Sweaty & Upsetty

Sweaty & Upsetty is a collection of short comics I posted on Tumblr between 2014 and 2018. Some of these comics are about fandom, and some are about anxiety, but most of them are about the experience of being on the internet as a weird little gremlin. There are also a few comics about my Super Mario Bros. headcanon, which is that Bowser and Princess Peach are not-so-secretly dating.

This zine is twenty pages long, standard half-letter size, and professionally printed by Mixam with a velvet-touch cover and full-color glossy interior pages. It was an experiment in formatting artwork for print, so I only made fifty copies to give to friends. I also dropped off a few copies at my local comic book store in Washington DC, Fantom Comics, and I have three last copies that I’m going to leave at Quimby’s Bookstore when I visit Chicago for an academic conference in late October.

My artwork has improved in leaps and bounds since I started sharing it online five years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever reprint this zine, but I’m looking forward to putting together another comics zine early next year!

Hollow Knight

I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of Hollow Knight, and I got the collector’s edition from Fangamer when the game came out on the Nintendo Switch. I absolutely loved the first hour or two of gameplay. The world is gorgeous, the gameplay is a lot of fun, and the writing is lovely.

When I got to the first boss, however, I died. And then I died again, and then I died again. And then I died again. It’s not that this boss is particularly difficult; it’s just that it has a ton of health while you have relatively little. The fight is therefore an endurance test in which you can’t make any mistakes. This is particularly unpleasant because, once the boss starts breaking out new attacks and movement patterns, you’ve already been in the fight for a relatively long time and have probably already lost some health.

When I took to the internet to figure out what was going on, I found a lot of posts saying that Hollow Knight is a brutally punishing game, and that sometimes people can take hours to make it through a boss fight.

I then tried to search for “Hollow Knight easy mode,” and that was a mistake. Oh my, the “real gamer” discourse these children engage in.

I remember really loving Super Metroid as a kid. It was much too difficult for me and my small brain and tiny hands, so I used a Game Genie as something like a set of training wheels until I got good enough to play it on my own. I ended up spending more than a hundred hours playing the game instead of just one or two, and this hurt no one. I had a game, and I played it, and it was fun. I liked exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack; and, if this isn’t “how the developers intended the game to be played,” it didn’t matter, because my parents paid money for the game and I owned it.

This is more or less the same thing I’m interested in when it comes to Hollow Knight – exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack. Because of one boss fight at the beginning of the game, however, there’s no way I can do this. I now own a very pretty $70 game that I could only play for a little more than two hours, and it’s frustrating.

I wonder, would it really hurt the developers to include an easy mode?

Nineties Child Starter Pack

The backpack you take home from school weighs more than you do.

We had so much homework, and I mean so much homework. If there’s one thing that’s relatable to all millennials, no matter what sort of neighborhood or economic class they grew up in, it’s that the pressure to get into a good college started in seventh grade, if not earlier.

You use self-deprecating humor because it’s social suicide to acknowledge how hard you’re working.

Also because we’re all working really hard, and only douchebags talk like they’re writing a college admissions essay. Despite the fact that this style of communication has carried over to the Gen Z kids, a lot of older people still take this sort of communication at face value and interpret it literally, which is both disheartening and unintentionally hilarious.

You can never accept a complement, ever.

See above. We’re collectively getting better about this, thankfully.

You always have to pretend to be on a diet or losing weight for sports.

We bore the full brunt of mass media advertising culture in the 1980s and 1990s, and we didn’t have any tools to resist its messaging. Current conversations about “body shaming” and “body positivity” are a direct result of MTV Spring Break setting the standard of what a human being should look like, which turned out to be super unhealthy for people of all races and genders.

Goku is there for you when you need him, and you have no idea Sailor Moon is Japanese.

We didn’t know what anime was until we learned what anime was, at which point we couldn’t get enough of it. Can you blame us? At the time, the only real alternative was Disney. The Disney Renaissance was great and all, but sometimes you just need to watch girls saving the universe while one dude kamehamehas another dude right in the face.

You get on the internet for Pokémon cheat codes and make a cringe adorable first username.

No I didn’t know that there were no cheat codes for Pokémon, and no I will not tell you my username, but I sure did have a lot of fun as a tiny child on the internet.

No amount of hard work or internet literacy will save you, though.

This is especially ironic because people in their early twenties are now hired over people in my generation because they are “digital natives” with “social media expertise.”

