- A year in illustration, 2023 edition: I amuse myself, at least.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2013, 2018, 2022
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
A year in illustration, 2023 edition (permalink)
I am objectively very bad at visual art. I am bad at vision, period – I'm astigmatic, shortsighted, color blind, and often miss visual details others see. I can't even draw a stick-figure. To top things off, I have cataracts in both eyes and my book publishing/touring schedule is so intense that I keep having to reschedule the surgeries. But despite my vast visual deficits, I thoroughly enjoy making collages for this blog.
For many years now – decades – I've been illustrating my blog posts by mixing public domain and Creative Commons art with work that I can make a good fair use case for. As bad as art as I may be, all this practice has paid off. Call it unseemly, but I think I'm turning out some terrific illustrations – not all the time, but often enough.
Last year, I rounded up my best art of the year:
And I liked reflecting on the year's art so much, I decided I'd do it again. Be sure to scroll to the bottom for some downloadables – freely usable images that I painstakingly cut up with the lasso tool in The Gimp.
The original AD&D hardcover cover art is seared into my psyche. For several years, there were few images I looked at so closely as these. When Hasbro pulled some world-beatingly sleazy stuff with the Open Gaming License, I knew just how to mod Dave Trampier's 'Eve Of Moloch' from the cover of the Players' Handbook. Thankfully, bigger nerds than me have identified all the fonts in the image, making the remix a doddle.
Even though I don't keep logs or collect any analytics, I can say with confidence that "Tiktok's Enshittification" was the most popular thing I published on Pluralistic this year. I mixed some public domain Brother's Grimm art, mixed with a classic caricature of Boss Tweed, and some very cheesy royalty-free/open access influencer graphics. One gingerbread cottage social media trap, coming up:
To illustrate the idea of overcoming walking-the-plank fear (as a metaphor for writing when it feels like you suck) I mixed public domain stock of a plank, a high building and legs, along with a procedurally generated Matrix "code waterfall" and a vertiginous spiral ganked from a Heinz Bunse photo of a German office lobby.
Finding a tasteful way to illustrate a story about Johnson & Johnson losing a court case after it spent a generation tricking women into dusting their vulvas with asbestos-tainted talcum was a challenge. The tulip (featured in many public domain images) was a natural starting point. I mixed it with Jesse Wagstaff's image of a Burning Man dust-storm and Mike Mozart's shelf-shot of a J&J talcum bottle.
"Google's Chatbot Panic" is about Google's long history of being stampeded into doing stupid things because its competitors are doing them. Once it was Yahoo, now it's Bing. Tenniel's Tweedle Dee and Dum were a good starting point. I mixed in one of several Humpty Dumpty editorial cartoon images from 19th century political coverage that I painstakingly cut out with the lasso tool on a long plane-ride. This is one of my favorite Humpties, I just love the little 19th C businessmen trying to keep him from falling! I finished it off with HAL 9000's glowing red eye, my standard 'this is about AI' image, which I got from Cryteria's CC-licensed SVG.
Though I started writing about Luddites in my January, 2022 Locus column, 2023 was the Year of the Luddite, thanks to Brian Merchant's outstanding Blood In the Machine:
When it came time to illustrate "Gig Work Is the Opposite of Steampunk," I found a public domain weaver's loft, and put one of Cryteria's HAL9001 eyes in the window. Magpie Killjoy's Steampunk Magazine poster, 'Love the Machine, Hate the Factory,' completed the look.
For the "small, non-profit school" that got used as an excuse to bail out Silicon Valley Bank, I brought back Humpty Dumpty, mixing him with a Hogwartsian castle, a brick wall texture, and an ornate, gilded frame. I love how this one came out. This Humpty was made for the SVB bailout.
The RESTRICT Act would have federally banned Tiktok – a proposal that was both technically unworkable and unconstitutional. I found an early 20th century editorial cartoon depicting Uncle Sam behind a fortress wall that was keeping a downtrodden refugee family out of America. I got rid of most of the family, giving the dad a Tiktok logo head, and I put Cryteria's HAL9000 eyes over each cannonmouth. Three Boss Tweed moneybag-head caricatures, adorned with Big Tech logos, rounded it out.
When Flickr took decisive action to purge the copyleft trolls who'd been abusing its platform, I knew I wanted to illustrate this with Lucifer being cast out of heaven, and the very best one of those comes from John Milton, who is conveniently well in the public domain. The Flickr logo suggested a bicolored streaming-light-of-heaven motif that just made it.
