Me and technology. Something I'd not really considered to be a healthy working relationship. Most of my interaction with technology, like, I'm sure, most people's, happens without thinking. I only notice it when things go wrong: when a CD starts skipping, when the batteries run out, or most likely, when my untrustworthy PowerBook freezes halfway through drawing something in Photoshop and I'm left to ponder, during the restart, whether I'd saved the document recently or not.
Part I: Some words about technology and my life.
1. Computer Games
One of the pre-conceptions a lot of journalists and visitors to my pixelly website, www.flipflopflyin.com, have is that I spent a lot of time using old computer games, and that the pixelly style I use is informed by this. This isn't really the case.
When I was a pre-teenager and the world of video arcade games was sucking other kids' pocket money, I was busy taking my £1 note to a record shop, buying a 7 inch single and spending the spare 10 pence on sweets every week. So, my only interactions with computer games were few and far between. Going into a video arcade in my hometown, Lincoln, England, was a scary thing, and it was something I did only a couple of times. I could only really handle games of the complexity of Space Invaders and Pacman, and the bigger boys would always come over and hover over my shoulder making me nervous and offering "to finish yer game for yer, mate" and get "me" a high score. This scared me off, thus I never went there much.
So my only contact with this brave new world of computer gaming was David Leneghan. David was a boy at my school. He lived near a couple of other mates and was new in the area. He'd just come back from living the USA where his dad had been working. Thus he was the first kid to have a BMX. Thus he was the coolest kid in school (until Neil Darby arrived, who was brilliant at football and supported West Bromwich Albion until about halfway though his first term, when he changed allegiance to Manchester United, which always grated with me, being a Liverpool fan).
Anyway. Not only did David Leneghan have a BMX, he had computer games. Strange computer games. Hand-held ones with buzzing noises and red LEDs. Games that were supposed to represent the entirely alien-to-an-English-boy sports of baseball and American football. The buzzing and flashing lights were enough for me, though. I had fun.
2. Mike's Spectrum
My next-door neighbour, Mike, had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I was about 13 or 14 at the time, and my family had just moved to a new house and Mike was about my age and equally interested in kicking a football at a wall, and around the time of Wimbledon, hitting a tennis ball at the same wall. On rainy days, we'd play indoors. Usually at his house, as it was already a lot messier, therefore any damage we did would be less noticeable. He had two things which made our indoor lives better.
The first was a Hi-Fi with a double tape deck. This we used to make extended remixes of Duran Duran and Frankie Goes To Hollywood songs whilst trying to breakdance on the rug. Breakdancing to us tended to mean spinning around on one knee.
The other thing was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer. This was a truly exotic item to me. A beautiful small black slab with lovely rubber keys which, when appended to a tape machine and a portable telly gave us the joys of the arcade without having to leave Mike's bedroom. Football Manager, (choosing players that-in real life-had already been transferred to other teams to play attacking or defensive football and then waiting for 5 minutes, watching a clock ticking and waiting for the occasional computer cheering sound to find out if either of our teams had scored), Manic Miner and its amazingly huge (in my memory at least) sequel, Jetset Willy, all to the soundtrack of borrowed tapes of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and a Roger Waters album that I forget the name of. I've no idea what Mike is doing these days, but I hope that he's progressed to better breakdancing that I have.
3. Colour TV & VCRs
When my Mum and Dad bought a colour TV, I never noticed.
I came home from school one day and the TV was in its normal place, switched on already. It'd been in the house for about four or five hours before one of my parents asked whether I noticed anything different.
"What about the tell-oh yeaaaaaaah!"
I've not really thought about this much, but looking back, I've had several other black and white TVs during my young adult life. I've never really seen colour as the most important thing, and would happily go back to black and white, were it required of me.
And I've never really missed having a video recorder too. I have one now, but for most of my life since leaving home, I've not had one. If a programme was important enough, I'd just stay in and watch it. Simple. If one channel is showing a good film, and another a good documentary, I just choose which one is more important to me. When we first got a video, though, it opened up late night TV to me. Not late night TV with partially naked ladies and such, no, late night TV music shows. There was one show when I was about 15 or 16 that had loads of pop videos on it, and in an MTV-free house, that was an ace thing.
4. Computer Aided Design
When I was at university, I spent some of the taxpayers' hard-earned money, which they gave to me in the form of a student grant, on a Nintendo Gameboy. I played it a lot. This was the start of a brief flurry of technological stuff in my life.
