A Real Live Webpage from 1996, Preserved In Its Natural Habitat; Fiction as Public Engagement

Christopher Cocca

No, not the official Berkshire Hathaway page. I’m talking about the Periodic Table of Comic Books! If you’ve been trying to cross reference an element with its appearances in various comics over the last few decades, I’ve just given you the last resource you should ever need.

If you’re trying to explain the internet of the 90s to your kids between Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns on TeenNick, this will also come in handy. See if they can find the rotating “under construction” graphic before you do.

It’s funny: in some ways, the web has always been about the compilation of trivia (personal or otherwise) and the cataloging of human interests. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook enhance and also undermine that instinct: instead of Angelfire web sites and Tripod accounts with spinning pictures and MIDI music, we give our strange fascinations over to a few centralized social networks who keep meticulous, obsessive track of everything we say we love. While these services have been used powerfully for activism, there’s an argument to made about the ways we’ve regressed as owners of our ephemera. It’s easier, I suppose, to curate our interests with posts and tweets and likes and shares than to build the online shrines that once defined the consumer internet. But those repositories had what Mike Schmidt might call a certain charm that social media doesn’t capture. Maybe I’m remembering the world that seemed possible before we got the world that came. I don’t mean that cynically. Commitment to social action X over social action Y might mean no flying cars or jetpacks, but we have no way of knowing, really, in the short term.

More knowable, it seems, are the outcomes of politics devoid of concern for environmental regulations, economic justice, the sanctity of life, and the generative renewal of our communities. If you thought I wasn’t going to get from the Periodic Table of Comic Books to public ethics in a few short steps, you might not know that The New School (MFA ’11) just announced organizational changes to some of their graduate programs. The writing program, of which I am a proud graduate, is now part of the newly-named School of Public Engagement. TNS is making a bold cultural and political statement here: poets, fiction writers, and essayists trade in public engagement as a matter of vocation and as a matter of fact. It’s probably no coincidence that former TNS president Bob Kerrey shared similar sentiments with my entire class on the first night of our program.

Bloggers, artists, writers, musicians, comic book creators, coders, scientists, actors, preachers…the list goes on and on. We are enlisted in the craft, and it is a craft, of public engagement. The evolution of the social web from siloed shrines of quirky interest to the integrated platforms of curation, criticism, and creation shows just how powerful our drive to contribute something back to the avalanche of corporate politics, media, and culture-making really is.

It’s ironic and subversive that we do it on the corporate platforms of companies that make millions delivering targeted ads based on the content we create and share in resistance to the monolithic messages of people with vested interests in framing these conversations in very specific ways. That’s the world we live in, for better and for worse.

Let’s keep making it for the better.  And when you need a break, check out the Periodic Table of Comic Books.  And don’t forget to sleep.

Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California

John Bengan

It’s not every day that one of my wonderful friends gets a short story printed in a major publication.  But it is today.

I met John Bengan in our MFA program at The New School, and he is part of a cadre of writers I feel especially close to and whose work I particularly admire.

Today, his fantastic vernacular story, “Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California,” was published in the Philippines Free Press, his native country’s longest-running newsweekly.

This is very, very exciting on many levels, not the least of which being how good the story was the first time I read it in an amazing seminar led by Robert Antoni and how great it remains.  John, we are all very, very proud of this success!


“Project: Rooftop” Is, Perhaps, the Greatest Website of All Time (See Also: “Hipster, Aquaman as a”)

From June 4, 2011.  I don’t think Project: Rooftop updates very often, but with the Aquaman movie coming out soon, this post is picking up some steam.

I recently concluded my MFA studies at The New School.  Apart from doing a creative thesis, I had one personal goal during my time at TNS, and that was to meet Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum.  I’m sorry to say that I failed in that endeavor.  I’m even sorrier to say I didn’t really try.  But I did see Chris March and Michael Musto on my first day in the City.  March walked past me in Chelsea, and Musto was riding a bike in Midtown.  Some of my friends from the program have Michael Khors stories from the nights I didn’t go to Cafe Loupe. Alas.

Yes, I watch Project Runway with my wife, and yes, I’m an even bigger fan of On The Road With Austin and Santino than she is. You also know that I’m a comic book nerd and a nut for sports uniform minutiae.  Put all of these things together to understand my love of Project: Rooftop.  Warning: If you’re like me (that is, if you’re even still reading this post) you could easily sink a few hours into this site.  The premise is sublime:  brilliant artists enter contests to redesign famous characters, and we all get to see the fruits of their labors and hope someone in editorial at Marvel or DC draft some of these folks for some serious work.

I said yesterday that the animated Batman: The Brave and The Bold version of Aquaman is my favorite incarnation of the character.  No doubt.  Second place is the nineties version.  But check out this redesign by Otoniel Oliveira:

Nevermind that this is exactly what I expect to look like when all the ice caps melt, this is just a pretty awesome-looking dude.  Aquaman can be cool.  Fine, fine, it’s mostly the hair and beard I’m digging.  You get the point.

I also wanted to share this next picture of Aquaman as a hipster by Yasmin Liang:

That is one impressive stache.

Writing and Revising with Ann Hood and Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

When I was in my MFA program, I felt like the luckiest person in the world.  My classmates were amazing, my teachers brilliant.  My job in that course of study was to learn, as best I could, how to build a story.  Ann Hood told us that whatever our latent talent, we were there to learn how fiction works, and how and why it doesn’t.  She taught us to be merciless with the things we thought we’d been so clever about, and, in short, to blow them up.

Joseph Conrad reminds us that revision literally means to see anew.  Ann might say that revision isn’t a necessary evil but a necessary good.  Someone else said “anyone can write, but only a writer can revise.”   Most honest writers will tell you that the story is really written in the revision.

Beginning writers sometimes feel so beholden to their initial muse that they mystify everything and end up producing very little.  Writing is a craft.  Yes, it requires inspiration.  There are days when I stare at the page or the screen and do very little with my hands.  Then there are days when the ideas and language flow.  I can’t control which day is which, but I can do by best, on the slow days, to prepare myself for the fast ones.  The later are more thrilling, for sure.  But they don’t come without the former.  Feeling stuck?  Read a book.  Watch a well-written show.  Listen to a song that keeps raising the narrative stakes.