Here’s a clip demonstrating the Flex-based tool I’ve built to help create the physics-driven curves which shape the imagery of The Knotted Line, a forthcoming project directed by artist Evan Bissell. The Knotted Line consists of an enormous horizontal painting depicting 75 key moments in the history of labor, education, and incarceration in the United States from 1495 to 2025. The piece is simultaneously a new media art project and an educational tool, with related curriculum planned at the middle, high school, and college levels.
Coding editors seems to be a thing around here lately. From The Knotted Line, work in progress.
A short aerial hop returned me home last night from Las Vegas and the human anthill that is CES. It’s been 15 years since my last visit to the show (for Inscape and Time Warner, promoting alternative graphic adventure CD-ROMs—DEVO Presents Adventures of the Smart Patrol anyone?), and while the technology on view has obviously changed, the experience of attending the show itself seems largely the same.
Trade shows are always 10,000 decibels of noisy bluster, but while E3 and Comic-Con at least have a general theme (video games, geek culture), CES is so expansive as to be nearly incomprehensible. Obviously I’m missing something, but I have never understood the utility of having such a broad swath of vendors under one roof. How does anyone find anything?
Some of my favorite booths, however, were those for international concerns whose messaging wasn’t as finely attuned to American eyes and ears as that of the typical booth barketeers. The pleasure of ingesting content not engineered precisely for you is one I’m learning to appreciate more as I get older, I think.
Browsing time was limited, however, as my main reason for attending the show was not to buy, but to sell. For the last two years I’ve been working with a startup called TunesMap, brainchild of longtime music supervisor G. Marq Roswell and a small team of music and media professionals, developing UX for a music discovery engine with two main differentiators: 1) delivery of cultural context with music search, in the form of audio-visual search results that integrate the requisite artists, albums and songs with the films, fashion, news, literature, art and comedy that were contemporary with the music’s creation and 2) a deep editorial bench of music experts who can help weave this cultural tapestry out of their own expertise and personal experience (the stories one hears from these guys is one of the most fascinating perks of the job).
Gracenote, creators of CDDB (which is the reason why iTunes magically knows all about the tracks on that CD you’re ripping), is expanding their already impressive reach providing metadata for the worlds of music and entertainment. Seeing TunesMap as complementary to those goals, they kindly invited us to share their booth. As of this writing CES is still ongoing for two more days, but already the response has been very strongly positive.
For me personally the show has also been a great experience—the TunesMap team has been working in largely virtual fashion and it’s always great to see everyone in person. In addition, we’ve been showing the extensive mockups I’ve helped put together for TunesMap and received many positive comments on the UI, which is encouraging. During my last really sustained run at the tech trade shows I was also at a much more junior phase in my career, so it has been fascinating to see the phenomenon this time from a “back room” perspective. The ritualistic nature of deal-making never ceases to fascinate.
I think ritual also holds the key to some of the strangeness CES holds for someone working in the world of UX, which has been so profoundly shaped by Apple over the last decade. As Apple’s dominance in digital culture has increased, so too has it’s particular sheen of design, marketing and presentation. On the dog-eat-dog world of the CES show floor, both the foreign feel of alternate marketing styles and the incessant copycatting of Apple’s recent successes points up exactly how much we’ve been entrained to step in time with the rhythms of the makers of “those fruit computers.”
It’s been a long time in coming, but I’m very happy to announce the official launch of Precision Targets, a collaboration with scholar Caren Kaplan that uses a hybrid comic/essay format to explore the militarization of everyday life through technologies like GPS. Precision Targets places the user inside a cube containing six parallel stories told through interactive comic panels that are married to threads of commentary by Kaplan.
Precision Targets was my first collaboration with illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels, and my first experiment with digital comics. Each story consists of four panels which can be browsed by rotating a cube. Individual panels (some of which contain animation and interactivity) can be entered and navigated with the mouse. Every panel has associated commentary by Kaplan which can be expanded by clicking “more”. Clicking “more” again further expands the commentary to a full-screen view for more in-depth reading, making it possible for users to switch between visual, textual, or hybrid reading modes at will. (Be sure to try adjusting the window size; the piece will adapt to whatever aspect ratio you like.)
One element of the project that can be easily missed is the Index, a force-directed SpringGraph visualization of the image and textual elements that make up the piece (you can access this feature by clicking “Menu” and then “Index"). You’ll see the individual graphic elements that make up each panel linked together in an interactive network diagram—to my knowledge, the first time a visualization like this has been applied to the individual layers of comic book panels (feel free to correct me if I’m in error).
This project was conceived before the current “motion comics” trend, so I’m very curious what people will think of the approach, which takes a different tack than most works labeled as such.
Here’s a list of links to works cited in my recent talk “Storytelling in the Age of Divided Screens” at Gallaudet University.
I’m very happy to announce the launch of “Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens,” a new website that explores what comics have to teach us about creative communication in the age of screen media.
To celebrate the launch of Upgrade Soul, here’s a screen shot of an eleven year old prototype I made that sets artwork from Will Eisner’s “The Treasure of Avenue ‘C’” (a story from New York: The Big City) in two dynamically resizable panels.
The last couple of months have seen an uptick in published commentary on Strange Rain, much of it owing to notice the app received at this year’s Modern Language Association conference in Seattle.
Dialogue bubbles huddle together in the Unity authoring environment like backstage theatre performers awaiting their chance to shine in the forthcoming iOS and Android release Upgrade Soul, from Opertoon.