In his work on the internet and cultural studies, academic Jonathan Sterne once noted that “as the internet increases in importance and pervasiveness, it will simply become part of the mundane fabric of social and cultural life.” No one bats an eye anymore when someone suggests that you ‘wiki’ what the line-up was for the first Lollapalooza after an argument ensues amongst your friends. Nor do people find it strange that you made a new friend through Facebook, or that you just ‘tweeted’ your own commentary to the Red Wings vs. Penguins Stanley Cup game seven.
In the same vein, it is now possible for you to imagine and indeed buy a comic that uses Craigslist ‘Missed Connections’ as its source of inspiration. But how did we get to this point? And in what ways might I Saw You: Comics Inspired By Real Life Missed Connections be an interesting and important marker both in comics history as well as our larger cultural history? In this Iconographies feature, I Saw You will be used as a spring-board to understanding how the internet and its own culture might be examined and made sense of through comics and how the internet has become not only a part of our everyday life and art but, indeed, a manner in which we live and create art through.
I Saw You: Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections problematizes the idea that everyday life is divided into online and offline existence. Missed Connections begin in real life. Someone sees someone- on the bus, at a coffee-shop, in a Walmart’s men’s bathroom- loses the nerve to talk to them or ask them out and then posts a missed connection. The posting of the missed connection attempts to fix mistakes made in one’s offline existence and, in many cases, seeks for a re-meeting with the missed one (missed connectee?). Rather than destroying human connections and face-to-face meetings, Craigslist missed connections demonstrate the internet’s ability to connect the otherwise unconnectable. This seems to fly in the face of many technophobes’ concern that internet will become a great alienating force that makes traditional human contact obsolete.
I Saw You’s project further advances the argument that the internet can be a connecting force, and that rather than de-humanize, the internet has the ability to render individuals at indeed their most human: when they’re embarrassed, attracted to others, fumbling, and in love. I Saw You‘s visualization of these missed connections in their face-to-face dimensions makes them all the more human. One particularly affecting comic in the collection is a rendering by Dan Archer. Archer juxtaposes the text of the actual missed connection in small snippets with an accompanying, often amusing, illustration of what was a one-night stand in 1987. The pacing of the story drawn out over 9 panels then reveals that the missed connection is not for the one-night couple to reconnect, as one would expect, but instead from the result of that one night stand, a child. The final panel reads “there are a few key pieces to the puzzle that only my real dad would know, so if you are the real deal, call me now!”
There are other comics in the collection that deal with a variety of missed connections other than just the romantic such as an encounter between two homeless people at a copy store by Matt Leunig. The writer of the missed connection is writing to let the friend she met know that she is “happy to say, I have a bed, a house and now the glorious internet” and that she hopes her friend “sees this [missed connection ad].” This is made all the more human in comics form in a really well-constructed panel that frames the text and that I won’t ruin for you here.
Even when the missed connections are of a less serious nature, the comic imaginings of the initial interactions that the post stems from still emphasize the humanness of the postings. For instance, editor of the collection Julia Wertz’s addition illustrates a chance interaction between a female bartender and a guy asking for plastic bags. Eventually, the guy invites the girl to grab a drink after her shift, but caught up in the fact that he might be asking her out, the girl forgets where she is supposed to meet him and posts a missed connection to try and meet up again. This is all communicated especially well (and hilariously) through Wertz’s strip which captures both the actual event occurring as well as the inner monologue of the female character in thought balloons. The strip culminates with the final frame being the listing of the missed connection, perfectly summing up what plays out in the earlier frames of the strip.
What does, after all, I Saw You say both about comics and the internet? It seems to function both as a cultural artifact for tracing the importance and arrival of internet culture as a part of our everyday life as well as a particularly fruitful source of art, an interesting subject as well as a medium. At the same time, it seems to underline both the potential of the internet and comics (and the points where they intersect) to connect individuals and show them at their most human, rather than alienate or represent them at their most garish, accusations that have been hurled at both mediums.
Through the use of the comic form as medium, I Saw You demonstrates that the internet is not merely a cold machine that is rending human beings apart from one another, but is instead a system mediated by humans trying to re-connect with other humans in a world that is increasingly mediated (for better or for worse) by the internet. The book implicitly asks us to consider the fact that, perhaps, it is time that we consider a wider understanding of the human that is not opposite from the internet, but in relation to it, in conversation with it, and is driving the very ways it [the internet] develops.
Through the use of the comics medium, I Saw You traces the way in which the internet is not necessarily a lesser means of interaction, but is a unique, new way that humans are able to interact. That I Saw You makes this argument in comic form is striking as it reminds us how as an arts medium comics had to defend itself in a similar way. It has only been recently since comics have began to be understood themselves as a legitimate art form, and not childish or derivative of other arts mediums. Implicit in this is a comparison between the ways in which have come to (and not come to) accept both comics and the internet, tracing the ways in which we are always initially skeptical of new media. Comics fan or not,I Saw You asks us to think about what comics are capable of if they are able to think through how we might understand what it is to be human in the age of the internet.
Image (partial) by Tessa Brunton