A post on what we do! in case you’re mystified.
What: We turn images and words into stories and dark jokes. A podcast and an evil tennis ball sometimes join the action.
How: We use a human brain; an AI imagemaker (named Snake) (aka Midjourney); Procreate; Picsart; Pages; an iPhone; an iPad; a laptop; Instagram; and Substack.
Where: Inside a computer, one way or another.
Example: I could visit Snake where he lives inside the internet and ask him to imagine “Mark Twain as Satan piloting a ship down the Mississippi, 19th Century.”
Or I could steal a paragraph from a Mark Twain book — Letters from the Earth, in which Satan writes snarky letters to God from Earth, making fun of humans mostly — and transform that paragraph into a Neo-Dada collage …
“The spider eats the fly; the bird eats the spider; the wildcat eats the goose; the — well, they all eat each other. It is murder all along the line. Here are countless multitudes of creatures, and they all eat, eat, eat. They are all murderers. Are they not to blame, Divine One?”
Crazy, right? The feeling is not “I created that” btw — the feeling is more like discovery. A found object. What happens when that particular paragraph is given visual life. Satan himself seen here, composing letters to the Almighty:
Being ripped (or jacked, if you prefer) is natural for digitally imagined artwork, I’ve found. If I wanted “Satan with beerbelly” I’d have to demand, “Satan with beerbelly, as if human Homer Simpson with horns, tailgating at a football game.”
Or I could use a sentence overheard inside my apartment: “Goodness! Someone’s gone to town on my cheese!” Let’s skip style parameters, though this is likely to result in a Pixar-lookin’ something.
I did not go to town on any cheese, btw. That was roommate innuendo and a failure to accurately recall her late-night relationship with cheese.
I don’t know why Snake’s default is that Pixar-lookin’ something. Probably most of the folks using Midjourney trend toward it (redundant imagery is common). It reminds me of Beeple, mostly — the graphic designer who sold a single patchwork NFT for $69 million. Here’s a fake Beeple, same parameters as the collage:
When: We write and scheme whenever we have time. Sometimes in the middle of the night. Here’s an editorial staff meeting:
Extreme close-up, turning green …
Who: (1) I am a former political reporter. Quit to write Infinite Jest 2 then realized Infinite Jest covered it. I missed deadlines; I operate much better within a “churn and publish, churn and publish” mentality. (2) My dog is a female black lab from upstate New York, aged 10 years. The above rendition is not her. She wishes. (3) My illustrator is a machine-learning image generator. Calling him/her/them/it “artificial intelligence” is mostly incorrect. Snake learns and works fast, but he neither thinks nor feels. He is not sentient. This is a subtle inaccuracy you are free to research. Much like most intellectual exercises, the debate is semantic, in the end.
Let’s ask Snake to represent “semantics” in a cartoon. I’ll keep the style parameters secret. Can you guess? Answer revealed at the end of the post.
Why: One answer would be, Why not? Another is I invented the magazine I found missing. Another is I’ve always made shit up for fun and like the idea of hiring my own illustrator. Even journalism was making shit up, partly.
Journalism is also sitting around caring about that split-infinitive. But “making shit up” is different than “making up shit” right? — though certainly we dabble in both.
More: When I’m locked inside this zone, piecing together a story, I’m alive. Problems are more likely when attempting to get others to read or see what I’ve made, which most reporters don’t have to bother about until they venture out. My anxiety has much more to do with the self-marketing, it’s true. If I could create this junk for a living, I would. We’ll see. The professional detour was worthwhile, whatever happens. I followed my nose.
Also: We don’t always use the image generator. Sometimes we take a well-known photo and invade its space with a lovable member of our staff.
The evil tennis ball, well. He’s never happy. He covered that particular head for a reason. Evil attracts evil. Mmm hmm.
Deeper thrills: In case you're still curious, here’s more!
When prompted with a written suggestion, Snake replies with four visuals. When I accidentally wrote, “Baby Yoga, style Magritte” the other day (rather than “Baby Yoda, Magritte”) we received:
Likewise, the Satan beerbelly bit from before created 4 Satans:
Proving Satan is due for a rebrand. That yellow is more horrifying than any red.
After which we brainstorm/artstorm. Reroll the prompt and get 4 new images, or accept one of the images from the first roll and refine it. Refinement phase includes upscaling, more variations by Snake or my own embellishments. Toes and fingers are particular concerns; Snake thinks we have 11 or 12 of them.
This is when my brain slash digital editing apps listed above are redeployed, to stretch these yoga babies as far as we can …
Hey look. A t-shirt we could sell. *Fake child not for sale.*
Speaking of fake kids, “Electric Baby Yoda Madonna” produced this masterpiece — not to crush you with more Baby Yodas:
There were nicer options. Count on us to always find the creepiest (TM).
— Colin Sullivan
Kicker: The mystery semantics cartoon was Christoph Niemann — a well-known visual artist. Here’s what happens when we take the best prompt ever invented — My other car is a pothead — and ask fake Niemann to do the work, from Berlin:
P.S. The New Yorker published an excellent piece on AI and capitalism this week. Link here. I’d urge anyone with an abiding interest to read it.
For me, the images have amplified work I was already doing. But the notion that I have worked “less hard” is not accurate. To do anything well requires effort, tenacity and (God forbid) talent. My observation about Midjourney is it ain’t much without an offbeat spark. Anyone can sing a Sex Pistols song, but only the Sex Pistols make it Sid Vicious punk. AI has not budged my sensibility, as far as I can tell. Like I said, it’s discovery and creation mixed. A fungible DJ. Curation plus creation, performed. I found and crafted these images, some of them hiding inside my brain, and thought to offer an exhibit that swipes. I hope you liked the experience.
Over and out.
Join the fun. It’s FREE.
I really appreciate this explanation. A few of your previous posts left me a little baffled. But I feel better now.
The creative writing 👍🏻👍🏻