The generations ahead of you just will not retire, so your professional career is fucked.

Friends may come and friends may go, and dreams can burst into brilliant life and then fade away, but student debt is forever.

In conclusion, nineties children are stressed out all the time, but at least we got all the good anime and video games.

Deep Water

The problem is that Disney has the brand recognition and the deep pockets to freeze out anyone else who tries.
https://earlgraytay.tumblr.com/post/186522860758/moral-autism-earlgraytay-okay-there-are

Any other time anyone does anything with fairy tales (or princesses, or talking cars, or talking fish, or pirates, or…) Disney can make their own version and sell it at a loss, driving their competitors out of business. They have more money than God. They can afford to lose money on one theme park, let alone one toyline or one movie.

The problem with Disney is that it’s a monopoly. And like any other monopoly, Disney can freeze out anyone who tries to compete with them. I think if you trustbusted Disney – left them with their animation studio and maybe their theme park division, but took away Pixar and Marvel and ESPN and all their television outlets and all the other crap they own – they’d have a harder time undercutting everyone else. You’d see more stuff based on folklore and fairy tales, and it’d have more than a snowball’s chance in hell of being successful.

One of the reasons I love Tumblr is because it gives me so many windows into subcultures I had no idea existed. Members of these subcultures often have unique insider information about things that most people probably take for granted, and it’s interesting to view the world from these perspectives.

I take everything I read on Tumblr with a grain of salt, but it’s still fascinating to learn about, for instance, how groups of people devoted to doll collecting see Disney as using its enormous amounts of capital to monopolize and then destroy the market for toys targeted at young girls. Whether Disney is actually doing this (as they most certainly are) is immaterial; what’s worth paying attention to is that resistance is coming from a subculture that most people would probably assume would be supportive of Disney.

I routinely encounter posts like this that help me remember that the culture I’m familiar with is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start looking deeper into subcultures, you begin to realize that there are powerful currents underneath the water that shape global mediascapes in ways that aren’t immediately recognizable.

Going onto Tumblr sometimes feels like climbing into a submarine and exploring by the narrow beam of a headlight, and there are any number of odd and unexpected things swimming around below the surface.

No Drama, Not Today

This comic was drawn by Vreni Stollberger (here’s her website) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I routinely get a lot of strange comments on all of my blogs and social media accounts. What this has taught me is that, if you exist on the internet, people will send you hate. You can be the kindest and most conscientious person in the world (although I’m certainly not), but mean people don’t need a reason to harass you. I’ve learned that it’s best not to engage with trolls, since there’s no better way to shut them down than to deny them a platform to stand on. Still, it’s frustrating to have to deal with people like this when all you want to do is stay in your lane and enjoy your time online. The pressure to maintain a “positive” attitude and pretend as if nothing is happening when you’re trying to cope with threatening messages can get a little intense and unreasonable sometimes, to be honest.

Ah, well. Haters gonna hate.

Work Work Til You Go Berserk

Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/hyperemployment-or-the-exhausting-work-of-the-technology-user/281149/

It’s easy to see email as unwelcome obligations, but too rarely do we take that obligation to its logical if obvious conclusion: those obligations are increasingly akin to another job—or better, many other jobs. For those of us lucky enough to be employed, we’re really hyperemployed—committed to our usual jobs and many other jobs as well. It goes without saying that we’re not being paid for all these jobs, but pay is almost beside the point, because the real cost of hyperemployment is time. We are doing all those things others aren’t doing instead of all the things we are competent at doing. And if we fail to do them, whether through active resistance or simple overwhelm, we alone suffer for it: the schedules don’t get made, the paperwork doesn’t get mailed, the proposals don’t get printed, and on and on.

But the deluge doesn’t stop with email, and hyperemployment extends even to the unemployed, thanks to our tacit agreement to work for so many Silicon Valley technology companies. Increasingly, online life in general feels like this. The endless, constant flow of email, notifications, direct messages, favorites, invitations. After that daybreak email triage, so many other icons on your phone boast badges silently enumerating their demands.

Where is the lie, honestly.

I’m actually a narcissistic little dopamine gremlin who loves getting notifications that people like me, but I can sometimes get to a point (usually toward the end of the spring semester) where every email I receive physically hurts me.

Yesterday I wrote a long post about Patreon that began as a set of notes on how I might be able to use Patreon support my book review blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature. I’m still considering it, but the truth is that I already feel as though I’m working four or five separate jobs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to take on another job without sacrificing something, and I don’t think spending more time on yet another social media platform is really worth it.

