Endings

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I'm not entirely sure why this week has been so brutal at work, but it has. I'm getting stuff in here as fast as I can. And this particular essay I wanted to think about.

It's been an interesting couple of days. It would be reprobate of me not to mention the conclusion of It's Walky, even though I stopped reading it. I'll confess to glancing at the finale, then reading the Epilogue, from beginning to end. And while I made the right choice in ending my own reading when I did, I'll admit said epilogue was sweet, and I'm glad I read it. One of these days, I'll drink a couple of shots of scotch and take a shot at the last storyline, beginning to end. Though, with my current backlog, that'll be 2010. Just about time for Willis's next comic to be kicking into high.

Even as Walky ends (and the Roomies strips running in the Keenspot newspaper experiment run on the site), there's something that catches my interest more, however. And that's Aeire's decision to remove Xenith from the web.

Xenith was a good strip. Dark -- incredibly dark, compared to Queen of Wands. Which itself was nice. As much as I love Queen of Wands, I also go for the dark stuff, and I enjoy watching different part of an artist's brain on display. (Which is probably why I just bought an un-QoW related print Aeire's selling. Though that could just be because I liked the print.

So, the question comes up: why take down a mostly moribund strip? It's not like she had to pay bandwidth for it (Xenith was a Keenspace strip), and it had a fanbase. Well, Aeire went into some detail in a post she sent to her forum. In part:

Xenith was written when I was a sophomore in high school. High school was not a pleasant time for me - I wasnĖt liked, I wasnĖt in the ÎinĖ crowd, I was dealing with problems that life was throwing at me and not dealing with them particularly successfully, and honestly, I couldnĖt see myself living past 18. I made up my mind that this meant I would be dying at age 18, because there wasnĖt anything that I could see beyond that. When I reached 18, I decided 21. Somewhere between 18 and 21, I realized how silly that outlook was, and ditched it - and now IĖm 28, have no idea when IĖm going to die, and donĖt really care offhand - itĖs the living part thatĖs important. So, hereĖs this story that I wrote. You want to know the point of Xenith? The ÎmessageĖ, the ÎmoralĖ, the thing you were supposed to get out of it?

The wall is always there. And no matter how many times you pull yourself over it, the wall will always be there, it will drive you insane and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

...after this weekend, everything snapped into place - is it really any wonder that this comic depressed me to work on? I mean, no fucking shit it depressed me - what kind of message is THAT? What kind of moral is that to leave people with? Why on earth would I want to give a message like that to several thousand people?

Xenith was the resigned, bitter, cynical and desperate cry of a 13 year old child. ThatĖs all it ever was. And thatĖs not who I am now, and thatĖs not what I want to leave people with. So I backed up all of the files contained on Xenith, because despite that message, there is still some good artwork and layout designs contained therein, and I deleted the site. It will not return, and I apologize to those of you that have been eagerly waiting for an update, because it will not happen.

This made me think. A lot. Because I'm of two minds about it.

Part of me -- the part that has the background in literary criticism and the degree to show for it -- is saddened by this. I like knowing where someone came from. I like seeing the evolution not only of artistic style, but also of voice, and theme, and philosophy. While my critical style focuses on the individual works, the metacritic in me likes to see how those works fit into a cosm on the whole. Plus, the art was very pretty. I'm willing to give a lot for pretty art.

However, the creator in me fully understands -- in the end, Xenith was an unfinished opus, and the artist had decided she not only didn't want to finish it, she didn't like where the story had gone so far. She had outgrown it, and she didn't want it representing her -- more to the point, she didn't want her audience taking the lessons it had to teach to heart.

This makes some sense to me. And it's a much better reason than one I often hear in these situations: "It wasn't any good." That bugs me a lot -- yeah, you're going to become a much better artist, and a much better webcartoonist, the more you actually create. Your skills will improve. Your sense of the aesthetic will improve. Your sense of humor will improve.

But sequential art is just that -- sequential. And where you came from is as important as where you are and where you're going.

I had to wrestle with that with some of my own writing. Out on the wide, wide world of the Internet, there's an amateur fiction mailing list called Superguy (the sequel to another one called Sfstory). These were born in the heydey of LISTSERV and the BITnet. (That's right, I was a BITnet jockey. I hung out on Relay before there was an IRC. I had an online girlfriend before America Online was even founded. Fear me: I am old and a dork.) Superguy wasn't fan fiction -- it, like Dargon and other projects, was a wholly original fictional universe, done 250 lines at a time in e-mail. And it's still out there, and it still gets posts every so often. Hell, I did one myself last year.

At the time, though, it got a dozen posts a day. It was huge, and sprawling, and uncontrolled, and some of it was wonderful and brilliant. Most of it wasn't. There was a tremendous amount of total shit on it. And I wrote some of that shit. And over time I clawed up to stuff that I think was okay.

But some of it... well, let's just say that when I'm lined up against the wall and blindfolded, with men in dark suits loading their rifles, my defiance will be punctured by a soft-spoken man saying "Mister Burns? I'm hoping what looks to be a plain text file's printout in my hand. I believe it's called 'WarHammer?' Are you seriously claiming you don't deserve to die?" And I will sob, and accept my fate as just.

But I don't take it down. I leave it up there. Because even if some of it's total crap, and even the best of it isn't great, it's part of my evolution as a writer. If I've gained any skill at all, it's because I went through the process and, by posting it online, I received feedback and encouragement alike. It's part of the whole cosm.

But that's not the situation Aeire is in. I don't think Xenith embarrasses her. (And having read it, I contend Xenith shouldn't embarrass her). Instead, she has come to disagree with what Xenith stood for. She's evolved so far from it that it is no longer representative of who she is, or what she wants to say.

And if she wants to take that down, for those reasons, I can only respect that.

So long, of course, as she keeps the backups of it. Someday, when Universities are pouring through her papers and correspondence and producing theses on the evolution of Red Haired Sequential Artists, they'll be able to place Xenith in its proper context within Aeire's artistic development.

And when they do, a new group of young readers will discover Xenith, and take it up as a mantra, and extol Aeire's virtues to the world. And Aeire, if she has passed on, will come back and haunt their punk asses. We're talking serious "this ain't a Sarah Michelle Geller movie" horror, folks.

And really, isn't that the kind of legacy every artist wants to leave behind?

3 Comments

I liked It's Walky quite a bit, actually. Not obsessively, like the NS forum goers, but enough to read it daily. It ended well, and there are future projects in the works, so I'm happy. Dunno why I'm posting this, cuz it's not really a comment on your snark, but whatever.

Hee! I remember DargonZine! I even tried writing for them... that kind of fell apart though. *sigh* Not that I'm not a good writer... but my vision was not what they were looking for at that time (I'm more fantasy than historical fiction, and they were steering into historical fiction at that point)... and my internet through college ran out. *shiftyeyes* Oh well.

*sigh* I miss the LISTSERVs and BITNet. I was in Net Exile for years after college, and when I returned, the web had changed everything. Still... it's pretty good. And it's fun to hear about old favorites like DargonZine. Even if only in passing.

Robert A. Howard, also a Dork and Ancient (well, 34, but still... *grin*)

Huzzah for the folks who remember DZ, which of course keeps on churning out fiction to this day, 20 years later. And, of course, the folks who were there with us on Bitnet, Relay, and CSNEWS.

As for being ashamed or concerned about one's online legacy... Well, that's just something that we (and society) are just going to have to come to terms with. People evolve and change and mature over time, even if the "old you" is sealed forever in the amber that the online world has become.

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