SPREY Log #23 – New Horizons

I’m treating this day as a harbinger of things to come.

Yesterday I took the time to thin out some of my social media. I left Twitter and Mastodon outright, Instagram got on the chopping block for a massive content reduction and almost got deleted, too. I swear, there must have been two or more occassions where I thought about deleting Insta before and I honestly can’t tell you why I didn’t. It’s probably the network effect in action. It feels like a far bigger loss than it actually would be. I will keep my Twitch to watch and comment on other people’s streams, but I do not plan on streaming myself anytime soon.

Why am I doing this?

I want to reduce the background noise in my mind. Every platform I’m on requires care and content updates from time to time, actually. In a true Pressfield sense I will not tolerate the urge to update my social media as overshadowing my urge to sit down and actually create things. That is…distraction. Also I noticed a mismatch between my mental image of my social media usage and reality.

Social media is not evil and not a bad idea. It’s actually a great idea to have tools and platforms where you can promote your independent creations outside of the classical gatekeepers of your respective industry. It’s also a fantastic idea to have open places on the web where you can converse with people and learn about more perspectives and ideas and keep up with people you otherwise would lose touch with like relatives that live far far away. But as usual the execution is the part that pulls the experience down.

I feel, in order for anything to make sense, I must also touch on something else that is uncomfortable to think about. Humans are hackable. People can manipulate your mood and behavior, people can manipulate your tastes, people can and will manipulate how and what you think. Movies and advertisement are pretty good at it. Any junkfood that is bad for you but tastes better than it has any business to taste does it. Casinos do it. And social media do it, too. You will be influenced by something, anything, almost all the time, while you think you are the ruler over your own mind.

Now bringing it together: so you have these idealistic ideas about social media and join a platform. It is free to use but must make money to sustain itself. If it cannot make money from subscription fees or other direct payments by it’s users, what to do? Well, then it must take something from people that even someone with zero money can give. Time. Attention. Making people watch advertisement that someone else paid for. If a social media platform would openly advertise itself to waste your time, nobody would use it. Nobody sets out to waste hours of their day to scroll random information. Instead you hear about empowerment, networks and networking and how you MUST use it so that other people can discover you and your art.

So there’s pressure to join and use, the fear of missing out. But what happens then, is even more unsettling. You are in a system of loops. The users, as inmates of the prison that don’t know they are in a prison, happily engage with each other, feed the platform with content to discover for others and reward each other by liking, commenting or otherwise approving of what they are offered. This is another case where technology has far outpaced human evolution. You are wired to seek social approval. That was the only way to survive in the past. And your brain cannot distinguish the quality of that approval. You get a dopamine kick whether a random stranger on the net agrees with you or your spouse sitting on the other end of the breakfast table. This is another fascinating as well as terrifying case where your brain cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. It just fires the chemical reaction. The social media company doesn’t have to do anything, people entertain themselves, hunting for more dopamine, both by being validated or just being thrilled by random new and interesting information and pictures they can find. And the platforms do want to make it easy for you to spend a lot of time doing that. In come the algorithms, machine code to ensure content that is interacted with a lot is seen by even more people. It must be either especially good or more often especially outrageous. The algorithm doesn’t judge. It just promotes what seems to be popular to more people. Also, in the case of platforms like Instagram, algorithms also ensure you toe the line as a „creator“ and don’t let your audience down. If you dare to post without buying ads to promote your works, then post daily or perish, be not shown to anyone. Nothing is left to chance in this system of loops. Also don’t think if you give in and do buy an ad you’ll have an easier time. You have fed the beast and now you’re marked. It knows it can extract money from you so you’ll get hit with invisibility double as hard once your ad runs out so that you buy more. And by that point you are probably so far in that the dopamine kicks you don’t get feel like actual punishment and pain to the brain.

And now for me, my situation.

I’m making art and at least for some time, I have been creating things to share almost religiously. But I do not make outrageously good or outrageous art and do not have outrageous takes, so of course it doesn’t stick. I burned out several times, but always stood up and came back, trying again. I just didn’t know any better. While I’m doing everything to improve the quality of my art, I finally realized I cannot „beat“ the algorithm. Not by definition and also not by trying to morph myself into something it might like more. I would betray myself and drift even further away from SPREY or anything else waiting in my drawer. No one is asking for SPREY or any original creation actually, but still, I have to do it. I also cannot create „more“ for the sake of pleasing the algorithm. It is not sustainable.

I even wisened up and understood, while you show up for work every time, you are not entitled to have something finished or ‚shareable’ every day. Especially for long term projects it will be natural and to be expected to have streaks where you create and scrap multiple days or weeks of work because it just doesn‘t come together immediately. It is normal. Sometimes you even have to make several drafts. That’s when things take years to make, but they still get done in the end. I have tricked myself into thinking that this should be otherwise though, that it’s bad to let people down and make them not hear from you at least once a week, even if you have nothing to say and nothing to show. Documenting the journey excessively gives the illusion of actually travelling even if you actually didn’t move. I was actually stressed out by failing to feed the platforms repeatedly. With the context of the things I talked about earlier it was a lot of fuzz about nothing though. Other people who aren’t artists seem to be able to look through this easier, how they don’t care whether you create daily, they can lose interest in you anytime.

