James Sturm gives up the Internet

James Sturm, co-founder of The Center for Cartoon Studies is giving up on the web. At least for four months. He’ll “blog about it” on slate (faxing and writing in his “posts”).

Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER. I’ve tried various strategies to limit my time online: leaving my laptop at my studio when I go home, leaving it at home when I go to my studio, a Saturday moratorium on usage. But nothing has worked for long. More and more hours of my life evaporate in front of YouTube. Supposedly addiction isn’t a moral failing, but it feels as if it is.

I admit I have an addiction to the web/technology. I go through phases where I fantasize of living a near-Luddite existence (I like microwaves – especially those that run Photoshop, for example), but can never quite pull the trigger and go offline for an extended amount of time.

47 thoughts on “James Sturm gives up the Internet

  1. That’s really admirable. I’d love to take it to the next level and spend a month or two without any form of “glowing screen”, if anything just to give my brain a rest.

  2. I’m too afraid to give up my Internet browsing habits. The world might come to an end, and I’d be the last to find out.

  3. Any admiration I would have had towards Patrick McDonnell for not owning a computer ended when he told people he doesn’t own a computer.

  4. I?m too afraid to give up my Internet browsing habits. The world might come to an end, and I?d be the last to find out. © Eddie Pittman

    Too late Mike, it’s mine now!

  5. @ Eddie … That’s funny, I just came up with an amazing idea for a comic book about this little girl named Red who’s a foster child, and she gets kidnapped by these aliens, and … 🙂

  6. Thanks Steve! Your very kind and in the spirit of that kindness I’ll give Mike back his post. And Mike, I’d pay good money to see your version of Red’s Planet! 🙂

  7. Agree with Rodd, no respect for someone who is proud about not having a computer. That’s not a choice, it’s a cop out, and really bad business.

    But I still respect you as a human being and cartoonist, Patrick!

  8. Not having a computer is a choice. It works for him and he’s proven you don’t need one.

    How is it bad business? Patrick’s job is to provide a comic strip in the newspaper every day. He successfully does that in more newspapers than most other cartoonists. And he does children’s books, book signings, attends cartoon conventions, speaks at events for the welfare of animals and is on the board of the Humane Society. I’d say he’s doing GOOD business without a computer!

  9. There was a great Onion article a long time ago about how much work got done during a worldwide internet crash.

    Unfortunately, my job has allowed me to read the entire internet. I’m done.

  10. My respect for Patrick went way UP upon hearing he has no computer! It’s more than impossible to believe he was bragging on it; maybe someone was choking him and forced him to answer the question?

  11. Re: Sturm, good for him. It’s a worthwhile experiment that almost rises to the level of performance art, a comment on how quickly we become totally dependent on something that everyone somehow got along without just fine for the first 20,000 years of human art and commerce.

    Re: McDonnell, good for him, too. If it works for him there’s really nothing to argue about. Harlan Ellison still writes his manuscripts on a typewriter; I couldn’t do it, but it’s a part of his creative process that works. I don’t know how the world learned that Patrick doesn’t own a computer, but my best guess is that someone asked him–one of the first questions a cartoonist gets these days is whether s/he works digitally or “really” draws–and he answered truthfully. I would not expect him to lie.

    Re: the larger question, I sympathize with Sturm. I couldn’t do it–my day job literally wouldn’t exist without the worldwide communication and research capabilities of the web, and I appreciate Photoshop’s ability to let me apply artistic techniques I otherwise couldn’t. But the Internet is too easily a time-sucking black hole, and I do regret the time I’ve wasted with nothing to show for it.

  12. Jeez. Don’t have a computer. Don’t go on the Internet. Don’t drive a car. Eat only bread made from wheat you grew in the backyard and ground with a stone by hand. But don’t expect to get a medal for it.

  13. Stacy, being a good business person and being a good cartoonist aren’t necessarily the same thing. I respect someone who has both talents the most.

