[ Find x ]
Issue 185 of Ocular Trauma originally appeared on July 13, 2005
Behold! The first image above this plaque is the most famous issue of Ocular Trauma, Find x, resplendent in the graphical resolution of 2005. It was forwarded all over the 'net, seen by a gazillion people, and eventually morphed into the T-shirts worn by actor Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming (second image above this plaque) and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Read on for the full story. And/or buy a shirt featuring the original Find x comic at my ancient, inevitable Cafepress shop.
Hi, this is Wade Clarke speaking (typing) to you. I'm the guy who wrote and drew 204 issues of a webcomic called Ocular Trauma between 2004 and 2005. About fifteen years after I did this, one of the zillion knockoffs of the most (and only) famous issue of Ocular Trauma, "Find x", was worn by Peter Parker / Spider-Man in two Hollywood movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). But a lot happened before that.
The concept behind Ocular Trauma was for me to force myself to get out one self-contained humourous comic per day. I figured that in this manner I'd have a long-running comic before I knew it. I'd tried to launch one before in the form of joke sci-fi serial Plan 10 (11 issues and currently not online, but might be again someday) but unfortunately I don't possess the gene that allows for easy redrawing of the same characters over and over. It just takes me too long to get them right.
So for Ocular Trauma, I decided the artwork would favour punk passion over technical delivery to allow for speedy drawing. It’s easy to live up to this standard when you’re only using a mouse to draw stuff directly on the screen; it’s a terrible control method. I never really had any of my own money until I was 25, so it took me a long time to realise I could spend money to buy tools to solve problems like: "All I've got to draw with on the computer is a mouse, so that will have to do." However, when each issue of the comic is a one-off, you escape the requirement of having to be able to accurately redraw characters. I knew that the subject matter would be weird, gross, alarming, extreme, but always funny. I got the inspiration for this model from an MS Paint comic called Smellypines by an online pal of mine at Gamefaqs.com named Cory Hansen.
A typical chat session from this era. Here, Jerec and I discuss how we might become famous webcomic artists.
I began to publish Ocular Trauma via Livejournal. LJ friends received the issues daily and encouraged me early on with lots of positive feedback. Thus the ball was rolling. The artwork improved moderately over time and I eased my schedule back in stages to accommodate this, going from seven issues a week to five, and briefly to three.
I tried all the usual mad tactics employed by webcomic artists during the noughties to hawk and further popularise their wares. I hung out at sites like Digital Strips. I implored everyone to vote for me daily at Top Web Comics. I ran a competition, soliciting guest comics, in which I awarded a real prize, a CD by Ukrainian musical goddess Ruslana. I even bought a review by donating to charity. My efforts weren't to no avail, but they weren't to sufficient avail for my taste over the course of a year, and I was pretty prima donna-ish in this context at the time. Some outrageously popular webcomics that made me want to throw up (e.g. Questionable Content) mocked me by their mere existence. Of course, 99% of webcomic artists feel this way. I don't mean about wanting to throw up at the sight of Questionable Content, but that they struggle and struggle and find audience-securing tough.
Eventually I got tired of the situation. Not of being a comedian, but of drawing the pics. In moments, they'd grown moderately nicer over time within the style, but were still hailed as garish, etc. (They were garish. They are garish.) In general, nobody in webcomicking was prepared to accept the comic the way it was: mostly ugly, the aesthetic that enabled it to exist. Some sample comments:
- "It doesn't even look like a comic. Where's the frame?"
- "What's with the amateurish Arial font?"
- "Why must that necrophilia cartoon be so tasteless?" (Question paraphrased by me to emphasise stupidity/annoyance factor)
So on Monday, 29 August 2005, I drew the last Ocular Trauma (by hand, not computer, just to demonstrate to onlookers that I could) and, with some relief, retired from the enterprise and shifted focus back to one of my other areas of creative work, making electronic music.
THREE MONTHS LATER:
One particular issue of Ocular Trauma (#185 - Find x) started being forwarded around the 'net. I knew something zeitgeisty was happening when a friend of mine said he'd received the comic six times already from different people. Requests started arriving by email from around the world. Teachers wanted posters. Magazines wanted to print the comic. A maths professor wanted to include it in the front of his book. A TV show in the UK wanted to show it. One gent even wanted to translate it into Norwegian, and did:
And then a point came where most of the internet started disregarding the authorship. The original image is so simple, has such a folkloric vibe about it and is so easily hacked (it started with people just erasing the attribution and passing it off as a real exam answer they had photocopied) that (a) people believe it had been around forever (I published it on July 13, 2005) and (b) folks don’t realise the comic ever had an author. A zillion knock-offs and alterations followed, especially on T-shirts on stores like Zazzle. I issued a few takedowns at some point, but it was tedious whack-a-mole stuff for no gain. I was busy making other things. And of course, the original joke is that it could be a legitimate exam answer, so people treating it that way was, in a sense, part of the punchline.
As mentioned at the top of this page, later — much later — one of the knock-offs of Find x eventually turned up on shirts worn by Peter Parker / Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). So I now think of myself as couturier to Spider-Man.
Anyone born earlier than about 1998 probably needs to hear a bit about the context of the original times of Ocular Trauma to appreciate the unusualness of the Find x situation. 2006, when the action started happening, was before social media had exploded and gone mainstream. Memes and internet memes were not things. To share the comic, you had to share its link in a personal email or on a forum, or attach the image and email it, or copy and post it on webspace that you personally administered. There were few central repositories, no meme engines, no like buttons. People handed things around manually. Sharing things required a lot more effort, and perhaps that made the results less disposable than they've become since.
While the timing wasn't ideal, I did get some recognition for OT in the end, and I've costumed an A-list film character. I'll always have both those things, even if you try and pry them away from me with a pointed stick.
Epilogue: Today I do many things (how vague) like making interactive fiction games and including producing electronic music as Aeriae. Visit wadeclarke.com for links to the rest of my work and other onlinery.