I Love Zombies

I ♥ zombie movies.

Not all of them mind you. As far as indie B horror movie goes, it’s a genre of horror movies that’s rife with craptacular attempts. Even some of the major studios have made some incredibly dull and unoriginal movies. But generally, I love watching the human struggle to survive against an unrelenting, nearly unstoppable horror that threatens to consume and assimilate you. A lot of my favorite movies to rewatch are zombie flicks. Not everyone is going to agree – I like a good story with zombies in it. Some people just like the gore.

As AMC prepares to bring the “The Walking Dead” to life (pun intended), I thought I’d go over some of my favorites, and point out some of the things that make good zombie movies and things that make bad zombie movies.

My Top Picks For Zombie Movies

Your Days Are Numbered

28 Days Later
What made 28 Days Later great can probably be pinned on one defining factor: The zombies can run. This changed the game a lot, as suddenly the old version of shambling masses of undead filling the streets wasn’t the only fear. Even one zombie on it’s own was incredibly dangerous. Having a huge herd of them pounding into the tunnel, or attempting to attack the compound was exciting, but the little boy in the way station was just as fear-inspiring. That, combined with the speed of infection in this film meant that one zombie could realistically cause a huge outbreak. One of the great flaws in zombie movies is that it assumes that people don’t understand what’s going on and refuse to believe it, even after witnessing several attacks – which I often find hard to believe. In some of the more traditional movies that use infection + shambling zombies, it makes very little sense that the outbreak is so widespread at such an accelerated rate. Cinematially, Danny Boyle shot a movie with some real grit, and his style of film making really brought the story to life in a way that people are trying to hard to emulate. The character development here is fantastic, as we see the different levels and timelines of the Kübler-Ross Model played out between the main characters. Cillian Murphy does a brilliant job leading the cast.

zombieland
zombieland is hilariously great. Though not as funny as Shaun of the Dead, it mixes action, comedy and romance in a way that many of the indie movies tend to fail in. It’s not hard to point out what exactly makes this movie great – attention to details. Instead of focusing on the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, it very lightly takes a look at what the world would be like once people had adjusted to the horror of a zombie world. Where ‘Land of the Dead‘ failed, zombieland does a great job of focusing on character development, witty writing, and the evolution of consequences. Details like renaming themselves after their destinations or hometowns, ‘Columbus’s Rules, and varying the reasons for peoples motivations (Tallahassee in search of a Twinkie is particularly brilliant) all create a world that is richly believable, and ridiculously entertaining. The editing fashion of showing the rules, and adding in ‘zombie Kill of the Week’ were fantastic comedic takes on the zombie genre.

Shaun of the Dead
Simply the best comedy of the zombie genre. I might be biased because I often prefer British humor, but I think this one works well because it does something that most zombie movies fail to do. As it’s tagline states: A romantic comedy. With zombies. It focuses more on the romantic comedy aspect, using dry British humor and some seriously flawed characters to drive a story. Then they added zombies as a backdrop – shambling, slow moving zombies. There’s some incredibly hilarious moments generated by the speed of the zombies: a little tounge-in-cheek at the genre that may lessen the fear factor of the zombies themselves, but points out how useless one or two zombies is in compared to an amassing horde.

Night of the Living Dead
It’s the original. What more can I really say about it? It’s cheap, fun and amazing. The first film I saw was the Tom Savini remake – which I loved. You can forgive some of the acting because of the era, and some of the terrible editing as well. But all in all, it started a whole new genre of movies, all based off of not ripping off a vampire story. It’s worth watching the original, or the remake. It doesn’t necessarily stick all of the factors that normally make a zombie movie great, but they both work as precursors. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t seem to be due to an infection – the dead simply come back to ‘life’.

