August 6th, 2010


Wherever You Go, There You Were

United States v. Maynard (originally US v. Jones).  FBI agents walked onto private property to plant a GPS device on a car.  They tracked the position of the car every ten seconds for a full month.

No search warrant.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the arena.  The feds argued that extended, 24-hours-per-day surveillance without warrants was constitutional based on previous rulings about limited, point-to-point surveillance of public activities using radio-based tracking beepers.  The ACLU and those fine, upstanding folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that was bullshit.  A warrant was necessary to keep this from being abused.

Today, the ruling.  The judge told the feds to put a sock in it, they need a warrant.  You can find the ruling as a .PDF on the EFF site.  Here's the nuts and bolts -- the judge ruled that the Supreme Court ruling the feds were relying on was beyond the scope of the trial.   Specifically, length and scope of the operation.  "It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine."

And now, a word from Jennifer Granick, the Civil Liberties Director at the EFF.  "The court correctly recognized the important differences between limited surveillance of public activities possible through visual surveillance or traditional 'bumper beepers,' and the sort of extended, invasive, pervasive, always-on tracking that GPS devices allow.  This same logic applies in cases of cell phone tracking, and we hope that this decision will be followed by courts that are currently grappling with the question of whether the government must obtain a warrant before using your cell phone as a tracking device."

Score another one for liberty!

Kill It With Fire

Step Into Liquid -- Specifically, Bluewater

Darren Davis is the head of Bluewater Productions, a comic company that has done a ton of Fair Use biography comics that turn a quick buck (reminds me of the old Personality Comics) and some other projects such as 10th Muse.  Fans are sort of apathetic about them.  Professionals, however, have their own problems with Bluewater.

Indie fields are full of people desperate to get some sort of professional published credit to prove to others and/or themselves that they aren't crazy for pursuing this dream.  I was never desperate.  So while it took me 17 years to finally get into the comic shops, at the same time, it enabled me to avoid the Tony Caputos and Andrew Revs and Pat Lees and Josh Blaylocks and Rick Onleys and Stuart J. Levys and....folks, it's a jungle out there.

Hello, Anthony Draco.  Draco is a devianTART who looked at a picture of Justin Bieber and decided to render it in pencil.  (I haven't heard a single song by Bieber, so no clue what it says about his musical taste.)  He posted it to his DA page.  He got contacted by Darren Davis at Bluewater about using it for an upcoming Bieber biography comic.  Davis has a tendency to forget about NDA's, as the link above demonstrates.  So, without the NDA, here's a choice snippet of the contract for the art....

August 5, 2010

This communication shall serve as a contract between *my name here* (collectively ?Artist?) as independent contractor, and *** Productions for Artist to exclusively provide pin-up (collectively the ?Work?) for ?Fame: Justin Bieber? to be used as a pin-up and possible trading card published by *** Productions.

Artist will receive 2 complimentary books for the usage of the ?Justin Bieber? pin-up. *my name here* is a non-exclusive employee of Bluewater Productions for ?FAME: Justin Bieber? and this is a work for hire agreement. The artist claims no right to copyright or characters. Under a copyright ownership of ***. Artist makes no claims to copyright or title now or in the future. Artist owns the artwork and *** is just licensing it from them.

If you agree with the above please sign and return a copy of this communication.

Now, the problem isn't working for comp copies.  Hell, I'd work on some projects NOW for comp copies (technically, that's what I did with The Supremacy, and that sold nearly 1K).  But here's the thing -- comp copies are for shoestring publishers or collaborations, hoping it leads to better things.  Given Bluewater knowing how to market these things, giving only two comp copies?  Uh-uh.

Actually, this is really interesting from a legal perspective.  See, Draco was within his rights to copy the image of Bieber and post it online.  But if he attempts to sell the image or copies of it, THAT'S a copyright violation.  It becomes a "derivative work", no matter how he was compensated, and the original photographer can go, "Dis iz a stick-up."  Which would potentially shield Bluewater if they got sued.  "Hey, we didn't know it was copied!  We thought it was original!  We even paid for it!  'Twart us, go sue that guy over there!"

I've long said, the only reason some people will pat you on the back is they are looking for a place to put the knife.  Let's be careful out there.

You Are Special, But Only In Ways That We Say You Are

Penn And Teller just did a show on self-esteem. Goddamn, they truly are my brothers in arms.

My whole life has been a war with self-esteem. Not my own, mind you, with others insisting I should have more than I do. Yes, there are times I feel lousy about myself and think that I'm failing. I embrace those feelings, though, because they are what motivate me to do better. I don't want to think I'm a loser? Then work at not being a loser. Natural talent only takes you so far. For example, I'm a funny guy, but it takes more than that to do a comic strip.

My parents, on the other side of the corpus collosum, have really weird ideas of what constitutes self-esteem. For example, building a deck. I HATE home construction projects. My dad derives a fascination from them that confounds me. But he's my dad, so I help. And when he asks me if I don't feel even the tiniest bit of pride from helping him build his deck, and I say I don't, he genuinely can't understand why. It's because a deck means nothing to me. Now, Cloudburst?  Taking a simple idea and developing it into a full blown computer game, tested, refined, and debugged, from alpha to gold in less than two months? Now, THAT I take pride in.