    And you are being naive to suggest that he’s doing any of those things without a computer. He has a secretary or family member do all of that online.

    I visited Cathy Guisewite in her studio about 7 years ago and she didn’t have a computer or even email. But she had an assistant to do all of it online. Notice that it is just the last year or two that she is writing about anything tech-y? 🙂

    But I do appreciate a comment on link about a FF addon called Leechblock to block sites or time them for you. I’ll try it!

  14. I should add that Cathy did have a computer in the studio. She just didn’t know how to use it, and let her assistant do it all, including uploading all the drawings, etc.

  15. I recall being at the Andrews McMeel Universal Syndicate offices when email became commonplace in our business. I asked Lee Salem how they were going to handle the issue of getting their cartoonists to transition to emailingl their stuff into the syndicate instead of snailmail or FedEx. Lee replied that they were simply going to charge the cartoonists for the costs of traditional shipping/mailing if they didn’t want to adopt the email model.

    One thing cartoonists respond to is additional costs and/or extra financial penalties.

  16. When I interviewed McDonnell in ’03, he spoke of not using computer-aided art as a conscious, personal choice, but he wasn’t suggesting that there was anything wrong with doing it other ways. “I use a fountain pen dipped in a bottle of ink, working on paper I cut myself. I like the craft of it. That’s why I always wanted to do this.”

    In our conversation, I didn’t get any sense whatsoever that he was bragging about not using a computer. I took it no differently than when I would interview a fellow who restored antique wooden boats with the tools and varnishes of the time, or someone who liked to make apple pies from scratch. He takes a particular joy in the texture of the experience.

    I don’t understand why that is a problem for anybody.

    (The entire interview will run at comicstripoftheday.com a week from Sunday. Don’t expect him to condemn computers, because he didn’t.)

  17. Patrick McDonnell was like the nicest guy in the world when we interviewed him on Comics Coast to Coast, but getting in touch with him was hard via email…’cause he didn’t use it. 😉 His wife took care of all that stuff…he just didn’t have any interest in it. He does have a cool electronic drum set in his studio, so it’s not like he’s a luddite…just old school. Trust me, if I could draw like him but it meant giving up the internet, bye-bye internet.

  18. Drawing, illustrating, cartooning can be a very lonely activity. Most of us are in isolation for most of the day. I think the internet is the main source of communication we have with our friends and fellow cartoonists. We explore other artists’ work, share our own work and have meaningful conversations (and fights) on the internet. It’s easy to see how it can become addictive.

    I think it’s a healthy exercise to take a break from the internet for a while, to gain some perspective and get some fresh air. But do come back and tell the rest of us what life beyond the keyboard was like. 🙂

  19. Patrick McDonnell is read all over the world but should own a computer because …. why? I don’t get it.

    Believe me, when your kids are wasting time on the friggin’ computer all day, you become a little more aware of how time stands still in front of the magic screen.

    Dragging the girls to the park was a nightmare. “Eeew, there’s, like, bugs on the ground!”

  20. Before the internet, you could find out about a very tiny and extremely select group of widely published artists, I’d guess perhaps 2% of the day to day full-time professional artists, probably a lot less.

    But with the internet, I’d guess at least 50% (or more) of professional working artists, cartoonists, illustrators and animators are out there to be found and additionally, you can see a great deal more of their art. Speaking as someone who is an artist who hires artists, I’d say that well over 50% of the caricature artists I hire have samples viewable online.

  21. Lots of people don’t use computers or go online. Lots of people who love computers and go online all day long go long stretches without access to the Internet. I’ve gone six weeks at a time without email during trips to Central Asia.

    How is this even remotely interesting?

    It is mindnumbingly amazing that anyone would judge someone (“I respect him more,” “I respect him less”) based on whether or not they have a computer.

    It’s an electronic appliance. It doesn’t affect your character.