Dead Set
I’ve just started watching this series, and I already love it. It’s not technically a movie, but as a five part mini-series, it’ll do. The idea of focusing on a small cadre of divas and attention seekers that don’t even realize what’s going on is an amazing hook. Imagine if your group of survivors was a bunch of idiot prats that don’t know that toes have bones? It’s also the perfect setup for a bunch of misaligned characters to hole up together and learn to work together. Cinematically, it looks as though it’s taking a similar feel to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later – gritty, focused and a little washed out, which contrasts nicely with the polished brightly lit scenes of the Big Brother House.

The Crazies
I might have to argue that the Crazies even is a zombie movie. But I do think it fits into the genre – They’re not the undead, per se, but as monsters, they do behave similarly. Relentless, focused on death – it’s a movie that uses zombies as the inspiration for the kind of horror that zombies inflict. What works here that doesn’t normally is giving the zombies a degenerating cognitive ability – in the initial stages of infection, they’re capable of operating heavy machinery, weapons and communicating. However, they do slowly regress into more simplistic killing machines as the corrupting agent accumulates it’s effects. Zombies are horrifying because they kill without thought or remorse. They don’t reason or rationalize or learn – they hunt and kill with less than rudimentary skills. That they gather in relentless hordes that you can’t reason with is what makes them scary. They’ll just keep coming.

Undead
This movie is ridiculous. Ridiculous in a way that only a few cult classics can ever be – like Sam Rami’s Evil Dead series. Undead is over-the-top, gritty, full of hilariously bad acting, and is probably a rip from George A. Romero’s orginal concept for Night of the Living Dead. It lacks in cohesion, seems to take some really odd turns, and has a ton of consistency goofs. But all that terribleness that didn’t work in a dozen or so other movies, somehow comes together well with an Australian accent. There’s something adorable about it.

What makes A Good Zombie Movie?

  • Zombie Archetypes
    Zombies are unrelenting, singularly focused on their need. They infect with a bite, and that’s all you need. Adding things like the ability to learn (Land of the Dead) or sympathy for them (28 Weeks Later) take away from the actual horror of a zombie outbreak.
  • Character Development
    It’s not enough to have a girl with her boobs out screaming clinging to a tough badass choking on cigars and blowing away zombies for 90 minutes. Characters need to change through the movie – the Kübler-Ross Model provides a good arc for characters to follow in an outbreak situation, as an example.
  • Hooks
    Since George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, it’s been increasingly important to add a “what if” factor to each new entry. The core story of “What if the Dead were to come back hungry for human flesh?” started the genre – making it an original story is what is going to make it good. Hooks like “What if zombies could run?” (28 Days Later) and “What if zombies were pyschotic killers instead of the undead?” (The Crazies) can lead to a strong story. If 28 Weeks Later had instead focused on the “What if there were human carriers of the rage virus, immune to the symptoms?” – they might have made a good movie.
  • Moderate Gore
    There are a ton of ‘Horror’ Filmmakers that focus on surprise and gore to fit into the horror drama. But I find that those that play with suspense and character tension are the ones that get my hackles up right.
  • Limitations
    In most of the movies I like here, there are character limitations that the filmmakers stick with. Just because someone drives a cab doesn’t mean they know how to fix cars. Just because they have to shoot zombies doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good shot. It’s these limitations that force characters to adapt and grow, which, as I’ve stated, is where the real entertainment is in a good zombie movie.

Things I’d Like to See in Zombie Movies

  • I’d love to see a zombie Movie set somewhere other than a Western Civilization. I think somewhere like India, Pakistan or Japan might make interesting settings, simply because of the density of the populations in areas. The first two especially, because of a lower standard of luxury and a higher poverty base would make the infection rate higher, and the safety zones much smaller. Imagine a horde of millions. Scary.
  • There are a ton of movies out there that all start at the point of outbreak, but I’d love to see one set well after a zombie infestation. What would it look like 40 years down the road? What would the world look like if only a North America was infected – but 50 years later the zombies managed to show up on the shores of Africa? Would they be prepared? Would they have warning?
  • 28 Weeks Later redone so that it doesn’t suck (cutting out the zombie sympathy scenes would help), so that 28 Months Later could be made.

