A comic, a cameo and an extraction of the incorrect essence

So a few years ago I was in a Discord chat for /r/worldbuilding. I was talking to one of the mods, who happened to be running a web comic at the time. As it turned out, the comic is mostly horror-themed, which is /entirely/ not my cup of tea, so I don't actually read it. What did catch my eye was that in the latest page at the time, this lovely fella showed up:







※ Image is cropped and edited in order to facilitate discussion and to observe copyright rules.

Which is more or less one of these:

(Front view)

(Back view)

I still think about this every so often, which is why I'm talking about this in 2023. (The quote that you will see later is from 2018.) There are three things that I want to discuss about this:

The cover-up job is poor

Since this sticks out to me like a sore thumb, I brought it up to the author, who replied thus:

Heh, my artist was afraid someone would pick out that it was a Mercedes, because that's a bit too high class for Mel. But I assured her it was fine, just change the logo...

This sounds entirely reasonable, and I cannot fault the artist because she most likely has experiences that are at extreme variance with mine. Having said that, I would like to point out substituting in a diamond is a dubious choice, for two reasons: one mostly aesthetic and subjective, and the other objective but fairly niche.

The first thing is that a plain lozenge is lacks some sort of quality that would make a "real logo". In a sense, it's too simple; it's more like something that one would draw to indicate the mere presence of something rather than actually depicting anything plausibly real. I'll explain why this is justifiable later, but there's something a little bit silly about how something that is quite eye-catching being so deeply nothing.

The second thing, which may be more or less obvious depending on what you are familiar with, is that a lozenge is the logo for Renault. The actual Renault logo is hollow, (and they have done something a little more complicated recently), and the view of the badge on the back is notably more square than diamond, so I think the artist actually didn't really mean to do something like that. Given the comments about how the car is supposed to be not so fancy, it would be appropriate, and so really everything kind of fits together.

The car is instantly recognisable

Car companies being here to sell products and services, they tend to want their products to be distinctive. This is reflected in real life as them having particular shapes that are easy to tell apart from others. This is so common that a little-heard concept known as "trade dress" protects the design of a car like copyright does to a book – "a car", probably the one you see in silhouette on a road sign, is not protected, but a specific car is. Trade dress violations are however mostly ignored because of other more tricky legal concepts that are beyond the scope of this article.

Also, cars are kind of like animals but made of metal, and so are more disposable. They are, in essence, funny-looking horses anyway. So there's that.

Cars and Power Demonstration

Rather than discussing legal minutiae the takeaway is that the badge on the front is hardly the only thing that someone uses to identify a car. The implications here are fairly straightforward from here.

First, simply putting duct tape over the logo – or, in a drawn example, substituting it for something generic – doesn't actually disguise the identity of a car very much. I believe that is all you really need to get yourself covered liability-wise in a legal sense, but what is left is still plenty identifiable, especially if one leaves behind particular "tells" (the shape of the grille is a particular giveaway that gets discussed often).

Second, because cars are typically more or less isomorphic to each other given that they are the same model, a typical brain should be able to factor it out of the world and create a fairly concrete platonic model in the mind. Even if the insides is not known, at least the external appearance, especially its shape and size, should not pose a challenge for most people.

(See the next section for a common objection.)

Why I care

One more thing I should say here is that I'm absolutely not trying to rag on the artist or the author. I can't draw and I can barely write a worthwhile story, after all.

As one might have understood from my previous articles, I have a limited tolerance to particular things like horror, and I have much preferred them to be something else other than their original qualities. When I have to interact with one of them, as it happens when I talk to creative types and also when it shows up on the streets, I tend to do the equivalent of opening up a bypass valve and perceive as little of it as possible. But perceive it I do, and the secondary choice here is to find something I do like and then attach myself to it. And then it is obvious what happened in this case: I don't like horror, I do like cars, so I look at the car and forget all the other things that have happened everywhere else. In other words, unfamiliar territory means that I look for any obvious "handles" to hold onto, and that car is the easiest one I can find.

This is perhaps why it has caused me to think about it for so long, because it is something that I can actually think about in one of those strange worlds that I cannot make any reasonable headway with. It is extraordinarily frustrating to have a story that you want to read in support of someone, but it just doesn't work with you and you get frustrated.

Finally, I would like to discuss the idea of extracting an essence. Basically, every time someone tells a story, often the reasoning is that they want you to extract something out of it. It could be a "moral of a story", or a sense or an emotion. One can even set up a standard of what counts as a good story: if you can get extract more or less the same essence that the author has originally intended one to, then he has done a good job.

Of course that's not the case here, but that's mostly because I'm not a very good audience for this type of comic. Therefore, it can be said that I have extracted the wrong essence from this story. However that's not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes the alternate things are worthwhile. Perhaps this wasn't one of them, but it did keep me occupied for a while, and maybe that is some value in and of itself.

🗼 gemini://isoraqathedh.pollux.casa/not-a-merc.gmi