In college, I split-majored, in both graphic design and illustration. I’m a cartoonist, but when I graduated high school, that wasn’t a common part of art-school curriculum. In illustration, I learned the most important aspect of rendering; figure studies. After all, there will never come a time when human anatomical knowledge is unnecessary. The skill to draw any part of the body you inhabit will never hold you back.
However, I was naive in my choice of studies. I was so eager to learn all that I could, I didn’t grasp that graphic design requires the left (analytical) side of the brain, and illustration (creative) requires the right. For a green teen, it was too much; I burned out and then dropped out. I couldn’t jockey back and forth across the hippocampus day after day. While trying to ink the sewer grate for the cover of the second Mike The Pod Comix, I had a psychotic episode and hurled my sketchbook down the dorm hallway.
If none of this makes sense to you, then hello, normal person.
Anyway, I didn’t have a computer of any sort from 1990 to 1999. I think you could argue that in technological terms, that was a rather important nine years. In 1989 I was writing computer software for my Atari 800XL; in 1991 I was using school copiers illicitly to print my comics. I went from knowing machine language to huffing toner fumes at Kinko’s. I had a VHS video camera, with which I would make “movies” by starting and stopping the tape. That was how you edited. You knew your efforts were successful if your buddies didn’t notice. This was called “camera trickery”.
One thing remained a constant over my computer-less period of the 1990s; Macintosh computers. When I arrived at college, they had Commodore Amigas, which was the first rig I animated on (poorly). But even in high school, the artsy folks and designers were on Macs. There was an implication that Macs were better for artists. Women, too; I had more than one girlfriend who wouldn’t even touch a PC, as though it were somehow inherently hateful.
So in 1999, when Dad and I went computer shopping in Savannah, I set my sights on an iMac. It appeared to be everything I needed in one package, and heck, I could get used to the overt philosophy and femmy design. The year 2000 was coming. Maybe I needed to adapt. It was a strange time.
My Dad winced at the suggestion of the iMac. “That thing’ll be a doorstop in two years,” he said. “You need something you can work with.” He took me to the Gateway store, where they built a custom PC that I used for six years, until I was stupid enough to place a giant subwoofer next to it and destroyed it.
Before that, on this PC with Windows, I created all the work that required the use of a computer from 1999-2004. Every animation, every issue of The Last Laugh, every Tailothepup album (design, mixing and mastering), and my website, Mike the Pod. In 2004 I roomed with two electrical engineering graduates from Georgia Tech. They helped me order and construct the PC I used from 2004-2011, the one the crazy invader put his boot through. (Horror aside, it was a hard-core way for that thing to go out.)
I used that computer to make an animated feature that screened at a local theater and won a festival prize.
Not only that, I designed the posters and box art for the movie on that computer. A couple years ago I switched to a high-powered laptop with Windows, and that’s what I’ve been using for this site. Oh, and Ceaseless Fables– all on a Windows PC. I haven’t even told you about the series of over 500 miniature sculptures I did for Art-O-Mat. Yes, I hand-sculpted them, but I printed all the packaging from my PC. Actually, I think it might be more like 600. We’ll get into that another time.
My point is, throughout this era of consistent results, countless friends and peers have told me I’d be better off using a Mac, like they do. There’s no real harm in this, as their intentions are presumably good (and they’d like to share software), but it’s like telling me although my car is fine, I should really drive a Subaru. Meanwhile, did you see how fast I got to my destination? (Once, in my old BMW, I drove to Atlanta from Savannah, a distance of 245 miles, in two and a half hours. My chums were mystified when I arrived.)
I made the car analogy for a reason. As I’ve said before, and will likely repeat, I had a Cool ’70s Dad. The first time I snuck a beer was when my Dad left it unattended as he worked shirtlessly on his 1959 Austin-Healey. He would get this metal piece of ass running, and we’d joyride through our tiny town. I wasn’t just not wearing a seatbelt; I was looking down at the road through the holes where the back seats were supposed to be. I have tasted freedoms you will never know. This is why I share them with you here. This way they are never truly lost.
Give that a try. (Or don’t.) Think about the experience of having a home, slapping a buzzbomb together, and tearing ass shirtless with your offspring in tow. Oh yeah- and my town was near Nabisco’s headquarters, so it smelled like warm cookies 24/7. Plus my Dad let me watch R-rated movies. I say unto you, it was good.
Dad also brought home reams of blank paper from his work, plus pens they didn’t need, and said do whatever you want. He showed me that if you folded the paper in half and stapled the fold, you made a little book. This is generally how I produce comics to this day. Once he took me to the graphic design wing of his job, and the bearded dudes inside would act like crazy monkeys. This directly influenced my decision to major in graphic design.
Before Xerox was a household word, people in offices used to say “cloning machine”. I was in my 30s before I finally realized that the guys at my Dad’s office were fucking with me, when they said it could clone a person. I don’t blame them for screwing with the mind of an 7-year-old. It was the 70s.
“Yeah, if you just put a fingernail clipping in there, it’ll clone ya.”
-bored, probably stoned guy at my Dad’s work, 1979
I see in some Mac users a sort of unrealistic attitude toward computers. This isn’t an indictment; most people drive cars, but most people don’t know how to fix one. A car is a machine; it will eventually break. Machines break. This is reality, not to mention entropy. It’s unrealistic to want a car that never breaks down.
Well, a computer is a machine- one so complex we don’t fully understand it– and it will break. It took me a few years to grasp this. I splurged on a good Uninterrupted Power Supply, because I’ve lived in too many houses with flickering lights. I keep not one but two back-up hard drives within a foot of my laptop, which I’ve set on a weird wire cage, so its fans are never blocked by anything. And the computer itself was designed for hardcore gamers; nerds who use it for days at a time, without a break, running hot on a high-powered graphics card. I brokered it for a steal from a Muslim with a tiny shop down Buford Highway, the exact sort of dude my Dad used to shoot the shit with in New York about car parts. Next time I need a computer, he’s the first one I’ll call.*
*Addendum: he ripped off a good friend of mine, so I have to retract this.
I have reaped huge benefits from knowing which part of a computer needs to be replaced, and how to replace it. Dad used to tell tales of the Volkswagen Bug, and how if you dented its fender, you simply popped it off and put a new one on from the store. Computers are the only place in modernity where I still see this ethos applied. It’s a huge part of my derision for Apple and Steve Jobs; I’m coming from a working-class perspective on a high-ticket item. I’m the old lug that could fix a Caddy or an Oldsmobile, yelling at the kids in the Suzuki Samurai. YOU’LL GO OFF THE ROAD! YOU’LL END UP DEAD IN A DITCH!
To recap- I have built computers with which I have created movies, animation, music and comics. It carries a sense of satisfaction I wouldn’t have gotten had I bought a Mac out of the box. Same as my Dad got from rebuilding that Austin-Healey, and then driving it around with his snotty kid. Same as stapling comics together that I designed and printed out myself. Same as making my own movie.
Same as America, which allowed me to do and experience all these things in the first place. We have misguided people here that put it all down, which is how it goes in a free society. You’re allowed to do that too.
I’m allowed to tell you there’s a better way. I’ve lived it.