Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Nightmare Surrealism We All Needed: An Interview With "First Day" Creator Person 918

I take internet art seriously. I keep several desktop folders full of memes and glitch art pieces. I group the works by different themes and topics. I try to revisit the ones that I've found most interesting. Really, though, I have too many to count or keep track of. Also, I'm a disorganized mess. Much more a hoarder than a collector, I guess. The sheer volume of quality art out there can be overwhelming.

Every so often, however, some truly 
striking and memorable creative content emerges from the sea of weirdness that is the internet. I saw something like that a few days ago. It blew my world open and actually made me rethink the potential of short-form storytelling.

Maybe you saw it too?

Forty-nine frames of captioned images posted to Facebook. CGI renderings of a woman starting a new job.

The title: "First Day."

A comic? An illustrated short story?

The narrative begins unassumingly enough but quickly unravels into a surreal nightmare that, for many, seems to hit too close to home.

If you haven't experienced "First Day" yet, check it out immediately.

If you're already familiar with it, here's an interview with the author, Person 918. I reached out to Person 918 because I had to know more about this amazing work of short fiction and, ultimately, if we could expect more Earth-shattering genius along the lines of "First Day."

So, what was the inspiration for “First Day”? Any particular experiences or events? 

One main inspiration was browsing CGI porn on DeviantArt. There is something deeply unsettling about CGI porn. As you scroll through it there's always a sense that at any moment you're going to see something that you don't want to see. So I wanted to capture that feeling without anything overtly pornographic.

Nice. Mission accomplished, I'd say. You posted “First Day” on the 918 Facebook page on October 5th. Was that the first time you’d shared this story? Also, what exactly is 918? 

I shared "First Day" simultaneously on the 918 Facebook page, my Tumblr page, Imgur, and r/comics on October 5th. That is the first time the story saw the light of day. 918 is just my artist page, a place for me to share the stuff I create on Facebook. I am the sole admin.

Have you received much feedback on “First Day”? What has the response been like?

I have received a decent amount of feedback.  Most has been very positive.  A number of people have praised the story as "dreamlike," which makes me very happy because that is exactly what I was going for. A few people have complained that they don't "get it", which I feel is kind of missing the point.  But like I said, the vast majority of feedback has been positive. "First Day" has received far more attention than any other artistic project of mine.

So “First Day” invites readers in with these comically-mundane, yet very real and relatable concerns about starting new jobs. From there, you slowly—and pretty seamlessly—send readers down a rabbit hole of bizarre imagery and surreal situations. To me, what's striking is that the story never stops feeling relatable or relevant in regard to work/life, even as things get really weird. Like you’ve tapped into these subliminally traumatizing aspects of work that most people seem to recognize in the story and its images. The responses that I’ve seen are almost all the same: The story hits a nerve. And I was surprised to see such comments coming from certain people who I know aren't normally into surreal and weird art or storytelling.

I think that's accurate. I think that the majority of us have to work for a living and most of us have a very uneasy relationship with that set-up. Sacrificing a large portion of your life to a project that you don't particularly care about is very anxiety inducing. 

Right, right. It's obvious that even though "First Day" is ultimately very surreal, there's really something solid at the core of the whole thing, like a life allegory or a commentary (I’m still processing my own take). It's so short and strange, but it also feels so packed with substance and meaning in this beautiful almost accessible way. 

Our society frames work as a voluntary decision, but for most of us the alternative is homelessness and starvation. It also raises some questions about who's running the system? What are their goals?  Is the whole thing a runaway machine beyond human control? When these issues are addressed in popular media, it's often to defuse them with humor (as in "Dilbert," "Office Space," "The Office," etc.) but I think there is always a truly disturbing existential anxiety just under the surface.

What’s your process like when creating works like this?

Once I come up with the initial idea, I will create a vague story arc, break out the key scenes in my head, and start staging and rendering the scenes in the order in which they occur. I will periodically come across pacing or clarity issues during the process that will force me to reevaluate the scenes, perhaps adding or changing a panel here or there.  The story faces certain constraints throughout based on what I can manage to do with my limited technology.

What about the art in particular? The specific images? How intentionally were they created or selected?

I usually pick a few specific images that I think will be particularly potent and then craft the story around those images. As for where the ideas originate, I can't really say, other than I know what I have technologically available to me.  For example, I know what models I can find online, I know how they can be retextured, I know that I can make glass versions of objects, etc. I'm trying to get the most I can out of the medium that I'm using.

What are your artisitic and literary influences? Are you normally a fan of short fiction? Do you have any thoughts on how “First Day” fits into formats like short story or flash fiction? 

I am a bit of a fan of short-form literature, but I think I have probably been more influenced by film, television, and comics. David Lynch and Luis Buñuel were definitely influences, as well as comic artists like Charles Burns and Jim Woodring. People have noted a vaporwave influence as well, and I am a fan of that music genre, so that has likely played a factor. I can see a thematic connection between "First Day" and something like "Redefining theWorkplace" by Internet Club, for example. I think that the format of "First Day" is probably close to comics, though it is also sort of a digital picture book. I've also been influenced by a number of contemporary web artists like Pure Honey and online art magazines like Felt Zine.   

Do you have plans for more stories like “First Day”?

I do hope to continue to make these things, time and inspiration permitting.

Awesome. I can’t wait. Are there are any other projects you’d like to discuss? The 918 page? The novel you’d mentioned to me? 

I do have a short novel sitting around entitled Ocean of Milk. It is somewhat similar in tone to "First Day," though of course the absence of images will make a difference in how it's perceived by the reader. The goal with "Ocean of Milk" was also to create a dreamlike state, though I would say it's not quite as narratively disjointed as the visual stories. I would like to release that to the public but I'm not sure what the best way to do that is.  

I also have an experimental electronic pop music project called Timmy Sells His Soul that can be found on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

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