    @Dave: Your statement is non-sensical. Before the Internet, if you weren’t published in print, you were by definition not a professional cartoonist or illustrator. So 100% of professional cartoonists and illustrators appeared in print.

    It is impossible to guess how many “professional cartoonists” are online now, but it is less than 100%.

    Not, again, that it matters.

    This thread needs coffee.

  22. The way Sturm was using the internet is more his personal problem than an issue with the internet and computers in general. Wasting lots of time on YouTube is probably not a good use of your time online.

    Transferring all the tasks that are done online to somebody else is a huge cheat and doesn’t make any argument at all in favor of not using computers or the interwebs.

    But Twitter and Facebook? Those are a waste of time.

  23. Tom, agreed.

    Glad to hear you don’t judge people, Ted.

    Respect is very valuable and would make for better neighbors.

    A computer is just an appliance?! Take that one with you to that other country. Aside from the huge business advantage, Stephen is comparing his children online to an adult, who has given up the opportunity and privilege of learning.

    Meeting people someone never ever could in his local community, getting new ideas, getting inspired by online stuff, looking up quick facts or important info, and, oh, yeah, literally gaining new brain cells through figuring out something about how a computer works.

    And have you had a conversation recently with someone who doesn’t have a computer? I have. You spend way too much time explaining stuff – no, thanks.

    It’s really too bad that Patrick McDonnell – who I admire and met, too, very briefly – unlike 75% of the world, could afford this, but has given up this opportunity of a lifetime, really.

  24. Patrick McDonnell reads books, according to his Comics Coast to Coast interview. Spiritual books, mostly.

    Yes, the guy who empties the wastebaskets in my office, “Jamie” is from Salvador. He doesn’t speak English well, is a pleasure to work with, and is very ignorant of computers. I love talking to him about stuff because I learn new things about his country and culture and I’ve shown him Photoshop. I don’t go “Oh my GOD! You haven’t played Worlds of Warcraft or commented on a Huffington Post Article! Get outta here!” What the hell has Jamie missed? Am I supposed to feel superior to him because I’m familiar to this this electronic toy/tool that most Americans use?

    I can’t believe a guy as talented as Patrick McDonnell is being dissed because he doesn’t use a stupid computer. Who cares?

  25. A computer is just a tool. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was “OMG! ‘So-and-So’ doesn’t use a can opener! How does he open his canned pineapples?!!” Well, to keep this analogy going, pineapples do come fresh, and some people just don’t like pineapples. What’s the big deal?

  26. @Donna: I know many people who don’t have computers. I don’t think they’re missing much or that they’re less fully-realized than I am.

    Patrick McDonnell’s career doesn’t seem to be suffering because he’s not online.

  27. I can’t believe Patrick McDonnell started a flame war when he doesn’t even have a computer

  28. @Ted Rall
    My statement makes perfect sense – all I’m saying is that before the internet, finding other working artists was very challenging and frankly, except for the relatively famous ones in major magazines, finding samples of obscure cartoonists was really difficult and time-consuming.

    In the old days, if an artist was published, say, in Britain, the odds are I would never see their art or know of their existence. But these days, the chances of my discovering their art have increased. Simply put, I discover more artists in a few hours on the internet than a few weeks back in the 1980’s.

  29. At one point I was so involved in various games and communities online that I believe I spent more time online than away on a daily basis.

    Fortunately I was able to admit to the problem, and re-prioritize what was important to me in life and left some online games and communities that seemed to demand a great deal of time to keep up with. I mean, my relationship with my wife should be more important than some online community (no offense 😉 ). Back when I had my problem, I rarely had time to sit down and talk with my wife.

    Now, honestly other than a few things like DailyCartoonist (which now with the email feature, keeps me up to date on the happenings in the cartoonist industry without navigating out of my inbox unless I want to read more, which I appreciate), I find the internet at times boring, which for me works out since that generally keeps me from wasting hours and hours on the net surfing away my life.

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