Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

Calendars: SOLD OUT. Engineering: STILL LOUD.

All copies of the 2012 Wondermark Calendar have been spoken for. Thanks so much! We’re busily printing all this week, and if all continues to go well I expect we will be mailing them out starting this Saturday.

I also noticed that TopatoCo is currently sold out of Engineering shirts in most guy sizes, and I do not expect them to restock before Christmas. Just to cover the gap, I’ve put a few up in my own store for the time being, just whatever I have on hand.

A few people have written to tell me that they saw a shirt with this same slogan in the Signals catalog, or on their website. They are right to think that it was done without my knowledge or approval — I’d never let a design this ugly go out:

This is a tricky situation — legally, you cannot copyright a short phrase or slogan. (That’s why you can see stupid slogans like “FBI: Female Body Inspector” on fifty million different T-shirts in fifty million different tourist shops.) A design is copyrightable, but in this case they only used the words. You can trademark a slogan, but that costs a fair amount of money, and I hadn’t done that. (Maybe I should.)

Anyway, Signals and similar catalog shops are in the business of being everything to all people. There is no philosophy; there is no creative point of view. There’s just “Ah! Someone might identify with this. Let’s put it on a shirt and see if we can sell a bunch.” Apparently someone thought that my shirt design was just another free-floating slogan ripe for appropriation.

So I wrote them an email. The reason I’m sharing this story — when I usually don’t bother to bring up situations like this, and give attention to entities that deserve to die in obscurity — is because I thought my approach might be instructive.

The knee-jerk response is “Cease and desist! Sue! Call a lawyer!” This implies that (a) the issue cannot be solved through more amicable means, and (b) I have a lot of time and money to throw at this kind of problem. The latter is not true, and I like to at least allow for the chance that the former isn’t either. There’s a lot of double negatives in that sequence, so I’ll restate: Being aggressive puts people on the defensive. Being friendly gets people to help you.

Also, always give the party in the wrong the ability to back off gracefully.

Learning this is one of the biggest things that has helped me in life: avoid putting people on the defensive. Sometimes it is necessary to be firm, or to express dissatisfaction, or to press for remedy of a situation. But I have never found yelling and shouting to be the easiest way to that end — at least, not as an opener.

Here’s the email I wrote, in part:

Hello! I was referred to this email address by Signals customer support. Please let me know if I have the right place!

I’m the creator of the comic strip “Wondermark” and the originator of the slogan: “Engineering: Like Math, But Louder.” I first published it in a comic strip in June 2010:

I also sell a T-shirt with the slogan:

A reader brought your “Engineering T-Shirt” to my attention: [link]. And I see you also sell a similar sweatshirt.

I double-checked with my licensing department and we have no record of any paperwork or payment from Signals for use of the slogan on a T-shirt. If this is an oversight, I would be pleased to send an invoice for the licensing. Otherwise, I must insist that your shirt be removed from sale.

I’m sure it was an honest mistake and I’m happy to assist in setting things right. Thanks very much, and please contact me with any questions! I look forward to hearing from you by October 28.


David Malki !
[email address, phone number]

I was forwarded up the chain to somebody with authority. This person eventually said, in essence, “We’re within our rights to make our version. But you know what? Yours is a much better design. We’d like to license yours instead.”

Always leave them a graceful out. So, the spring Signals catalog will feature my version of the Engineering design.

Should you all rush out and buy the shirt when it becomes available? No, absolutely not. Their royalties are horrible — like, beyond horrible and into the realm of insulting. But considering that all I wanted was for them to stop selling the ugly version, any royalty at all is a nice bonus. And considering that someone may have submitted that slogan to them and thus stood to earn their own royalties on sales of the knockoffs…that’s not right.

I’m pleased that this situation ended (more or less) amicably. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I am living proof that it is possible to assert your rights without being rude or making enemies.

ALSO: Thank you very much for bringing this sort of thing to my attention. You are my eyes and ears. A quick email or tweet whenever you see something like this is very appreciated. I will reward you…with e-smiles

On the idea of reclamation

(A barnwood desk from Woodland Creek Furniture)

I thought I would take a moment to address a question that’s come up before, but has been asked again recently upon the announcement of my Hendrick’s Artist Box — whether I really do cut up old books and magazines, and whether such a thing is proper. Marksman Gemmel D. wrote me today:

Dear Mr. Malki,

I discovered your web comic a few months ago, and it has made me laugh countless times. You are a truly creative person, with a sense of humour I can appreciate.

That being said, I fear I must admit to being appalled at the way you decorated your box for the Hendrick’s Gin Curate a Box project.

I understand that you make collages of 19th century images to create your pieces, but I naively assumed that you made copies, not that you actually cut up these publications.

I must say I am a little upset. Old books, magazines and newspapers are important artifacts; They tell us things about our history and our society that the history books can’t. In fact, they are a priceless resource for historians and genealogists, sociologists and anthropologists.

If it can be avoided, they shouldn’t be destroyed, even to make art.

Please don’t think I’m being pushy or overbearing, but Is there any way you could make or use copies of these texts, and preserve the originals for future posterity? You must have a large collection of fine pieces – the pages used for the Hendrick’s box were from Scientific American and Punch magazine. I don’t need to tell you that Punch was one the first satirical magazines, and great writers like William Makepeace Thackeray wrote for it.

Any library or University would probably love to have your collection in later years. Your collection could be invaluable for future generations, but not if it is cut to bits.

If you read all the way to the end of this e-mail, I thank you for hearing me out. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your work; I know nothing about art, and can’t even draw a straight line properly. I’ll even understand if you’re angry at me. But I do feel that we should preserve as much of our past as we possibly can.

This is a serious issue, and one that I want to clarify for the record. Here’s the response I wrote:

Thanks for the note. I agree that old things have value, and should be preserved. That’s part of why I love doing Wondermark — I get to take things that very few people get to see nowadays, and reinvent them and share them with a wider audience.

To make my regular comics, I work entirely from digital scans of the original work. I have a large library that is not depleted in any way by the work I do.

But to make the Hendrick’s box, I wanted to do something different. I perhaps did not make clear enough that the work I cut up for the box was all, essentially, trash — the Punch pages were from a volume that was rotting and falling apart; the Dickens covers were received in a dusty box that was basically just a heap of paper. I have made a habit of accepting, and deliberately acquiring, material like this that otherwise would just go in the garbage. I buy books on eBay with tobacco stains, children’s crayon marks and missing covers that collectors and historians have no want nor need of. The life I give them, in the main, is life they otherwise would not have.

I have not made that as clear as I perhaps could have, for folks who are less familiar with my process than I myself am. I hope that sets your mind at ease somewhat.

It would be a tragedy to tear down a barn simply to make a desk. But I believe it is an art to take the planks from a barn that has already been condemned, and make a lovely desk from them. Thanks for the email, Gemmel.

Antlerman REVEALED

More than one person has written in asking about the bike-rider character from Comic #684! Well, his name is Malfidactus O’Rourke and he is originally from Duluth. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and he plays racquetball when he can find a partner who likes to go early on weekdays. He lives in a two-bedroom townhouse just outside of Chicago and he recently had a terrible, terrible hunting accident.

The LAST WORD on the Oenophile’s Quandary??

It is high praise for a question-poser indeed when a totally independent third party is provoked to write over 1600 words in response to all facets of the question — all of it interesting and civil.

Such is the case today. Mr. Ryan O’Connell, a winemaker in France, has taken my exploration of the Oenophile’s Quandary and explored it even further:

If optimal stopping applies to the oenophile’s quandary, it’s because the oenophile must settle on a date to consume each bottle. In that sense, each bottle has a stopping problem where the oenophile must decide to wait for a better occasion to drink the wine. So really, you’re not choosing wines. You’re choosing dates. And the quality of the wine has very little to do with the enjoyment. It’s more the context in which you consume the wine. In this sense, the quality of improvement over time is less relevant and the oenophile’s quandary is reduced to an expression of optimal stopping. Is quality of improvement over time a necessary condition? No. You can lose quality of improvment over time and you’ll still have a basic stopping problem because some days will be better than others for drinking that special bottle.

YOU TOOK THE BAIT RYAN AHA HA HA seriously I love it when folks do this.

ALSO: A commenter points us in the direction of the actual paper in which Dr. Dixit used Elaine (from Seinfeld)’s critical contraceptive-sponge shortage to determine the numbers alluded to in my previous post. Here it is! (PDF)

Revisiting the Oenophile’s Quandary

In last week’s comic #654, my characters discuss a philosophical question known as the Oenophile’s Quandary — when to enjoy something that is being saved for a special occasion, and which in fact even improves with time. Of course, I made up the Oenophile’s Quandary, as I do every plausible-sounding fact that somehow worms its way into Wondermark (including this fact stating that fact), but a few kind readers followed up with me with additional information on the topic.

In a tweet, @flyingpawn pointed me to an economist’s answer to essentially this exact question:

Dear Economist,
I have inherited six bottles of excellent wine, which I plan to consume, over time, on special occasions. But how do I know when to open a bottle when I don’t know what occasions lie ahead? I don’t want to use up all the bottles within a few months on mediocre occasions, but neither do I still want to be hoarding them until I die.

I am pleased to announce that the question is answered definitively in the article, with numbers, the answer attributed to economist Avinash Dixit. There are some base assumptions made in the calculation, so it may not apply to every unique situation, but at least someone’s taken a stab at it and for most people it’s just nice to have someone else tell them an answer that sounds pretty authoritative.

In trying to track down the actual calculations done by Dr. Dixit, or any substantiation at all of the answer, I learned that the Oenophile’s Quandary may not be a question of philosophy but rather of mathematics — in particular, the theory of “optimal stopping” as applied in statistics or economics. An article in American Scientist puts it this way:

A decision maker observes a process evolving in time that involves some randomness. Based only on what is known, he or she must make a decision on how to maximize reward or minimize cost. In some cases, little is known about what’s coming. In other cases, information is abundant. In either scenario, no one predicts the future with full certainty. Fortunately, the powers of probability sometimes improve the odds of making a good choice.

Economists put equations to these questions, assuming that each variable has some hard quantifiable element to it. For Oenophile’s Quandary questions to rest in the realm of philosophy, then, they must deal with purely subjective issues. May the quality of aging wine be measured objectively?

A tweet from @OldMiner pointed me to this article about the aging of wine:

MYTH: Old wine tastes better than new wine.
REALITY: Although all wines change with age, very few wines noticeably improve beyond a few months and wine maturity does have its limits.
MY CONTENTIONS: Part of the problem is that some wine increases in monetary value as it gets older. The public fails to grasp that the value only rises because of the wine’s increasing rarity, not its increasing quality.

So where does this leave us? Wine may still be good (as in the question at the top of this post) without necessarily improving with age. Is the quality of improvement over time a necessary condition of the Oenophile’s Quandary? Is the question of enjoyment one that can be answered with economics, or should it be left to philosophy? What occasions have caused you to crack open a special bottle of whatever? Leave a comment and let us know!