Five Things: July 11, 2024

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_ONE

Random House Is Buying Boom! Studios | Jim Milliot

Penguin Random House continues its renewed emphasis of making strategic acquisitions with a new agreement to acquire comic book and graphic novel publisher Boom! Studios. The agreement, between the Random House Publishing Group and Boom! founder and chairman Ross Richie, is expected to close later this summer, at which point Boom! will become part of Random House Worlds.

Rumors about a BOOM! acquisition had been in the wind for a while, and while I hadn’t seen any public speculation about PRH being in the mix, it makes total sense to me. At the risk of playing Monday morning quarterback on Sunday afternoon, this should be a mutually beneficial acquisition for almost everyone involved — particularly most BOOM! staff and creators.

PRH gets a solid backlist (that isn’t just a bunch of licensed IP), most of which aligns with existing imprints and offers that sweet corporate synergy. More importantly, it gives them an established comics imprint in a growing market they don’t have to build from scratch, nor worry about raising anti-trust flags. Plus, they already have their own strong distribution operations in the trade, library, and direct markets — something very few publishers can claim. Meanwhile, BOOM! gets a combination of stability, infrastructure, expertise, and capital that not even Marvel and DC have, never mind the rest of their direct market-focused competitors.

If PRH manages this right, it could be their savviest acquisition since Sourcebooks.

__TWO

Pop Culture | Ed Zitron

The reason I so agonizingly picked apart this report is that if Goldman Sachs is saying this, things are very, very bad. It also directly attacks the specific hype-tactics of AI fanatics — the sense that generative AI will create new jobs (it hasn’t in 18 months), the sense that costs will come down (they’re haven’t, and there doesn’t seem to be a path to them doing so in a way that matters), and that there’s incredible demand for these products (there isn’t, and there’s no path to it existing). 

I’m sick of reading and criticizing incredulous takes on AI’s revolutionary and inevitable potential that still can’t offer up a single realistic use case that’s not easily translated as “business executive doesn’t understand (or care) how X actually works” — but the bubble hasn’t peaked yet so the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Zitron takes the less traveled (and much longer) road of digging into the financial and investment side of things, unpacking an unusually sober analysis from Goldman Sachs, noting that it, “like any investment bank, does not care about anyone’s feelings unless doing so is profitable. It will gladly hype anything if it thinks it’ll make a buck.” Literally 100% of AI hype is being driven by people trying to make a buck — either directly, or via the attention it brings them — and I’m seeing that relentless push suck more and more people I used to think knew better into the circus.

And before you dismiss me as a Luddite, you should probably do some actual research on them rather than asking your little AI friend for a summary.

___THREE

Gaming As The Third Place | Matt Miller

I’d assert that the culture may have moved past the concept of a single third place. Whether it’s individual games, shared virtual social spaces, or traditional gathering places of the past, humans are animals that crave connection, and we make communities in the places we can. I don’t think we need to shy away from the interconnectedness that can arise from gaming, even while simultaneously seeking interaction elsewhere.

Other than the earliest days of Scrabulous on Facebook and the glory days of couch co-op with the Wii, I’ve never been much of a social gamer. While I’ve enjoyed several online multiplayer games (Titanfall 2 is still the King), I never turn on chat, and I never play any modes that require active communication beyond pinging locations or the occasional emote.

Miller expands that definition to include other social aspects of gaming that I do value — like YouTube (where I’ll like and subscribe, but never comment!) and Reddit (where I’ll upvote and comment, but rarely initiate a post), mainly for when I’m trying to learn more about a game’s mechanics or lore, or help determine if a particular game is for me. Discord is mostly annoying, and although I appreciate Twitch’s useful role, watching a complete stranger play a game (or worse, be a third-rate comedian while playing a game) has never been appealing to me.

More importantly, though, I’ve watched my own kids (now both 20-somethings) grow up in a world where gaming is social by default. While they also have shared memories of the Wii, their gaming world seamlessly includes Discord, Reddit, Twitch, and YouTube. They happily play games where communication is required, and they still communicate while playing games that don’t require it. During the worst of the pandemic, their social lives were less disrupted because hanging out online with friends was already a natural thing for them, and as quarantines faded and in-person gatherings became more comfortable, they still didn’t abandon those online spaces.

Libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, and bars may be traditional third places for many people, but ignoring how the internet has changed that for so many others would be a mistake — especially for anyone engaging with gamers.

____FOUR

Seeing in 2D | Jill Moorhead

“I told James Cameron that I could see 3D. The work we did on Avatar was contingent on our ability to see what he was doing, and all of Avatar was in 3D, even the pre-release files. My team members could see the proper image, but it all looked like a mess to me. The studio told me that to do my job I needed to discern the quality. But I had to fake it because I had monocular vision. To me, the world was flat. Always has been.”

I first met Jeff Gomez during my earliest explorations of transmedia, and he’s always been one of the most insightful and generous practitioners I turn to whenever I want to understand what’s happening in that space. This story isn’t really about any of that, though; not directly, at least.

Instead, it’s an inspiring story of the obstacles he had to deal with on the road to becoming one of the leading practitioners in his field, and the life-changing experience that led to him literally seeing the real world in 3D for the first time.

If you like nerdy brain science combined with inspirational human-interest stories, this is a must-read. (And even if you don’t, read it anyway!)

_____FIVE

Birthing the Jersey Devil | Katherine Churchill

Today, New Jersey has some of the most progressive abortion laws in the country. Across the nation, however, access to reproductive healthcare is rapidly eroding as states reinstate antique bans and punish women for miscarriages. With the ever-present possibility of a federal ban, the Jersey Devil is a haunting reminder that when reproductive rights disappear, horror ensues.

I’ve been to the Pine Barrens and thought I knew the basics about the Jersey Devil, but the idea that he’s actually a folk horror tale related to the anti-abortion movement of the 1800s was a fascinating and, unfortunately, timely read.


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