Friday, October 27, 2006

On Comic Book Blog Names: Notes on a Subgenre

I was cleaning up my link list this evening and got to thinking about what makes for a good comic blog name. Aside from good old-fashioned geek wit, I mean.

Naming anything is difficult, but naming a living document like a newspaper, a magazine, or a blog is especially tricky. The function of a name is to individualize, yet, for documents whose content is constantly changing and evolving, the best names, perhaps, are those that paradoxically “individualize” in the most general, most inclusive way possible. Mark Fossen’s brilliantly named Focused Totality is the epitome of this individualizing-yet-inclusive paradox.

The implicit model upon which this and many other such blog names rely is the proper name. Billy, Sarah, Geordie, Ahmed, Frances: these names may have some cultural meanings, some vague connotations, even a specific tone, but they remain, in every way that matters, empty signifiers. Blog names modeled on the proper name may convey a kind of attitude or sensibility, but they can still be “filled” with any content whatsoever and will come, retrospectively, to stand for whatever fills them, no matter how contradictory or complex that content might become. Moreover, it is no doubt precisely the diaristic, open-ended quality of blog composition—the fact that, like the diary, it is a record of the unfolding of a life—that leads Blogger to have a registration field for “blog name” rather than “blog title.”

Of course, because we are talking about a specific subgenre of blogs, the titles frequently (though certainly not inevitably) allude in some way to comic books or to fan culture more generally. Sometimes the “allusions” are very direct, other times they are subtle to the point of imperceptibility, and together these types form two ends of a spectrum upon which most comic book blog names can be found. Running parallel to this spectrum is an array of names that make no allusion to comics—a fact which produces a curiously pleasing effect of displacement when you begin reading them.

Naming one’s blog is obviously a very personal thing because it amounts, in a strange way, to an extension of its author’s proper name, regardless of whether they use a pseudonym or not. I am therefore hesitant to offer any opinions at all about what others named their blogs (an presumption which feels a little like complimenting people on having chosen a nice name for their child, as if that was any of one’s business anyway). Nonetheless, here I go... I hope that no one will be offended if I at least offer up a few of my favorites. My bias in favor of blog names that reflect the “half empty-half full” principle of the proper name and make some sort of reference to comic book culture at some point on the scale of allusion mentioned above will be evident in what follows.

Dave’s Long Box - The name of David Campbell’s blog is my favorite example of the proper name/metablog hybrid. The individualizing function of the proper name is obvious, but what I especially like is the elegant triple-threat of “long box,” which simultaneously suggests comics, the blog itself (which functions as a sort of second-order electronic comic long box; hence, “metablog”), and (?) a crude pun that perfectly captures the swagger of Dave’s sharp and wickedly funny take-downs of his favorite “bad” comics.

Shane Bailey’s Near-Mint Heroes has a name as good as that of any comics magazine on the stands. I love the modesty of “Near,” even as I enjoy the crispness of “Mint”—a combination which perfectly describes Shane’s site. A great balance of individualization and generality, set within a specific allusion to comic collecting.

Dial B for Blog - Robby Reed’s masterful blog also has one of the most impressive examples of a name that seamlessly merges its two media: comics and internet. It does so, moreover, with extra panache because the Dial H for Hero concept upon which it plays was itself a book that broke the barrier between comics and their readership (readers wrote in with character ideas that then appeared in the comic) just as Robby’s site does. It’s a meta-metablog. Wait, I'm getting dizzy...

When Fangirls Attack! - in the grand tradition of other great “attack” titles like Howling Curmudgeons, Ragnell and kalinara come up with a name that makes me happy every time I read it. At once playful and serious in its feminism, it is ingeniously meta and yet, at the same time, brilliant in its simplicity.

Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge - this one almost goes too far, but I really do love it. I want to say that it’s because the weird overlay of a new technology with archaism actually captures something very clever about the “global village” nature of ye blogosphere, but I think that, deep down, it’s just that all those extra “Olde Englishe” letters are really funny.

Tales to Mildly Astonish - like “Near” Mint Heroes, this blog’s name is a nice blend of self-deprecating irony and confidence, expressed within a comic book allusion. I like this kind of name, I think, because it pin-points the duality of comic blogs in general—that “who, me?”/“wait, listen to this!” quality of a public journal.

Although my favorites are all names that sit somewhere on the more obvious side of the continuum of comic book allusions, and since my own blog name falls largely outside this spectrum, here are a few honorable mentions of the more subtle sort that I admire for a variety of different reasons: Progressive Ruin (a fitting tribute to all of our addictions to seriality), Written World (possibly the best example of a sophisticated and resonant use of plain style), Pretty Fakes (this one needs a whole essay to explain its nuances; in fact, I think Prof. Fury may have written one!), A Trout in the Milk (Thoreau!), and last but not least, Crisis/Boring Change (possibly the most evocative of this type, and a Pavement lyric, if memory serves).

A number of this latter group are not exclusively comic book blogs, so the more general name choice no doubt follows directly from the broadness of the subject matter they treat. But the especially nice thing about these kinds of more general names is that when the blogs in question do write about comics, the names begin to acquire connotations and a richness they wouldn’t otherwise have. The restraint, even austerity, of some of these names, is pleasing in itself. But it’s that resonance—between the name and the content—that sticks in memory and makes the name hum.


Matthew E said...

I've had two blogs, and I've chosen both their names very carefully.

The first one, Sliced Bread 2, was a title I thought up in high school and always wanted to use for something, so when I got the notion to write a novel, online and in blog form, about a guy who becomes a superhero's personal assistant, I used it. Little knowing that the phrase had in the meantime become associated with the world of wrestling.

And of course the blog I've got now is one where I try to figure out stuff about superheroes in general and the Legion of Super-Heroes in particular. So I ripped off the phrase Legion Abstract from one of my favourite writers, Bill James, who used to write an annual book called the Baseball Abstract in which he tried (and succeeded!) to figure out stuff about baseball.

I am sometimes tempted to refer to my blog as 'the Abstract', but it sounds so pretentious that I've always been able to restrain myself.

It's funny. Plok is being self-deprecating when he says, "Maybe my blog does have a kind of a personality after all, possibly about as much as a goldfish or unusually stupid bird, and so deserves this nicknaming..." but in fact his blog is one of the most intimidatingly intelligent ones I've found out there yet, and so is Double Articulation, in not exactly the same way, and so does mine try to be, and here we are all three as the first ones into this particular discussion. Coincidence, or is there a reason for it?

Anonymous said...

the funniest thing for me is how I found myself (rather self-consciously at first) using a diminutive for my blog. "Trout", as you call yours "DA"

I commonly refer to Focused Totality as "FT" ... which is the universal acronym for my beloved Fortean Times magazine. Don't know how the two connect, but it makes some kind of sense to me.

Great piece, Jim.

My favorite comicblog name might be "Tom the Dog's You Know What I Like?" ... because it's to transparent and honest. Isn't that what we're all doing? Saying "Hey, you out there ... you know what I like?"

Matthew E said...

And Matt, that's not intelligence, that's me trying to find reasons not to do dishes or laundry!

That sounds pretty intelligent to me.

Jim Roeg said...

Such great reflections, guys; I’m not sure where to even begin. Your comments have occasioned a lot of thoughts.

plok - what you’re saying about the business of giving one’s blog a nickname... There’s a serious essay to be written about that. There are so many factors at play, psychologically, in that moment when you “casually” refer to “Trout” or when I just as “casually” refer to this space as “DA.”

When I do this, I’m trying out a “voice,” my hey-aren’t-I-just-so-cool-and-laid-back-about-all-this, voice. Sometimes, I almost convince myself! This connects in a suggestive way to your other remark, that by giving a blog a diminutive nickname, it is possible to create the illusion that the blog itself has some strange “interiority,” separate from “me”—which, uncannily, turns out to be both false and true.

Of course, it IS an illusion; it’s all my voice. But, in a way, this voice truly is separate from “mine” because the “me” that sits in my bathrobe typing and wanders around Ottawa isn’t identical with the “me” that signs each entry on Double Articulation. That doubled voice—the voice of my double (hence the name)—is, to some extent, an invention, a false, public voice. Sometimes an annoyingly chirpy voice that, quite frankly, I’m happy to disown. Yet—and here things get really weird—this doubled articulation turns out, after all that, to be more truly “my” voice than, say, many of the other public voices I assume at different moments. Indeed, one of the pleasures of a blog is precisely the simple honesty of self-expression that Mark mentions in his comment about Tom the Dog’s “You Know What I Like?” However, it’s a special, exaggerated kind of self-expression because although it permits dialogues like this, it does so in a way that first makes possible a degree of “self-indulgent” monologue that few face-to-face interlocutors would stand for in real life unless, like my poor students, they are actually trapped in a room with me for an hour and a half several times a week.