As my knowledge about creating art expands, I’m seeing that there are parts to the process that are ‚invisible‘ such as studies, research, writing scripts and drawing thumbnails and storyboards (not the braggard ones, the actual chicken scratch ones) and therefore not that great for sharing online. You don’t see them much and people don’t understand them. Beginners who don’t necessarily know about them are incentivised to skip them entirely in favor of better shareable pieces of work. I realized, the types of content that I want to make, aren’t very daily share friendly and long term.

That is not things that are encouraged or very visible.

I was worried I’d be wasting my time writing all of this instead of just drawing or doing anything for SPREY. I’m actually pretty scared of the pain of returning to it. But after thinking through all of this what I have written down…I’m even more adamant that a social media break is good for me. I don’t have to worry about it right now. I should first focus on creating something that is actually worthwhile, then I can worry about making people aware of it. Trying to document it in a way pleasing to algorithms does not work. I finally have accepted that. And I finally have accepted how my reality as the creator of my works looks like. I must live with long periods of no validation, but compared to never finishing anything that is a price I am willing to pay.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 16, 17

Today is a great day to remind myself why change and being open and willing to adapt is so very very important. Change is something that happens. Nobody can ignore or rectract the invention of the internet or the smartphone for example. Both has permeated our lives. And then it is the question in what ways we want or can adapt to that. But you as a creator, you can also change from within.

I‘m having a great time studying Yoji Shinkawa‘s works the past days. I hope they help me to free myself up from the tyranny of mindless (out)lines. I‘m telling myself to think about the form first like Robert Henri suggested in his book – and light, color and everything else such as wisely chosen important lines are means to define and show the form. This takes a lot of uncertainty away from my process, because the goal is clearer and the priorities are, too. So far I really like this new „game“ of art. Colors and light aren‘t that beast of a thousand hydra heads anymore, when you treat form as more important than nailing a certain color or making the values perfect. You will still want to nail everything in the process of showing form well, but you might make your decisions faster and with more confidence, when everything is a means to a different, possibly higher yet simpler end.

There‘s trouble on the horizon with Street Prey (SPREY) on Instagram. There was a vote yesterday and Instagram amassed to only 3 votes cast in total. That is incedibly low. I am speaking to my readers there and don‘t think they are tired of the comic. I am rather shadowbanned or otherwise not treated favorably by Instagram‘s current algorithm. Even people who would have wanted to vote did not see the new post. Instagram is not to blame for my luck of success, though. Assuming thousands of people would be exposed to my work…can I really know they will love it? I can‘t. I can‘t control the reception of my work apart from doing my best to create it well and otherwise make it pallatable. But failures with big marketing budgets show us that you just can‘t buy something becoming a hit.

On another note it is absolutely normal that interest for a longer comic vanes. If you cannot enjoy it in only one sitting in full, there will always be a slight and growing resistance to look into it again on a different day. It is the same with books. Reading doesn‘t give you the fastest dopamine for your engagement and there are many other worthwhile activities to compete with it. But can you blame the reader for not trying hard enough to work through your creation no matter what? Wouldn‘t you equally have to blame the creator for not captivating the reader enough with superb craft, and hardly measurable qualities like heart and soul and subjective entertainment value in the work? In the end it would be blaming each other for being flawed and shaking fists at entropy.

I have been learning and am learning so many valuable lessons while making „Street Prey“. I would still be making that comic, even if nobody was watching except my two eyes. It is flawed like every first of it‘s kind is, but it is also fresh and has already seen a couple of transformations already alongside with me.

I could whine about Instagram, my misunderstood genius and insist on my current way of working and sharing the comic. I could choose to ignore it completely as a non-problem. Or I could stop for a moment, think, and wonder whether I can improve in any direction. In my understanding, Instagram, Twitter and alternative platforms aren‘t meant or optimized to share a long form comic on. Gone are the times where people had the leisure to check out a whole account. They might take a glimpse on recent works and then move on again. Places like Webtoons have become the go-to for reading and sharing webcomics. People will not expect them in other places except for personal or dedicated websites maybe. At least in theory sharing a comic in other places is not the dumbest idea though, as you can get drowned out by other comics easily if everyone jumps on few platforms like Webtoons. I don‘t worry too much about that at the moment, as I‘m a comic beginner. My work is not at risk to compete with that of seasoned creators yet, but I‘m learning. A beginner has the freedom to start anywhere with anything and I have taken a lot of advantage of this. But there comes the moment when anything anywhere stops working and it‘s time to specialize, focus or otherwise adapt, either to changes from within or those of the environment.

I would not do myself a favor if I threw SPREY as it is onto Webtoons. Something like medium shifts cannot be explained or sold to an audience that is used to a wholly different level of consistency. Also, SPREY operates in a fringe area where you can almost call it a prototype for a simple RPG or visual novel rather than a comic. I have a UI instead of speech bubbles. I have one panel per page which you can read as single screenshots. I have choices the reader has to make and that influence the story and it‘s outcome. Was/am I a gamedev all along? I should mention that I‘m pumping hours and design work like crazy right now into the„Your Land“ videogame towards our next update and having a blast.

I will need more time to think about what to do next. Things are in a flow in a very interesting way right now.

See you next blogpost!