Friday, January 16, 2009

Fleen: High Concept, Low Execution

The more shrill the politics, the greater the hypocrisy.

I've mentioned before that the blog Fleen is not what it presents itself to be to those who chance into it. It a creation of members of the Dumbrella Comics Collective.* They hold the domain registration through their host.

The seat occupied by Gary Tyrrell comes at the whims of Dumbrella people. An early poster on webcomic message boards, Tyrrell is the surviving member of a planned staff of webcomics bloggers, which peaked at two.

I knew the general history, and recall the primitive early version of the site. Then I hit a link that filled in parts I missed.

Dumbrella vet Jon "Goats" Rosenberg lays out the rules : he can't tell the writers what to say, he can only fire them if the others agree, you can't write for the blog if you do a webcomic, etc.**

Rosenberg was apparently nursing a grievance involving self-promotion by comics people. In time, this would prove ironic.

What I can't see, is why Rosenberg and company would want a blog under their authority but not their control. Could it be that all the idealism was posturing to disguise the launch of a wholly-owned PR machine, filled for free by bloggers who serve at their pleasure?

This anti-self-promotion blog has given us:

  • ongoing promotion of Dumbrella personnel and hangers-on, always favorable, never disclosed,
  • a blogroll of "establishment" webcomics built mostly around politics, not quality,
  • a blog that feels itself immune from correcting erroneous posts,
  • a review blog that rarely reviews, instead cranking out glib summaries of press releases and gossip,
  • bursts of interesting work when Tyrrell can restrain his obsequious posture and think with both lobes
Forgive the blunt language, but Jonathon Rosenberg seems either stupid or ingenious. Tyrrell, for his faults, is a flunky.

Scrolling through Fleen and observing all the Dumbrella shilling that Tyrrell cranks out, it appears that regardless of Rosenberg's motives, he is one of the all time hypocrites of webcomics. Of course, he is free to offer his own interpretation, here or elsewhere. All I have to go on is his own words on his own sites and the results of his plan, which is worse than shameless self-promotion: it's camoflaged shameless self-promotion for himself and on his friends.

I myself have trouble with a blogger who concedes the faults of a piece, then is further rebutted, and yet does not clarify anything for his readers. Tyrrell is unreliable. If like me, you find the tone embarrassing, you can complain about that too.

Serving a the daily shill for people who are in reality holding the other end of your leash is a higher offense. It puts the Dumbrella titles in a fresh perspective, not to mention piggy-backers like Meredith Gran, who gets annointed on Fleen as often as three times a week.
Journalist ethics suggest these moves would be responsible moves by Tyrrell, but if we're not claiming to be a journalist, honesty with reads will suffice:
  • State your affiliation with Dumbrella. Don't write about Dumbrella any more without re-stating that affiliation;
  • Stop bootlicking FODs (Friends of Dumbrella). Either don't cover them or include a statement;
  • Remove appearances of impropriety by re-thinking your front page link list, and consider doing log roller's penance by reviewing, in context, some of the more appealing beginner efforts by younger creators at places like Drunk Duck and Comics Genesis. You are running a blog, not a mausoleum.
It would make me happy to see Tyrrell stop worrying what various cartoonists think and rise to his best level. What bothers me is setting the bar so low on dignity, honesty and cynicism. A lot of people breeze through life without detecting or worrying about such things, especially when it appears in a corner of the internet. This is exactly why there is a responsibility to show some dignity and standards. A juvenile atmosphere is increasingly an artifact of the webcomics past.
From Rosenberg, a reconciling of what he said he was delivering and what he delivered would be welcome. He's welcome to a post here to lay it out as he sees it. An effective rebuttal would be refreshing, as I am becoming tired of finding out that, one after another, that many webcomics artists have remarkably deficient personalities.

I'd love to see a sober response, not out of respect for me, but because I am curious how it looks from an inside vantage point. Past experience with Gary requires that I state: no private emails will be opened or read.

* Dumbrella: Boy on a Stick and Slither (Steven L. Cloud), Diesel Sweeties (R Stevens), Exploding Dog (Sam Brown), Goats (Jon Rosenberg), Overcompensating (Jeff Rowland), Scary Go Round (John Allison), The Creatures in my Head (Andrew Bell)

**Back when it was hard to acquire a podium on the internet, anyone who succeeded had a lot of power. It seems something was being printed that offended Mr. Rosenberg. FLEEN, by the way, is "Fairly Large Electronic Entertainment Network," reflecting its origins as a sort of hub site for comics by future Dumbrellas, and a few others.