Old mainframe ads are a great source of stock for a "Computer Says No" image. And Congress being a public building, there are lots of federal (and hence public domain) images of its facade.
When I wrote about the Clarence Thomas/Harlan Crow bribery scandal, it was easy to find Mr. Kjetil Ree's great image of the Supreme Court building. Thomas being a federal judge, it was easy to find a government photo of his head, but it's impossible to find an image of him in robes at a decent resolution. Luckily, there are tons of other federal judges who've been photographed in their robes! Boss Tweed with the dollar-sign head was a great stand-in for Harlan Crow (no one knows what he looks like anyway). Gilding Thomas's robes was a simple matter of superimposing a gold texture and twiddling with the layers.
"Gig apps trap reverse centaurs in wage-stealing Skinner boxes" is one of my best titles. This is the post where I introduce the idea of "twiddling" as part of the theory of enshittification, and explain how it relates to "reverse centaurs" – people who assist machines, rather than the other way around. Finding a CC licensed modular synth was much harder than I thought, but I found Stephen Drake's image and stitched it into a mandala. Cutting out the horse's head for the reverse centaur was a lot of work (manes are a huuuuge pain in the ass), but I love how his head sits on the public domain high-viz-wearing warehouse worker's body I cut up (thanks, OSHA!). Seeing as this is an horrors-of-automation story, Cryteria's HAL9000 eyes make an appearance.
Rockefeller's greatest contribution to our culture was inspiring many excellent unflattering caricatures. The IWW's many-fists-turning-into-one-fist image made it easy to have the collective might of workers toppling the original robber-baron.
I link to this post explaining how to make good Mastodon threads at least once a week, so it's a good thing the graphic turned out so well. Close-cropping the threads from a public domain yarn tangle worked out great. Eugen Rochko's Mastodon logo was and is the only Affero-licensed image ever to appear on Pluralistic.
I spent hours on the sofa one night painstakingly cutting up and reassembling the cover art from a science fiction pulp. I have a folder full of color-corrected, high-rez scans from an 18th century anatomy textbook, and the cross-section head-and-brain is the best of the lot.
Those old French anatomical drawings are an endless source of delight to me. Take one cross-sectioned noggin, mix in an old PC mainboard, and a vector art illo of a virtuous cycle with some of Cryteria's HAL9000 eyes and you've got a great illustration of Google's brain-worms.
Ireland's privacy regulator is but a plaything in Big Tech's hand, but it's goddamned hard to find an open-access Garda car. I manually dressed some public domain car art in Garda livery, painstakingly tracing it over the panels. The (public domain) baby's knit cap really hides the seams from replacing the baby's head with HAL9000's eye.
Naked-guy-in-a-barrel bankruptcy images feel like something you can find in an old Collier's or Punch, but I came up snake-eyes and ended up frankensteining a naked body into a barrel for the George Washington crest on the Washington State flag. It came out well, but harvesting the body parts from old muscle-beach photos left George with some really big guns. I tried five different pairs of suspenders here before just drawing in black polyhedrons with little grey dots for rivets.
Illustrating Amazon's dominance over the EU coulda been easy – just stick Amazon 'A's in place of the yellow stars that form a ring on the EU flag. So I decided to riff on Plutarch's Alexander, out of lands to conquer. Rama's statue legs were nice and high-rez. I had my choice of public domain ruin images, though it was harder thank expected to find a good Amazon box as a plinth for those broken-off legs.
God help me, I could not stop playing with this image of a demon-haunted IoT car. All those reflections! The knife sticking out of the steering wheel, the multiple Munsch 'Scream'ers, etc etc. The more I patchked with it, the better it got, though. This one's a banger.
To depict a "data-driven dictatorship," I ganked elements of heavily beribboned Russian military dress uniforms, replacing the head with HAL9000's eye. I turned the foreground into the crowds from the Nuremberg rallies and filled the sky with Matrix code waterfall.
The best thing about analogizing DRM to demonic possession is the wealth of medieval artwork to choose from . This one comes from the 11th century 'Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros.' I mixed in the shiny red Tesla (working those reflections!), and a Tesla charger to make my point.
Yet more dividends from those old French anatomical plates: a flayed skull, a detached jaw, a quack electronic gadget, a Wachowski code waterfall and some HAL 9000 eyes and you've got a truly unsettling image of machine-compelled speech.