In a paradoxical way, then, we come to know ourselves better by trying out different voices. This is all to say that the blog nickname’s bequeathing of an “aura” of animation and interiority to these uncanny words that seem to be, simultaneously, both ours and another’s, strikes me as a very apt characterization of the “psychodynamics” of expression, projection, and reflection, and recognition that are involved in blogging. Of course, some people really are just “saying what they like.” But it takes some of us awhile (and very roundabout route) to get there. :)

Matthew - thanks for sharing that history of the naming process; really interesting to hear about - and it would be wonderful to hear more from others about how they named their blogs. I know you’re not fishing for compliments, but Legion Abstract is another one of those names like Focused Totality that combines exactly the degree of specificity and generality that I enjoy (and I’ve added it to my blogroll for future reading-I think I meant to do that some time ago).

I also have to just riff for a minute on the issue of restraining oneself from pretension that you raise—it is one that hits uncomfortably close to home, because of course there has been no such restraint around here! Occasionally I manage to tone it down to a dull roar, but the confessional format really unleashes all my most shameless impulses in that regard, particularly since Double Articulation is sort of the anti-matter universe to the regular universe of my professional writing. (Though, now that I think of it, I’m pretentious there too, just in a different way.) Pretension is a hard thing to define, though, because it’s one of those things that we know when we see it, but that often is hard to agree on, precisely because something is “pretentious” only if aims “high” but misses the mark. I’m not being falsely modest when I say that much of the writing on this site certainly illustrates that embarrassing shortfall. But, on the other hand, there are many things that I’m really happy with that I’d never have written at all if I hadn’t thrown caution to the wind. So, personally at least, the risk of looking silly has been worth it. (I guess I’m still thinking about how plok’s comment about multiple voices in fact becomes the basis for all kinds of possibilities.)

As for why we’re the one’s starting this conversation, I don’t know. Perhaps you, plok, and Mark are the only ones I didn’t end up offending with this silly post!

Mark - I like that name too. For me it falls into the “plain style” category that I associate with ragnell’s blog name. Its directness is inviting, in large because the plain style conveys exactly what you say—transparency and honesty. (And, for excessively self-conscious types, that kind of plain style exerts an additional appeal. It represents a degree of casualness and confidence about the author’s opinions that the neurotic rarely feels about their own. (Or so they tell me.) It is also a sentence-title, like Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” or Agatha Christie’s “Elephants Can Remember” (I especially enjoy that last one). An underrated and underused style of naming, I think.

Matthew E said...

May I suggest referring to it simply as "Abstract"?

Well, as I say, I don't like to do that.

Actually, I've resigned myself to not having a short form for it at all. For one thing, to refer to it as 'the Abstract' or something like that would be extremely presumptuous; in sabremetric circles, 'the Abstract' means Bill James's Baseball Abstract, and who the hell am I to be calling my stuff the Abstract? And I do have some connections in those circles. 'Legion Abstract' is a tribute, but I'd better keep the word 'Legion' in there.

That doubled voice—the voice of my double (hence the name)—is, to some extent, an invention, a false, public voice.

It's funny, but I can't identify with that at all. For some reason my written voice is very much the same as my voice voice. (With, you know, fewer 'um's and stuff.) I don't have a separate persona for my writing or, I guess, anything; I seem to have acquired an insistence on being myself at all times. It now strikes me that this might be a handicap if I'm ever going to get serious about being a writer. What you say about 'trying out different voices'... I'm not sure I'd know how to even contemplate doing that.

Jim Roeg said...

I seem to have acquired an insistence on being myself at all times.

matthew - I'd hang onto that! And by the way, I forgot to mention: nice blog template. ;)

Matthew E said...

I forgot to mention: nice blog template.

Thenk yew. All the Parisian comic bloggers are using it this year.

Anonymous said...

