Saturday, December 2, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #2: Johna Mandel

Johna Mandel is from the class of 2023 from CCS, and her mini Capture Culture, is the first time I've gotten to see her work. It's very much in the "applied comics" end of things, and I can see her in the tradition of CCS grad and instructor Dan Nott. This comic thoughtfully threads the needle between memoir and journalism, as Mandel starts off the comic by discussing how many digital photos she takes of her newborn son. It's a lot, and she then starts interrogating what this actually means. If she had taken, developed, and kept physical photographs at the same rate, she'd barely be able to move around her house. 

She notes that the culture surrounding documenting and then keeping everything digitally (especially on the cloud) is behavior similar to hoarding. This is especially true with regard to the emotional attachment people have to these images, with the very idea of deleting feeling horrifying. Mandel doesn't speculate why the urge to capture these images has spiked so severely, which I think is worth investigating, because I don't think it's the convenience of the technology alone. Or perhaps the technology tied into some deeper need that was amplified by convenience. Collecting and looking at images, but especially sharing them, seems to be part of a deeper need to communicate visually. 

Mandel instead shifts, and rightly so, to the environmental impact of this seemingly innocent compulsion. The Cloud is a place that is housed on real servers in real buildings that consume enormous amounts of electricity. Mandel's channeling a bit of Nott's deep dive into the internet in his book Hidden Systems, but it's been a topic of discussion in the general public the last couple of years thanks to cryptocurrency and NFTs. She also brings up other issues like cybersecurity and companies' willingness to share data with the government. All good reasons to let go, she notes, but she adds "I'm not sure I can." It's the personal touch at both the beginning and end that make this such a good comic. Mandel's visual approach is clear and clean, focusing on novel composition with fluid and unfussy linework. The use of pink and blue for spot color is a clever move, considering the initial focus on baby pictures. Mandel is a thoughtful, smart cartoonist whose curiosity and willingness to dig into details could lead to some thought-provoking longer works in the future. 

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