Reasons I Don’t Like Patreon

(1) Fandom has always been a relatively noncommercial space, and I hate the feeling that it’s starting to become filled with advertisements and corporate-style messaging. It always makes me cringe when fandom accounts on Tumblr or Twitter affix messages such as “subscribe to my Patreon for bonus content” to all of their posts on social media; it feels sort of like I’m watching an infomercial.

(2) I hate feeling like I’m constantly bombarded with messages that I should be spending more money, and I hate feeling guilty for not supporting artists. Monthly Patreon payments can add up, especially if you follow several dozen (or several hundred) artists. It’s not a big deal to give one person a few dollars every month, but even small expenditures can add up quickly, and I hate having to choose between equally deserving people.

(3) I hate feeling as though fandom should cost money and that, as a result, people without money are barred from accessing certain parts of fandom. This is especially true of Patreon-only Discord servers and locked communities on public servers. Putting up a paywall around access to community spaces feels really gross to me. I also don’t like it when creators use Patreon to restrict access to process videos, guides, tutorials, and other instructional materials that would be especially beneficial to younger artists and other members of the community who lack access to traditional resources.

(4) Your friendship with someone shouldn’t be dependent on how much you pay them each month. Loaning money to friends is almost never a good idea, nor is sending them a monthly paycheck. This has the potential to create awkward situations both with people you know in real life and with people you know through fandom. For example, what if Friend A finds out that you’re donating to Friend B’s Patreon but not to theirs? Will a fandom artist you support on Patreon still be friendly with you if you cancel your monthly pledge?

(5) There’s no way to filter content on Patreon, either for subscribers or creators. Let’s say, for example, that there’s someone who’s into a certain fetish that many people might not be comfortable with, such as explicit age gaps in sexual relationships, and that this person makes repeated requests to the artists they’re supporting on Patreon to draw content of their fetish. I’m a firm believer in “don’t like, don’t read,” and I stand behind the idea that everyone’s fantasies involving fictional characters are valid, but I also don’t particularly want to see an impish ten-year-old cartoon character being happily molested by a forty-year-old if I can help it, nor do I want to see a soft version of the same concept while knowing why that specific person requested it. I feel bad for the creators who rely on Patreon for financial support and have to deal with these types of requests. For example, how comfortable would they be turning down a request for fetish porn if it meant possibly losing a long-term supporter?

All that being said, I like when people use Patreon as a tip jar.

Some of the most talented and prolific webcomic artists and indie game developers I know do this. All of their content is free and open to everyone, and they use Patreon as a development blog. Some creators – especially people who run popular podcasts and YouTube channels – still make thousands of dollars a month through Patreon despite the fact that all of their content is unlocked.

Although I understand that Patreon creators who make a decent monthly salary are exceptions, the fact that they can be so successful despite not creating paywalls makes me wonder if limiting access to content on Patreon is really all that effective. Even though a creator may get a bit of extra revenue in this way, I’m not sure it’s worth the trade-off in terms of integrity and goodwill. To put it bluntly, using reward tiers to incentivize the people who want to support you into giving you a few extra dollars each month is repellent capitalist bullshit. For me personally, it also makes scrolling through my feed on Patreon distinctly unpleasant, like, YOU AREN’T RICH ENOUGH TO SEE THIS POST LOL.

What I’m trying to explain is that, although I think Patreon can be a great platform to help people finance their creative work, the incursion of profit-driven language, practices, and ideologies into a space built on support, communication, and goodwill is troubling and offensive.

Basically, I hate capitalism. It’s not that I think independent creators don’t deserve support; rather, I think it’s disgusting how Patreon normalizes using exploitative methods to extract as much money as possible from people who want to support their friends and other independent creators. I also dislike how Patreon encourages creators to rely on these methods, thereby steering them into a mindset in which they treat their engagement with Patreon like an actual job and their friends like clients. This type of engagement has a clear potential to become uncomfortable and unsustainable, especially for people in economically precarious positions.

I’m not trying to say that Patreon is inherently bad, or that people shouldn’t use Patreon. I’ve actually supported a decent number of creative people on Patreon for years, and it makes me happy to do so. What I’m trying to figure out is how Patreon can be used in a way that doesn’t mirror the emotional violence and sheer obnoxiousness of capitalism. I also want to push back against the trend of every interaction on social media becoming a microtransaction, because it’s exhausting.