Monday, April 3, 2023

20 Years of Blogging. No, really. (Part 1)

So, twenty years ago Jamie and I were living in the wasteland suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona in a town-turned-bedroom community name of Chandler.  We'd moved out to Phoenix in pursuit of a new job for Jamie.  But, also, we figured we were young and didn't have that many roots down in the years after college and marrying fairly early (2000).  Now seemed a good time for trying new places and things.  

It didn't work out.

You can visit Jamie's occasional remembrances of our time in Phoenix, and that's a goodly part of the story.  But, also, between Jamie's health, the fact I was working crazy hours, and a general lack of opportunity to meet people, we just didn't know many folks in town that we could call "pal".  I either managed or was supervised by the people I worked with, and Jamie mostly worked with men - so she wasn't meeting many women she could pal with-  and everyone she worked with seemed to be at a different point in their lives from hanging our with two 20-somethings.  That, and, man, if you asked me what the culture was in Phoenix in 2003, I'd say "strip malls and pretending you're rich".  We just didn't click with many folks.

So, that's where we were at in some ways.

For technical context, in 2003, we had BBS's, but we didn't really have social media.  Facebook as you know it would happen closer to 2007.  Friendster and MySpace would happen in quick succession around 2004, but they were barely interactive.  If you wanted to email someone when you found them, you could.  But including posts and comments and all that came with FB, really.  Twitter would happen closer to 2009.

But in 2003, we were experiencing the golden age of blogging.

The web as we know it started happening in the mid-1990's.  My first modem came into my possession in 1994 when a guy on my floor, who had just replaced his hardware, was punting his old modem down the hall and was willing to just let me have it.  I got an account, got an email address, and was online in 24 hours.  

Websites were more or less a thing by 1995 or 1996, so that first year was mostly BBS's and figuring out who had email.  Which was PINE, I think.

By the time I was wrapping up college in 1998, my friends were working as web designers for a living, and the first internet boom was off to the races.*   While companies looked for angles for how they could sell their stuff online, people were out there creating individual websites, which were hard to set up and maintain until GeoCities and other companies made it possible to set up a light (and often horrible looking) web presence.  It was a bold new frontier.

By 1999, I was already working in online video and early streaming efforts, delivering courses to the internet.  I was already *very online* by 2003.  The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was spend more time putting content on the web.  

When we moved to Phoenix, we were suddenly 1000 miles and a couple of time zones from anyone we knew.  Add in, I used to sleep about 5-6 hours per night Monday to Friday, but like 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday.  Suffice to say, I had some downtime.  And pre-blogging, you'd sometimes find yourself sending out missives and correspondence via emails, and you'd have chains of folks you messaged.  But not everyone was good about it, so you'd just lose people along the way.  

Somehow I fell into emailing a lot with a pal from college/ film school, JimD, who would CC folks I didn't yet know into email chains.  And thus I met folks like RHPT.

I was also, and had been, into comics, sci-fi, etc... for a good chunk of time.  And Jim and I would email about movies and comics, and then one day he suggested I start blogging.  

I had no illusions about writing for the comics sites that were mushrooming up at the time.  Comic Book Resources.  Robot 6.  There were others.  I can't remember what Heidi's site was before The Beat, if, in fact, she had a different name for it.  But as Wizard Magazine self-immolated and failed to bring it's brand of comics nerddom to the internet, the websites gained steam.  And there was a pretty good cross-pollination of individual bloggers just writing for the hell of it and folks trying to make it a business.  

Folks would set up Blog Rings or Circles, so you knew who their peeps were.  And, of course, they'd use good ol' http to make sure they were linking to one another.  

But, man, it was the wild west.  No one knew who anyone really was.  People used handles a lot (I think I was 2 years into blogging before I went by anything other than "The League"), and all the old barriers of zines and magazines and spending money to get to print went away.  So it could be literally anyone out there talking comics from any angle they chose.  Like Bronze Age funny animals?  GREAT.  Go get a blog.  

But here's the kooky part - and the thing I miss.   They were also *personality* blogs.  Folks were as likely to discuss a day at the dentist or their passion about stamp collecting as they were about Bronze Age funny animal comics.  And that deeply informed what became The League of Melbotis.  

In addition to just me and Jamie in Arizona, we also had Jeff the Cat - an utter bastard of an animal who only liked me of all other living things.  And, Melbotis.  Mel was a 100 lb. golden retriever of great intelligence and an phenomenal disposition.  He was so loved that I still get a little teary thinking about the guy.  

I grew up with some good dogs, Puffy and Misty, and wanted a dog very badly after Jamie and I got married.  Shortly after we got married, some friends of ours split up and moved to separate coasts, and neither could take their dog.  So we did.  And he became our great pal.

I don't really remember where the name "League of Melbotis" came from.  "Melbotis" was his name when we got the dog, and it was some gag between them I won't explain here.  The "League of" came - I am sure - from Justice League America and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and something sounding official around our buddy.

