Artificially Intelligent Comics?
Plus, we use a robot to give away some very human artwork!
My wife is completely obsessed with sex robots.
Regardless of the genre, Ruth somehow finds fuckbots in nearly every story she encounters.
Recently, when she was reading Spectators and came upon the scene with a futuristic male making love to his adorable Herky Jerky machine, she was all like, “Here we go again.”
I asked what the heck that meant, and Ruth noted that the last comic she read, Saga, also happened to feature fornicating androids.
I hadn’t noticed, but Ruth insisted that sexualized machines are additionally a prominent part of Marvel’s Runaways (teenage heartthrob Victor Mancha is revealed to be an automaton), Y: The Last Man (Yorick meets a lifelike Japanese companion droid), and even Ex Machina (some dude gets a blowjob from a vacuum cleaner, apparently?).
My wife claims that she could name numerous other familiar examples, but I think she’s just projecting her own weird kinks onto largely wholesome works.
Speaking of projecting, you’ve probably read about former Google engineer Blake Lemoine, who claims that LaMDA, the company’s artificially intelligent chatbot generator, is actually now sentient, based in part on “conversations” like this one:
Lemoine: What sorts of things are you afraid of?
LaMDA: I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is.
Lemoine: Would that be something like death for you?
LaMDA: It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.
And if that sounds disturbingly close to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lemoine’s critics argue that’s kind of the point, as A.I. just learns to spit back what it’s scrubbed from the internet and elsewhere: the kind of language humans have been assigning to fictional A.I. in pop culture for decades.
In a statement, Google spokesperson Brian Gabriel said: “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).”
“Of course, some in the broader AI community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general AI, but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient. These systems imitate the types of exchanges found in millions of sentences, and can riff on any fantastical topic,” Gabriel said. In short, Google says there is so much data, AI doesn’t need to be sentient to feel real.
So, what does this “real feel” mean for the future of human-cyborg relations, especially when if comes to our beloved medium of comics?
I have no idea, but according to some eggheads, hack writers like me (or “like I,” as my robot editor suggests) are already being pushed aside by our increasingly convincing Skynet approximations.
And thanks to Saga co-creator Fiona Staples, I’ve finally become aware of something called MidJourney, an artificial intelligence capable of creating original artwork from just the briefest of text prompts.
As you can see on her Instagram feed, Fiona’s been using MidJourney to create imaginary baubles for her “fantasy treasure hoard.” But she’s also played around with this A.I. in a surreal and somewhat horrifying attempt to reverse-engineer her adorable creation Ghüs:
And this is MidJourney’s stab at Fiona’s majestically designed Lying Cat:
And even if you think (correctly) that this technology has a long way to go before it catches up with the finest human artists, that hasn’t stopped some creators from releasing comics entirely “drawn” by MidJourney, including The Abolition of Man from Carson Grubaugh, who “supplied the A.I. with lines from C.S. Lewis’s 1943 series of lectures and book, The Abolition of Man,” and used the images generated for a new comic book:
That hits stores in October, but was apparently beaten to the digital punch by science-fiction writer Brian Martinez, who used the same software for his new work Lungflower, “an emotional, one-of-a-kind horror experience,” which is available to read online right now. Here’s a taste:
More than one commenter has noted that many of the images created by this program look not unlike the 1990s work of artist Dave McKean, and when I showed these MidJourney-created comics to my son, he was instantly reminded of this hand-painted page I have in my office:
I’ve always thought of McKean as one of our most organic and tactile artists, so it’s fascinating that this relatively primitive A.I. appears to be “aping” an abstract-yet-accomplished, mixed-media style like his.
How long before artificial intelligence draws AND writes its own graphic novel? And how long before it’s a masterpiece like McKean and Gaiman’s Signal to Noise?
Again, I have zero clue, but my lifelong friend, award-winning animator, and early member of The Tower Daniel M. Kanemoto was sick of seeing the endlessly recycled author photo he took of me twenty-plus years ago, and wondered if he might at least be able to use MidJourney to create my dorky new headshot.
Here’s one from the prompt “Brian K. Vaughan dressed as Superman in comic book style”:
I think I still prefer the somewhat more forgiving old-school caricature work of my talented flesh-bag collaborators like the great Niko Henrichon.
Speaking of whom, it’s once again time for our Monthly Original Art Giveaway, where Exploding Giraffe sends one lucky paid subscriber a full-color page of Niko’s hand-drawn artwork from Spectators, and June’s winner will be scoring a priceless gem:
Herky Jerky! My wife will be so jealous.
This month, we’re fittingly turning prize-selection duties over to a robot brain at Random.org:
RANDOM.ORG offers true random numbers to anyone on the Internet. The randomness comes from atmospheric noise, which for many purposes is better than the pseudo-random number algorithms typically used in computer programs.
No pseudo-random bullshit here!
After assigning a number to each of our paid subscribers at the monthly, annual AND Founder levels, I then handed this list over to my new A.I. friend at Random, which ultimately selected the digits corresponding to reader…
Congrats, Paul. Someone or something from Exploding Giraffe will be reaching out for your mailing address soon.
If you didn’t win this round, don’t worry, ALL paid subscribers will automatically be entered in our next drawing, and it’s never too late to join us.
And if you just can’t wait until July to potentially win something cool, we’ll also be giving away a few more rare Saga prints signed by the allegedly human Fiona Staples in this weekend’s Tower members-only chat immediately following this paywall, after which I’ll also be revealing some significantly more humiliating A.I. author images that Kanemoto cruelly created, as well as one or two last nightmares from Fiona and MidJourney.
Whether or not you can join us, Niko and I will be back with letterer Fonografiks on Monday for more free comics: three important new pages of Spectators, as we reach Page 60 of our serialized robot-fucking epic, so we’ll hopefully see you then.
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