Louis Gyori

have a heavy heart and a lot weighing on my mind right now – and I wanted to share my thoughts with you. I don’t know that I can fully do this justice, but I want to try.

When I was a teenager, embarking on the summer of my sixteenth season, I was encouraged to get some sort of employ to keep me out of the house and out of trouble. Following both a girl and the encouragement of my father, I became a camp counsellor. My father encouraged me to go to camp (as he had been a counsellor in his youth), and the girl led me to Camp Can-Aqua. Despite some reservations, I was quickly welcomed into what I would discover was not just a camp, or a summer job, but a family. The patriarch of which was Louis Gyori, an enthusiastic, sometimes brash and sometimes wise man whom brought me out of my shell. Over the course of the next five years I became part of the camp – I ran the Canoe Program, I became the Waterfront Head (to which I was known as ‘Dan, Dan the Waterfont Man’ sung, everytime…) – I learned Campcraft and Woodworking skills, I fell in and out of love, and I made – as the brochure promises – friendships that will last a lifetime. Something about the camp and it’s teachings got into my blood, under my skin and sunk in. A feat that I can’t say all of my publically funded teachers were able to achieve.

I don’t know that I fully appreciated it at the time – I knew I had something valuable, I knew that I loved it. But I stopped going to pursue my career, to travel, and though I see some of those friends from time to time, I lost touch. Until yesterday. Over the weekend, Louis Gyori, a friend, a mentor, a guide – a man who had a positive impact in my development as a person, passed away.

He was the keystone to hundreds of kids finding their way, building a thriving camp and maple syrup business from nothing more than a few ramshackle buildings and a philosophy – in a nutshell, helping kids become self-confident, positive people willing to contribute to the community. It was about learning to get along. And it was about fun. Louis wasn’t just the founder of the camp, or the camp director – he is camp. Can-Aqua was a physical extension of everything the man was – and it was overwhelmingly positive. He was an inspiration not just to campers, but to the community to which he belonged year-round. He sponsored programs for local youth, made room and donated spaces at camp for Children’s Aid Society kids, all while being a medical marvel that turned his lifestyle around into a healthy one after surviving major heart surgery in his early adulthood.

When I found out, I was suddenly struck with a profound sense of loss. In the last 24 hours, I’ve chatted with dozens of old friends, shared hundreds of pictures and reconnected with a huge network of people that all feel the same way – generations that have all been impacted by one man. Because of that, in that loss, I realized how much I had gained. What I had, and what I have.

Though I can’t truly share the sentiment that my fellow Can-Aquaians and I are feeling at this point, I think what I’m trying to convey is: Don’t take it for granted. Think of the people whom have spent time with you, encouraged you, helped shape you and reach back out to them. They took time out of their lives to interrupt yours, and made sure that you followed a path. They helped you grow. Be it a parent or teacher, a camp counsellor, a swimming instructor or a ‘Big Brother’ – you know that person – write them a note. Give them a call. Let them know that you appreciate them giving you that gentle (or rough) shove forward in life, and that you wouldn’t be where you are now without them. Let them know they made a difference.

Who is it for you? Who touched your life, and how?

Louis Gyori – for all that you are, and all that you’ve done, you’ll be missed. We are the ripples, and you were the rain – I hope that we can do you proud and carry forward your positive energy and enthusiasm. Rest in Peace, my friend.

If at first you don’t succeed: try something different.

Another old adage that had been a mainstay: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Don’t give up, don’t be a quitter. Work hard, work smart, but keep trying until you you get it right. Get up. Get back on your feet. Get back on your horse. So many ways of saying: You’re probably going to fail the first couple of times.

It’s a good thing to fail. Often we can learn more from our failures than we can from our successes. Failure forces us to analyze our approach and find the flaws that cause the failure. When we succeed, we often don’t take the time to see if we succeeded by luck or by design, or where the collision of those two things might have covered up inefficiencies that we will overlook the next time we perform the task.

