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Eric: If this were a newspaper, it would appear on page 7 of the Lifestyles section, under a review of a local man who plays the spoons.

As is always the case when we address some controversy or other, there's been significant discussion about the History of Webcomics thing and my recent essay on it.

One of the people who disagrees with me is Eric Milliken, who draws the savagely brilliant Fetus X. He rendered a rather emphatic opinion about my essay. And he and I had a discussion afterward, in the comments. One of the things he did was actively disagree with my definition of secondary sources versus primary sources. In his own words:

Your idea that eye witness accounts are not primary sources seems to be based on the unreliablility of eye witness accounts. Keep in mind that "primary" in this case does not mean "best;" it means "first."

And, well, what is there to say? He's right. I'm wrong.

The thrust of my essay isn't changed, when it comes to the methodology in question, mind. See, the reconstruction of events and their placing in historical context is, in many ways, similar to forensic science. There is of course a place for eyewitness accounts -- it's often absolutely necessary to have them, and sometimes they're all you've got. However, eyewitness accounts don't compete with actual physical evidence. When you have physical evidence, you reconstruct events to fit it.

So it is with history. When you're working out exactly what happened in a Revolutionary War battle, you often have to go from personal accounts, because there's nothing else. So you go through reports written and letters home and any other account you can find. You locate where those reports agree, and use those points of agreement as a framework. But you also find all the places the reports disagree, and weigh the differing versions against each other. And of course, you take any physical evidence you have -- actual terrain alterations from cannonballs, or embedded pieces of metal, or receipts for the purchase of food for the soldiers (giving you another count to work from), et cetera and so forth, and where reports disagree you go with the interpretation that fits the evidence the most closely.

That is the kernel of my disagreement with Campbell's methodology. I stand by that -- and I stand by the essay as written.

However, as Milliken pointed out, I was wrong about terminology, and I both acknowledge the error and apologize for it.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 3, 2006 6:22 PM

Comments

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 3, 2006 6:30 PM

I know what you actually mean, but it seems really funny to see the phrase "reconstruct events to fit (the evidence)". Like you're altering events that are already done to fit the evidence on hand.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 3, 2006 6:34 PM

In a way, that's exactly what happens, though.

This is the danger of "the victors write the history books." It's sometimes painfully easy to manufacture false evidence to support a more palatable version of history. And if the record of events is altered to fit that falsified evidence, as far as the world is concerned those events themselves were altered.

Which is one reason why it's important to do this sort of thing right.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 3, 2006 7:08 PM

Sometimes, I think you're intentionally baiting me for a philosophical discussion of the nature of existence, Eric.

While I certainly agree that it's important to do this sort of thing right, I completely disagree as that is a valid reason to do so. Partly because the events, as a piece of truth, can't be altered - merely people's perceptions of them. You're just moving the shadow puppets from the back of the cave in one particular direction.

The importance is found in being able to find the grander truth. The more lies that stand in your way, the more difficult it is to find the grander truth. Lies about the past have a nasty habit of causing problems in the present and in understanding the potential.

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 3, 2006 9:21 PM

The problem is, Eric M. is also right that it makes a hash out of your arguments as a whole; the primary sources here are the blog postings and rants and usenet articles and the like that were made by the particulars at the time, rather than any interviews which may or not be conducted now.

There are many parts of the history of webcomics were interviews would be extremely helpful; but those parts are precisely the parts where there aren't already extensive contemporary public records from the principals involved, or where there aren't numerous subsequent public statements on file (in other words, not the MegaTokyo thing, about which entire forests of electrons have been cut down and pulped into e-paper over the years).

If it turns out that Charley Parker has never talked about server hosting issues for the early years of Argon Zark, then that would a great reason for an interview. If you could think of anything new to ask Scott McCloud that he hasn't already been asked (and answered) a hundred times before, then that would be great. But interviewing just for the sake of being able to say you interviewed doesn't seem very helpful.