"Club Parnassus" actually comes from a fanfic I was writing at the time. Parnassus being the home of the Muses, it's got the artistic connection, and I liked the idea of the blog as "place"- that this is sort of my space on the web wherein I bring together a bunch of cool things. And it sounds swanky, which is also cool.

At times I've been concerned that it sounds a bit pretentious, but I think I've given the blog a psuedo-intellectual vibe anyway so it fits.

Anonymous said...

I started out as "Adventure 247", a direct reference to the first Legion story, but that didn't mean much. I wanted to cover everything about the Legion, so I subtitled it "news, previews, reviews, interviews, and retroviews".

After a little while I remembered their Omnicom - the main communication device in the 30th century, a combination of PDA, newspaper, internet, etc. What better title for a blog that covers all aspects of the Legion in all media (print, TV, action figures, merchandise, etc.)? So now it's the Legion Omnicom (or just Omnicom for short).

But the blog URL is still so I still get to use both names.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention, other blog titles I like include 52 Pickup, The Absorbascon, The Invincible Super-Blog, Monitor Duty, Suspension of Disbelief, and The Planetary Chance Machine.

Diamondrock said...

I just sort of never got around to coming up with a name for my blog... And that fact sort of ended up sticking.

I mean, I'm the guy who has a bunch of novels written and they're all referred to as "#22" or "#43." I really stink at naming...

Jim Roeg said...

Club Parnasus? Omnicom? These are great names! I of course neglected to mention many others that I like in my post--the foremost omission being hypnoray and Gavid Golding's enigmatic, boistrous Pah! (which seems to have lost its exclamation mark, but I still think of it that way anyway!).

Diamondrock - even if it's only because you "stink at naming," the fact that you have written multiple novels and named them merely with numbers is austerely bracing. Very cool!

joncormier said...

Hey Jim. I like the post as usual. I'm actually getting back into writing again. I was a bit whiney there but I got over it. Dang worklife!

I'm actually enjoying comics again, even if I did miss that last issue of Mouse Guard.

I must admit though that I got the name from The Cramps song "Hypno-sex-ray" but loved the B-movie grindhouse comic bookiness of the name. Where else but comics and old sci-fi will you ever find something like a hypnoray? It sort of typifies both the hypnotic state I fight against when I enter the shop and the fact that the books take me out of reality for a bit as a fun distraction.

Hmm, made that sound better than I thought I would. Really, I just like the name.

Matthew E said...

I mean, I'm the guy who has a bunch of novels written and they're all referred to as "#22" or "#43."

diamondrock: That just puts you in the same category with wealthy '70s-rock group Chicago. So you're okay.

More interesting to me than the blog names are people's actual aliases. This is science fiction, guys: we routinely interact with entities who, for all intents and purposes, are actually named things like plok, diamondrock (both from these comments, or, moving to denizens of a message board I frequent), Masticator, biakbiak, Ballroom Pink, Atomic Rapture... you get the idea. I wonder: is this significant?

Matthew E said...

Oh, I forgot to ask. Jim, were you ever tempted to name your blog Roeg's Gallery? Or do I have the pronunciation wrong?

gorjus said...

Jim Roeg on naming, its values and its powers . . . I demand that this be a regular feature!

You left out one of my favorites, though . . . "Double Articulation." I like that in the comments you speak about it referring to a "doubling" of voice--certainly a wonderful side-effect of the blogosphere: the creation of a new "you."

But the name resonates so much more deeply than that. The only time the word "articulation" ever came up in my youth was action figures. So when mein comrade Prof. Fury told me about your site, I automatically leaped to the conclusion that there was going to be posts about G.I. Joe figures from 1987.

How wonderful, then, to realize that "articulation" of the title did echo those gloriously malleable figures of my youth, but in an intellectual fashion: articulation = the power of the written/spoken word to plumb the hidden depths of our beloved genre, comic books. You quite literally move differently than others—in comparision, my legs only bend at the waist.

And, I must play the name game, which I'm not sure has ever been discussed regarding PrettyFakes (is it spelled Pretty Fakes or all one word? We don't know: and it changes all the time, which I love). It's a busted lyric; I was starting a new site with some friends, and I was in love with a (new at the time) Morrissey song called "First of the Gang to Die." The lyrics tumble out:

"You have never been in love/until you've seen the stars/reflect in the reservoirs . . . We are the pretty petty thieves/And you're standing on our street . . ."

