The first synthetic comic book written with emerging AI, Fastwalkers is a nonlinear meditation on deep learning that celebrates the unexpected poetics of generative computing and explores its potential to form new reader sensibilities.
Born out of Manouach’s ongoing experimentation with the informational abundance and affective economies of comics, this is a wildly vibrant hallucinogenic book in which all text and images have been produced by machine learning. Since its beginnings in the late 19th century the comics industry has expanded symbiotically alongside the development of printing, distribution, and communication technologies. As a highly digitized medium with active online communities, comics lend themselves to the programmatic processes that define machine learning and today synthetic processes are reshaping how we produce, consume, archive and understand all media, including comics. Co-created with the latest AI (GAN, GPT-3), and developed by an interdisciplinary team of computer scientists and designers, Fastwalkers is an amalgamation of different community datasets, proprietary algorithms, indexing regimes, beta testing, and generative models, all trained on millions of data units and text bodies specifically to make this book. The result is a semantic landscape of ambient layers whose harmonies and dissonances reveal the aggregate nature of knowledge exchange in the semiocapitalist age and illuminate the inherent computational qualities of comics to play with the latent space lurking in the reader’s cognition.
Digital comics are at the pulsating center of a global, entertainment industry. Comics are dual objects. They have a use value–for readers– and an exchange value for collectors. Although these two functions are not operating along a clear-cut divide, they sometimes run opposite to each other. Online participatory culture and the medium’s new networked possibilities have intensified the nature of comics beyond the scope of professional, established expertise with new and disruptive forms of entrepreneurial fan culture. Readers now actively scan, translate and distribute online their favorite manga series. ONEPIECE is a product of this expanded digital production belt. ONEPIECE consists of all the volumes of the worldwide bestseller One Piece, assembled into a single book of 21.540 pages. With a spine width of more than 80cm (31.5 inches), this sculptural object cannot be read or displayed in bookstores. ONEPIECE can only be contemplated as a materialisation of digital comics’ very own media-saturated digital ecosystem. ONEPIECE exists only as an object of pure speculation.
Numbered and signed by the artist Published by JBE Books Binding: Elise De Maio With the support of Echo Chamber asbl 21450 pages 12 x 18,5 x 80 cm, 17kg
Edition of 50
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Chimeras (Onassis Publications, 2022) attempts to disassemble and reformulate what one might understand as AI by taking apart both notions of ‘artificiality’ and ‘intelligence’ and seeing what new meaning they produce when recombined. It is a collective glossary that I co-edited with Anna Engelhardt that gathers 150 contributors exploring a variety of epistemic perspectives on artificial intelligence : interspecies, crip, monstrous, feminist, distributed, and decolonial, among others. The glossary draws upon chimerism in order to broaden ‘artificial intelligence’ into ‘synthetic cognition’—an approach that highlights the duality of ‘artificial’ and ‘authentic’, amplifies non-human methods of cognition and anticipates modes of symbiosis.
The adult industry is the hidden engine that drives innovation in tech and Le VTT Comme Je l’Aime is a comic book whose entire entire narrative was composed by a GPT-2 language model trained on tens of thousands of erotic stories. The images are rendered in a 3d environment using the latest OpenGL assets of the dark porn marketplace. It is structured as a series of short confessions and fragments percolated through a machinic subjectivity where most of the genre’s conventions are disrupted: scene props are painstakingly described, characters change gender and sex in a paragraph length in a totally anticlimactic narrative arc. Like The Neural Yorker, with its dry take on cartoons, this book reveals the alien side of arousal. The book received the generous support from Koneen Säätiö – Kone Foundation and the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles/Officiel.
At the crossroads of disability studies, design, comics studies and art, Shapereader was initially designed for comics readers with visual impairment. It is built on a growing repertoire of tactile ideograms (tactigrams) that provide haptic equivalents for all the semantic features of a comics narrative. Shapereader transposes semantic cognition to the reader’s fingertips. Its research was funded by the Kone Foundation in 2015 and its ongoing outreach plan for raising awareness has been unfolding in a variety of formats, contexts and collaborations. It is a transdisciplinary, inclusive project that promotes an embodied, non-retinal, narrative experience with an international outreach unique in the history of comics. More information can be found on the Shapereader website.