As I said over on T's blog, when I went to my bookcase and pulled out two critically-respected histories of the Civil Rights era (Robert Weisbrot's Freedom Bound and Melissa Fay Greene's The Temple Bombing) — an era sufficiently recent for many of the individuals involved to still be alive and available for interviews — I discovered that the latter had oodles of interview citations, and the former didn't (as far as I could tell) have any.

Aside from elements of personal style and preference on the parts of the writers, it seems to me that the obvious reason would be that there is a lot of source material available about the Civil Rights movement as a whole, but not so much about the 1958 bombing of Atlanta's oldest synagogue. I suspect that Greene could have stitched together a pretty good book without any interviews, just by combing the archives of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Ralph McGill's personal papers — but I'm glad she didn't. The interview material helps set the tone nicely for her work, drawing the reader in. I'm just as sure that Weisbrot could have tracked down Andy Young or John Lewis for a quick interview or two, had he so desired; but frankly, it doesn't seem to have been the lesat bit necessary for his book.

And given that we are talking about Webcomics here, I would not be surprised to discover that you could cobble together a pretty good history without interviewing anyone, given that Teh Drama has, by and large, occurred all over the internet, where it has been trapped in Google's amber forever. But if you wanted to do, say, fifty interviews to fill in the gaps, then I suppose you could.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 3, 2006 10:19 PM

And yet, we have exactly one example to work with right now, Ray -- and that example highlights the core problem with the methodology.

I submit, once again, that the breakup of Caston and Gallagher was a pivotal event not just for Megatokyo but in Webcomics history.

I further submit that the only two people who were in a position to know the terms of that breakup are Caston and Gallagher. And their accounts contradict at this stage.

Checking the Google record shows Gallagher's account. This apparently informed what Campbell put into the history. Caston's interpretation was not included.

That's not good historical verification. It's not good research. It's not nearly complete enough. Not when we're discussing the evolution of a webcomic that has had by far the broadest penetration into mainstream publishing, and which has had a tremendous impact on the evolution of the medium.

If it's indicative, than the published book will end up disputed on many different sides and issues, and Campbell's only defense will be "I didn't know that side of the story." If, on the other hand, he's got those accounts in hand, and he's built a historical interpretation out of them, he can say "I considered that, however I found this to be better supported. However, you'll notice I make reference here..."

Et cetera.

I've said before how doing a blog like this one isn't journalism? We don't have presumption of objectivity -- we need to support our theses, but those theses remain subjective? Writing a history book isn't like that. It is journalism, for all intents and purposes, albeit with analysis. Someone who buys a book with the word "history" in the title has the reasonable expectation that the book is as objective as possible and has been researched as thoroughly as possible to build as accurate a historical narrative as possible.

You actually prove my point. There is a wealth of historical evidence on the Civil Rights movement. Newspaper accounts from several different newspapers. Tons of film. Tons of analysis, done by many competing news organizations. Weisbrot could build his historical narrative with reams of evidence. Greene didn't have that same wealth of evidence. She needed to build her narrative through the comparison of many different accounts.

The stuff trapped in Google's amber? The stuff about webcomics? Is deeply subjective stuff. It's press releases and blog posts and rants, generally without oversight and without control. And some of it will be broad enough that Campbell will have the multiple accounts and viewpoints to build the narrative... but a lot of it won't be. Certainly, the issues between Big Panda and Keenspot (to take an obvious example) would have played out more significantly in e-mail than on forum posts, and the forum posts that were made would be colored heavily. The same with whatever happened to PV Comics in the end. It seems likely Logan DeAngelis, Nate Piekos and D.J. Coffman (to use three obvious names) would each have a different interpretation of where events went in that.

So no, the terminology error doesn't weaken my thesis in the least. And yes, I firmly stand by it.

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 4, 2006 12:47 AM

I further submit that the only two people who were in a position to know the terms of that breakup are Caston and Gallagher. And their accounts contradict at this stage.

