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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Those Immortal Catalogs

A few years ago, I knew a man with a curious hobby.  Let’s call him Roger.  Everyday Roger would log onto eBay and bid for old department store catalogs.  The pictures he most wanted depicted women and little girls modeling underwear.  Roger would scan in these images and post them on his website.  Viewers paid a subscription fee to access these images.  

Creepy, you say?  Roger insisted he never displayed any nudes or sensual poses.  He claimed his viewers were less interested in his models than their underwear.  Some sent him money to buy locally available men’s or women’s underwear and mail it to them.  While income from his site never paid him enough to earn a living, Roger used it to pay for his catalogs, digital cameras, computers, and associated expenses.  Additionally, he donated a portion of his income to a local charity.  It still sounds creepy, you say?  While it’s not my place to judge, um, uh, well…let’s just say I would choose other interests to center my life around.

The Internet has evolved remarkably since then, and it’s not unusual to hear about individuals earning their livelihoods through operating their own websites.  Often they make a physical product and sell it via their site.  Perhaps they design computer software, and give people a free trial period before they purchase it.  Maybe they operate a service, such as carpet cleaning, and use the site to market their services.  I’m sure I’m woefully ignorant as to the various ways people utilize this comparatively new medium.  So imagine my surprise when I attended a presentation at Condor, my local science fiction convention, and heard about a man who buys old store catalogs, scans in the images that catch his eye, manipulates these images (or sections of these images) into cartoons which he posts on his website, allows people to access these comics for free…and earns sufficient income to provide for his family’s needs.  His name is David Malki ! (Yes, he uses the exclamation mark), and his website is called Wondermark.

Caution: Artist At Work!

Watching an artist at work can prove equal parts fascination and boredom.  David’s presentation took place on the final day of the weekend, so everyone was a little tired.  It started first thing in the morning, so few people attended.  The lighting in the room was poor, which made it difficult to stare at the screen for extended periods.  At first I was dismissive of his efforts, as his design taste seems geared toward the Steampunk devotees, a fad that, in my opinion, is more often based upon style than substance.  When he took pieces of this image, or a section of that Victorian invention, and placed it in his cartoon, I viewed it as recreation without reason.  Yet when the weekend had passed, something in his presentation drew me to his website.  What I found surprised and impressed me.

His newly posted comic for that week perfectly satirized one aspect of the convention I hadn’t given much thought to.  Paging through his archive, I noticed how thought provoking and humorous his fiction was.  What I had taken as silly and pointless I now realized was due to the fact that he was merely demonstrating his creative process, and didn’t have a clear thought driving the practice strip.  But his method was sound, and his published efforts sublime.

A warning.  If you’re thinking of creating your own website, or currently operate one, you may find Wondermark intimidating.  Not only does David post a comic several times each week, but he posts a blog (more often than I do), and creates other items such as posters, T-shirts, calendars, and bumper stickers.  You can purchase a print of a particular strip, or even a book.  He’s written a three-part novel, the first of which you can preview for free.  The more I peruse his site, the more my own blog pales in comparison.  But then I remind myself that I must not compare his efforts with my own.  Each of us has a unique vision, and a different plan for how we believe we can best pursue our goals.  His business is entirely Internet-based; mine will not be.  Still, I’ve bookmarked Wondermark in my browser, and intend to follow it for a while.  Who knows?  Maybe some of his business method and style will rub off on me.  At the very least, I’m interested in reading more of his comic strips.  Plus, he’s got a great name (even without the exclamation mark).

Isn’t it amazing how an artist like David Malki ! can utilize seemingly out-of-date items such as old store catalogs to create something new, fresh, and valuable?  Perhaps nothing we create ever loses its value.  

The Creative Process on Display

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