My flatmate at the time was studying film and would come home with video cameras and entertain us by pointing it at the TV and making strange feedback type images. He wasn't Martin Scorsese.
As part of my course I had one afternoon a week in a boring magnolia coloured room sat in front of Commodore 64s and Amiga computers. This part of my study was entitled Computer Aided Design, but usually consisted of drawing smiley faced sunshines and scribbling all over a blank document and then using every tool to colour it in, invert the colours and blur it until all that was left was a real fucking mess. At this point, a career in illustration and web-design could not have seemed further away.
5. That's £11.99, Please
After university, I got a job at a record shop called Radio City back in Lincoln. The shop was named not after the Music Hall in New York, but after the rather splendid Big Star album. Up until working at Radio City, I'd confined my music purchases to vinyl only. This changed when five inch silver discs entered my life. I'd previously been such a rampant vinyl-phile that I'd had a major league argument and sulk with an ex-girlfriend when she BETRAYED me and bought a CD player. I look back at this now with slight embarrassment and I did apologise, you'll be glad to know. CDs seemed to embody everything that was bad. Taking your old lovely albums, with their big sleeves, their rituals, their two sides and cramming it all into a tacky plastic box. Now, one look at the sprawling delta of CDs on my floor will tell you how I'm a traitor to the cause of vinyl.
Another piece of technology that entered my life in Radio City was the chart return machine. This was a small box that sat next to the till, that counted-via scanning in the barcode-how many records we'd sold. Various unscrupulous record company representatives would try to get us to "add" extra sales to help push their records up the charts. But of course, being honest young men at the store, we'd never do such things.
6. Think Different
After my Mum's second husband died, she moved to a new house. With some of the spare money from the old house she gave my sister and I a gift of £1,000. Thank you, Mum. I'd wondered what to spend this money on for a while, and, well, the iMac had just been launched. It was pretty and was simply begging to be sat on a desk in my room.
So one cold rainy November morning, I went to my local Apple dealer and bought one. I'm always slightly perplexed when buying such an expensive item at how the people in stores don't react to you as if you are spending a lot of money, like you are. In my experience - with this iMac and a subsequent Powerbook - computer store workers treat you the same way as a newspaper seller does. As nothing. Like, thanks, now get out of my shop. Anyway, I got a taxi home with my huge iMac box, (about the size of Switzerland), unpacked it, and as the adverts were saying, I was online within half an hour. Yeah? So? And? Well, this internet lark is a bit of a let-down if you've got nothing to look for. Then I found that there were plenty of sites about all aspects of The Beach Boys and my web-life began.
The only thing I used - other than email and Internet Explorer - was Clarisworks, the iMac's little drawing program. I liked Clarisworks. I did the first year and a half's worth of Flip Flop Flyin' using Clarisworks. It's not a very good program for doing smooth edges, so, it felt like the natural thing to do to make all the edges of the things I drew jagged and sharp. Little did I know at the time that what I was doing would become known as pixel-art.
7. I'm On The Train
Living in London in the late 1990s, I'd vowed to never ever get a mobile phone. As a public transport user, I was entirely sick of hearing one half of conversations, all of which began with the mobile phone user telling the caller that they were on the train. Why is this? Why do we all need to know where the person we are talking to is?
I was adamant, I will not be a mobile phone owner. No way. Never.
"What do you want for Christmas, Craig?" says Mum.
"A mobile phone, please."
I'm still not entirely happy with the idea of having a telephone with me all the time. I like having the ability to phone the emergency services should I fall down a disused mine, (if I can get a signal and if the battery hasn't run out, of course), I like being able to phone my loved ones for a chat, but I still bury my phone under anything at hand that can muffle the ringing if the display tells me that the person ringing me is "unknown" or "number withheld." Why would I want to ruin a perfectly good picnic by talking to an unknown person who could be someone who wants changes done to an illustration by 5pm? I'm still heartened when I ask people for their phone number and they say, "I've not got a mobile."
I wish I had the guts to cancel my contract and throw my phone into the North Sea. Just like I sometimes wish I didn't waste hours playing computer games, watching TV, and staring at a computer screen...
Part II: The Items On The Drawings
From left to right:
The Commodore 776M personal electronic calculator. When my grandmother died, I went back to Lincoln to help my sister clear out the flat. Amongst the items we found there was this very old calculator. It's one of those with a red LED display. Nice.
Sony Micro Hi-Fi Component System CMT-RB5. A rather ordinary CD/radio thing that sits on my desk.
A remote control for an Eclipse CD player. I don't really use this anymore, it just sits there gathering dust under a table. A good CD player, though, cheap and has been thoroughly reliable for many years.
Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong II. When I was 13, I spent several weeks in hospital. This, and the first Donkey Kong game, were constantly in my hands, as I lay in a bed and got maximum scores over and over again and never seemed to get bored of it.
Tamagotchi. I bought this on a holiday with my then-girlfriend to New York. It was right around the time, in 1997, when they were insanely popular, and the toy store where I bought it had huge bins full of them. Still works, I think, but the screw on the back seems to be broken and won't 'catch' on a screw driver, so I can't change the batteries.
Fisher Price tape player. Really pretty, toffee coloured tape machine that sucks battery power like nothing else. Bought from a car-boot sale in South London.
Pentax camera. Fairly decent, nothing special, but it does the job.
Iomega Zip drive. Just as the whole world was turning on to the CD burner, I went and bought a Zip drive. Clever move, Craig.
Bush video recorder remote control. This needs new batteries, but there's still some life in the old ones so I just bang it on the floor a few times and it tends to work.
Sony TV remote control. It's just really long. As useful as remote controls are, I'm kinda sick of how they come with everything these days. Can't I just have one for everything? I guess you can buy such things, but I like moaning about them.
Sony Hi-Fi remote control. Useful, but see above.
Aiwa Mini Disc recorder thing. This isn't mine. I lied a bit in the title of my art. This belongs to my flatmate, Steve. He's a journalist and records his interviews with various bands that visit Berlin on this machine. He keeps it, with a microphone and spare minidiscs in a little green case that looks like a first aid box.
Michael Jackson "Thriller". A compact disc released by Sony Music Entertainment. Still one of my favourite albums. Even the crap songs like The Girl Is Mine bring me some joy. This is one of those albums where I can sing all the words, and I'm still surprised when, about half way through, after loads of ace songs, you've STILL got Beat It and Billie Jean and PYT (a song that, without fail, makes me wanna dance) left.
Apple PowerBook. A computer. A nice computer. A pretty curvy computer. A pretty curvy computer that crashes, freezes, quits and occasionally helps me produce some work. I'm writing this text on this computer. Which reminds me, I must save, cos I've not done it so far.
Smart2 calculator. Solar powered. Aren't all calculators solar-powered now? Is there still such a thing as a calculator market? Surely no-one other than maths students buy calculators these days...
Casio PT-10 keyboard. I can't play much with this. I can do Telstar and I can do The Model, but that's about it. Oh, and the end of Justin Timberlake's Like I Love You. The bit after he says "Drums!" One day though, I will learn to play it properly and be the monophonic Jean Michel Jarre and I will do concerts on top of roofs with lasers and everything!
Nintendo Gameboy. Again, this isn't mine. This belongs to my girlfriend, Hanni. I did own one at one time, and I was good at Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, and Motorcycle Madness. But, it got stolen when the house I was living in in Derby, England, was broken into. I lost my Gameboy and a camera that belonged to my mate, Paul, who was so easy-going about it ("Camera? Stolen? Oh well..."). Thankfully at that time I didn't buy CDs, as my flatmates all had theirs stolen. I just had vinyl and the thieves obviously couldn't be bothered to steal my record player or records.
Bush video recorder. The drawing is a bit rubbish, to be honest. The actual VCR is longer, like normal VCR shape. This belonged to my grandmother. She never used the words "rewind" and "fast forward," she used to say "push it back" or "push it forward," God bless her.
Zeon digital watch. Bought from a branch of Argos in London, (the one near Old St tube if you must know), it's a talking watch, thus the big speaker thingy on the top half of the face. It has the most annoying alarm that sounds like a robotic cockerel.
Nokia 3210 mobile telephone. This is Hanni's too. It's a nice pale metallic green colour. She keeps talking about getting a new phone, but we've spent ages in the E-plus store looking at which ones she likes, only to find that she doesn't like any of them.
Sony Ericsson T300 mobile telephone. My mobile. I used to have a Nokia like Hanni's but recently had to re-sign a contract, thus getting this foxy little number for one euro. It's got a colour screen and is really light in my pocket. But, at the moment, it's just a phone. I have no emotional attachment to it, and no stories connected to it. It's just plastic and some wires and computer chips and stuff.
Craig Robinson, June 2003