When I started doin’ this thing I do… I don’t know that I ever actually put into words what it was.
Lemme break it down… to the best of my abilities. I was… well, writing. Did that make me a “writer”? Well, technically… yeah. Maybe it wasn’t the same as writing the Great American Novel, or penning the lyrics to the anthem of a generation — but, sure, I was putting digital words on digital paper. At some point between then an now, however, I mentally reframed it — I was no longer writing… instead I was “creating content”.
What does that mean?
Well, it’s kinda nebulous, innit? To me, it’s the difference between creating something “evergreen”… something that could (external factors notwithstanding*) stand the test of time, and be revisited or discovered at any point in time… and still be enjoyed — and something that is purposely written/crafted to be enjoyed now. Something “on trend”… algorithm-friendly, and comparably ephemeral. Something that, when shared on social media will garner interest – if ya struck when the iron was hot. Does that make sense?
*Early on in the CioIE journey, I wrote some glowing pieces about a certain comic creator we no longer talk about.
In taking this time away from the grindstone of producing daily “content”… while still putting out these rather self-indulgent and naval-gazing pieces — I feel like I’ve gained a measure of clarity. I’ve begun looking back at what I do/what I’ve done… in attempt to deduce when this mental shift occurred for me. When did my work stop being “true”? When did I turn into nothing more than a “content creator”? Now, when I suggest my work stopped “being true”, I don’t say that to mean I started lying. I’ve always been honest here — it’s more, as corny as it probably sounds, about being “true to myself”. True to the original “mission-statement” of Chris is on Infinite Earths.
First, let’s ask (and stumble thru answering) some questions, eh?
What is Content?
It might be easier to ask what isn’t content… because, honestly — technically speaking, pretty much everything online is content. For our purposes, however, the word “content” is going to be reserved for algorithm-chasing, ephemeral attempts at getting attention, finding an audience, and/or “going viral”. Art used to be “art”, right? Pre-internet, that is. Now, I’d never suggest anything I’ve put out is “art” in the classical sense — instead, stuff that was creative and for its own sake. My writing and podcasting isn’t/wasn’t much — but, it was that. Something I made… that existed only to exist. Does that make sense? Do I ask “does that make sense?” too much? I dunno.
What was my original “Mission Statement”?
At it’s most basic — it was to write. About something I was passionate and half-way knowledgeable about. Maybe paying a little lip service to some of the more obscure bits of the medium. It wasn’t to be “the [insert comics franchise/character] guy”. I didn’t need to be the guy who would be tagged on every social media anytime, say, a certain Marvel or DC Comics “B-List” character got a mention on Newzarama or wherever. It was about nothing more than putting words on paper for their own sake. If people enjoyed it, they enjoyed it — and if not — well, the fact that it exists was the whole point anyway.
It was always my goal to create the sort of “content” that I, personally, would like to consume. Honest, passionate sort of chatter… about the sort of stuff ya don’t see (literally) everywhere else. I could be the thousand-and-first person to “lol, discover” that Batman once punched out Guy Gardner, right? And yeah, it’d get a bunch of views. But — is that something I wanted to do?
No. No it wasn’t.
So, when did that change?
It’s hard to say, exactly. But, before we pull out the fine-toothed comb, lemme blather on a bit more about what current-day “content” is. I mentioned that it’s ephemeral. What does that mean? Quick ‘n dirty: It means short-lived. For those of us of a certain vintage, we might remember Baby Jessica in the well. If you’re too young, Google it. It was, back in — what, 1986 or so — the most important thing in the world… for like 15 minutes. Hmm, maybe Andy Warhol was right about all’at.
One of the main differences between “art” (speaking broadly) and “content”, to me, is longevity. In “current-year”, I feel that many (if not most) creators out there are only interested in the next fifteen minutes. Hell, fifteen seconds might be more accurate. It’s about the immediate “high” and validation. It’s not about making a lasting statement (or any statement, really) — it’s not about actually creating anything. Well, maybe creating a “brand” for themselves — but, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle’a fish.
Tightening focus to the “comics-content-creation-community”, since, that’s kinda what I do here — I think this is most apparent in the fact that we (collectively) seem to have something of an identity crisis. This might be a universal “observation”, however, since I only know of the comics stuff, it’s all I can actually speak to. What is the “identity” of a “comics content creator”? Are you… just a fan? A commentator or reviewer? A self-professed “scholar” looking to educate the unwashed masses? Are you an informed industry “insider” because this one time, this one pro thanked you for your 10 outta 10 review? Are you a “news outlet”? Are you all of the above? None of the above? Depending on the day-of-the-week above?
Regardless of your “role”… what is it you create? What is it you add? Do you create articles/videos/podcasts that you believe in — that truly make you feel fulfilled? Or, are you chasing that algorithm? Are you looking for the dopamine-hit you get every time someone clicks that heart or thumbs up? And don’t get me wrong here — I’m not looking down on anyone or calling anybody out for doing what makes them happy. In fact, the entire point of this exercise is for me to recognize, and make peace with the fact that I’m guilty of all of it!
I went from putting out work I believed in and felt fulfilled by — to “chasing”. It’s a trap… but, it’s a damn easy one to fall into. I mean, you get a “taste” for it… often by accident. If you write/create for long enough, eventually something is going to break through. You’re going to get that validation… and, dammit, you’re gonna love it. From that point on, you’re gonna need it. It’s going to reframe what “success” looks like to you… and, if you let it — it’s going to inform the way you create from that point on. It’s a human reaction, totally normal and natural… but, at what cost?
Looking back, it’s pretty clear to me when I was creating “for me”… versus when I was “chasing”. As artistes, I think we always wanna tell ourselves that what we do is “for us”. For the more enlightened among us… that might be true. I.. am not so enlightened.