I adored that swaggering faux-braggadocio--a gangster's threat crooned by a British pop star, somehow made convincing in its own ridiculousness. But I heard it wrong, and fell in love with a misheard lyric: "We are the pretty, pretty fakes . . ."

At the time, I couldn't have dreamed of a more romantic, post-millennial ideal. How wonderful to know that one isn’t (completely) real, but to embrace it nonetheless?

(As an aside, this is one of the reasons that my favorite DA post of all time is still "Why Paper Dolls Do(n’t) Cry, or Steve Gerber’s Myth of Sisyphus." To embrance one’s own (created) fiction—how glorious! And Jim, I keep meaning to ask--send me your address, I want to send you something!)

(I'll let Prof. discuss his name later--suffice to say that it is more than just interesting that his initials reflect those of the site--"PF = PF").

(As a further aside, I like the new template—easier on the eyes!)

Great post, as always.

Anonymous said...

I love blogging and its ability to create new personas.

In real life I have an extremely difficult time keeping my mouth shut and often find myself interrupting people who I know are more intelligent than myself! Basically, I'm a big mouth.

As an online lurker, with no blog of my own, I'm forced to keep my mouth shut and really listen to (ie read) what other people have to say.

It’s nice to interact with an intellectual sphere in which I don’t feel like I HAVE to contribute something to EVERY conversation. Especially since what most people have to say is more interesting than what I would have contributed anyway!

You all keep renaming and reinventing yourselves online each week, and I'll keep enjoying it!

Hate Filled Poster said...

NMH was originally going to be a webcomic, but it never went anywhere and it later morphed into my blog.

Jim Roeg said...

jon - great to hear the story of hypnoray (I had always taken it to be an indication of the effect of the blog itself, no doubt because I find the internet in general to be a kind of “hypnoray”). And believe me—I understand the need for the occasional break from blogging. There was a little while there when I thought that if I was forced to endure one more of Jim Roeg’s predictable opinions I was going to literally die of boredom; I seem to be over that! Apparently, these things go in cycles. Glad you’re back!

matthew - no question that internet aliases are just as fascinating as blog names, if not moreso. I haven’t thought too much about this, but there is an interesting (albeit social sciency) article about The Psychology of Avatars that I’ve never managed to get all the way through, but am always intending to read at some point. Like much early internet research, it seems to favor pathologizing its subjects, so, for instance, in an early part of the article, the researcher creates a typology of cyberspace personality types that ostensibly describes different kinds of users (these could presumably by adapted to “diagnose” aliases too if one were so inclined). By his chart I would be a narcissistic masochist with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Ain’t social science grand? Nonetheless, it does look like it contains some interesting remarks.

About “Roeg’s Gallery”: Chris Tamarri of Crisis/Boring Change teased me about that once, and honestly, it never even occurred to me! Probably for the best—though I have occasionally toyed with the thought of using it in jest around here for something. (The pronunciation is correct.)

gorjus - flatterer! I love that anecdote about your take on “articulation”—and you’re not the first person to arrive at that interpretation. Although the action figure connection isn’t something that had occurred to me, it’s definitely become something I associate the title with now. And thanks for clearing up some mysteries about “Pretty Fakes,” while planting others (PF = PF: how did I not see that??). The misheard song lyric is such an integral part of everyone’s musical youth—and it stands out in memory so fondly and strangely perhaps because we all used to sing aloud to those songs, rewriting them with our own curious language. When I was younger, that kind of overwriting was inevitable because most song lyrics sounded like gibberish to me anyhow, and I must admit that I still am not very good at actually listening to lyrics. Pretty Fakes is one evocative title (and an improvement on the original lyric imo!). Address coming your way… :)

thomas - I hope that this terrible condition of “listening” and self-censorship isn’t permanent. Talk to me, man! What is this “more intelligent” nonsense??

plok - are you serious? You also have a “Pretty-something” misheard lyric? Pretty thieves? Pretty Fakes? Pretty Things? What next? I’m afraid to ask!

shane - Damn. Even the acronym sounds good.

joncormier said...

plok - I hope you're referring to the age of my blog. I'm a "bit" older than 16 personally.

Chris Tamarri said...

"Crisis/Boring Change" was indeed taken from a Pavement lyric, specifically from Crooked Rain's "Gold Soundz".