For their Project Black Sky superhero line, publisher Dark Horse engineers one of the most formidable social media campaigns ever.
I return to "What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?" in the same way that Father of Gonzo, Hunter Stockton Thompson, returns to Ketchum. Which is to say that I return to "What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?" frequently and diligently and in a way answers a distant, intractable and ever-demanding call and in a way that makes me want to cry each time that I do return.
HST wrote "Ketchum" as a kind of nothing piece, only insofar as he did write nothing pieces (which he didn't; nothing HST wrote was "nothing" but there were pieces that appear as less imposing than others in his oeuvre, and if we can concede that then we at least ought to be able to concede that "Ketchum" is one such), that appears in a take-out-the-trash section of The Great Shark Hunt
The frequency and the diligence are work-product of the intractability and the great distance (not to understanding but to resolving) and the ever-demanding nature of the thing that sits on my chest like that (disclaimer: please note, the following link is not for you, please don't click on it as it will load an image you'd rather have not seen) kanashibari woman who wakes me each morning. HST found something in Ketchum. An answer maybe, or a way of looking at Hemingway that seemed to reframe Hemingway's life as a problem or as him perennially wrestling with a problem, and like the emotional core of a Tom Waits song, where you can reach a point where the bad things begin to make you feel better, HST seems to have found something in that formulation of Hemingway as on a perennial quest that seems to approximate an answer to that quest.
And I cry each time I reread "Ketchum" because I realize that HST is there in Ketchum, at the dawn of his career, because the past is no refuge (but HST hasn't figured that out yet) and because he's following in the footsteps of a murderer, and even if his only victim was himself, that means I need to think of Hemingway as a murderer and because I know where it ends. For Hunter, it ends in February 2005, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Let me emphasize that second to last point again. Hemingway's life wasn't a perpetual quest to find a way to "see the world clear" or to "write truly" or whatever else HST accuses Hemingway of ("From such a vantage point," HST writes in the second-to-last paragraph of "Ketchum," "a man tends to feel, it is not so difficult, after all, to see the world clear and as a whole. Like many another writer, Hemingway did his best work when he felt he was standing on something solid--like an Idaho mountainside, or a sense of conviction."). The fact that we can wrestle with Hemingway and his literary and personal legacies in this way is due in no small part to writers like HST who have machined such a mode of wrestling with Hemingway for us.
HST's genius lies in the fertile soil of the verum factum of it all--the idea that he makes accessible to us the prefabricated notion (prefabricated by HST himself) that Hemingway's writing was the way in which he wrestled down the nightmare-demons that plagued him during his lifetime.
But of course it wasn't.
The first lesson of literature is that things aren't what they appear to be. That there is no meaning, except the meaning we can make. And that ultimately, ultimately…
Immortal Game: You'll have to Accept that Nothing Can Prepare You
Is it any wonder that both The Matrix and The Blair Witch Project drop in the same year? And that that's the year just before the Millennium (culturally the Millennium and not the actual turning of the calendar millennium)? There was a story-of-a-people-climbing-to-the-light fire that blazed in the dying days of the 20th century, one that scorched everyone, and if you look for it now you can still find the embers.
However, dig around in those embers long enough and you'll find as well that 1999 was a year that cultivated a very different kind of rising spirit. It was the year when Hellboy began to creep around the edges of our collective imagination. The year when Sin City and 300 firmly took root. The year when we began crawling out from the grand spell of illusion we've been living under--that if comics as a medium, as a practice was growing more and more legitimate, then we as creators, then we as critics, then we as readers, can no longer afford the safer, easier, lazier option of simply rallying around creative rights as if it were still the issue it once was. 1999 was coming up in eight years later for Image, was one year shy of the legendary Will Eisner saying in a web-published interview that he was working with Dark Horse because ad far as he could see, they were the staunchest defenders of creative rights (which he said around the time DH released his hauntingly majestic Last Day in Vietnam.
No, Dear Reader, in 1999, what was on the table wasn't creative rights, but creative freedom. In Eisner/Miller, his book-long conversation with Will Eisner, Frank Miller would speak in low tones about how he'd already convincingly cracked the twin codes of sustainable creative rights and viable business models. "It felt like I walked out rom a cave and into the light," Miller would say in 2005's Eisner/Miller, when he spoke about Sin City: Family Values, the first Sin City book to not appear serialized. The struggle could no longer be for creative rights, but for creative freedoms. Not whether creators can go indie, but how the traditional modes of comics production can be transformed and remodeled and ultimately blown apart.
The stakes weren't the creatives themselves any more, couldn't be, but the creative product.
1999, was also a year that postmodernism took hold. We hadn't yet seen a two-year long marketing campaign the presented itself as searching for missing film students. We hadn't yet seen the conceptual frame of a high production values scifi action thriller that treated the real world as both a cage and optional.
To say a new mindset set in 1999 wouldn't be unfair, nor would it be unfair to say that that mindset ultimately turned out to be very different from the simultaneity of Bill Gibson's Bridge Trilogy and Jennifer Lopez's "Waiting for Tonight" that we all envisioned.
It was a heady time. Product was being redefined from within and without the industry. And it's a heady time now.
Earlier this week we published a fictional interview with the fictional @WhoIfNotUs, EIC of the fictional blog SkyWatchers. This fictive interview seemed the only rational way of dealing with the metafictional treatment of a fictional world slowly bleeding into our own.
Why do the campaign this way? Why now? For myriad reasons. But focusing on the why deletes the possibility of answering to the how. The how, however, refocuses on method and structure, and returns us to the way in which themes of individual books (say, the way in which Captain Midnight just disappeared for decades), tie in with broader objectives of not only postmodernism but of social media and transmedia as well.
In the space of a few short months, Dark Horse Editorial has put into play the evolution of 1999, has answered the where-do-we-go-next of both The Matrix and The Blair Witch Project.
And this is one of the more important campaigns that needs to be analyzed, over and again. But this is not the analysis you were looking for. That must come later, and come as the the product of being haunted by time and love in the same way HST was haunted by Ketchum and Hemingway himself by whatever was standing over him in the moment he pulled that trigger.