If you didn't catch it last week, Sarah Glidden and Domitille Collardey of the Pizza Island comics collective posted a lovely comic diary surrounding the recent events in Egypt. The comic is titled "Egypt from 5,000 Miles Away," and it's an apt title -- after all, it's not about the events in Egypt themselves; it's about the experience of watching the events unfold from very far away, from a place that seems so detached, so alien from what's going on in Egypt. It's about the way social media has changed the way we experience significant events in other countries, and how we can now choose to stream news from Al Jazeera rather than rely on network (or, Christ, cable) TV. It's about how technology has equipped us to engage these events not only intellectually, but emotionally.
So they sent their comic down the river and it touched a chord with a lot of folks who'd had similar experiences but hadn't quite been able to articulate them. But it traveled far beyond what I might consider its intended audience, and into the ever-hungry maw of the Internet. It arrived on many a computer screen (including some in Egypt) without context, and some folks seemed confused. Why, with all the momentous things going on in Egypt, did Glidden and Collardey make a comic about themselves? Why weren't they hitting the talking points, leading us through the events that led to Mubarak's resignation? (I suspect many of these commenters were unfamiliar with Glidden's fabulous travelogue-cum-cultural-mediation How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less.) Were they patting themselves on the back for their own political awareness, only to admit to "turning back to their lives" once the thrill of the protests were over? The thread reached a point where Glidden reluctantly stepped into the comments to explain their reasons for making the comic.
Okay, so people were saying mean things on the Internet. Big whoop. What's new? But, beyond the normal sort of comment trolling, I think we're seeing an aspect of webcomics that I personally hadn't considered before. To me, diary comics feel like an invitation into someone's living room. Granted, it's a very carefully maintained living room, and you're always wondering if there are unwashed pans shoved in a closet somewhere. Still, they're sitting you down for a cup of virtual tea and sharing some aspect of their life experience with you. But I'm also way oversubscribed to diary comics. Not a day goes by that I don't read some installment of somebody's diary -- which, now that I think about it, makes me sound kind of pervy.
But the Internet -- which is so wonderful for Twitter feeds and streaming news -- is the land of decontextualization. When free-floating diary comics hit unfamiliar eyes, I can see how they might come off as performance or back-patting. Maybe this is just a growing pain of first-person comics meeting cross-cultural communication.
Or maybe it's just the uncomfortable experience of having our observations reflected back on us -- in which case, this is just another reflection in what promises to be an endless mirror.
Egypt from 5,000 Miles Away [Pizza Island]