Technophilia01: Doing It Doujinshi Style, pt. 1

If you’ve read my blog’s prior entries, or follow my twitter, or just know me in general, it’s likely you’ve heard that I am currently working as the technology editor for the San Jose Bay Area’s most prestigious… community college.

Don’t laugh. You’ve no idea how many international transfer students we get from Hong Kong, Chinese and Korean businessmen and government officials. It’s kinda of disturbing how much Pan-Asian money flows through De Anza College. For a community college, we’re very nearly on par with some of the CSUs in terms of how much clout we can throw around, and how much resources we can divest. Sure, it’s still not at UC level – but it’s also nothing to sneer at.

That said, I’m the schools first-ever tech editor, and the duties of such are a bit… staggering. Setting precedent for quality and content isn’t easy, and though my surprising skills with Adobe InDesign and innate mastery of the English language has made the former easy enough, the latter… well, let’s just say it’s a bit lonely, being the only tech geek and otaku amidst a newspaper staff of roughly three, four dozen, including the other editors. I certainly can’t write all the articles by myself – but a lack of an enthusiastically geeky support staff this quarter makes my job harder than it would’ve otherwise been.

That said, amongst the precedents I wish to set for this new position, I also wish for the editorial seat itself to be relevant in the dialogue of college tech and tech politics – via column writing. It hasn’t been approved by the Editor in Chief yet, but given her laissez-faire attitude to my section thus far, I’m not expecting it not to get approved in fairly short order. Much of it, at the start, will be a rewrite of what Thoughtscream readers’ve enjoyed – if that’s the right word – thus far, but written with a more general audience in mind.

Not that it means much. I’ve no qualms about sticking with the jargon, even with a lay audience. If they don’t understand what I say sometimes, it’s a pity, but what I will never do, under any circumstances, is treat my audience as less intelligent than myself. Less informed, maybe, but never stupid.

So now, with a little luck, please enjoy the first part, yet to be published (or edited), of Technophilia’s (working name) opening volley.

There’s only one like it in the world, and it’s gained such fame that to attend it has become something very, very close to being a religious ritual for thousands: Comiket’s hit Japan again, drawing crowds numbering at over five hundred thousand, and with an economic impact on the local economy at gods knows what scale. Describing it as “crowded” doesn’t begin to cover it – tacking on adjectives like “stifling hot,” “overwhelming” and so on merely scratches at the surface. It is often considered the Geek’s Mecca, and not just half-seriously at that.

The most important thing, however, is that every last one of the dealers hawking their comics, books and games at the convention – every last one of them – are technically amateurs. No corporate contracts, no authorship deals, and for the gross majority of them, no copyright ownership either. The gigantic monetary maelstrom that is Comiket is, for all intents and purposes, a legal impossibility.

At least, it’s an impossibility from our perspective. Copyright ownership and management’s something of a big deal here in America: the RIAA, MPAA and even the various writer’s guilds have been stirring up some serious muck about who can use what intellectual property when and how. The measures they’ve taken have been both silly and deadly serious – it wasn’t all that long ago that the RIAA was successfully suing families for millions for the use of peer-to-peer programs, and just recently Amazon came under legal fire for their Kindle 2’s ability to, horror of horrors, read books to their vision-impaired users.

The very concept of “underground” musician plays to this war between the owners and utilizers of intellectual property: the suing of disc jockeys for the unauthorized use of music clips, tracks and sequences has cast a criminal, or underground, light upon an entire genre of art. The cost for legitimate DJ’s are, at times, prohibitive – licensing of samples is a lucrative business for recording companies, and the ownership of culturally significant songs is, as the sale of Beatles rights have proven, a multimillion dollar market.

But contrast this against the Japanese “doujinshi” culture, where the idea of “owning” a concept is far more nebulous. Not only do most authors and musicians fully expect fans to take their concepts and run – often, the most successful authors and artists, especially in the field of comics and anime, were once doujinshi artists themselves, and intimately familiar with the heat and crushing crowds of Comiket. There is an unusual flourishing, unprecedented by any other culture, of artistic talent in otaku culture, not just in the seemingly bottomless well of Naruto and Bleach fan arts, but in massively talented bands and DJ’s, exemplified by CROW’SCLAW and REDALiCE, and even in fully realized animated shorts and series such as with the controversial but otherwise well-received Touhou anime.

The argument made by copyright adherents is that copyright enforcement encourages originality over infinitely regressive derivations, made solely for profit at the expense of the innovator and without any artistic merit of its own. But the harms they claim are by far in the minority in countries where enforcement is more lenient than stringent. As long as there is some set baseline on the difference between homage and ripoff, or even if acknowledgement is made to the originator, what does seem to happen is not so much a death of originality, but an emergent outburst of sheer, bloody art – and with it, an otherwise completely unexpected boon to not just the amateur artists, but to the originator itself.
As “ZUN,” the creator of a massively popular series of video game vertical-scrolling shooters, has clearly seen, the best and fastest way to gain a loyal and, importantly, paying fanbase is not to copyright your newest idea, but rather to copyleft. To make public domain a part of your perceived “rights” to a fresh concept – to almost literally demand that you are not alone in its care and nurture. The fastest way to get audience loyalty is, indeed, to get them to feel that they, too, are committed to a concept’s success.

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on April 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “Technophilia01: Doing It Doujinshi Style, pt. 1”

  1. Good looking draft on that. I’m assuming that your audience is familiar with the otaku culture such that when you say “Comiket”, they know the place and thing you’re talking about.

  2. Ooh, good catch. Made the edit for the final draft. Just waiting for my EIC to get back to me with the edits…

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