My parents were in network marketing for a while, and couldn't figure out why I thought it was stupid. I recognized the group think that the motivational tapes were to inspire. Of course, I was just a teenager, how could I know what was going on (just as parents complain about kids that know everything, there are plenty of times where kids feel the reverse). They would give me their cutesy little affirmations until I wanted to reach for the shotgun mouthwash. They stopped when my mom told me, "If your mind can conceive it and you can believe it, then you can achieve it." I looked her dead in the eye and said, I want to be the first man on the moon. Not a peep after that.

My parents tried to build my self-esteem with a bunch of stuff that meant dick to me. By way of contrast, things that I truly did care about, like the writing? They went out of their way to try to get me to give it up. My mom would record talk shows with people talking about how tough it is to break into the business. My dad would ask me how much longer I'm going to keep trying. Didn't matter that I love writing. Just as I assigned no value to building a deck, my parents ascribed no value to building a story. They didn't even read anything I wrote when they knew I was writing. In fact, they lied about it (I wrote a story with a character who just happened to look like me, act like me, and had my name. My mom said she read the story and she loved it. I asked her for the name of the character. She said, "Bob". I don't care if you aren't supposed to swear in front of your mother, I gave her my best David Mamet "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU!").

So much of self-esteem isn't about what you genuinely enjoy, are good at, or even is realistic. I mean, will working on my writing help? Of course, it will. But at this point, what I need is actual experience and to build my brand. Working on stupid shit just to keep myself busy isn't going to get me anywhere. Even though Sound Waves isn't setting the world on fire, I am still writing a continuing series with story progression, structure, evolution, AND MAKING DEADLINES. Same with Stress Puppy. Editors will actually be less likely to look at you if that fantastic comic you wrote took you two years. They have a schedule to maintain. You want to play in the band, you have to know the songs. And just going around thinking that I'm wonderful won't get me anywhere. Showing that I can apply skill is more important than actual skill at this level.

But that's not the encouragement you get. Keep contacting everyone you can, and sooner or later, something will break. Uh-huh. At this point, I made an inroad at Archie by showing them Sound Waves. If I tried that with, say, Zenoscope or Avatar, it would have gone in the trash. I no longer believe in the shotgun approach, I believe in surgical strikes. And you know what? It really helps.

But that's because of a realistic approach. If something isn't working, you either find something that is, or you find a way to make it work. Stephan Pastis said the most important thing about doing what you love is you have to adapt. If something's not working, find what is or find a way to make it work. I knew a guy who wanted to be a manga artist. Frankly, his stuff wasn't very good. He got the art form, but there was no real personality to his work. On the other hand, he was a kickass sculptor. But even though he did fantastic stuff there, he refused to persue it. He wanted to be a manga artist. He eventually quit, broken hearted at his lack of artistic accomplishment. And the key to his happiness was right fucking there.

Self-esteem is overrated. Look at my game projects. I made Biff's Adventure as a lark and to test out the game engine. But while I enjoyed it and was happy with it, I wasn't happy enough. I refocused myself, and a year later, made Biff 2, which was leaps and bounds ahead of the original with multiple levels, new techniques, tricky gameplay -- basically, it was what I wanted Biff's Adventure to be, but didn't have the skill to make happen at the time. And it's all because I wasn't satisfied with what I did.  Same with Sound Waves.  It was originally just a cheap excuse to play around with shoujo.  And I kept refining it, and it's no longer a diversion in my mind, it is an actual series, it's own artistic entity.  And all because I saw potential for improvement and chased that muse.

Some projects, I am satisfied with. Head Above Water? That is genuinely the best I could have made it. Other than a couple of panels over the entire series run, I can't think of anything I'd do different (that's not to say criticism is unwarranted, and in fact, one of my regular fans has said he thought HAW was a little underdone.  But I'm a big boy, I can take it). But that's only because I pushed. I didn't go, that should be good enough, I kept at it until I got what I was after. Something that I could look at and go, "You did good there, Peter." Sound Waves? Yeah. The artwork ain't the best. But it does what I want, which is convey the characters and their personalities. I could probably learn to do it closer to traditional manga or more realistic, but I feel that would rob the characters of their charm and their expressiveness. Cartoony works for them. It's not a question of, it's my style, and it's not a question of, I don't need to get better. It's an awareness of what is needed to achieve goals. And vague platitudes that I'm good enough as is? That'll get me a page on deviantART, but it won't do anything more than that.

My point is, I'm glad to hear someone back me up about self-esteem being a hinderence, not a help. I like to tell mornblade , "If I don't push, I don't advance." I mean, it took me 15 years to get my first published credit! My icon has me posing with a Pikachu! I geek out about video games and Constitutional rulings! I DRAW MERMAIDS, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! Clearly, self-esteem is NOT a problem for me. You want people to feel better about themselves? Give them the tools to succeed. Or teach them the skills they need. They'll do more with that they ever will with being told, "At least, you tried, that's the important thing."