In 2021, and in the middle of the global pandemic, Shapereader’s tactile resources are put to use in the field of sonic experimentation and musical notation during a residency at the Vooruit Kunstencentrum. Eighteen performers from a variety of backgrounds, were invited to question the normativity of conventional notation tools, discuss the de-emphasizing of vision in regards to reading music and explore the manifold ways sound can be translated and stimulated by touch. The installation and the two music performances commemorate a certain mutuality, subscribed within a larger sensorial frame of acknowledging the physicality of surfaces, consistencies and forms, a sense of touch which might never be the same again. This is an international coproduction between the Onassis Foundation (GR), Vooruit and C-Takt (BE). The following documentary showcases Shapereader and its tactile resources as a speculative tool of musical notation.
Peanuts minus Schulz brings together a selection of comic strips home brewed by over one thousand deskilled microworkers from twenty different countries commissioned through digital labor services. The operation consists in the reproduction of iconic comic strips using a number of variations devised by Ilan Manouach. Artist and researcher Ilan Manouach advances conceptual comics as an artistic practice devised to disrupt the myth of the solitary genius through the glorification of craftsmanship and fictions of artistic ethos and integrity. Conceptual comics aims to distance source artworks to make the claim for an expanded agency, in this case for the sake of microworkers as a whole. The operation Peanuts minus Schulz reveals the mechanisms at work behind creativity in the making and the potential of the art form in flux when it is informed by the peripheral vision of the interconnected precariat.
«The objectives and outcomes are light years away from what is generally discussed in the context of digital comics. (…) It is the tremendous merit of Ilan Manouach to help focus on the real stakes of the digital turn in comics (and art in general), which are not technological but cultural, that is artistic, social, economic and political.» – Jan Baetens, Leonardo Reviews
France: JBE | 700 pages | softcover edition with flaps | 2021 | 225mm x 160mm
A product of a collaboration between a comics artist, Ilan Manouach and an AI engineer, Ioannis Siglidis, The Neural Yorker is an AI engine that posts synthetic cartoons on Twitter. It is based on a GAN-derived model, developed by Applied Memetic that has been trained on millions of data units whose collection occurs on a variety of different indexing regimes and systems of classification and labeling. The multitude of epistemic regimes is not only thematized here as a metaphor or a theoretical perspective on the increasingly aggregate nature of knowledge production in our computational age, but becomes an operational procedure in the construction of the very same synthetic cartoons.
Media accumulation is productive in its capacity to expand our relation to memory, to contribute to the awareness of different regimes of attention, to broaden our understanding on the environmental footprint of the artistic and publishing production and to rethink the performative aspects of information management as contingent to artistic sensibilities, in terms of what Paul Stephens calls “the poetics of information overload”. Additionally and as creative processes are increasingly shaped by technological affordances, the comics industry is already facing the complex nature of developments in artificial intelligence. The online abundance of digitised media content, available through third-party groups of comics fans, the increasing convenience of programming language frameworks and machine learning libraries, the secularisation of knowledge through e-learning and the plummeting prices in specialised hardware is contributing to reach a critical point where artificial intelligence will profoundly shape the ways we produce, consume, archive and distribute comics artefacts. A more wide adoption of synthetic media, generative processes and predictive algorithms will not only reconfigure existing readerships and markets, but will ultimately force a radical realignement for the practitioners’ artistic ethos and contribute to the formation of new reader sensibilities.
