So, from January of 2020 to September of 2023 (with a couple of breaks), I had a project where I’d look at the twitter feed of the Iowa City Police Log, pick an entry for the day, and draw a single-panel cartoon based on it. It was a lot of fun! Of all the art projects I’ve done in my life, it was one that resonated the most with other people; Twin Cities Public Television did a piece on it, and I wound up meeting a bunch of fun and cool people online through the strip. All of the strips are still available on Instagram (twitter, too, but IG’s the better interface), and I remain proud and full of love for them.
I wound it down in September of ’23 for a bunch of intertwining reasons: the strip was tightly tied to Twitter, and at that point (and I guess still) it wasn’t clear how much longer Twitter would be around, or how cool it was to be involved with it given Musk’s determination to remake the site into a right-wing oasis; I was getting worried that, after about 620 strips, I was running out of jokes and in danger of repeating myself; and, as those snowballs rolled down the mountain of my brain and started to get bigger, internal political stuff in Iowa City forced the issue when the city changed the way it reported police incidents, kneecapping the feed I depended on. So my choice was made for me. The police log strip was done after a long and full life, and it was time to move on to other projects.
And that was all cool until a couple of days ago, when a friend hepped me to the fact that the Iowa City Police Log feed had started up again; but now they were taking old feed entries, running them through an AI art generator, and posting the results.
And, well: I think that sucks. To be perfectly clear, it’s their feed to do with as they please! Although we’d communicated some and there certainly seemed to be a spirit of friendly but informal collaboration, they owe me nothing and I owe them nothing. If they’d chosen to start doing their own illustrations of old strips, or commission another cartoonist to do it, I wouldn’t have any problem with that; if anything, I’d be really curious to see how a different sensibility handled the material. Hell, as far as that goes, if they’d reached out to me directly and said “we like having illustrations, are you *sure* you want to be done when we have so much back material?,” I would have at least considered it, although those other doubts I mentioned earlier would’ve stayed in play.
But instead they went AI, and again: I think it sucks, and I guess I have to allow myself to admit that I’m kind of upset about it. Because generative AI is dogshit. It looks like garbage. It’s “trained” on the art of actual human beings who were never asked permission, so it’s inherently plagiaristic. It’s environmentally disastrous.
But worse than that, it’s diametrically opposed to everything I stand for with art. The most consistent through-line of my career as both an artist and an art historian is that the wonderful thing about art is the messy, beautiful expression of an individually human point of view. That was the argument of my master’s thesis; that was explicitly the theme of my Police Log strips, and why they were drawn the way they were.
Feeding a prompt into a goddamned AI generator is the opposite of that. There’s no humanity being expressed; there’s no worldview finding its way out; there are no context or ideas being explored. There’s an algorithm crunching what kind of image is most commonly associated with what words, and puking out a result. If my strips were funny, it was because I’ve been living in the world for damn near 50 years and have a good sense of the absurdity of college towns in the Midwest; I’m not sure what the pathway would be for these new things to be funny beyond truly random absurdity.
I used to be proud to be the Iowa City Police Log cartoonist; now I’m a little bit afraid someone’s going to see the visual dogshit they’re dropping now and think that I’m somehow involved.