Specifically, in the world of branding and advertising, there is a huge shift in progress. With the rebuking of traditional noise mechanisms like radio, television and print media, we are experiencing an age where even repetitive messaging is starting to fail in the marketplace. The decline of click-throughs on banner advertising is a solid indicator that pay-and-display advertising is not going to be a the most viable method of brand message delivery in the future. There’s solid statistics to show that the old forms of ad delivery on the internet, as well as in the mainstream, are losing their effectiveness.

In speculation, it might not even be possible in coming years. With Torrents, On-Demand, PVR’s and other forms of advertising excluding media, it will be harder and harder to get citizens to even be aware of new products and brands in the market place. Consumers are actively trying to block out and ignore advertising whenever possible. While it is not a completely hostile revolt, it is a passive/aggressive boycott of the amount of noise that advertising has created.

It’s a difficult problem to face – since the industrial revolution, the free market economy has relied heavily on mass-market messaging to deliver products far and wide. Our entertainment creation and delivery systems are extremely dependent on advertising. If the ads aren’t effective, then producers aren’t going to pay for it. And if that cash flow system isn’t in place, how are we going to get episodes of the Big Bang Theory?

It’s not to say that advertising itself is dying. Simply that we need to be able to adapt and change approaches. What worked twenty years ago isn’t going to work now. What worked five years ago isn’t going to work next year. And adding a twitter feed isn’t going to salvage that.

One of the key factors is interaction and being flexible, dynamic and quick to respond to change. Social networking isn’t going to be effective unless corporate producers become social. It’s becoming more important for advertisers not to just deliver a message to the masses, but to deliver a question. From there, they have to listen to the answers and respond, continuing to engage people on a person-to-person basis. The real question is – can they? Can you?

Make Everything as Simple as Possible.

An old adage always applies – K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, Stupid. To speak more principally, apply Occam’s Razor to your creative development problem. This is not ‘the simplest answer is the correct one’, it is the one with ‘the fewest new assumptions.’

Launching a new product or reinvigorating a new brand can take on many shapes. In an oversaturated market (and they’re all oversaturated) it can be difficult to get one product or brand to stand out among the noise. It is the most basic and first hurdle that we can’t afford to ignore. We live in a society that is constantly blaring messages and launching new products, ad nauseam. Or paradox:

Although Barry Schwartz’s focus is on the freedom of choice in relation to product availability, his thinking can be applied to brand, design and consumer interaction. The question it brings to the surface is “What is going to make people want to interact with your brand?”

Don’t add bells and whistles that don’t need to be there. Don’t bog yourself down in elements and messaging – get the point across, do it fast and do it well. Say what needs to be said. In the average magazine ad, you have a fraction of a second to get someone’s attention and make a mark. Can your ad be understood and memorable in less than a second?

Thinking specifically about marketing campaigns, I’ve had to design ads that had far too many messaging properties. In one case, I had:

  • Brand Logo *
  • Current Brand Tagline
  • Campaign Line
  • “Win” Messaging *
  • Prize Messaging
  • Prize Visuals
  • Consumer Actions (What to do, how to do it)
  • Legal *

Of everything that I was instructed to include, Only three things were truly nessecary. Most of the text on there was suplerfuous marketing fodder that only discouraged people from reading the entire message. Although most of it could seem nesseccary, combining and simplifying several of those requests would have not only made the design more manageable, but would have incensed more people to engage in it. As it stood, it turned out that particular project was too difficult for people to engage in.

We live in a joy-centric society. Because the basic necessities we need to eat, drink and shelter ourselves are generally met, our consumer base operates off of a ‘What is going to bring me the most enjoyment with the least amount of effort.” That kind of thinking applies to everything – from convenience shopping, Internet activity, entertainment consumption, and brand loyalty.