I had no idea this would work out so well, but daaaamn, crossfading between a Wachowski code waterfall and a motherboard behind a roiling thundercloud is dank af.
Of all the turkeys-voting-for-Christmas self-owns conservative culture warriors fall for, few can rival the "banning junk fees is woke" hustle. Slap a US-flag Punisher logo on and old-time card imprinter, add a GOP logo to a red credit-card blank, and then throw in a rustic barn countertop and you've got a junk-fee extracter fit for the Cracker Barrel.
Putting the Verizon logo on the Hinderberg was an obvious gambit (even if I did have to mess with the flames a lot), but the cutout of Paul Marcarelli as the 'can you hear me now?' guy, desaturated and contrast-matched, made it sing.
Note to self: Tux the Penguin is really easy to source in free/open formats! He looks great with HAL9000 eyes.
Rockwell's self-portrait image is a classic; that made it a natural for a HAL9000-style remix about AI art. I put a bunch of time into chopping and remixing Rockwell's signature to give it that AI look, and added as many fingers as would fit on each hand.
The West Midlands Police were kind enough to upload a high-rez of their surveillance camera control room to Flickr under a CC license (they've since deleted it), and it was the perfect frame for dozens of repeating clown images with HAL9000 red noses. This worked out great. The clown face is from a 1940s ad for novelty masks.
I spent an absurd amount of time transforming a photo I took of three pinball machines into union-busting themed tables, pulling in a bunch of images from old Soviet propaganda art. An editorial cartoon of Teddy Roosevelt with his big stick takes center stage, while a NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo's official portrait presides over the scene. I hand-made the eight-segment TILT displays.
Working with the highest-possible rez sources makes all the difference in the world. Syvwlch's extremely high-rez paint-scraper is a gift to people writing about web-scraping, and the Matrix code waterfall mapped onto it like butter.
This old TWA ad depicting a young man eagerly pitching an older man has incredible body-language – so much so that when I replaced their heads with raw meat, the intent and character remained intact. I often struggle for background to put behind images like this, but high-rez currency imagery, with the blown up intaglio, crushes it.
I transposed Photoshop instructions for turning a face into a zombie into Gimp instructions to make Zombie Uncle Sam. The guy looking at his watch kills me. He's from an old magazine illustration about radio broadcasting. What a face!
The mansplaining guy from the TWA ad is back, but this time he's telling a whopper. It took so much work to give him that Pinnocchio nose. Clearly, he's lying about capitalism, hence the Atlas Shrugged cover. Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" makes for an excellent, public domain hellscape fit for a nonconensual pitch about the miracle of capitalism.
There's no better image for stories about techbros scamming rubes than Bosch's 'The Conjurer.' Throw in Jeff Bezos's head and an Amazon logo and you're off to the races. I boobytrapped this image by adding as many fingers as I could fit onto each of these figures in the hopes that someone could falsely accuse me of AI-generating this. No one did.
Once again, it's Bosch to the rescue. Slap a different smiley-face emoji on each of the tormented figures in 'Garden of Earthly Delights' and you've got a perfect metaphor for the 'brand safety' problem of hard news dying online because brands don't want to be associated with unpleasant things, and the news is very unpleasant indeed.
I really struggle to come up with images for my linkdump posts. I'm running out of ways to illustrate assortments and varieties. I got to noodling with a Kellogg's mini-cereal variety pack and I realized it was the perfect place for a vicious gorilla image I'd just found online in a WWI propaganda poster headed 'Destroy This Mad Brute.' I put so many fake AI tells in this one – extra pupils, extra fingers, a super-AI-esque Kellogg's logo.
Bloodletting is the perfect metaphor for using rate-hikes to fight inflation. A vintage image of the Treasury, spattered with blood, makes a great backdrop. For the foreground, a medieval woodcut of bloodletting quacks – give one the head of Larry Summers, the other, Jerome Powell. For the patient, use Uncle Sam's head.
I killed a long videoconference call slicing up an old pulp cover showing a killer robot zapping a couple of shrunken people in bell-jars. It was the ideal image to illustrate Big Tech's enshittification, especially when it was decorated with some classic tech slogans.
There's something meditative about manually cutting out Tenniel engravings from Alice – the Jabberwock was insane. But it was worth it for this Tron-inflected illustration using a distorted Cartesian grid to display the enormous difference between e/acc and AI doomers, and everyone else in the world.
