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The Mascot: February 6, 2022

Five stories from near and far.

By News

A wide-mouthed character tilts its head back and gobbles up a variety of news briefs and debris. Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Webtoons Job Talk at SAIC

Nearly ninety students tuned into Webtoons’ job talk last Wednesday night hosted by CAPX, the career and internship center at SAIC. Webtoons is an online platform and producer of comics, specializing in episodic releases.  The talk was hosted by Webtoons’ Kirsten Pointer, Maria Li, and Alaina Phan. 

Attendees learned the distinction between Webtoons Originals and Webtoons Canvas. In short, Originals are completed piecewise, with a different artist at each step of the process including storyboarding, drawing, coloring, and lettering. Canvas comics are made by independent artists that use Webtoons primarily as a platform to show their work. The Webtoons hosts assured attendees that a dedicated team at Webtoons reads every Canvas comic in search of potential freelancers or stories to absorb into Originals. 

Throughout the webinar, the chat was flooded with questions from students.

A quick summary: Vertical scroll is king; mobile users fly through comics; freelancers should prepare a portfolio specific to the step in the process they want to do; and “unions have not yet reached comics.” 

A quick summary of reactions, respectively: Goodbye dreams of print publishing; illustration time does not correlate to scroll time; cartoon Taylorism is a thing; and why did that question about unions get punted?

Little contour people

Alt Text – Toward a New Norm

Alternative text, known widely as alt text,  is a web design feature that allows the description of an image to be read aloud by a screen reader for those who are visually impaired. SAIC Academic Spine faculty were reminded of this accessibility measure in an email that went out earlier this week. The email provided this guide to creating accessible PDFs and guidelines for best practices of creating alt text.

Instagram launched an alt text feature in 2018, though it remains underutilized. Etsy announced in October 2021 that it was adding an alt text option for creators. Though its use is making its way into mainstream, Webtoons and many other web publications of comics still do not require alt text. Where alt text is used in comics, it is not optimized for a visually-impaired audience, instead, for example, containing easter eggs. While perhaps a fun surprise for sighted readers, easter eggs don’t serve a visually-impaired individual.

Alt text is relatively young, and best practices are not firmly established. Academic Spine faculty are encouraged to describe “placement of objects in image,” “emotions, such as smiling,” and “names of people,” but discouraged from describing “emojis” and using an “overly poetic or detailed” manner. Some leaders in the alt text field may disagree, such as the collaborators in the  project, “Alt text as poetry.” In any case, we might anticipate that in addition to a line artist and color artist, Webtoons will soon need to add an alt text artist to their assembly lines.

Protest and arrests downtown following release of Laquan McDonald’s killer

On Thursday afternoon, protestors gathered across from the Federal Plaza to demand that Jason Van Dyke face federal charges for killing seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. Video of the incident, in which Van Dyke shoots McDonald sixteen times, was withheld for thirteen months. 

When Van Dyke was sentence for seven years on state charges, he became the first Chicago patrolman to be convicted of murder in nearly fifty years. “Law enforcement officers kill about 1,000 people a year across the United States. Since the beginning of 2005, 121 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings,” according to a 2020 New York Times report. “Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often of a lesser charge.” 

Van Dyke’s 2019 sentence came one day after the acquittal of three other officers accused of attempting to cover up his crime. The special prosecutor, Joseph McMahon, said of Van Dyke’s lenient seven years, “It strikes a balance between holding Jason Van Dyke accountable and also recognizing his service as a police officer.”

Having served only three years and four months, Van Dyke is out of prison. Nine community organizers were arrested late Thursday night at the protests demanding federal charges. 

Chip crunch

Supply chain disruptions are a reality of the pandemic. Semiconductor chips are ubiquitous in modern goods, and there aren’t enough of them to meet demand. The shortage of chips cost the global car manufacturing industry $210 billion in 2021, leaving about 10% of production on the table . The necessity of chips makes manufacturers top players in a global diplomacy. 

But “Chiplomacy,” so-called  by the Economist, pre-dates the pandemic. “In 2018 America clobbered Huawei. It banned the export to the Chinese firm of American microchips essential for its products.” The supply of chips is reliant on a few, giant firms. All over the world, chip manufacturers are pumping money into increasing capacity, including American companies trying to get into the game.

Intel announced on Jan. 21 that it would build two new factories in Ohio by 2025, and plans to spend $28 billion this year to increase chip manufacturing capacity. On Jan. 25, America’s Commerce Department released a report urging the House to pass a bill that includes $52 billion in incentives for American chip making. Meanwhile on Jan. 13, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s biggest manufacturer, announced plans to put $44 billion into new production capacity in 2022.  

Russian aggression toward Ukraine correlates with Winter Olympics

The last time Russia invaded Ukraine was in 2014, when Russia was hosting the Winter Olympics at Sochi. Because of that invasion, Russia ultimately annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula. Today, Russia postures on the Eastern border of Ukraine, amassing military personnel and paraphernalia. On Jan. 23, various foreign diplomats evacuated embassies in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. On Thursday the United States deployed troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Eastern Europe.

On Friday, China’s leader Xi Jinping warmly received Vladimir Putin in a planned summit just prior to the opening of this year’s Olympic Games. A Bloomberg report claimed that Xi asked Putin not to invade Ukraine during the Olympics, citing anonymous diplomats. According to the Economist, “China’s embassy in Moscow called that report ‘a hoax and a provocation.’”

Russia views an eastward expansion of NATO as an existential threat. In order to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s borders, Russia demands that, essentially, “NATO never to admit new members, and to remove its forces from any country Russia threatens” (The Economist). Onlookers of Putin’s antics observe that conversation about war has replaced conversations about inflation, the pandemic, and corruption. Indeed, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny languishes in a prison camp after a failed assassination attempt. His crime? Presenting an alternative to the authoritarian regime of Putin. 

Michaela Chan (MFAW 2023) is the News Editor at F Newsmagazine. Hopefully she is drawing a tree.

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