This theory can apply anywhere in life, so it has to be kept in mind by advertisers, producers and brands. Because of the need to sell mass messaging about mass products to a mass audience, we have to keep in mind that people are innundated with conversations with others out there – we can’t pretend we’re in a vaccum when putting out a message. We have to remain concious of what we might be up against in the real world when putting out a message, and whom we’re putting it out to.

Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

-Albert Einstien

Anecdotally, I recall sitting in a meeting about pitching campaign messaging for a line of kids toys. This particular line of toys wasn’t educational. In fact, the brand was gender specific, used lust triggers and centered on a competitive joy factor. The brand positioning was targeted directly at boys, with an age bracket of 4-12. Specifically this campaign was supposed to go after 4 and 5 year olds. This meeting was going very, very long and seemed to continually circle back on itself. The pivoting point of the discussion was messaging, or course. I had to point out that our target audience couldn’t read. That changed to focus of the meeting from messaging to visuals – simple symbolism and attractive graphics were going to do a lot more to sell this to the target than something about what they could win if they collected this that and went on a website.

How would you apply this approach to your business? Do you incorporate this thinking into your design?

Drink More Water

Though caffeinated beverages like coffee or Red Bull are commonly held as the creative wake-up juice, make sure to drink a lot of water in the day, and especially at night if you’re working late. Ice cold and clean (filtered, if you’re so inclined), a refreshing chug of water can really bring your focus back, it can make you feel a little cleaner inside if you’re feeling a little gummed up and stressed out trying to eek out that next big idea.

I like to start my day with a cup or two of freshly ground, home brewed joe – my favorite grinds so far are Kicking Horse’s Grizzly Claw, Starbucks Holiday Blend and recently discovered Balzac’s. I love my coffee – sweetener, a bit of milk, and hot. I’m discovering though that I can’t just drink coffee anymore. I try to keep it to a little when I start working, and then switch to water as the day (or night) wears on.

There’s a lot of benefits to drinking water – Weight loss, energy, cleansing and it’s a headache cure. We always think of the physical benefits of it, often overlooking the mental benefits. What most people don’t realize is that creative work can be nearly as strenuous as physical activity – all those neurons firing use energy in a similar way. So, water is just as beneficial for replenishing a fatigued mind as well as rehydrating the body.

Be A Courageous Follower

Leadership is over glorified. It’s really the first follower that transforms the lone nut into a leader. If you really care about starting a movement have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up, and join in.

This lesson comes to me via Derek Sivers‘ 3 minute TED Talk in 2010. As a subscriber to the TED Podcast I get to glimpse into the highlights of these talks, and hopefully one day, I’ll get a chance to go. Though the reference he uses to illustrate his point is silly, it makes a very interesting discussion point.

What makes this point fascinating is that there is an incredible amount of emphasis in original thinking in the Creative realms. The old vanguard relies heavily on original, innovative thinking. Even outside Creative Advertising/Marketing and the Arts, we as a society have coined dozens of idioms to emphasize ‘individuality’. Things like:

  • Be Yourself
  • March to the beat of your own drum’
  • Go against the grain
  • Look out for number 1
  • ‘Weird is different, and different is good.’

Even taking a look around the internet, you can find dozens, if not hundreds of quotes from historical and famous figures all touting the perks of individuality. On paper, our society thrives on people doing their own thing, being who they want to be. In fact, some of our most heralded people are so because they went against the grain and did something different. Change is engendered by people who fly out from the mainstream and tackle the new world. There is much we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for people like Christopher Columbus, Richard Branson, Rosa Parks or Stephen Hawking – people who shirk convention and fight for or explore their own beliefs.

So it seems counterintuitive to suggest that there is some kind of benefit to being a follower. But you have to think beyond Christopher Columbus, think behind Hawking. Where would they be if no one said “Hey, that’s just so crazy, it might work!”?

