Putting the ‘crap’ in narcicrapssism
Pull your shirt up.
I don’t care if you’re at work. Go for it. If you’re wearing a button-up shirt, just undo the bottom couple of buttons and pull ‘er open a bit. C’mon. I can wait.
(singing tira lira lura, tira lira ly, tira lira lura, it’s an Irish lullaby…)
Done? Great! Okay: see that bit of a hole right in the middle there? Probably about a quarter-inch deep. Maybe it’s a bit of a bump, but if it is you’re some sort of genetic freak and should be living in a cave with a supervillain called the Outie Master or something, and not futzing around on the Internet. Hie ye hence.
That hole there is called your "navel." Like the oranges, yeah. Sometimes you can pick lint out of it, and some people even collect it. And trade it! Awesome!
Okay, now it’s time for another favour. Bend over. Far as you can. What you’re trying to do is get your eyeballs as close to your belly as possible. Great. You’re doing good. Okay, you in the back, seek medical help. The rest of you are doing awesome. Now your eyes should be good and close to your navel. I want you to focus on it. Focus on your belly button.
Gaaaaaze at it. See how it’s like a little eye? It’s hypnotizing, itsn’t it? The eye wants you to look at it. LOOK DEEP INTO THE EYE. Let it soooooooooothe you.
This is called "gazing." You are now "gazing" at your "navel." You are, in a manner of speaking, "navel gazing."
One last thing (and with God as my witness, I have no idea how you’re reading this because you’re staring at your belly, remember? Cheating filth) you have to do. Gaze at your navel for a while. Not too long, just … say … for the remainder of your natural life.
And presto! You’re an autobiographical cartoonist.
For added verisimilitude, you can talk loudly about your navel to anyone in earshot. Reach up and type a big ol’ blog about your navel. Mention your damn navel at parties and drone on and on and on and on about your navel, all the while gazing at it as though it were the Pink Panther. The diamond, not the panther or David Niven.
Oh, and if you really want to put it over the top, if you really want to drive this one home, if you really want to bag it, you need to pretend that nobody else on the planet has one. Yours is the only navel there is. As lint-clogged and stinky and hairy as that festering little hole in your gut has become, it is the only navel on Planet Earth, making you a unique gift in the eyes of Sweet Baby Jesus, and nobody else has anything to rival the sheer. awesomeness. of. your. navel.
Your navel is like all the Donnas rolled up in one. It’s like the bread and the butter, baby. It’s like…
…you get the point.
As (almost) always, I am of course talking about the worst of it. And as (almost) always, the worst of it is the most of it; while there are precious few journal comics out there that actually manage to draw something other than "lookitme self-centeredness" into the mix, the vast majority seem to start from the single premise that I, the Artist, am inherently more interesting than whatever surrounds me, and there is no Work of greater merit than the Glorification of Me.
Which isn’t all that surprising, really.
It’s odd, looking back, that the old coots like me called the ’80s the Me Generation. It wasn’t. It was merely the tip of the Me Iceberg, the first cautious notes in the crescendo of the Me Era.
And we, dear friends, are smack dab in the middle of it.
Evidence? All around you. Blogging has become the #1 recreational activity for nerds everywhere, who are compelled to foist whatever crosses their minds into the "blogosphere," which is an anagram for "Planet Irrelevant." Talk radio is spreading like an ill-educated rash, and most of the people who call in to blather about their ill-formed opinions get those opinions from other talk radio programs, which sort of creates this thinly spiraling fast-forward vortex of crap discourse about the issues of the day.
And everyone has a journal comic.
This is not to say the journal comic can’t be done well. It can. There are such things as well-done journals, as that "Pepys" fellow will attest to. And a journal comic can be many things: a meditation on mortality, reflection on where we stand in relation to our peers and the world, cultural exploration, even comedy gold if you’re especially gifted. Check out Keaner.net or Kolchaka’s at-times-ubearably-narcissistic, at-times-unbearably-sublime American Elf for some of the shining examples of the form.
They can also be “D00d I wz so ston3d I fell of my couch LOL”
You can guess which type dominates.
It’s not that people shouldn’t revel in their abject stupidity. By God yes, they should. But couldn’t they do it a bit more quietly? Couldn’t they draw these things and just quietly put them in a closet later, or perhaps keep them under the couch for easy access when stoned?
But that runs contrary to the Me Era, doesn’t it? There’s no possible way my opinion and voice is less valid than yours. It’s inconceivable that even though you’ve spent years honing your skills and finding your voice, that you have something more valid to say than my jumping on a soapbox and telling you about how the cat barfed on my shoes.
And, just like the aforementioned talk-show cycle of intellectual doom, if you do a straw poll of what most journal comics people do for fun, I’m willing to bet it involves online comics. So you have mediocre journal comics being informed by mediocre journal comics, and in turn inspiring new, mediocre journal comics.
I lived in a large city for a few years, and being the pretentious wanker I am, took an interest in local theatre. So I went to see some local production of a locally-written play, and it was an angsty thing about a woman who doesn’t like her husband so she stares out the kitchen window and complains a lot. There weren’t a lot of people in the audience.
Weeks later, I went to see another play done by another theatre troupe, again sparsely attended, and I noticed that the vast bulk of the audience was the cast and crew of the play I had seen previously.
I went to see a third play, and realized that the audience and performers and crew were all part of the same pool of people, an insular tight-knit group of auteurs that basically lived off government grants and put on plays for each other.
There was nothing new breaking this circle. Nothing could penetrate it. It was an iron bubble of theatrical stagnation, doomed to cycle while its members edged gradually towards death.
And that’s sort of what we’ve got here, but instead of 10-15 people working together to put on a play, what we have here is a bunch of insipid monologues.
Is that what we want out of our journal comics? Are these the elements of others’ lives that will somehow strengthen or enrich our own? Or are we caught up in the soothing glow of the monitor-as-mirror, peering into the cathode ray tube hoping to see something beautiful, but capable of seeing only ourselves?
This will be on the test.
Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.