The Cubicle Island Pirates, Microworkers, Spambots and the venatic lore of clickfarm humor is a conceptual comic book project, an experiment with the distributed ramifications of digital labor. The book collects hundreds of desert island cartoons, a genre that reached its peak of popularity in 1957, possibly as an expression of a Cold War fear of the nuclear bomb. I have detexted the original text captions and I solicited microworkers, through the interface of a popular digital labor platform, to submit a funny text between 50-70 words for each one of the cartoons. Microworkers are considered to be the operators of the smallest unit of work in a virtual assembly line. The term microwork describes a series of small tasks that are completed by many people over the Internet to comprise a large unified project, such as this book. Microworkers are most often asked to complete tasks for which no efficient algorithm has yet been devised. Microwork describes the deployment of human labor, and occurs in platform-mediated, zero-hour contract regimes that benefit minimal transactional frictions and the absolute circumvention of applicable minimum wage laws. As a labor force, microworkers find themselves in an important moment in the History of Labor; a stepping stone to Artificial General Intelligence’s exponential acceleration of technology that promises a new era in social and economic abundance.
The Cubicle Island is a durational performance based on 50 years of desert island press cartoons that highlights the extreme isolation that comes with new regimes of work in the making of an international class of precarious cognitive workers. Without sacrificing the cartoon’s semantic complexity and reader engagement, the book puts the emphasis of comics in their digitally distributed, partly human labor. The percolation of the comic strip units through the reader swarm of the digital factories and their cheap algorithmic surrogates, calls into question the primacy of the punchline and the drawing as the defining factors of the cartoon format and the comic industry. The Cubicle Island labors silently through the products of an extremely deskilled textual workforce, both human and non-human, and embraces the epistemic and technological accelerationism put forward by the interconnectedness of the global precarious. In the age of surveillance capitalism’s selective transparency, it thematizes new formations of labor and leisure. Limited print run, published by La Cinquieme Couche (BE) and Forlaens (DK). 1500 pages | hardcover edition | 2020 | 178mm x 254mm | SOLD OUT
Compendium of Franco-Belgian Comics was built following a personal typology of graphemes drawn from a shared reservoir of the 48CC Bande dessinée tradition. The acronym 48CC is a denomination that stands for hardcover, full-color, 48-pages comics books and refers to the industrial standard in bande dessinée. The name was contemptuously christened by the alternative publisher l’Association in order to point to the product of a normative and just-in-time book industry that dominates the French speaking comics publishing landscape. In Compendium one can find a variety of comics proto-memes, metanarrative devices, paratextual elements and building blocks of the European BD that have been extracted from forty-eight different comic books, scanned from cover to cover. The book reads as an orchestral score whose elements, freed from the imperatives of their specific narratives, are newly layered according to the instrument families of a large ensemble. Their arrangement is directly inspired by different compositional techniques of orchestral music and can also be understood as a hybrid between graphic scores in mid-century contemporary music, concrete poetry and poema proceso, scrapbook traditions and comics. The book appeared under the following titles:
Abrégé de bande dessinée franco-belge (Belgium: La Cinquieme Couche, France: L’Endroit, Switzerland: Hélice Hélas), Compendium of Franco-Belgian Comics (Greece: Topovoros, Israel: Gnat, Italy: Fortepressa, Brazil: Antilope) and Visuelt kompendium over konventionelle genretræk i den fransk-belgiske tegneserielitteratur (Denmark: Forlaens). 48 pages | hardcover edition CMYK | 2018 | 250mm x 350mm | SOLD OUT
Katz is a pirated edition of Art Spiegelman’s seminal graphic novel Maus. Katz is an exact copy of the French edition of Maus, with the difference that all the animal characters, have been redrawn as cats. The book was printed on November 2011 and it was seen in public for the first time in January 2012 during the International Comics Festival of Angoulême which ran under Spiegelman’s presidency. Two weeks before the book officially hit the book stores, the lawyers of Flammarion, the copyright holders of the French translation sent to the authors a cease-and-desist letter containing a five hundred page document containing comparison spreads from both Maus and Katz, interviews from Ilan Manouach, and his correspondence with Art Spiegelman. Refusing to take into account the conversational nature of the operation and its very limited printrun, Flammarion framed Katz as a counterfeit product and sought an injunction against the small Belgian press. The destruction of the totality of the print run took place in Brussels on March 15th 2012, in a specialised paper destruction facility.