Multilayer source images for your remixing pleasure:
- Scientist in chemlabhttps://craphound.com/images/scientist-in-chem-lab.psd
- Humpty Dumpty and the millionaires
- Demon summoning
- Killer Robot and People in Bell Jars
- TWA mansplainer
- Impatient boss
- Destroy This Mad Brute
(Images: Heinz Bunse, West Midlands Police, Christopher Sessums, CC BY-SA 2.0; Mike Mozart, Jesse Wagstaff, Stephen Drake, Steve Jurvetson, syvwlch, Doc Searls, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mosaic36/14231376315, Chatham House, CC BY 2.0; Cryteria, CC BY 3.0; Mr. Kjetil Ree, Trevor Parscal, Rama, “Soldiers of Russia” Cultural Center, Russian Airborne Troops Press Service, CC BY-SA 3.0; Raimond Spekking, CC BY 4.0; Drahtlos, CC BY-SA 4.0; Eugen Rochko, Affero; modified)
Hey look at this (permalink)
This day in history (permalink)
#10yrsago Celebrate the crossword’s centenary with EFF’s NSA-themed crossword puzzle https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/12/crossword-what-did-we-learn-about-nsa-year
#10yrsago Politwoops! Which US politicians deleted the largest number of social media posts in 2013? https://sunlightfoundation.com/2013/12/20/politwoops-2013-the-years-top-politicians-and-their-best-deletions-from-twitter/
#10yrsago US Department of Defense’s public domain archive to be privatized, locked up for ten years https://www.techdirt.com/2013/12/23/defense-department-privatizes-giant-public-domain-media-archive/
#10yrsago Jaunty, Xmassy steampunk assemblage clock sculpture https://memex.craphound.com/2013/12/21/jaunty-xmassy-steampunk-assemblage-clock-sculpture/
#10yrsago Royal Society appoints a Wikipedian-in-Residence https://wikimedia.org.uk/2013/12/royal-society-appoints-wikimedian-in-residence/
#10yrsago Prisoner on literary censorship in Guantanamo Bay https://www.newstatesman.com/uncategorized/2013/12/why-russell-brand-banned-gitmo
#5yrsago Syracuse cops falsely accuse man of rectal dope-stashing and take him to hospital for nonconsensual anal probe; now he must pay $4600 for the procedure https://www.syracuse.com/crime/2018/12/syracuse-cops-push-st-joes-to-probe-mans-rectum-for-drugs-what-country-are-we-living-in.html
#5yrsago Bryan Adams to Canadian parliament: extending the term of copyright enriches labels and other intermediaries, not artists https://www.michaelgeist.ca/2018/12/bryan-adamscopyrightwarning/
#5yrsago Facing unpaid overtime, cuts and austerity, French cops threaten to join Gilets Jaunes protesters https://www.newsweek.com/france-protests-police-strike-gilets-jaunes-yellow-vests-pay-overtime-1264961
#5yrsago Congressional Democratic establishment wants to replace “Green New Deal” with a climate committee of oil money recipients https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kathy-castor-climate_n_5c1c0843e4b08aaf7a869cfd
#1yrago How Apple could open its App Store without really opening its App Store https://pluralistic.net/2022/12/21/malicious-compliance/#dma
Today's top sources:
* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025
* The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024
* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Latest podcast: The Internet’s Original Sin https://craphound.com/news/2023/12/17/the-internets-original-sin/)
* Internet Con (Peculiar Book Club), Jan 11
* Enshittification: A Monopoly Story (Macro n Cheese)
* Science Fiction and the Future of Science
* AI needs to work with humans — not replace us (CBC IDEAS)
* "The Lost Cause:" a solarpunk novel of hope in the climate emergency, Tor Books (US), Head of Zeus (UK), November 2023 (http://lost-cause.org). Signed, personalized copies at Dark Delicacies (https://www.darkdel.com/store/p3007/Pre-Order_Signed_Copies%3A_The_Lost_Cause_HB.html#/)
* "The Internet Con": A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech (Verso) September 2023 (http://seizethemeansofcomputation.org). Signed copies at Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/book/9781804291245).
* "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.
* "Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59?sk=f6cd10e54e20a07d4c6d0f3ac011af6b) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
* The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024
* Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
* Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025
This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.
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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla