In the lead-up to High Society’s print date, a task that’s captured a good deal of my time and attention has been finalizing the thank you list that will appear in the end pages. This includes people who submitted original art scans, as well as contributors to the CANO Kickstarter, and all of the other people that made the book possible, including our $10,000 contributor, Tim F.
In order to respect people’s privacy, we decided it was important to let contributors opt in if they wanted to be included with their full name (or however they want to be represented). As a result, I had the opportunity to interact directly (if briefly) with over half of the CANO participants. My task itself was simple: 1) record whether people opted in, 2) confirm the way each person wanted their name to look, and 3) send a thank you email. But multiply this 2-minute task by 150 people, and that’s five hours of work!
Just as the time it took to complete restoration work impressed upon me the sheer number of pages in High Society, taking the time and attention to interact with even half of the financial backers really made me think about the number of people who have taken the time to help make this project possible. I wonder how common it is to thank each Kickstarter contributor by name, the way Dave has chosen to do.
A sneak peek at the High Society back matter, via our InDesign layout file
As I was mulling over what I wanted to write about this week, I discovered an abundance of existing thought about the promises and pitfalls of crowdfunding – as well a wealth of interconnected ideas that took me down a rabbit hole of internet research (what counts as paid work, who gets to decide and what that says about a society’s values and power structures; the “do what you love” ethos; intellectual property rights and internet piracy; the free culture and related movements; crowdsourcing and participatory art – let me know if any of these sound like interesting fodder for a future blog post, by the way).
But what the thank you list really drove home for me is the fact that no creative work is completed in a vacuum. Art has always been influenced by the means of production and economic support available in a given time period and location. And even the most original ideas arise within a particular cultural context, whether they’re building on or reacting to already-existing work. This led me to spend some time thinking about the already-in-the-air idea to create an annotated version of Cerebus.
Unveiling all a writer’s allusions and references might seem unimportant or even counterproductive for a work like High Society. Explaining the punch line takes the funny out of it, right? And there’s the satisfaction that comes with “getting it” on your own, the feeling of being in on a private joke. But the convention of annotating a work, or including a list of references (aka “works cited” or a bibliography) serves so many crucial functions in the academic domain that they’re not only commonplace but mandatory. Setting aside for the moment the feasibility of creating an annotated version of Cerebus, how might some of these same functions apply?
Reasons to include references in academic writing:
- it gives credit where credit is due (the number of times a work is referenced is often used as a proxy for its level of influence)
- it puts the work in historical context
- it clarifies how the current work moves beyond what’s been done before
- it acts as a reading list for readers who are new to the topic being discussed
- it illustrates the quality and breadth of the author’s knowledge about the topic
- it provides alternative perspectives and conflicting evidence
On the surface, academic research is very different than creative writing or visual art – but fundamentally I think the goal is the same: to uncover and communicate some truth about human experience or the world we live in.
Satire and parody in particular have been lauded as a uniquely powerful way to illuminate the realities and foibles of a society:
"For comedy is, after all, a look at ourselves, not as we pretend to be when we look in the mirror of our imagination, but as we really are. Look at the comedy of any age and you will know volumes about that period and its people which neither historia nor anthropologist can tell you."
– Jo Coppola (1958), The Realist (as quoted in the Wikipedia article on Satire)
… but it doesn’t work if people don’t get the joke, right?
For a book like High Society, it’s the multilayered experience of the story – the decoding of parodies, metaphors, and subtexts – that leads to a full appreciation of its value. I mean, who cares about an imaginary aardvark for its own sake, right? (Just kidding!) But a novice to the world of Cerebus (like a junior academic new to a research area) requires some context to see beyond the surface story and appreciate the subtleties of what the work is telling us.
Ideally, I see some theoretical future annotation as an integral part of the restoration process – ensuring that all the intended nuances are available to a broad spectrum of readers, both present and future.