There were three ships that sailed to the Americas, and it was sanctioned by Isabella I of Castile. That’s a lot of people who (pardon the pun) had to get on board for Columbus to raise anchor and sail off into the unknown. That may not seem like a big deal until you consider that it was common belief that beyond the horizon the world just dropped off into nothing. It was crazy talk to think of doing something like that.

The people that watch, listen and join are just as important as the leaders. Those that take a moment to consider what that otherwise crazy nutjob is saying or doing, compare it against the convention and decide that the new course of action is better are the people that make the change. Those that start the movement are really the early adopters – those few that glom on quickly, and drive the idea outward.

It’s an interesting perspective when you consider things like brand loyalty, fandom and activism.

This kind of thinking is something to consider when creating communication work – advertising, marketing, fine art or otherwise: Are you creating something that people can follow? Are you leading them somewhere they might want to go? Are you offering the audience something they can adopt in their own way and carry it forward? Are you using components to your work that can be understood or interpreted?

There’s a lot of people out there who want to lead the charge into something. The question is, will you follow? Or who will follow you?

Inspiration: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

In 1998, Bruce Mau wrote The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. It is an articulation of statements exemplifying Bruce Mau’s beliefs, strategies and motivations. It has inspired me to begin collecting up rules and thoughts concerning how I approach life, work and design. You can see the growing manifesto here.

For the sake of posterity, I have recorded here the tenets of The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

  1. Allow events to change you.
    You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  2. Forget about good.
    Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
  3. Process is more important than outcome.
    When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
  4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
    Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  5. Go deep.
    The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  6. Capture accidents.
    The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
  7. Study.
    A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
  8. Drift.
    Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
  9. Begin anywhere.
    John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
  10. Everyone is a leader.
    Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  11. Harvest ideas.
    Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  12. Keep moving.
    The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  13. Slow down.
    Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  14. Don’t be cool.
    Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  15. Ask stupid questions.
    Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
  16. Collaborate.
    The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
  17. ____________________.
    Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
  18. Stay up late.
    Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
  19. Work the metaphor.
    Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
  20. Be careful to take risks.
    Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
  21. Repeat yourself.
    If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
  22. Make your own tools.
    Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
  23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
    You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
  24. Avoid software.
    The problem with software is that everyone has it.
  25. Don’t clean your desk.
    You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
  26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
    Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
  27. Read only left-hand pages.
    Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”

  28. Make new words.
    Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
  29. Think with your mind.
    Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
  30. Organization = Liberty.
    Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
  31. Don’t borrow money.
    Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
  32. Listen carefully.
    Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
  33. Take field trips.
    The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
  34. Make mistakes faster.
    This isn’t my idea – I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
  35. Imitate.
    Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
  36. Scat.
    When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.
  37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
  38. Explore the other edge.
    Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
  39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
    Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces – what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference – the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals – but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
  40. Avoid fields.
    Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
  41. Laugh.
    People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
  42. Remember.
    Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
  43. Power to the people.
    Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

Our First Troll

For the last number of years, the webcomic that I have been creating with Jeff Moss, and his podcast have trucked along with a small but loyal following that has been generally positive although not altogether interactive with us. The occasional comment here or there, but largely a lurking populace, especially on the comic. However, our abilities to sell our small runs of merchandise and the response we get when we go to a public forum like a Con has proven that we are delivering a product that people enjoy. I love our fans dearly – because while we do what we do as a labour of love, it’s fueling to know there are others out there enjoying our efforts.

That being said – one thing I’ve always longed for is venturing into a territory more controversial. Not to say I want to stir the pot for the sake of stirring it, but I’ve always pushed for content that might generate a more discussive response from our following. To be frank, I’ve always wanted a piece of hate mail. I have a hard time putting my finger on why I seek that benchmark. I think because for a product to have any real value, it has to polarize people – give them strong feelings about it. Whether it be to laugh or to cry, to love it or hate it, there’s a desire to create something that brings people out of the woodwork to pour over it. While I strive to create a product that people enjoy, and love to enjoy, I feel like being able to hit that mark where someone has such a vehement reaction to it that they are compelled to lash out at it serves as a sign that the product itself has authenticity and value.

