As anyone familiar with mythology or fantasy literature can tell you, names are important. Remember that part in The Book of Three
by Lloyd Alexander when that princely guy speaks the name of the Horned King and makes him go poof? Don't feel bad if you don't remember -- it's been roughly a decade since I read that series, so that might not have ever happened. Whatever the case, take my word for it, names hold power and stuff. And when you create something and prepare to spring it on the world, you may find that naming it could be the most challenging part.
I think Dan, Kai, Tony and I agonized more over what name to agree upon than over any other aspect of this comic project. When we started this comic last summer, we had a very similar vision in mind between us: we knew it was going to be about us, the strips based on real events or whatever ridiculous situations we could invent. We knew what sort of direction we wanted to go in, even though the concept of "a web comic about its geeky creators" seemed kind of derivative. We had some drawings, we had some jokes.
And then we had to name the sucker.
I wish I could say that a civil war of cosmic proportions ensued. That would make for a really dramatic column, and it makes me think of those old Infinity Gauntlet comics. But what actually happened was that we came up with a ridiculously long list of names and sent countless emails to bounce ideas off one another. I felt personally crushed a little bit each time I suggested a name I thought was sheer brilliance and it got ignored by everyone in favor of the name I'd tossed out in the name of quantity over quality. I was especially annoyed that one of my personal favorite names was already taken by another online comic, "Idle Minds." Some other names we kicked around included "Uncommon Sense," "Worse Than Suck," "Blissful Ignorance," "Geek Show," "Silicon Graveyard," and one of my personal favorites, "Punch the Monkey." That name referred to the ubiquitous ad banner that displays a monkey that you can try to hit with a boxing glove using your cursor. If I remember correctly, that was Kai's favorite for a while (Kai, like myself, has something of a monkey fetish, I think). That name fell from favor, despite Kai's support for it, because we were afraid that the "Punch the Monkey" banner was too much a passing phenomenon. If we'd known that today there would be just as many "Punch the Monkey" banners, along with "Zap the Monkey" or "Spank the Monkey" or whatever they're doing these days, perhaps this comic would have had a different name.
The pair of names to which we probably gave heaviest consideration for the longest time were "Two Hands And A Map" and "Pseudo Random." I really preferred the former because it's a subtle reference to the main characters' general stupidity, but not enough people got it -- about half the people we asked about it weren't familiar with the old insult, "You're so stupid you couldn't find your ass even if you used two hands and a map." It also seemed a lot more acceptable than "Your Ass Or A Hole In The Ground," which I didn't even bother suggesting. I personally wasn't entirely keen on "Pseudo Random," but some of the other CXM Boys appreciated the suggestion of bizarreness coupled with computer-geekiness. That one did grow on me, though, and for a while we even referred to the comic as "Pseudo Random" rather than just "the comic."
One day, finally, Dan came over my house and said he had one idea for the name of the comic: "Comics Ex Machina," a pun that computer geeks and English geeks alike should both be able to appreciate it. (Just in case you're not catching the pun: "deus ex machina" is a Latin phrase, meaning "God from the machine," describing moments in stories when things get suddenly resolved, as if God just bopped in and said, "Surprise, things are gonna go this way!" And since this comic is web based, you look at it on a machine. Dig?) I think we both had the feeling right then that we'd found our comic's name, and Kai and Tony liked it enough that we quit calling our comic "Pseudo Random," and agreed that "CXM" sounded much better than "PR" (or "CEM," for that matter). Finally, we felt ready to unleash our project upon the world. So we kind of puttered around for another six months and got to making the web page public on Christmas of 2000.
After agonizing over the name, we had to decide exactly what to feature on this web page -- perhaps our second biggest source of contention, if not tied with the first. I wasn't ready to draw three CXM strips a week, since I was already doing two Robots and Spacemen strips a week for my school newspaper. In retrospect, four comics a week turned out to be more than I could handle, but even before CXM went live I knew it would be tough. We considered putting R+S on the same site as CXM -- after all, if I was going to draw four strips a week, why not just have four updates a week on one site? But we didn't want this to become "The Jason Comics Show," with material we shared and material that was just mine. That left us with a site that seemed to have a lot more text content than comics content. Can we really call ourselves a comic site, we asked ourselves, if we only update the comic twice a week and have more to offer in the way of columns than comics? Fortunately (I guess) we've been pretty lazy about doing the columns, so I think we can get away with calling ourselves a comic site.
Even so, the business of writing columns has been somewhat random and haphazard over here. We decided we wanted to make the columns more of an integrated part of the site, a special feature of their very own rather than just some random scribbling only accessible through a tiny text link here or there. So we made a special box for the main page to access the newest columns, and sooner or later the columns should be accessible from the Archive as well. Further, after discussing several possible organization methods for the columns, we decided the best way to present them would be as special semi-regular features from each respective author, each with its own name. Almost like real columns, like in a magazine, except we don't have to deal with editors.
I won't speak for my friends on the subject of their columns' names -- they can tell you if they want -- but I figured I might as well explain where the name "The Gospel According to Bigfoot" came from...
- It passed my first major test, in that it sounded cool to me. It passed the optional second test, too, which is that it is somewhat bizarre.
- If I actually get around to writing some more columns in the near future, I'm hoping to address topics in a wide range, from the serious to the silly.
- Even if I sound like I'm taking myself really seriously sometimes, I don't expect you to take me that seriously all the time (i.e., I hope the "Bigfoot" part of the title offsets the "Gospel" part).
- I have a cool idea for an icon and a logo to go with the title, if we ever get around to doing that.
- I am a pretty hairy guy. But no, to answer the question that people keep asking, I am not Bigfoot.
Coming up with the name for "The Gospel According to Bigfoot" got me thinking about a bunch of other random and bizarre names. As a result, now I have more names than projects, and I am desperately trying to get to more projects just so I can use some of these freaking names before someone else comes up with them. I know it's unlikely that other people will also happen to stumble along names as random as "The Gospel According to Bigfoot," but still, a little bit of healthy paranoia can be a good thing. Now I see naming as more of a fun part of the creative process than a challenging obstacle to overcome -- except when it comes to naming semiweekly comic strips. We pretty much just wing that. And if you've figured out a trick for that, please do send along an email and let the CXM boys know.