In what way do they contradict? Like T, I have read both of their official "Here is my side of the story" essays, and, on the matter of the plain facts of the case, I can't find a dime's worth of difference between them.

Both agree that Rodney got the ball rolling, dragging Fred into it and writing the first scripts. They both agree that as MegaTokyo became more popular, Fred wanted to move the strip more and more from gag-a-day to the sort of meandering journey that it currently is, and that he offered Rodney the two options of buyout or dissolve.

Beyond the simple facts, there are obviously differences of opinion as to the extent to which that was a choice or an ultimatum; but factually, there's not much difference; and I've seen nothing on either web site that contradicts any of those facts.

There are obviously different interpretations of the weights of those facts, and of the emotions and motives involved, but the principals involved have all put their thoughts about those out in public already; and I have no idea how germane to his history T considered those.

For a comparison, if you were writing a history of Rock'N'Roll, it would be quite possible to cover the breakup of the Beatles without needing to delve into the precise statements and motivations of all of the individuals involved. You could, of course, do so, burying yourself in old news reports, re-reading John Lenon's Playboy interview, or even trying to land some face time with Ringo; on the other hand, given the scope of your work, the entire career of the Beatles might only be one chapter — in which case you might justifiably feel that there's no reason to go into more detail than the one or two paragraphs that a straightforward recitation of the basic issues (I submit that one could easily write a history of the MegaTokyp breakup that would be as well-rounded as the AllMusicGuide's description of the breakup of the Beatles without recourse to anything more than the obvious public record of that breakup; and that such a passage could well be more than sufficient for what was, after all, just one of many significant moments in the history of webcomics).

As for other webcomics issues (Big Panda, PV, Blank Label, what have you), maybe those are among T's fifty interviews; or maybe he felt he was able to ferret out enough public information to write however much he wanted to write without doing interviews. It's hard to say without reading the actual book, of course.

Comment from: Dave Menendez [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 4, 2006 11:24 AM

I submit, once again, that the breakup of Caston and Gallagher was a pivotal event not just for Megatokyo but in Webcomics history.

I further submit that the only two people who were in a position to know the terms of that breakup are Caston and Gallagher. And their accounts contradict at this stage.

From the perspective of webcomics history, how important is it to know why Caston and Gallagher broke up? The fact that they broke up, that Megatokyo changed stylistically, and that it was somewhat controversial, would seem to cover the bases.

In fact, I'm not clear on why the breakup is a pivotal event for webcomics. Was that discussed somewhere?

Comment from: Spatulus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 4, 2006 2:36 PM

From the perspective of webcomics history, how important is it to know why Caston and Gallagher broke up? The fact that they broke up, that Megatokyo changed stylistically, and that it was somewhat controversial, would seem to cover the bases.

In fact, I'm not clear on why the breakup is a pivotal event for webcomics. Was that discussed somewhere?

Well, it's big enough that people are still wanting to know what really happened, years later. :)

Comment from: Eric the .5b [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 5, 2006 4:32 AM

Well, it's big enough that people are still wanting to know what really happened, years later. :)

Anyone who isn't a Megatokyo fan, though? :)

Comment from: Ray Radlein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 5, 2006 5:02 AM

Well, there's also fans of The Drama...

Comment from: Thomas Blight [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 5, 2006 5:07 PM

Well, it's big enough that people are still wanting to know what really happened, years later. :)

Anyone who isn't a Megatokyo fan, though? :)

How about Eric Burns? Although I suppose he doesn't count because he was a fan before the split.

Comment from: T Campbell [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 24, 2006 8:12 PM

The essay had its impact. I did some last-minute interviews for the book and I'll be doing more for other projects in the future. I'm still a bit wary, but they may have a larger place than the one I assigned to them.

Comment from: T Campbell [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 24, 2006 8:13 PM

The essay had its impact. I did some last-minute interviews for the book and I'll be doing more for other projects in the future. I'm still a bit wary, but they may have a larger place than the one I assigned to them.

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