Face Time Online

I have an uneasy relationship to Facebook. I migrated to it after MySpace’s interface became impenetrably complex and for now have settled in, despite misgivings.

Eddie tarried there briefly but fled the realm once he realized how uncontrolled and intrusive the ever-expanding web of contacts can become. I totally understand his quick retreat. If someone was his real-world, present-day friend with a desire to be in touch, he or she would probably have Eddie’s email address already. Where was the need to send messages via Facebook?

I’m more at ease with propelling myself out into the world willy-nilly. As a cartoonist and writer whose career is potentially enhanced if large numbers of people know that I exist and may conceivably be moved to purchase my creative wares now and again, my default impulse is welcome a wide range of humanity into my world, be they cherished friends or strangers. Facebook, along with this blog and my web site, lets me do that without having to serve anybody coffee.

Facebook visibility can get strange, though. I first realized this when, out of the blue, I began getting email announcements that someone was "poking me." How startling!

As egotistical as this may seem, it actually feels more natural to me than overseeing my own regular Facebook page. I’m a cartoonist, after all, and hawking my brainchildren to a fickle public comes with the territory.

As does a certain amount of tedium and guilt about the time being devoted to self-promotion, whether at a convention hall or in cyberspace, when I could be at my art table drawing. Conflicts dog me perpetually about these issues, but they all share the comfort of familiarity. Convention attendees may engage me respectfully or ignore me totally; both are common experiences from the few "bricks-and-mortar" conventions I’ve attended in my time. Real-world comic-con attendees are usually too focused on getting an autograph from Frank Miller to bother throwing cupcakes or monkeys at me. That’s a plus. Still, there’s something to be said for sharing space with interesting people, whether in the flesh or through Internet concoctions.

In either venue I can sit around chatting with strangers who stroll by, calling out to the occasional friend or colleague who shows up, and hobnobbing with readers who’ve got questions to ask about Stuck Rubber Baby or who want me to know that they read Barefootz way back when.

That’s fun. And in a refreshing break from normal Facebook weirdness, nobody’s presenting himself or herself as a "friend" except for, well, my friends.

Facebook’s satellite interactivity applications subsequently surfaced, and they have multiplied ever since like swarming locusts. These days getting "poked" from a distance seem like a lost era of social reticence, now that I’ve begun getting hugged, "hi-fiiived," spied on, karate-chopped, tickled, hypnotized, provided with beer, and engaged in pillow fights, all the while getting cakes, cream pies, strawberries, sombreros and monkeys flung at me.

And don’t even get me started on "Walls," "Fun Walls," and "Super Walls"! Didn’t I hear the Facebook was created by college students? Was scrawling on walls their preferred mode of communication, as opposed to, say, strolling down the hallway and knocking politely on a dorm room door? Did they throw cupcakes and monkeys at each other there at Harvard? What has higher education been coming to sinced my days of civilized acid-tripping at Birmingham-Southern?

Sputter! Fume!

Despite Facebook’s weirdnesses, I appreciate the way it has facilitated renewed contacts with some of my long-lost friends. And by this I mean some actual friends, people I know and have warm feelings about. To say that these are the crême de la Facebook crême is not, however, to devalue that other variety of beings imprecisely called one’s "Facebook friends," examples of which range from professional colleagues I may or may not have ever met; members of my extended family; readers of my comics; friends of friends who in general seem like reasonably good sorts; friends of "friends" who (judging by their roster of "friends") I have at least a little something in common (comics; Alabama roots; similar senses of humor; shared libidinal tastes); and a host of additional "friends" whose interest in me as an individual is probably non-existent but who I suspect make a hobby of soliciting the "friendship" of anyone anywhere who dares to make his or her presence known in Facebookland.

As of right now Facebook says I have 466 friends. That’s fine. I genuinely know many of them and these are fine folk indeed. Furthermore, I’m sure that most of the ones I don’t know from Adam would provide me with delightful conversation should we find ourselves sharing space in a movie line. Or chatting at a comic book convention.

Which brings me to the online comic book convention called the Facebook Comic Con, within which I was persuaded this week by its founder, fellow comics professional Michael Netzer, to install myself in a "virtual booth" dedicated to myself and my wonderfulness as a comics creator.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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3 Responses to Face Time Online

  1. phil yeh says:

    Howard— as always you have summed up the feelings that so many of have about Facebook especially those of us who went kicking and screaming into the internet age in the first place….. great stuff…. Linda and I hope to see you in the fall on the east coast….


  2. Howard says:

    All riiight! So at last the mystery about where this Facebook “wall” metaphor came from has been cleared up! (No such system existed at my alma mater in Alabama.) Thanks, G.

  3. G. Baptiste says:

    I went to Harvard 10 or 15 years ago, and in the dorms, every door had a (university-provided) mini-whiteboard and pen, so that people could leave one another messages as long as they didn’t mind everyone else in the dorm reading them.

    Sheltered soul that I am, I’ve never really wondered before whether all colleges did this.