The End of Gmane?

In 2002, I grew annoyed with not finding the obscure technical information I was looking for, so I started Gmane, the mailing list archive. All technical discussion took place on mailing lists those days, and archiving those were, at best, spotty and with horrible web interfaces.

The past few weeks, the Gmane machines (and more importantly, the company I work for, who are graciously hosting the servers) have been the target of a number of distributed denial of service attacks. Our upstream have been good about helping us filter out the DDoS traffic, but it’s meant serious downtime where we’ve been completely off the Internet.

Of course, there are ways to try to mitigate all this: I’m moving the Gmane servers off of my employer’s net, and I’m putting Cloudflare in front of the Gmane web servers.

But I ask myself: Is this fun any more?

Running a mailing list archive means, of course, that people want stuff removed from the archive, so I’ve apparently been sued in India (along with Google and Yahoo) (and I’m never going there: I might be sentenced. I don’t know). And I’m the Internet Help Desk, which is nice, but confusing. And all the threats of “legal action” are, well, something.

And now the DDoS stuff, which I have no idea why is happening, but I can only assume that somebody is angry about something.

Probably me being a wise ass.

So… it’s been 14 years… I’m old now. I almost threw up earlier tonight because I’m so stressed about the situation. I should retire and read comic books and watch films. Oh, and the day job. Work, work, work. Oh, and Gnus.

I’m thinking about ending Gmane, at least as a web site. Perhaps continue running the SMTP-to-NNTP bridge? Perhaps not? I don’t want to make 20-30K mailing lists start having bouncing addresses, but I could just funnel all incoming mail to /dev/null, I guess…

The nice thing about a mailing list archive (with NNTP and HTTP interfaces) is that it enables software maintainers to say (whenever somebody suggests using Spiffy Collaboration Tool of the Month instead of yucky mailing lists) is “well, just read the stuff on Gmane, then”. I feel like I’m letting down a generation here. And despite what I rambled about in that paragraph up there, I’ve had many fun interactions with people because of Gmane. And lots and lots and lots of appreciative feedback over the years.

*sigh*

But there’s The Mail Archive. Those guys are doing a good job. If The Mail Archive had been as good in 2002 as it is now, I probably wouldn’t have started Gmane.

I’m open to ideas here. If somebody else wants to take over the concept, I can FedEx you a disk containing the archive (as an NNTP spool). I’ve written a lot of software for Gmane, but it’s all quite site specific and un-documented. And the web interface was written in, like, 2004, so it’s way way way un-Web 2.0-ey and shiny. You’re probably better off implementing this stuff from scratch.

Oh, and along with the spool you’ll get the gmane.conf file which has the mailing list->NNTP mapping.

I can’t really recommend the job, though. It sucks.

[Update: See this comment.]

FF1991: Big Thing

Big Thing #1-4 by Colin Upton.

This series is probably called Colin Upton’s Other Big Thing (Upton had self-published more that 60 mini-comics by this time, and one larger one, which was called Big Thing, so this name makes sense), and then Colin Upton’s Other Slightly Smaller Big Thing (when it went to a smaller size).

Phew.

Anyway, we’re talking about slice-of-life stories with a particularly late-80s flavour. Even if we’re in the early 90s.

The stories are mostly slice-of-life, but mostly not really in the tradition of Harvey Pekar or R. Crumb. Instead they’re mostly anecdotes of interesting things that have happened to Upton, and you could imagine him telling you these over a cup of tea somewhere.

Not extremely soul-searching or harrowing, and you can see Upton chafing under (imagined?) pressure to be more “raw”, which may explain the quip up there about Graphic Story Monthly.

It’s not all autobio, though. There’s the occasional, er, whimsical? story like this one, with angels and devils:

But it’s mostly anecdotes, and some of them aren’t very exciting:

That’s it.

As for the art, it’s kinda lumpy, isn’t it? It’s clear and understandable, but I just… don’t really enjoy it much.

In perhaps the most exciting tale in these issues, Upton joins The Haters (GX Jupitter-Larsen noise/performance thing) for a performance, and there is So Much Drama. Mostly because Upton is so scared of getting arrested that it starts being annoying in the retelling.

But it’s a good story. And above we see Roberta Gregory, first drawn by Upton and then by Gregory. Always fun to see two autobio depicting the same scene. Compare and contrast.

Upton visits Fantagraphics.

The third issue is mostly about participating in demonstrations against the … er… first Bush gulf war? I’ve lost count at this point. It’s a very angry issue, and it should be.

*sigh*

And then!

Oh, it’s a parody.

Yeah, yeah… 1991 was a sucky year to try to get non-genre earnest work published.

“No apologies to the guy who draws Faust.” Heh heh.

Anyway, that was it. After four issues, Big Thing was cancelled.

I remember reading this at the time and enjoying it quite a bit (especially the political angry bits), but the series has problems. There’s nothing wrong with doing anecdotes, but cumulatively they don’t really seem to be going anywhere.

It’s a nice series, but it’s not all that memorable.

I vaguely remember Upton doing a series after this called Buddha on the Road. (I probably have it in a case here … somewhere…) Let’s see… *google* *bing* *yahoo* Oh, yeah, he (ironically enough) did a porn series called Incubus. I think I have that here, too… But other than that, there doesn’t seem to be that much more published after the mid 90s?

Oh, and he has a comic book store now.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1994: Bad Comics

Bad Comics #1 by JR Williams.

