Messiahs Versus Messages...
Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a 1993, a sequential sonic boom hit the comics industry, as some fellah put out a book devoted to reaching an Understanding. It wasn't the first attempt at offering up an academic-like take on the Mystery of Sequential Art, but it definitely made waves. In one trademarked lightning bolt of a moment, an entire industry screamed out praise, and word of mouth quickly transformed a young semi-successful comic artist into an overnight messiah.
Flash forward to 2000, not long after a new digital-based medium had branched out from the trunk of Comics, and was slowly shaping itself into a leafy bouquet of electronic artistic potential… flash forward to when the Comics Guru offered his second Sacred Text – a Reinvention of the Form – and addressed, among other things, this budding medium, this new Sequential Art Phenomena called the Webcomic.
Sure, the reviews on this latest Text were mixed. Some Critics and Industry Hierophants decided that the Guru was in fact a False Prophet, and not the Chosen One needed to lead Comics to a Mecca of Worldwide Acceptance and/or Appreciation. Regardless, a great number of devotees remained enthralled by the Guru's Dream of a New Promised Land, and somehow, raised him up a few more notches on the idolatry tree.
Slowly but surely, the Believers started taking every Word as Gospel, as Commandment: if the Guru said "Let there be Innovation", then some Believers tried to innovate. If the Guru said "Let there be Commerce", then some Believers created business models and sold merchandise. If the Guru said, "Let there be an Exchange of Ideas", then message boards and forums were erected faster than the Decline and Fall of DotCom Empire stock, and folks spit out ideas as quickly as their modem connections would permit them.
Thus was ushered in what some call a Golden Age of the Webcomic, even though the medium was (and still is) only taking its first baby steps. It was a time when a legion of creative minds both young and old alike started up their own sites, many converted by the Word of the Guru himself, or through Works that were Guru-inspired. It was a time when ideas and innovation and Creativity itself raged like the Amazon, when a collective Love for and Belief in this new medium blazed like the Sun. When Cults of WebComic Worship were formed.
And then, the People discovered that the Guru had staked a claim, marked out a little plot in cyberspace, and set up camp on the little mountain of His Material… and by doing so, made himself accessible, available to the masses of Devotees and Zealots craving Answers and Enlightenment. If and when any of these People even managed to share a single email exchange (since this Guru proved to be a Nice Guy™ as well as a Sage) , they raved about it, loudly, chanting a now-popular mantra, "The Guru knows who I am! The Guru and I are friends!"
However, while the People continued to barrage the Guru with Pleas and Worship, they began to forget the Messages he had originally delivered – that he wanted to incite discussion, spark debate, spur on an evolution through experience, through trial and error. Everyone wanted to talk to or about the Guru, but His original Words were being given less importance. The once-roaring rivers of Message Boards devoted to sharing ideas began to shrink and dry up. Innovation lost its appeal. Creators grew frustrated with their seemingly fruitless labors and left pen and mouse behind.
Now, some of the People wonder why the Guru isn't already directing them towards a new goal, isn't leading them to their Canaan or Mecca or Happy Hunting Ground anymore. They ask why he isn’t doing more to help them reach Enlightenment. They fret and lament at not being able to support themselves through his Words on Business, and supplicate him to provide a better, sure-fire Way to Succeed.
Some wonder if the Guru has abandoned them.
Now let me tell you a secret:
This Guru? He's really just a guy.
He can't singlehandedly revolutionize webcomics for us, nor can he magically usher in success or fame or peer validation of a medium. He is NOT the father of webcomics, nor does he pretend to be. He's trying to eke out a living like any common Joe, and he's not always right in what he does, what he says, or what he believes in. In the long run, it won’t matter who "knows" him or is "a personal friend", or one of his "inner circle" – as posterity doesn't usually give a damn about the "friend-ofs" that flock around Gurus. Heck, even for Gurus, Fame is fickle, flirty and often but a fleeting fling.
But his MESSAGE? His Message is the Meat, the Manna, the Magic. Thanks to this man, we have a little hill of knowledge and wisdom upon which to stand on and look out at the medium around us. Yet it's up to us to walk to this hill, study it, form our own thoughts from them and then go out to find more materials from which to create Messages of our Own… so that we too may add to this hill, and make it a little bigger for the next group, and the next after that. Posterity might not care much for messiahs, but it sure loves Messages – especially those that are born hills but grow into mountains.
So, yes… we should give this man his due, and credit him for the mound of knowledge he lay down for us. However, we must remember that his hill is only a Beginning, a foundation – the Message he's offered us is begging to be expanded, to be added to, to be challenged and tested, and it's up to US to take these next steps. First, though, we have to stop thinking of him as a messiah, and start thinking of him as a regular guy who had a really good idea – one that we can expand upon and improve all by ourselves, without need of his Blessing or Seal of Approval.
One man might not make us a mountain, but a multitude of Messages will surely lift us to heights that even a messiah could only dream of.