01 Dec

I cannot stand binaries. You know, when someone goes “coffee or tea?” or “dog or cat?” or “Apple or PC?” and it’s a pow pow question with the expectation of a pow pow answer, and I have to go “um, both, because they are not the same and it depends on what I need or want at the time” and then I am looked at funny.

Binaries are not the same thing as opposites. Opposites are morally neutral descriptions of things that are sensibly different within a very specific context. For example, ‘high’ and ‘low’ are necessary nouns to indicate different kinds of distance. The world needs both concepts and it’s unlikely (lame) anyone would staunchly prefer one over the other (at least regarding their literal meaning).

Binaries are when there are two different things not simply described, but explicitly defined as not being the other. I.e. a cup of tea is not just an aromatic beverage prepared by pouring hot water over leaves, it is also not a coffee. Beyoncé is not just a world-dominating musical diva, she is also not Jerry Garcia.

Binaries are inherently value laden, one thing is seen as objectively better than the other rather than just preferred. Sad old white dudes will rabbit on about Garcia’s superior guitaring and cosmic jams and awesome beard, and then whinge on about Beyoncé dancing too much and not playing a real instrument and showing too much leg. It is not just that they’d rather listen to Gerry Garcia, it’s that he is all that’s right with the music industry and Beyoncé is all that’s wrong. Even though these musicians are completely different in sound, genre, purpose, era, audience, feeling, technology, affordance and fashion, there’s apparently not room for both.

One common binary is ‘digital versus analogue’. I could go on and on about the flaws with this notion and provide a squillion examples of it not being true, but I am going to rein myself in and only talk about the one that relates to my comic practice. 

I like making comics on paper with pencils and splashy Indian ink, and I like making comics on screens with pixels and a precise colour-fill function. Each can do can do things the other can’t and both are cool. But it appears not all agree and I see some hot debate about this within the comics community. 

Fairly regularly digital and analogue are posited as a binary. Some comic-makers (including famous ones) do not just prefer one approach but are convinced of and passionate about its inherent superiority. In the analogue corner there’s a lot of ‘has more soul’ and ‘old traditions and skills being lost’ and ‘physicality is everything’, while advocates of digital talk a lot about ‘clarity and crispness’ and ‘modern aesthetic’ and ‘ease of use, convenience and portability’. But um, all these qualities exist in real life and all at the same time. They not do cancel each other out. Make comics however the fuck you want and let others do the same.

Binaries are always constructed, incorrect, insulting, boring and daft, whatever end you’re coming from.

But enough of this passionate academic preamble (‘passionate’ and ‘academic’? Not a binary). Really the point of this post is to share what I like about making comics with paper and what I like about making comics with a computer and how this reflects the different affordances of each medium. On the list there are many contrasting things but there is no reason they cannot all be there. Analogue and digital are not an either/or but an and/and. Not a binary!

What I like about analogueWhat I like about digital
The grit of the pen on paperThe slipperiness of stylus on screen
The messinessThe tidiness
The power of black and whiteThe lure of colour
The aesthetics of the accidentalThe ability to correct
The expansiveness and limitless space to drawThe confinement and necessary restraint
The collaboration and company in makingThe intense aloneness
The ability to physically put it in only a few placesThe ability to put it everywhere online
That it’s easy to make something uglyThat it’s easy to make something pretty
That I can draw multi-panel stripsThat I can only draw single panel cartoons
The nakedness and violence The demureness and peace
The limited audience The more widespread appeal
The baffled or clueless responseThat people like them
The truthfulnessThe ability to hide
The singular relentlessnessThe variety
The tangible physical toolsThe ethereal virtual tools
How it looks
The DIY real-punk politics potential and ability to maintain my integrity

P.S. Some people have expressed surprise at my recent flurry of digital comics but I am a computer nerd from way back. For several years I was an ICT teacher and specialised in the creative use of technologies. I wrote a couple of books about this, did some research and won an award. I was also fluent in ActionScript… oh Macromedia Flash how I miss you.

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