t think there’s ever been a moment in human history where individuals have had more power to create and disseminate art out into the world. And that’s fucking amazing!
I mean, think about it: you can craw a cartoon, or a picture of a tree, or whatever, take a picture of it with the phone you carry around all the time, and upload it to one of multiple social media networks to broadcast it out to the world instantly. And then it might take off or it might languish in obscurity, but either way it’s out there. Odds are decent you have some kind of photography practice going on with that same phone and those same networks. Isn’t that nuts? There’s so much potential power there. And this is skipping the absolute tidal wave of video-based self-expression (admittedly, some of it awful) happening on YouTube and TikTok.
I bumped into a different manifestation of this a few weeks ago. I’d signed up to play a set at Kingfield Porchfest, a great little festival that happens in my neighborhood every year where a ton of houses have little music shows in their front yards. I got an email from a guy in the band scheduled to follow me, Firebirdie, and he included a link to their Spotify presence so I could see what they were like. And again, I was struck: here’s a guy with an unsigned band, and he can very easily send me an accessible link to digital versions of music that he and his band had home-recorded and produced. And I was able to do the same with music I’d recorded, through the same channels. And again, all of this music had been recorded and disseminated without labels or studios or any of the old gatekeeping structures.
Now, believe me, I KNOW that Spotify has a million things wrong with it. I’m not for a second saying “this is a great and healthy time for the business ecosystem in music! Gosh, artists are sure treated fairly these days!” The business world around music has been an exploitative sewer for decades and in a lot of ways it’s worse than it’s ever been and god knows that Spotify and the other streaming services are a big part of that. YES. But, stipulating all of that, it’s still an amazing time in terms of one individual’s ability to use a pretty common household appliance to function as a better studio than the Beatles had access to for Sgt. Pepper and then make the results available to the world.
There’s so, so much wrong with the world right now, and technology is a big part of it across the board. But I do think there’s value in also sitting back and recognizing that the same technology does also give artists (visual, musical, literary—I mean, consider that you’re reading this in a DIY newsletter) things and options that we’ve never had before. Mass culture is dumber and blander than it’s been at any point in my life, but there’s also a more vibrant low-key scene of people expressing their innate, glorious humane weirdness than I’ve ever seen. And that’s pretty goddamned great!
Right on. Stay safe.
SO. THAT ANNOUNCEMENT.
I’m starting a second newsletter. The new one will be called Pille’s Boutique, and it’ll focus entirely on music (both appreciating/analyzing it and making it). Doing this because I have a million different music thought rattling around my head; I thought about just putting them out through this newsletter, but I know that some people just signed up for this to hear me rail against Jacques-Louis David and never bargained for me rhapsodizing about the Flying Burrito Brothers. So a second newsletter seems like the sanest thing to do, and if you’re into this (gestures upwards) but focused on music, I hope you’ll consider signing up. If not, no worries, I understand, and things’ll still continue here as before, in the same sporadic and scattered fashion.
OK, so here at the bottom, sorry for the ragged copy editing; my deal with myself was to keep this fast and loose, which is gonna mean typos. On the other hand, that also means it’ll actually come out, instead of being obsessed over.
If you have any thoughts/reactions/what have you about this, I’d love to hear about it, either by email or on Twitter. And if you know anybody who might dig this, please forward it on to them, or send ‘em the signup link! And thanks!