Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reviewers on the Bread Lines

You are a cartoonist. You are aware of the competitiveness of the field, but freely admit that if you could become a professional, you would pursue it.
Imagine a machine. Computerized, it contains all the metrics known on what makes a comic successful.
There are even some on what makes a comic unsuccessful.
To use the machine requires entering data and checking off lists. That takes a half hour.
The machine would also request a sample of art. A favorite panel or two is uploaded, and disappears into the guts.
You are given an address, a URL. You make the journey and encounter another machine, surrounded by data terminals.
People at computers are looking at comic art. Each screen features two images, and they are asked to pick the one representing the comic they would prefer to read. Alternately, they can vote an occasional tie.
They are all people who entered their comic before you. They are completing the final step, of entering preferences regarding twenty comparisons that do not include their own.
When your turn comes, you see it's a bit tricky. Some of the art panels have snippets of dialogue, and the machine is tracking your time, figuring that fast answers are more relevant. To your relief, you are only asked one or two that compare black and white to color art.
A similar process might be applied to sample pages, screening for writing quality and humor.
Upon completion, you are told your results will be emailed to you when they have been compiled, and that the results will only be made public upon your agreement. If you choose that they be made public, pertinent data from your earlier entries is assembled into a sort of wiki, with a page devoted to your comic. There, along with data about when it started, what collaborators are involved and various genre and sub-genre flags, is your comic's success potential rating. There's some explanatory material comparing other forms of rating, and perhaps a suggestion to re-rerate as the machine gets "smarter."
Below, in black type, your score -- a number out of 100, perhaps with subscores. It's there for all the world to see.
Or perhaps it's not. Perhaps you denied public permission, and instead, there is only the name and creator of your comic, a link, and a symbol indicating you took the test, but kept the results concealed, as is your option.
You're a smart person, so at the start you did your research. You saw the machine tested, and that it accurately predicted the approximate achievement of several famous comics, and detected a clunker without effort. Unless it's a trick, and let's say it's not, it appears pretty good. It's throw out a few surprises, and a few people have whooped with delight or groaned, but it's a good machine. Maybe not the Deep Blue* of comics, but certainly the CMYK.
You must decide: Do you enter your comic in the machine? What is your thinking?
Because it is my belief the machine could be built. But should it? 
*An advanced chess-playing computer built by an IBM team.
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