Thoughts on Creativity

Over the last couple of years I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of creativity & technology. Not as two separate topics, but a single, combined notion. In particular, the technique and production of creative ideas and how engineering, data, production and science (I’ll lump all of these together as “technology” because I really view them as tools in a technology toolkit) inherently blend together in a seamless way.

So let’s start with the first part… my introduction to “creating”.

Comic Books and the craft of storytelling

I started out in the early days of personal computers because I driven by a desire to create things. I dug printing. Specifically, lithography and screen printing. That’s why in the late 80s and early 90s, I was drawn to Macintoshes over traditional “PCs” because they were my inroad to “printing stuff”. I’ve also had a love affair with comic books going back to my childhood. It’s always gone beyond geeking out over Batman and Superman though. There’s something about the very idea of the craftsmanship of comics. Artists and writers together telling a story in a singular experience.

I think we’re all brought up initially to believe that art and artistic endeavors are a means to an end. You’re “making art”. You’re writing a song, painting a painting, or otherwise engaged in the act of creating something. It’s when you marry illustration with writing and effectively use both to tell a story in a medium like comic books that you start to expand your idea and understanding of art and technique. You can’t separate the written idea from the illustration telling the story. Comics are unique in that they marry the two in a seamless manner. Once you realize this, you start to pick up on the idea that comics are using certain… “techniques” in a way to create their own artistic language.

Consider, for instance, the idea of conveying an idea across two, three, four… or a page or panels. You’re not only advancing the story with the written word, but drawing the reader’s eye across panels, filling in gaps and pacing the story in a way that words alone aren’t doing. It’s kinda magical how it comes together.

This is more about the “how” than about the “why” or “what”.

Connecting it all

For me, this love affair with the “how” was the beginning of the insatiable desire to understand it. How were these things produced? How was a story written? How was it communicated to the artist? Was it broken down in a way that made the role of the artist part of the larger creative process? How did a comic book go from idea, to written script, to layouts and pages (that were paced to ALWAYS land precisely at 32 pages), to inked (what was inking anyway?) to lettering (was that different than the writer?) to a printed book? What was the role of the editor?

Fantastic Four 86, May 1969. Copyright, Marvel Comics.
Credits. There was more than one person responsible for this issue of Fantastic Four, and understanding that was key to understanding that creative was more than just an artist drawing figures.

Comic books also contained a valuable clue, in that every issue contained credits. The credits clued you in by calling out the names and roles everyone had in creating the book you held in your hands. Writer, Artist, Inker, Letterer, Editor… multiple names, multiple roles. This was key in understanding early on that there was craft at work here. There were no happy accidents, and this wasn’t just a single artist creating something alone, but a concerted effort by a team of people to build something larger than their own individual talents could bring to the table. Shipping these things involved more than just your ability to draw Spider-Man, you needed teamwork.

Making it real and tangible

So when I had the opportunity in the early days of computers to begin to learn how things were produced, I jumped all over it. I never thought of myself as a “technologist” or a “creative”, I just thought of myself as someone who recognized that “making something” that people held in their hands was a larger undertaking than any single individual. I could step into the process of creating, and I could help make something.

My early days with computers were primarily spent as a production artist. Color separations, layouts, production, typesetting… Working with teams of people to make beautiful things, I quickly realized that I loved working WITH them as much as I loved working FOR them. Along the way I learned how to make things that had inherent beauty in how they were made, as well as the techniques that improved the quality of the things we produced. Where attention to detail made the difference, and where a creative eye & the application of solid fundamentals could be the difference between good work and great work.

I was creative. We were creative.

This was the beginning of my journey to become someone who valued their skill and appreciation for creativity in all shapes and sizes. Understanding what “creativity” meant and how an idea can be shaped by the people who touch it. A love of “how” things are made beautiful.

This seems like a good place to pause, and I’ll pick it up where it naturally picks up in my own personal experience. The moment I stepped foot inside a creative agency environment.

More to come…

Social Media for Parents… at least here’s how we’re gonna do it

My daughter just turned 13. Now, there is a whole list of things I’m not prepared for, and this is definitely high up on the list. She’s becoming a teenager and I feel like I need to prepare all of us for her upcoming participation in having and maintaining a presence online. Part of that preparation is figuring out how to parent in the age of social media and online activity. So I thought I’d take a moment to sit down and put our collective thoughts down on how we’re approaching this as a family. 

I suppose I should start out with where I stand on social media and online behavior. As a platform, I’m somewhat ambivalent about social media. I’m not generally a “social butterfly” and I certainly don’t derive any value with comparing myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. I do acknowledge it however; I enjoy the small circle of friends I keep and I appreciate (mostly) their insight, humor, and friendship (sometimes the politics can become a little noisy, but we’ve all encountered that in the age of Twitter leadership). I love my creative friends dearly, and I’ll never have relationships outside of family that are deeper and more impactful than my shipmates from the Navy who I maintain contact with some 30 years or so after serving.

That being said, as the parent two girls, I do have to acknowledge the power that social media and online platforms have over a population that’s younger, more impressionable, and lacking the overall experience in life that helps build a filter, or inoculate you, to the pitfalls of judging yourself against your peers (who may be better at presenting their optimal life).

So to start, when our kids were born, we exercised some basic rules that I think were helpful for the first dozen or so years. We (my wife and I) agreed to never post pictures of our kids online. There were several reasons for this. First and foremost, those pictures aren’t necessarily ours to post. They contain images of people who will forever have them online following them around, regardless of how effective we are at “locking them down”. I’d like you to imagine what your childhood would’ve been like if your friends had the ability to dig a little and uncover pictures of you at your most embarrassing. Awkward photos without context. Private images of you that you wouldn’t want friends (or “frenemies”) finding and being able to share with an audience wider than originally intended. That would’ve sucked, wouldn’t it? So we’ve taken great care to NOT post images of our children that we don’t feel like we have explicit permission to post (even though they’re our kids). I feel very strongly about the ownership of your own personal identity. I don’t think that I have permission to share images of my kids that will follow them around long after they’re 18 and have the right to decide what they want to share. I’ve effectively stolen that from them, and that’s not cool. Secondly, I understand the EULA that most social media sites adhere to, and until there’s federal privacy intervention, social platforms’ implied “ownership” of everything that I post on social media means that I’m effectively giving up my children’s likeness to people who don’t have my (or my children’s) best interest in mind. Again, NOT cool. I won’t give that up for anything. I’m a grown adult. I can make those decisions about relinquishing ownership of my likeness, but I’m not comfortable doing that for others who haven’t had the right or opportunity to weigh in.

We don’t post personal information. Period. People who we’re close to know our children’s names and basic personal information about them, but I’ll never publicly post where they’re going to school, what field trips they’re on, what events they’re attending. That shit is private and will remain so as long as those kids live under our roof. Again, this seems like basic common sense to me… your mileage may vary. They’re not allowed to use their real names when joining online communities (we’re a gaming family with Nintendo Switches, DSes, Xboxes, and Playstations) and for each of those communities they’ve selected “personas” that don’t contain any personal information. You’re not allowed to use your real name, you’re not allowed to say where you live, etc). You’re also not allowed to “chat” on platforms that allow it. No Roblox chat, no chatting in Minecraft, or Fortnite… you’re not allowed to participate (yet) in YouTube comment chains. You’re basically restricted from interacting with fellow gamers, unless it’s a vetted real-life friend who we personally know and can verify the username. I don’t mind them playing with friends from school, or the neighborhood, but people outside of that? No way, Jose. Off limits. That’s a big one we’ve discussed and everyone is on the same page. That’s a serious one to breach and can result in losing the privilege of playing.

Now those rules have sustained us pretty much for the last dozen or so years, but now we’re hitting some uncharted territory. Now I’ve got to help someone else manage and maintain a digital presence online in a way that prepares her for a future where privacy is a suggestion and oversharing is a way of life. Am I comfortable with it? Well, not entirely, but I’m gonna work hard to inoculate her to some of the bigger pitfalls and arm her with a little basic rucksack of social media awareness and a framework for her to participate… but not over-participate. 

So with her 13th birthday, I decided I’d give her a platform and an outlet. She’s creative and has an innate desire to “make things”, and I couldn’t be more proud of that. She loves to draw, she loves to write, and she’s doing both at a pace and volume that far exceeds any creative endeavors that I undertook at her age… and I want nothing more than to encourage and promote that. So I created a blog for her, and bought her a domain name of her own. She has a little nickname that she’s started using online for things like school related bulletin boards and online gaming and I chose that for several reasons. First, it’s not her real name, and isn’t even a variation of that. Second, it allows us all to create a barrier between her and her audience, whoever they are. And finally, it gives her a little more “freedom” to pursue thoughts and ideas without them being explicitly attached to her. She’s thirteen. Her ideas and thoughts and opinions are new and fresh, and she’s allowed to be malleable at her age without committing to an ideology and I like the idea that she has the freedom to explore her world in a way that doesn’t commit her for the rest of her life with having to explain or make excuses for any opinion she had in the past, right or wrong. 

