So there’s this thing I do for a local paper. It’s cartoon illustration, but it’s not what people expect out of me after seeing my comic strips, I guess.
Anyway, what the paper does, you see, is to put their print articles online, then allow comment sections beneath them, then they take comments that people make to their online version, and use those comments to make up a neat little sidebar in the print version every week. It’s what one calls ‘a vicious circle’.
As you might expect, the comments are often sarcastic, inflammatory, absurd, overwrought, and (I suspect) are often written in the wee hours by people who enjoy getting up a good rage listening to overnight call-in radio.
The difficulty (for me) is trying to tell people who don’t already read it about this particular feature. I mean, I’ve been doing it for years, but I’ve never worked out exactly how to show it off. You see the problem- literally. Without the absurd, self-satistfied, lunatic comment to go along with my nicely editorialized illustration, the reader is left scratching his head and wondering if I myself haven’t been up late under less-than-ideal conditions, and doing stuff in photoshop that might better be left to a more sober mind.
Some weeks, the editor contacts me and says curt and frankly actionable things about the commenters of the week, and has a lower opinion of their comments than he has of the commenters. The commenters, for their part, mostly have jolly pirate nicknames. Putting your real name on your own opinions these days is a no-no. We live in an age where spouting your own opinion can get you fired, especially if you’re a politician. If you’re a politician spouting your own opinion, they call it “going off-script.”
The commenters on the Memphis Flyer don’t have scripts. They have conviction, though (possibly multiple convictions) and they’re not afraid to call names, put people in their places and offer up the sort of quick fixes for What’s Wrong With the World that are usually only heard around campfires after the campers have had enough beer for rational World Saving and can’t, for whatever reason, get themselves onto Overnight Call-In Radio.
To step back and be fair to the commenters, the Flyer is just asking for it. I mean, there’s the comment section right there asking for comments after all, and the paper is getting all this valuable free content out of the deal. Right? Some of these commenters, at least the couple of them that I’ve personally met, are thoughtful and concerned about their community. On the other hand, as with any collection of humans upon the Earth, a pecking order and a little bureaucracy evolves over time. It had become more difficult for New Voices to involve themselves. Partly because the Old Voices have given up discussing articles in favor of shouting down other commenters who aren’t observing the pecking order and acknowledging the obviously superior blather of the Alpha loonies.
So the editor’s weekly emails to me have become slightly more glum, miffed and baffled as the years have rolled by. He’s forced to discuss commenters by name (jolly pirate nickname) and say that we’re doing something by that really arrogant guy again as it’s the least meaningless thing in an outrageous din of name-calling and back-biting. Some of the latest comments I’ve illustrated have been entertaining, but not exactly related to the article. At all. Doesn’t matter. The visuals are crazy, man. Crazy.