13 February 2009

Why Collage is Key and Scrapbooks are King in Social Media (#5 in the Digital Books in Social Media series)

Postcard uploaded then tagged-up/mashed up at
http://comicater.com/tcjb/studio.aspx?bid=4421 Click "Read Comments"
to see this modified version.

At our rough and ready, always-evolving, we-need-tech-help-with-this-puppy testbed/read-write Preview demo at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, we've watched hundreds of beta testers who interact with our digital prose+comics scrapbook novel and receive an inordinate amount of joy from the simplest of toys: an html tool that lets you slap one image on top of another.

A simple collage tool, in other words.

When we first realized that readers would want to interact online with a digital version our urban contemporary adaptation of Kipling's The Jungle Book – featuring Little Mo, a boy who grows up in the concrete jungle of Dallas as a graffiti writer, tattoo designer, then graphic novelists, protected by urban animals – we worried that we didn't have any sophisticated drawing tools for our reader/co-creators to use.

We figured they'd want to draw complex graffiti-style lettering and create from scratch the kind of detailed murals that they paint on city walls.

We were wrong.

Nobody asked for those tools.

And, when we studied web sites that were trying to attract wanna-be cartoonists with complicated, Flash-based drawing tools, we saw that the sites didn't really seem to be catching on.

After trying out these tools, we realized why. Too darn difficult and complicated. You'd have to be a professional cartoonist, almost, to make something that looks original and fresh. I spent hours trying to assemble characters and create stories in comic strip form, by piecing together body parts and props.

My business partner Doug Millison was teaching himself to draw with pencil, pen and ink, and he put his finger on the problem: "You might as well go whole hog and learn to draw with a pencil and a how-to book, for nearly the same amount of effort that it takes to create characters and stories with these web sites."

For user-contributed content that combines word and image – the sort of thing that streetartists and edgy scrapbookers and mad poet-painters do in the streets, their scrapbooks, and art journals every day – our experience shows that the simplest tools produce the biggest bang for the buck.

Why is collage the key and scrapbooks king when it comes to digital books in social media?

First, another question: How creative can you reasonably expect most people to be?

We agree with the notion that every individual has creative ability, and can learn to express it using a variety of tools across a spectrum of media. But, not everybody is equally creative.

Some people will be able to paint a masterpiece. Others will be able to make only a funny comment about it. Or draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa's upper lip.

Collage, while simple in principle – pieces of paper glued on a flat surface to create images - permits surprisingly sophisticated art works. All it takes is pieces of paper (clip art objects, in our version at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, supplied by us and uploaded as well by reader/co-creators) and some imagination.

Page through the "Berkeley Fantasy Tour" multi-page book that I put together from photos we took, then mashed them up with clip art provided at our site:


You can use the collage tool to add your own embellishments, too: click "Tag it up" and get after it. Register to create an account, and you can upload your own clip art under the My Images tab in the My Clip Art Library box to use for mash ups later. And, each time you create a comic or scrapbook page by uploading an image, that image remains available to tag onto a comic strip, cartoon panel, or scrapbook page.

Beta testers with no previous drawing or particular artistic skill look and tell us they feel creative while adding clip art or their own photos and other images, plus their words, on top of somebody else's comic strip, or on one of our The Concrete Jungle Book pages.

In our online tribe, edgy teenagers subvert Mom's (or Grandma's) cute scrapbook supplies. Some of them draw goofy comic strips and publish them on the Web?Many of them take photos or curate a Flickr image pool for art & healing journal fanatics, or a collection of streetart and graffiti photos.

They create and post wonderfully nuanced works - hundreds of them at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com in recent months - click "Book & Fan Gallery" and "Scrapbook Edge" to see the collection that continues to grow.

And even if somebody doesn't yet have the skills to create complex scrapbook pages or to draw their own comic strips, they can still collage their comments and photos and our clip art, feel creative while doing it, and produce something that will be fun for another reader/co-creator to tag up and mash up.

Look what some clever young person did to some The SuperFogeys comic strips that Brock Heasley posted at.

Click "Read Comments" & scroll down to see online.

Our beta testers can already use the Gigya widget to share a creation such as this in blogs, social media sites, via email – it's not the best solution, we want to build in our own as soon as we can, but we use it to publish creations from http://TheConcreteJungleBook here at this blog. Here's a collage mash-up by Cliffdwell, who uploaded a photo then slapped his graffiti tag on it:


We want to add more social media tools, to make it easier for our customers to use our digital book as a vehicle to find and connect with online friends. And, while we will add more creative tools as we are able, we will try to avoid overkill.

A reader/co-creator can already use the simple collage tools to create comic strips, scrapbook pages, and multipage illustrated books. Some of them are already doing it, amazingly creatives.

Here's the first page of a multipage book featuring murals by the amazing Estria Miyashiro, proprietor of Samurai Graphix in San Leandro, CA (they screenprint print our Little Mo and TCJB t-shirts)


And here''s what a creative reader/co-creator did to it with the tag-it-up collage tool.

To see this online, click http://comicater.com/studio.aspx?bid=2753
then click "Read Comments" and scroll down.

Sometimes, less is more.

We see our task as improving the power and quality of the creative tools we offer to reader/co-creators, but even more important is giving them more fun clip art to use in their impromptu tag-it-up, mash up collages.

Because we are artists, we can create our own clip art. We also use the incredible quantity and variety of high quality photos and other images available in the public domain. We license a lot of it from the Creative Commons collection at Flickr.com.

It's not the tools, it's how creatively you can use a simple tool to accomplish your objectives without more work and fuss than necessary.

So, let's not let the notion that young folks require super-sophisticated tools. Children, after all, often have the most fun with the simplest toy: a big, empty cardboard box, for example. Adults are easily amused, too.

Thank you for your kind attention. All feedback welcome.

Please pass along the url of this article to your friends:




Doug Millison & Sarah & the oysters. Where the
conversation began that continues in this "Digital
Books in Social Media" series.
Photo by Marc Canter,
blogged immediately
after he snapped it. Of course,
Little Mo had to get in the act, too. Took me 1 minute
to mash up their images with this photo using the
Comicater tools at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com

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