43. “The Case of the Renegade Refrigerator”

Hope you are enjoying this holiday season. I certainly am, but I think it’s time for me to “get back to work,” which in my case, is about switching to a different kind of fun: making comics. I’m also continuing to post, bit by bit, the pages from my last comic.

Above are the first six pages of the feature story in Multiverse Comics and Stories. Virtual Man and his new sidekick, Zeldoid the Cyberdog are just getting acquainted. Virch is a newbie at the superhero game and Zeldoid, the experienced veteran, is trying to clue him in to how things work.

Speaking of how things work, I’ve just finished an interesting book by the historian and futurist, Yuval Noah Harari. The book is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. As unlikely as it might seem, it’s provided me with some ideas about the nature of my comic-making process as well as stimulating my imagination. Some of the results will probably surface in my current work-in-progress, “Pause & Reflect Comics.”

I found out about Harari in a NYT article, “Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love With Their Principal Doomsayer.” In 21 Lessons, Harari writes with captivating clarity about the difficulties our global civilization faces now and speculates about how those problems may morph in the future. One admonition he emphasizes which bears repeating echos The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (by Douglas Adams): DON’T PANIC!

Harari may have some odd ideas about art, however. In a chapter on “Work” he describes how machine intelligence may eliminate many human jobs, including that of the professional artist. He says:

“We tend to think artists are channeling internal psychological forces, and that the whole purpose of art is to connect us with our emotions or to inspire in us some new feeling. Consequently when we come to evaluate art, we tend to see it by its emotional impact on the audience. Yet if art is defined by human emotions, what might happen once external algorithms are able to understand and manipulate human emotions better than Shakespeare, Frida Kahlo, or Beyoncé?”

I can well believe A.I. will eventually produce pop music and pop fiction.(Maybe it’s already happening?) AlphaZero, the self-learning A.I. system that Harari describes, has come up with moves no human has ever envisioned, characterized as “elegant.” So it’s impossible to define a limit to what a future A.I. “artist” might produce.

When I showed my wife, an artist, the above Harari quote, she thought the notion that Friedo Kahlo, a painter we both admire, would have wanted to manipulate others’ emotions with her art to be absurd. Kahlo suffered a horrendous accident that gave her chronic and excruciating pain. Her husband, Diego Rivera, the famous muralist, also contributed to her mental anguish.

Like many artists, her work was for herself, to make sense of the world she suffered and delighted in and to “channel” a power of creation that took her beyond the limiting realm of the self. This power has more to do with being in the present moment than manipulating the emotions of an audience. Of course, anyone who opens to her work may well have a profound emotional experience.

I see what Harari is pointing to. There may come a time when human artists are marginalized by A.I. creators who can give people what they want, like processed food targets our craving for salt, fat, and sugar. A.I.’s may raise marketing and pandering to a whole new level.

I do recommend Harari’s book and I intend to read his others, Sapiens and Homo Deus. I want to leave you with a different quote from 21 Lessons that is more pertinent to my craving to make comics:

“…if you want to go deeply into a subject, you need a lot of time, and in particular you need the privilege of wasting time. You need to experiment with unproductive paths, explore dead ends, make space for doubts and boredom, and allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom.”

Next time: more of “The Case of the Renegade Refrigerator,” a comic book story that grew over decades and involved plenty of “wasted” time, doubt, and dead ends.

“The Case of the Renegade Refrigerator,” is one of several stories in the full-color, 100-page comic, Multiverse Comics and Stories, available in both print and Kindle versions from Amazon.com.

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