Comics

Solid State Society 2: Archie CEO Jon Goldwater and the New Economy

Sticking With U: The new hyper-accessibility of Archie comics and their full back catalog holds the potential for a radical cultural shift, where what we carry with us can be the beginning of a new form of identity.

With an ever-growing percentage of the population entering into social media through smartphones, the radical shift of Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater is focusing not on access, but on what you carry with you.

Part 2 in a Series

Last week's decision by Archie Comics Co-CEO Jon Goldwater to synchronize their digital and print distribution calendars this coming April, was both unprecedented, and industry-defining. In a frank and earnest conversation with Jon, a veteran of the Music Industry who felt the effects of the rise of Napster firsthand, PopMatters explores the changing face of the entertainment industry, and the effect of newly-emerging content-on-demand cycles of media.

But the effect of these new shifts are not simply producing content that is always available, easily accessible, for whenever it's demanded. Rather, a more fundamental shift is occurring. The changing nature of media availability is offering a set of opportunities that will ultimately result in new forms of traditional media. New lines of distribution in other words, are in the process of causing structural changes to traditional media.

What is the role of Archie Comics with respect to, not the changing world of today, but the more stable world of new media that users will encounter tomorrow? With a wealth of experience garnered from a crisis-point in another branch of the entertainment industry, Jon Goldwater has already displayed a visionary capacity to neutralize not only one of the core issues of the industry (Will digital end print?, not so says Jon), but one of the core issues of the internet as well (how to re-monetize content for a digital environment).

Following on from an investigation into the nature of last week's announcement, The Iconographies remains with Archie Comics, CEO Jon Goldwater, the digital debate and the new economy. In this edition, we focus on the shifting nature of media resulting from the changing face of distribution. What will it look like, not when we are able to download desired content on demand, but when we are able to migrate the physical world with desired media, and transmit it across our social network?

'Solid State Society', a story in three acts. This edition, Act Two.

Act Two: Solid State Society: Steps Towards Highly-Mobile Culture

It's during a question about the nature of Archie Comics involvement with video game companies that a crucial pattern in Jon's thinking emerges. With a single comment you see a mind at work. Not simply the mind of a salesman who genuinely understands his product, but also a mind coming to grips with the newly-emerging digital reality.

Perhaps a little more backstory is in order.

Archie Comics has a longstanding history of animating the stories behind video-games. Not the slick, nextgen games that bedeck the shelves of today's toy-stores, not the games with weighty storylines that fixate players so easily. Instead, Archie's history with video-games lies in animating the stories of side-scrolling, ultra-speed adventures. Animating in the strictest sense of the word. Animating as in animating the characters, adding in character depth and motivation, crisis points in the narrative as well as individual arc. And animating the setting, allowing creators to shape a coherent and logical scope to the fictional worlds players find themselves immersed in, but do not necessarily fully understand.

This was not simply animation in the sense of weaving the illusion of motion. Players could easily find that that sense of perpetual immersion in their various action-packed breakneck-paced games. By slowing down the world and allowing for reader engagement at, the characters and their world became animated.

Comics role with video-games would be a reversal of the anticipation economy. Rather than mirror the ultra-speed of games and fine-motor coordination that gamers themselves often relied on, the comics of video-games became an essay in meaningful connection and emotional context. With titles like Sonic, the super-speed hedgehog familiar as far back as the earliest days of the Sega Megadrive, Archie Comics bucked expectations. Here were characters that readers could care about deeply, rather than be entertained by at the speed of light. The idea of video-game characters being the object of almost childlike fascination is something Nintendo exploited fully with such characters as Mario the Plumber, Donkey Kong Jr. And Link from the Zelda series of games.

So given the nature of this association, given the scope of it's cooperation, it would be easy to focus on the inner strengths of the medium. To simply delineate those facts that are already known. To focus the conversation around the value of comics to shaping the iconic characters of video-games and their immersive realities. Instead, Jon makes the unexpected move of discussing the network of corporations that Archie deals with. "We only work with the best of the best", Jon says in a way that, no matter how many times you've heard it, these words kindle a childlike hope.

Archie's launch of MegaMan this spring is not the result of simply exploiting a latent commercial opportunity. Instead, the relationship has emerged because Archie has identified a set of values in CapCom, the owners of MegaMan. Values that are shared by both companies, and values worth aspiring to. It is because CapCom treats their intellectual property a certain way that Archie can work with them.

"We're one of the original 3", Jon reminds me, referencing the fact that Archie emerged contemporaneously with DC, and Marvel's forebear, Timely. "But we're still a family business, and we're smaller, and more nimble than the other 2, meaning DC and Marvel". But given Jon, as Co-CEO's view of the company, how is the Archie's navigation of the post-crisis economy, and it's developing of a partnership network, different from say your attempts to develop a social network on a site like say Facebook?

Over speakerphone I can hear the sound of a flatscreen TV powering down. "I think between the three of them, they've covered all the bases", says Andrew Donaldson, Director of Metaphor!a. Andrew is referring to three guests on a recent episode of Charlie Rose; contributor to the New Yorker and author of Googled: the End of the World as we Know It, Ken Auletta; technology and business journalist Michael Malone; and author of the recent Facebook biography, the Facebook Effect, David Fitzpatrick. Excerpts of the Charlie Rose interview were prepared by Andrew himself, and meant to underline crucial points he made during our conversation.

"A billion-dollar valuation on Facebook is a big deal", he continues. Andrew is the Director and Lead Illustrator for a new brand of company. Metaphor!a is specifically geared towards developing immersive, information-rich environments that visualize highly-structured text-based data. Rather than pitch either products or services, Metaphor!a focuses on developing a meaningful and pragmatic relationship between their clients and the corporate data generated by day-to-day or longer term business activity. A prospectus detailing projected ROI for investors (along with the mix of fear and opportunity) might assume the visualized metaphor of a trip to the dentist's.

An Idea You've Never Had Before: Are books opposed to libraries? Was knowledge always portable?

"You can't see it right now but I've just pulled out my Blackberry, and put it down on the desk in front of me". It is unexpected that a person needing high end data transfer capacity would opt for a Blackberry rather than an Android or an iPhone. Surely it must be a high-end model like the new Torch? Not quite. "It's a plain old entry level Curve", Andrew tells me. "The thing to get about mobile devices, is that they remain iPhones or Androids or Blackberries for all of three weeks. After that they simply become devices, windows into the digital world or another area of your life. And that's what makes them so amazing".

"With an entry level-Blackberry", Andrew continues, "you've got an amazing piece of technology that gets you connected and keeps you connected. And that's the important thing. This is the draw of low-threshold, high-yield technologies. There's no longer any delay. In fact it's better than that. You've got your social network with you wherever you go. It's not you watching Tron: Legacy it's you filtered through every one of your friends on Twitter or Facebook at the time".

Could we have seen this before? Could this have been the radical notion latent in books that so frightened the medieval power structures? The notion that books are in some way opposed to libraries? And that knowledge has always been portable. With ever growing numbers entering the market of smartphones, Archie Comics move proves seductive. If Jon Goldwater has opened the door to anything, its not the content-on-demand immediacy of being able to have comics whenever you want them. Rather it is the notion of a solid state society. The idea that culture itself, like the USB flash drive in your pocket, is now incredibly mobile.

The PopMatters exclusive interview with Archie Comics' CEO Jon Goldwater will conclude in the following edition of the Iconographies.

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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