Additionally, her blog is hers. Anything she uploads or posts is her Intellectual Property. She’s not relinquishing any rights or ownership to anything she creates or posts. I think this is a super valuable lesson for her to begin to understand in an age where Intellectual Property ownership is a real thing, and where social platforms are deriving a large part of their value from “owning” their user base. What comes out of her head is hers, and nobody else’s. She’s allowed to own it all, the good, the bad, the embarrassing, the brilliant. If she posts images (and the restriction is NO pictures of you, or your friends, no selfies, and no pictures that contain personal information) then they’re hers and nobody else has the right to ownership or to monetize them in any way that she doesn’t control. 

From an executional standpoint, I manage and maintain her online presence. I’m the administrator of her blog, and I get to see what she’s posting and control the look and feel. We work together to arrive at a design that she loves, and she’s an “author” with the appropriate user role that allows her to post, updated, edit, and delete posts, but that’s it. She can’t add other social platform integrations, etc. We’ve discussed allowing instagram integration in the future, but we’re going to walk before we run.

Is all this going to work? I honestly have no idea, but I’m not about to bury my head in the sand and hope that she uses her 13 year old brain and make the right decisions about establishing a presence online. I’m going to treat it just like everything else we’ve done and I’m going to give her access to the tools, provide some training wheels, and monitor how she proceeds before deciding when to pull the training wheels off, and how far she’s allowed to ride. I’m going to be pragmatic, but cautious, and I’m going to make sure she understands her ownership over her data and intellectual property before we cut her loose on the wild west world of social media and online communities. We’re going to start with her own personal platform that we (together with her) control and manage that allows her the flexibility to explore and create without giving up data and privacy.

We’re all new to this. None of this existed a decade ago, and as we all collectively, as parents, work on managing this brave new world, I’m focusing on developing an awareness of privacy and personal accountability that will serve her far beyond her teenage years. I don’t suspect we’re going to get it 100% right, but working in technology and data, I feel like I’m putting together a framework that gets us closer than we’ve ever been.

Presenting US Navy Recruiting at VML’s Annual Meeting

Last week, Captain Dave Bouve and I had the immense pleasure of jointly presenting some of the amazing work that VML has produced as a partner in The Navy Partnership at this year’s VML Annual Meeting. How we’re working with our great WPP partners to reach a new audience and introduce them to the US Navy’s unique form of National Service. It was an honor to stand on stage with the Captain and show off the amazing work our collective team has done. I couldn’t have been more proud of the team we’ve assembled.

This was a really fun afternoon. This was my second Annual meeting since joining VML and it was a great experience. Yours truly walks out around 9:17 and gets a chance to humblebrag on all the great stuff we’ve been able to work on with the Partnership. Captain was great, really knocked it out of the park. I was nervous… big audience… no pressure… but it wound up going off pretty much without a hitch!

As a bonus, I was honored to be awarded the VML Spark Award for Atlanta! It was completely unexpected and I was blown away when they started reading the winner’s bio… Podcast? Comic Books? Wait a minute… Great stuff and I have tremendous gratitude for all of the opportunities the VML has provided for me and was humbled beyond belief by the award. It was the topping to an amazing day.

Cold Brew Coffee Mocha Almond Protein Smoothie

Every so often you stumble across something so easy, so wonderful, and so perfect, that you feel compelled to share it with the world.

This is that thing.

Let’s begin by listing some of my favorite things: Chocolate, coffee, protein, and almonds… oh, and smoothies. I think you can guess where this is going…

So how easy was this? So easy I’m not even going to write up detailed instructions. I’m just gonna recap what I did here and let you put the whole mess together yourself. All you need is the following: some cold brew coffee (you can buy it everywhere now, or you can just do like I do and make your own very easily… and here’s a hint, use a french press to strain it. It makes the whole exercise stupid easy. It’s literally a two step process), chocolate whey protein (pick your healthiest powder), and almonds (I used the lightly salted ones… I just like the savory/sweet thing). Whipped cream topping is optional, of course.

I started by filling an ice cube tray with my cold brew coffee, this gives me “coffee ice cubes”. You can mix 50/50 coffee/water if you like, but like I said, I love coffee, so I loved mixing my coffee with coffee. Once your coffee cubes freeze, drop them into a blender with a serving of almonds and a scoop of protein. Blend the shit out of it until it’s a smoothie, then pour it into a glass and drink the hell out of it. 

Easiest protein packed breakfast/snack I’ve ever had, and by far the most delicious. Here’s the punch a glass packs:
Calories: 310
Total Fat: 17g
Protein: 36g
Total Carbohydrates: 7g
Sugars: 1g

Daddy Daughter Podcast Episode 12 – Welcome Back! Christmas Lists, Video Games, and Anime

Wow, has it really been over a year? Apparently. Abby and I finally got a chance to sit down and revisit our daddy daughter podcast, and we had a blast… as usual. This time we dug into the upcoming holidays and got sidetracked on a conversation about video games, which led into Abby teaching me a little bit about her new obsession with Anime. Listen along and learn with me!

You can subscribe via iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud to get it automatically updated to your choice of podcasting software and if you’re so inclined you can follow us on Twitter as well! We’re @DaddyPodcast and you can follow along and even ask us questions there, we answer every one in the podcast!

The VML “25@25 Podcast” featuring yours truly

I suppose I’ve been pretty fortunate to land a job in Advertising working for the United States Navy. It’s no secret that I’m a former sailor and I hold my experience in the Navy in high regard, it’s helped shape me into the man I am today. So here I am, working at one of the premiere digital advertising agencies in the world overseeing the digital efforts of the United States Navy as part of The Navy Partnership. Not bad.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of VML and to celebrate, they’ve chosen 25 people who contribute to the culture of the agency and make it a great place to work. I’m proud to have been selected to be among those 25. Last week I got to sit down with our Global CEO, Jon Cook, and spend some quality time discussing my experiences in the Navy, and my work on the Navy’s advertising & marketing efforts. It was a great conversation and I had fun doing it, even if it got a little serious in parts… 

Take a listen. You get to hear a little bit of me being me. 

My Trip to Mile High Comics!

Mile High Comics
The world famous Mile High Comics Warehouse Store. Yes, it’s that big. Click the image to open a full-sized version and get up close and personal.

I originally wrote this back on Jun 29, 2015 and saved it in my drafts. I just found it and figured I’d go ahead and publish it. So without further ado… 

When I was much younger and used to ride my bike a couple miles away to the local Drug Fair or Safeway to buy my comics, there was no such thing as a “comic book store”. Comic Book Collecting wasn’t really a hobby, it was just something you did. Comic book conventions were mythical events taking place in exotic locations like New York and San Diego, (and from the photos, mainly in basements). So there were a handful of names you were familiar with if you were one of those people who was seeking out comics in the 70s. Chuck Rozanski/Mile High Comics was one of those names. I grew up sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes to him and others, and including my quarter, and getting the latest “list” of comics for sale along with prices. Prior to the invention of the Comic Book Price Guide, one of the only ways to gauge the “value” of a book was to see what mail order comic book companies like Chucks were charging for books. This was where I first learned that Amazing Fantasy 15, Fantastic Four 48, Showcase 4, and a host of other books were considered “key” books and commanded higher prices than other books around the same time.

This was how I learned about comic book collecting.

By the time the late 70s and early 80s rolled around, word of the Edgar Church Mile High Collection began circulating. I’d hear people talking about the collection Chuck had purchased and the unheard of quality of the books. Mile High Comics and Chuck were legendary among the small circle of people I knew who were into what was becoming a real hobby.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but one of the few places that have eluded me have been Denver and for some reason or another I’ve never had a chance to travel there. As luck would have it, I recently spoke at a conference in Denver, had a couple hours free, and the hotel I was staying at had free bicycles that they’d let you check out to ride around town. You couldn’t ask for a better combination of enablers. I was finally going to get a chance to visit the World Famous Mile High Comics Jason Street Warehouse.

The ride from the hotel was about 20 minutes or so to get to the other side of the city and over to the area where the warehouse was. It was a warehouse district (duh!) with plenty of other facilities nearby… with a very distinct smell… I remembered that Colorado had recently legalized weed. You never forget that smell.

You can’t prepare yourself for what you see when you walk into the warehouse. You think you can, you have this image in your head about what you think it’s going to look like, but it wildly exceeds whatever you’re thinking. Right off the bat there’s a display case filled to the brim with gold and silver age keys. Amazing Fantasy 15, Showcase 4, etc… I was mesmerized.

The size and expanse of the place is mind-boggling. You can just walk and walk and walk and never see the same thing twice. Walls of variants, toys, collectibles, and row after row of comics. I’ve been to comic book conventions that have been held in smaller spaces with significantly fewer comics available. There’s a section of trade paperbacks that is larger than even the largest comic book shops I’ve seen. It’s massive.

Chuck wasn’t there the day I arrived, but he had been in and out and it appeared that I had just missed him, so I spent some time talking with the amazing staff. They were kind, patient (I was such a tourist), and even invited me “upstairs” to a loft area overlooking the whole warehouse where I was able to take the panoramic photo above.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to finally get a chance to visit the mecca of comic book collecting and I’m here to tell you, it did NOT disappoint. If you love comic books, and you’re ever within driving distance of Denver, you owe it to yourself to go. It’s something you’ll never forget.

Sea Story Podcast by America’s Navy

Sea Story Podcast by America's Navy
Sea Story is an ongoing series that brings you extraordinary tales of action, danger, and adventure—all directly told by the real Navy Sailors who’ve lived them. Sea Story is an official podcast of America’s Navy. [Click to Listen!]
One of the oldest traditions among sailors is the telling of “Sea Stories”. Those legendary tales told by sailors since the earliest days of sailing the oceans of the world. Every sailor has a sea story and if they say they don’t, they’re lying… or they’re just avoiding telling you something that they probably only share with other sailors. Bringing this time-honored tradition into the twenty-first century provided an opportunity that perfectly blended audience, content, and innovation and resulted in one of the most successful launches in recent memory… the Sea Story Podcast. 

By having real sailors tell true stories of adventure and drama, we allowed the men and women of the Navy to share what life is like aboard ship, overseas, and under the oceans in the most authentic way possible. 

The response has been overwhelming. Within the first month, Apple selected “Sea Story” for its “New and Noteworthy” promotional section within its podcast app, driving organic attention and resulting in huge audience numbers. Engagement, listens, likes and shares far exceeded expectations and everyone who listened became hooked. 

Give it a listen, subscribe, download and enjoy hearing from real sailors in the fleet what it’s like to live the life of a sailor in the world’s greatest Navy.

America’s Navy 2016 Army / Navy Game Facebook Live “Midshipmen March to the Stadium”

In an organization steeped in tradition, few resonate as deeply as the Midshipmen March to the Stadium, the annual tradition of marching United States Naval Academy Midshipmen to take their place inside the stadium for the annual Army Navy football game. It’s a spectacular sight and nothing galvanizes the worldwide Navy audience faster than the first appearance of the Midshipmen of Annapolis at the start of one of the most watched college football games of the year.

At the 2016 Army Navy Game, the 117th meeting between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen, we deployed a team in a realtime social command center with video & photography support as well as live community management. The team embedded themselves within the atmosphere of the game, providing up to the minute activity across the Navy’s social channels. Engaging at times with over ten times the volume of social activity during the course of the day and generating high performing content.

The flexibility of the lean, agile team allowed for spontaneous content capture enabling us to respond in realtime. The US Navy’s first Facebook live broadcast of the march to the stadium generated over 280,000 views, 3,100 shares and 11,000 “reactions” over the course of its fifteen minutes.

Capital One Café

Over the late winter and spring of 2016 I was fortunate enough to work on an amazing opportunity to help Capital One reimagine their retail banking business through a combination of rich digital user experience and incredible in-store display technology. When Cap One acquired ING, they also got a handful of cafes in the deal. ING, not being a traditional banking institution, had begun using cafes for their retail banking business. When Capital One looked closely, they discovered that the cafes were doing extraordinarily well. This led to them expanding the cafe program and turning it into a National Expansion.

This is where we were brought in.

Realizing that there was a real opportunity here to create something truly groundbreaking, Huge and Capital One partnered together on the overhaul of their retail cafe customer experience. Through a combination of hardware and platform partnerships, Huge brought strategic creative and UX insight to bear along with creative technology, to design and develop a first-of-its-kind retail banking experience. High definition touch-enabled signage, synchronized messaging, day-parted content that included games and quizzes about financial topics… even the ability to call a customer service representative over for assistance on a topic. This was banking reimagined. Probably one of the most successful projects I’ve been involved with.