I am at my most fulfilled creatively when… I’m spilling my guts. This past week’s worth of post, f’rinstance. Painful as hell to write about… seeing these words staring back at me… it’s a sobering look into the funhouse mirror that my creative-self has become. And yeah, it’s self-indulgent… arguably cringy… but, at the end of the day: it’s real. I’m not looking for validation… and oddly, they’ve been some of my most validating! I’ve gotten such amazing and thoughtful responses from these posts.
I used to call the Chris is on Infinite Earths Podcast an “emotional shiatsu massage”. It would usually be a deeply-personal story along with some relevant comics chatter. Sharing the sort of moments that we all experience… or, can at the very least relate to in some form or another. They were deeply satisfying… and, oddly, though they were among the least promoted things I’d put out — they were some of the best received. To this day (some three years later), people still reach out to thank me for those.
So, why’d I stop?
Well, because it was hard. Those shows were literally painful… it really was like I’d gotten a shiatsu massage on my soul. Emotionally draining… and exhausting. For that much effort, I told myself I needed more of a response. It was stupid, petty, petulant even — but, it’s where my head was. It was the most fulfilled I had ever been as a “creator”… and still, it wasn’t enough! One of the things I’ve said a lot lately was how foolish I’ve been for not realizing (and appreciating) what it is I have. Practicing gratitude has never been my strong suit. I’m a pessimist, and admittedly, something of a man-child.
It’s easy to look around your “creative community” and feel disheartened. To start questioning your value or your place in it. I mean, this is universal “social media is bad for you” sorta stuff here, right? It’s hard not to compare yourself to others… especially when everything is so “in your face”. You think about the amount of effort you put into your work… compared with the amount of effort you see coming from others… and you begin asking some of the inconvenient and, dare I say, “toxic” questions.
Why am I working so hard, when [insert person here] can just take a picture of a comic they bought and get several hundred likes?
Why am I pouring so much of myself into this, when [insert person here] can just go to Google Images, steal four comic covers and get several hundred likes?
Why do I respect people’s feeds so much, when [insert person here] just tags everyone they know every time they belch something out?
It’s far too easy to succumb to this trap of unproductive thinking… but, it’s kinda what we’ve been trained to do, isn’t it? I don’t wanna get all tin-foil-hatty here, but, the tech companies that control the flow of the tap on the visibility of our creative output… they want us to ask these questions. Because, they want all of us to start “gaming the system”. They want us to create content. And the pressure is there for us to do it every-single-day… at the risk of fading into (further) obscurity if we don’t.
Which circles us back to the start. What is content? Content is anything. Content is everything. And also, content is nothing.
Your “content” can be something you toiled over and researched for days… weeks… months… years. Or, it could be some newz you “broke”… by taking the five seconds it took to copy and paste something from Bleeding Cool.
Do I even have a point here? Well, no — not one that’ll change anything, because (in my opinion) the system is irreparably (and purposely) broken. Fewer people (not a blanket statement, naturally) are interested in creating anything of “substance”, anything that takes effort… because, that’s just not incentivized… and, in this “hustle culture” it’s a waste of time. In our niche, you’ll get exponentially more eyes if you spoil what happened in an issue of X-Men that hit the shelves five seconds ago than actually creating something transformative… so, at the end of the day – why bother?
I think my main deduction here… if I can even call it that — is that, creativity needs to be intrinsic. Not that there isn’t a place for everybody — but, speaking for me personally — I need to get back to what’s “real”. I’m not a comics news guy… I don’t kiss near enough ass for that, nor am I interested. I can’t depend on any of the “communities” to help me out — for the better part of a decade, most pretend this site doesn’t exist anyway. For me, I’ve guess I’ve gotta stop making “content” and start actually writing again.
Talk about a ridiculous brain-dump of an article, eh? If you’re still here, I humbly thank you for reading. If you’re a writer whose fallen into the “content creation trap” and maybe doesn’t feel so great about their work anymore… I hope this, if nothing else, reminds you that a) you’re not alone, and b) you’re completely normal (or, we’re equally messed up!).
2 thoughts on “On “Content””
I turned 50 back in January so I really don’t have much of a social media presence. I understand talk of the algorithm but I don’t really live in that world. For me I just read what I like, and not what the reccomendations of my computer overlords are.
I always wanted to be a writer, and I have always been told to write for an audience of one, myself. My creative writing teacher back in college (29 years ago) told me that anything I write had to please me first before worrying what anyone else thought. If you are good, and you are, an audience will find you.
I’m proud to be a member of your audience.
I prefer the “we’re equally messed up” option. Chris, you are and always will be one of the coolest (as in “chillest” and “idolized”) comic book reviewers shouting into internet void! While you are the “creator” and we are the “listeners”, I like to think there is a special bond of humanity and shared fandom we have among the community. I can’t speak to content or burnout or anything podcast/blog related, but as a human,I take a mental restock from time to time. As a comic reader and comics fandom participant, this manifests as periodic cold-turkey jettisoning of some part of my fandom. I got bothered by Marvel obfuscating after Secret Wars, so off it went! I got tired of bothering about Tom King’s approach to Batman – see ya! I couldn’t financially support what I saw as a shallow commercial effort in DC’s Future State/5G initiative – done! I have bounced around, in, and out of whatever comic fandom is excited about. I can only imagine what it has been like trying to report on any of it or keep up a regular show about any of it. It’s been a crazy 2 years for us all apart from comics, and this is one of those chances to reset and reorient to whatever the future holds. Take the time with your wife and enjoy each other. Don’t worry about us in the void. Whatever you choose to create, there will always be an audience.