Anyway - at some point Jim gave me the right push, I picked Blogger as a platform as the easiest and free-est one to manage, and thus launched League of Melbotis on March 30th, 2003.  And a few days later I was like "this is dumb.  I'm not doing this." and pulled the plug.  

I think it's very hard for people to understand in 2023 that in 2003, employers and people in your life expected for you to present a certain face to the public world, and they didn't love it if they could Google you and up would come something as silly and trivial as comic books.  You were allowed to have hobbies and lives outside work, but you weren't to bring them into your work life, and the internet's eye meant that the lines blurred and crossed.  So there was concern there.

But, also, I was of the (correct) opinion that it was semi-pointless and useless to put your thoughts into print.  This was when having legitimate publishers behind you meant something, so a blog was less than that.  Heck, it was thumbing your nose at that idea.  Who was I to write down and send my thoughts on anything into the ether?  

But then I decided:  I'm not using my real name.  It doesn't @#$%ing matter.  

Though I'd blown away the original blog, it turned out, JimD had somehow stashed the first blog posts, and sent me the text.  So the first few posts are very strange as they're recovered from the erased first take at blogging.    

For the very earliest posts, which include random thoughts on comics, American Idol, the situation in Iraq and my moment of pause at turning 28 years old, you can visit, why not hop over to League of Melbotis?  

Sure, I talked comics, but as we did back then, I talked about the news, about my dog, about what was on TV... basically anything that crossed my mind became fodder.  Because one thing I did want in 2003 was an easier way to stay in touch with people, and have the chit-chat you don't realize you miss until it's gone.

Fairly quickly after the blog launched, I reconnected with some folks I'd lost to time, moving, etc...  Friends from childhood, high school, college, etc... popped up shooting me emails.  I employed a comment plug-in and conversations started.  New folks popped up.  Who was this Harms fellow?  Strange Canadians eventually showed up. 

In an era before centralized social media, I could tell people were checking on the blog during their coffee breaks or in the evening.  The sorts of posts I'd make that now would be a one sentence facebook post became lengthy comment threads.  Pondering about sports - and I was very in the tank for the Phoenix Suns at the time - drew all sorts of commentary, often from friends of friends.  So did the news, Iraq, and often surprising topics I didn't realize people would want to fight about.

For good or ill, most of the comments from the first years of League of Melbotis have been lost to time and the ether.  That plug-in I was using went defunct, and all my comments went with it.  It's a bit of a bummer as I'd like to track when people showed up in my life, but I also think maybe for folks' personal lives and to protect the innocent years on, it's good that our Golden Era of Blogging comments are lost to time.

Because it wasn't all pleasant.  As folks engaged in "someone is wrong on the internet" behavior, suddenly I was monitoring and managing arguments between folks who didn't even know each other wanting to debate (endlessly) in the comments, and any attempt to tell them to knock it off was met with fury and "help!  help!  I'm being oppressed!"  

And I'm sure my attempts to keep an open door at The League of Melbotis also both made it easy for these tiffs to start and made it confusing when I had to play Dad.  It certainly prepped me for the stuff that would spiral out on facebook and twitter in the 2010's.

So, if my primary mission was to talk to folks outside of the greater Phoenix area on an ongoing basis - that worked out.

My secondary mission was, in an era where Spider-Man movies were now a thing, and people now knew who the X-Men were thanks to Hugh Jackman, to talk about the wide world of comic books, superheroes, and the general hidden corners of pop culture that people generally didn't discuss much in polite society. 

There was an element of boosterism.  This is an era where one bad movie could have reset everything back to people thinking comics were for children or the mentally deranged (or perverts, which... fair enough).  Anyway, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for all-things comics using Superman as a lens.  

In truth, I was still learning about Superman at the time (and still am.  It's lifelong learning).  But I would make a post about a bad time at the post-office one day and then discuss a comic book series the next.  Or sometimes in the same post.  Like I say - personality blog.  But heavy on the comics.

I was fascinated by the work of publications like The Comics Journal, or Alter-Ego, but I wasn't trying to turn LoM into a job.  I was pretty aware that even my meager government job at the time was a better deal than the gig life of trying to make articles about comics a full time job.

I did link a lot to comics news sites.  Newsarama, Robot 6, CBR, The Beat.  This was when they wrote actual think-pieces on comics and hadn't traded their credibility for access, and then the death spiral into listicle sites.  That all came later.  Circa 2003, those sites were excited young adults writing actual articles that had a point of view 

And then... sometimes they linked back.  Which was amazingly weird.  

(End Part 1)

*it's here I want to tell the story of how my family tried to tell me in March of 1998 that the media studio I was working at part time wasn't developing pages that would appear on "the real internet".  Which is as crazy a story as it sounds like.    

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