While I believe we have generated ourselves a few die-hard fans, and I’ve received the occasional crazy email from someone looking for a pedestal to vent upon, We still lacked that thing that would set someone off. That is, until Moss found an issue that set him off. Now, before you delve into his rant, let’s just summarize it for you: Moss is annoyed (though his language might seem hostile, he’s little more than irritated. Trust me – he doesn’t get really worked up about much.) that a larger comic book retailer had the gall to suggest that smaller comic book shops were not ‘true’ retailers because of their size.

Disregarding that population, fans per capita, location, and business models might dictate the level of sales and size of any given retailer, Rich Biedrzycki of Dreamland Comics made the assertion that promotion minimums should be set higher and those that couldn’t make an astronomical number of sales for single issues should be excluded – because they’re “not a comic retailer!” according to him. Which is what Moss took issue with – being called out as a small retailer recently opened in an industry that fluctuates heavily. Being told because his client base isn’t established and large enough he isn’t a real comic retailer.

Which brought us our first Troll. For those of you that don’t know what an internet troll is, the basic outline is that it’s someone that swings in with a vaguely related argument (or not related at all) and fires off inflammatory notes with the primary intention of provoking people. The bottom line is these kinds of people argue to be right about something, whether or not it’s even about what the original posting is about. It’s about demeaning people. And they use every trick in the book, a tone of contemptuous authority and disregard logic entirely in their efforts. You can usually tell them by the USE OF CAPS LOCK TO EMPHASIZE a point. And while funny, it’s not the hate mail I was hoping for.

Our troll, who chose the username ‘Insideman’, swung in like a black-suited Spider-man to Biedrzycki’s defense. Except, that he didn’t really. He, instead of addressing the validity of Moss’s rant, went on a long, spurious rant about the monopoly that Diamond Distributing is. His point seems to circle around how a larger retailer should get more perks, but don’t (which is irrelevant, because I’m pretty sure DC set the minimums, not Diamond), and that Diamond screws retailers on scaling basis. Meaning, the bigger the retailer, the more problems they have. Then he goes into a rant about how the ‘collectibles’ have less value because of the lowered minimum status, and that’s why Rich is right.

Keep in mind we’re talking about a set of plastic rings.

That not being enough, he posted a follow up rant immediately after, on both The Watchtower Site and the No Reason site to further his point. To sum up:

“Moss is wrong and a hypocrite! I’m not spending a lot of time writing these rants! I’ve got other stuff to do, and I know stuff that you don’t know!”

This goes on for awhile, because I love poking these guys. You can see my interaction with the Troll on No Reason. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to poke it to see what it’ll do next. It’s just really funny to see him miss out on how his ranting and raving make him appear. For example – something I try to keep in mind whenever interacting with another person – I don’t attack them personally. I try really hard to single out the actions. What I say is: “Your rant is insane.” What he takes from that is me saying “You are insane.” Which may or may not be the case. I’m not a psychiatrist. But I would definitely suggest that rant, the one I can clearly read, has some sociopathic issues.

What did come out of it though, was a number of our readers (No Reason) and listeners (The Watchtower) spoke up in Moss’s defense. Our troll was shut down, and has since gone away. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I love the fans, and I don’t really need that piece of hate mail after all.

Thanks, folks.

Where is Elmer?

In the beginning of 2010, Toronto experienced a rash of unfortunate pedestrian deaths on its streets. Though a bubble of them occurred in January, the public has become hyper aware of each subsequent incident in recent months. Though our focus on the issue rarely lasts beyond the reactionary police enforcement blitz, there is inarguably a growing problem with the behaviors of drivers and pedestrians. When the public does focus on the issues, pundits, experts and politicians all throw about various arguments and theories that are either, at best – shift blame around until there is little thought on follow-up to solve any issues, or at worst – geared towards assuaging the public that there is no real issue at hand.

