Tag Archives: Journalism

Transmetropolitan and sticking the landing


Transmetropolitan is a difficult series to recommend and yet it’s one of the best things I’ve read in comics. There’s a lot of bad language, violence, sex, drug use, technological fetishism, bowel disruptors, two-headed cats and journalism. The main character is a bastard, and is also a deeply compassionate human being. If you stick with him, he’ll make you smile, then cringe, then smile again.

I’m a big fan of 50-60 issue series, long enough to develop a world, have notable side issues, and mysteries that are revealed gradually but not glacially. Transmetropolitan has a five year arc told over five years of comics from 1997-2002. In some ways it is very of its time, while in others it was quite prescient. But more than anything it’s a story that unfolds gradually, and that comes together to a satisfying ending, something difficult for any author, but doubly difficult in a monthly medium like comics.

Transmetropolitan tells the story of Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo style journalist in a 23rd century cyberpunk trans-humanist future. After five years away, Spider is called back to “the city” to fulfill the last two books of a five book publishing deal. The city is a mash of cultures, fetishes, technologies and architectures, constantly evolving and living in an ever present “now” with little memory of the past. Spider first decides to cover a transient movement in the Angels 8 district, a story that ultimately leads to his live coverage of police brutality bringing the riots to a stop. This earns him both fame from the public and the ire of city officials.

But the majority of the book’s arc has to do with two presidential administrations, the Beast and the Smiler, and Spider’s adversarial relationship with each. The Beast is a pragmatist who will only do the bare minimum necessary to keep at least 51% of the people happy and alive, and the Smiler is a man who wants power only so that he can use it for his own whims.

I don’t want to say a whole lot about the particulars of the conflict, but suffice it to say there are highs, lows, conspiracies and satisfying showdowns throughout. The best part is that ideas and concepts introduced in early issues are important and relevant to the conclusion. Everything feels like it has unfolded organically and inevitably to the conclusion Ellis and Robertson planned.

I’m not going to lie. It took me two reads of the first volume before I decided to go any further, with about six months between those readings. It took a deep discount and coke rewards points for me to buy the second volume, even after liking the first volume much better on a second read. There’s a lot of early world building. And the language and “colorful metaphors” (as Spock would say) are a barrier (though weirdly satisfying in later moments). This series is not for everyone, probably not even for most people. But you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try if it sounds the least bit interesting.


Filed under Book Reviews

Immersive Journalism and Newsgames

I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t been paying that much attention to what’s been going on in Syria. I know it’s bad and I’ve tried to bring myself up to date from time to time on the latest part of the ongoing conflict. But truthfully, I have no day to day awareness of the conflict, it’s potential solutions, and it’s ongoing human toll in anything more than an abstract way.

I suspect I’m not alone in this.

That’s why programs like Project Syria intrigue me. It’s a four and a half minute sequence you view through virtual reality goggles and headphones. It takes you onto the streets of Aleppo during a mortar attack. The scene is accurately mapped, down to real recorded audio, and the patterns of people through the crowded streets. Producer Nonny de la Pena terms this Immersive Journalism. Instead of crafting an article or shooting a documentary, de la Pena has created an experience. While not everyone has a pair of virtual goggles and headphones, de la Pena sees immersive journalism taking the form of apps you can send to smart phones to allow you to witness scenes shortly after they happen.

Consuming the news is a passive experience, while gaming is an active experience, and programs like Project Syria are not the first attempt at Newsgames: games that simulate current events through a variety of means.

One of the notable early examples of this genre is Darfur is Dying. Centered around the refugee crisis in Darfur you play as a member of a village going out to get water. You must travel a very long distance and dodge patrols all while having very little cover and being on foot while you are being chased from vehicles. Once you get back to the village (which is not easy to do), you must distribute the water to grow crops, help the thirsty and construct homes while still under the threat of attack.

A more recent example uses an old form of computer gaming, Interactive Fiction (though the game itself seems closer to Choose Your Own Adventure). 1000 days in Syria lets you choose to see through the eyes of the family, the fighter or the foreigner through a 1000 day narrative, beginning in 2011. While the gameplay elements are simple and involve a lot of reading, your choices matter and steer the destinies of these people, in so much as you can given what is going on around you.

Both of these games have links to places you can make a real difference. They try to tell a true story through a fictionalized account. And while these might be journalism of a kind, they are also activism. The activism is less about taking a particular stand in a conflict, and more about getting you to care, and in a more concrete way than the abstract way so many of us care.

As Americans not directly involved in the conflict, we have the luxury of consuming the news we want to consume. If we go to the news to hear about politics, we can. If we go to the news to find out about what’s going on in our community, we can. And we can go to the news to be amused or uplifted. Sure we can also find out about what’s going on in the world, but we don’t have to. In a way it’s a shame these games have to exist, that traditional media isn’t enough to get the message to us.

I know bad news can be fatiguing. And I think even the best of us only have the ability to really emotionally commit to a few things we care about. And I’m not saying that Syria or Darfur or ISIS or Boko Haram are the things or the threats you need to care about. But maybe at least a little of our play can be spent seeing the world as other’s see it.


Just a quick reminder, you can get Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach for $2.99 until 11am tomorrow. That’s 40% off for hundreds of fractal images and guides for a variety of fractalizing techniques. Also Fractals You Can Draw is FREE today only!

1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech