There’s no doubt Instagram is changing the way we make and absorb visual culture. This is especially true when it comes to alternative comics. Take Leipzig-based illustrator and cartoonist Max Baitinger, for instance: until recently, he always created work in landscape. Since publishing a weekly Instagram comic called Fine Thanks, though, he’s a square format devotee, whether in print and online.
“I never used to see myself as a cartoonist of short strips, so I took the platform as an opportunity to get used to shorter ways of telling stories,” he says. The square format helped him frame shorter narratives; and the fleeting interactivity at the heart of Instagram meant he started to consider how to communicate atmosphere clearly and concisely.
In drawing these weekly cartoons for the medium—and spending time thinking creatively about the perimeters of such platforms—social media has emerged as a theme in his practise. Alright is a new collection of works from various books and Baitinger’s own blog that deal with social interactions, online and off. The stories inside vary, but are loosely connected, and feature a tall, skinny character called P.
Baitinger’s comics united by their focus on an in-between state-of-mind; he’ll title them with expressions that fill space between sentences, like “Well then…” or “So…” Alright, then is a word said to move on from something, but also to designate the in-between feeling of not too good but also not too bad. The strips in the collection function like a kind of shrug—a moment of ambivalence—they’re neither here nor there; online nor offline; representing the “not much” moments of daily life. The first short in Alright features nondescript P sitting in a room and tapping on his phone as he lounges in various positions. A message appears, and he swipes it away so that it fades to nothing—as readers, it becomes up to us to ponder what it all meant.
“Personally, what I like about social media is how it makes social interactions even more complicated,” says Baitinger. “It reveals a process in real life communication that I never thought about. Thus, I make comics about it.”
In the second story, P sits at home alone, doing not very much other than clicking on his computer during a moment that seems like procrastination. A website constantly asks him if he’s a robot. He convinces the site that he’s not, and then gets up to stretch and touch his toes. Then the story ends. “The character is not whining about being alone, he’s alright with it,” says Baitinger. “The exploration for me is less about narrative, and more about finding a tone in cartooning.” Through turning his focus to modern everyday moments, Baitinger explores atmosphere and mood, and how banal moments can reveal a lot—if we just stop swiping long enough to dwell on them.