Where is Elmer when you need him?

At the current count, there have been a total of fifteen pedestrian deaths. It was difficult to find out exact figures as the numbers have been different in various articles found in the last few weeks. One quoted the number as nine (which is clearly wrong), a map shows 14 (but only reflects January), and a recent article quotes fifteen, although that may only account for Toronto, and not the GTA. However, one of the few agreements in fact is that it is one of the worst years thus far for traffic fatalities involving pedestrians.

At first, there was some debate statistically over whether or not the numbers in January were significant at all. However, regardless of whether or not we’re getting a statistical Poisson Burst at this point in time might be a moot point. A comparison of some traffic accident numbers in the city over the last five years shows two trends:

Pedestrian fatalities in Toronto as a percentage of total traffic fatalities

2009

31 of 48 = 65%

2008

27 of 54 = 50%

2007

23 of 52 = 44%

2006

30 of 57 = 53%

2005

29 of 59 = 49%

While number of fatal collisions in the city overall is dropping slightly, the number of fatalities for pedestrians is rising at the same rate. Though the actual numbers don’t appear to be drastically different, when you start throwing around the ratios, it starts to paint a different picture entirely. And let’s not forget that this is only a small fraction of the actual incidents that occur on our streets – this is only the numbers being run on fatalities. There were 56,612 collisions total in the GTA in 2008, nearly 20% of which involved some sort of reported injury. Over 10,000 people were injured in vehicular accidents, and though the fatalities might be dropping, it’s still pretty startling when you think that every year this occurs. There’s relatively minor fluctuations in the numbers from year to year, but the averages remain the same. Thirty people a day are being injured in vehicular accidents, and according to some official 2005 numbers, six of those people are pedestrians. And you can’t blame that on jaywalking.

Jaywalking, if you’re interested, has been cited as one of the primary causes of these pedestrian deaths, along with aggressive driving, speed, lack of communication and even attempting to blame people who eat in their cars, despite the fact no one was ploughing through a doughnut the same time they were a pedestrian. Each individual case has been turned over, and in each case, a specific problem was identified and held up as a culprit. A woman crossed the street too slowly. The pedestrians walked into an active traffic lane. The intersection is a confusing one.

And the best solutions we have to the problem is a weekend or two of jaywalking ticketing blitzes in the core (not near the incidents themselves, or in areas where it occurs frequently), or to increase fines and penalties for those traveling in excess of 50km/h, again, something that has little to do with what is happening on our streets. In fact, the ‘crackdown’ on street racing is only a showboat a reaction to the latest symptom of the problem we have here in the paved lanes that make up the arteries of Toronto. And it is palatable. You can feel it in the way people drive, the way they enter and exit an intersection. Ten years ago, people spat curses at the occasional driver that ran through a yellow light. Two years ago, I would be surprised and shake my head at the rare instance where someone might roll through the red light, or pull a screeching halt just into the crosswalk. Now, it’s a daily occurrence just in my purview, and I don’t even get outside that much.

The problem isn’t increased penalties. Those penalties mean squat without enforcement. And that’s the real issue at the bottom of it all. The very foundation of this growing set of errors that’s going to result in more and more incidents, and eventually more deaths if its not addressed. There is a lack of enforcement on our streets, and that’s where the problem lies. People don’t respect the simple basic laws because they don’t have to. The odds that they’re going to be caught are pretty small – and especially once they’ve seen an officer with a vehicle pulled over or a speed trap – they’re pretty confident that they’re scot free for the next few kilometers. This applies to both the provincial highways and the municipal streets. But it’s not really on the shoulders of the police to field more officers to police the millions of drivers that flood through and around this city daily. It’s an impossible task, and naïve to believe that even the most vigilant of officers can do more than issue a few tickets a day and it’s no longer putting a dent in the problem.

We need to start putting some technology on the ground that’s going to do exactly what ‘increased fines’ are supposed to do: scare people into obeying the traffic laws.