A previous #1 had been published a few years earlier by Cat-Head Comics, and if I remember correctly, it was much like this one: A random collection of funny comics by JR Williams.

Like Sam Henderson, he’s someone who seems to know the mechanics of telling a joke well, and subverting your expectations is what it’s all about.

Like this comic about some yokels hooking up with some city ladies…

… ending like this:

And stories about really bad boys doing bad stuff:

So it’s all quite simple and funny.

A couple of the pieces use a very different rendering style, though, like this Skinboy two-pager.

So what can I say? It’s slightly gross and quite funny. Johnny Ryan would take this style to another level about ten years later…

Williams mainly published minicomix and in the small press, but I think Fantagraphics did a few more one-shots in the mid 90s. In which case I’ll get to them later, I’m sure.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

FF1990: Graphic Story Monthly

Graphic Story Monthly #1-7 edited by Gary Groth.

Graphic Story Monthly was Fantagraphics’ second attempt at a “general” comics anthology, following hot on the heels of Prime Cuts.

In some ways, it’s just a continuation of that series under a new name. Many of the same contributors and features continue on from the first series, so I guess the point was just to have a new number 1 to boost sales or something?

This is January 1990, and it would take a couple more decades for Tardi to get a substantial part of his work translated into English, unfortunately. Anyway, just like in Prime Cuts, Kim Thompson writes introductions to the translated material…

There’s some older stuff reprinted (Ward Kimball here)…

… and there’s newer, funnier stuff (like this Paul Ollswang/Jim Carpenter groan-worthy, but beautifully drawn work here). All in all, it’s a pretty good package. While Prime Cuts felt slap dash at the end, some new enthusiasm seems apparent in Graphic Story Monthly.

Speaking of Ollswang, he goes all weird in the second issue. It’s a very strange piece, but oddly and abstractly amusing.

More to the point is Wynne Evans’ “Mary Worthless” story. I mean, it’s a parody, but it works on its own, too. The artwork’s pretty basic, though.

Perhaps the most notable work in issue three is Patrick Moriarty’s very first comic. It details Moriarty’s harrowing sorta-kidnapping and the less than stellar response by the police. But Moriarty’s lack of experience in telling a compelling story is pretty easily evident: While the facts presented are hair-raising, the strip itself isn’t really that emotionally engaging. And his artwork at this stage hasn’t really found it’s style. I’ll be doing his solo series later, and I remember that as being a lot better than this…

Issue four starts a new serial by Jack Jackson, who is a real underground comix veteran. (He published one of the earliest underground comix back in the 60s.) The serial is in his usual milieu, but it manages to be both slightly boring and abhorrently gruesome at the same time. Not his best work. But some of the artwork is lovely.

Speaking of not-quite-good-enough autobio, Craig Maynard does yet another story from his horrible, horrible childhood. And while there are things I like about his drawing (the artificiality and the starkness of the black bits), the story doesn’t connect. It’s like “see, my life was awful” and I go “OK, it was awful”.

Jared Osborn’s piece is an outlier here. All the other stories in Graphic Story Monthly are very focussed on narrative, and there’s barely any formal experimentation whatsoever. This is a more abstract kind of… thing… and it’s pretty nice.

There’s a lot of humorous stories in between all the seriousness, and they’re kinda hit-and-miss. This one, by Tom Roberts and Jim Siergey, seems to ask the question “how do you do a story about a pompous bore and make it funny”, and the answer is “we don’t know”.

This story by Roger Langridge (Professor Cucumber and His Stereotyped Assistants) was pretty amusing. And meeting up with Uncle Scrooge inside a temple is a pretty good idea, especially since Fantagraphics a decade or two later became the main Barks publisher.

I enjoyed this Linzee Arnold story, which was allegedly based on a tape clandestinely recorded of Buddy Rich ranting to his musicians. The scratchy artwork goes really well with the deranged verbal diarrhoea.

Roberta Gregory, who had recently launched her Naughty Bits comic to great success contributes a story about… well… I guess it’s really about being conflicted by the success of Bitchy Bitch, if I’m to make a guess.

Up until the sixth issue, the schedule had been true to the name of the anthology: It had been published on a monthly schedule. Before the seventh and final issue, there’s an unexplained five month gap, and everything seems to have changed.

Until this issue, Graphic Story Monthly has felt very 80s. It could have been published four years earlier and nobody would have been the wiser. But with the seventh issue, we get coming super-stars like Joe Matt, doing three of his way-too-intimate and way-too-crowded autobio pages. I love them, and I remember being excited back in the 90s whenever an anthology would carry a couple of these, seemingly at random. It’s the perfect way to read them, I think.

And the same issue has the backlash to autobio stories, as if tailored to Matt’s contribution:

Autobio (as a comics genre) had detractors from the very beginning, but it really seemed to take off around this time. The story, by “Dennis Pimple and T. Motley” (presumably an acronym), isn’t very original or clever, but it is kinda funny. 25 years later it’s Joe Matt people remember and not “T. Motley”, so I guess the joke’s on them.

And that’s it. No more issues were published, and no explanation why, but it probably didn’t sell very much. As an anthology, it felt old-fashioned, and the Drawn & Quarterly anthology that would cover the same field (started in April 1990) did a better job at capturing what was going on in comics at the time.

But it was perfectly nice while it lasted.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.