Hi, I'm Rafael Rodrigues (also known as Algures) and I make comics. I am also a copywriter, content writer and science writer. Most of my work are available in portuguese, but some are in english.
I'm available for freelance work, so contact me if you need: contato@rafaelalgures.com
Olá, sou Rafael Rodrigues (também conhecido como Algures) e eu faço histórias em quadrinhos. Também sou redator publicitário, de conteúdo e científico.
Estou disponível para trabalho freelancer, entre em contato se precisar: contato@rafaelalgures.com

segunda-feira, 6 de abril de 2020

Horror Comics: Beginnings (Gutter of Horror Colunm)

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website that talks about horror comics.
This is the translated version of the article.

Trying to trace the origins of any genre is an almost impossible task if you want absolutely precision. Stories are as ancient as human societies and this applies to horror as well. So, to be able to talk shortly about the origins of horror comics and to have a more accessible article I will ignore the part of the history that is not specifically comic related. I will also use as a parameter the so-called “modern comics”, the format used since 19th century, just because it’s the easier way to get into it.

The path of horror comics began informally and subtly, side by side with fantasy and space opera comics that were genres within pulp fiction. “Pulp” is the designation given to sensationalist stories in America – not just from comics – with not much literary depth and printed in cheap paper with low cost which made pulps very inexpensive to buy – and also very popular. Pulps started at the beginning of the 20th century and were the TV series of its time, in an age where there was no TV or streaming services. But unlike current comics and TV shows pulps didn’t have much commitment to chronology, development of character or any sense of reality. Its only purpose was to be simple, accessible and entertaining.

American pulp magazines were the spiritual descendants of the British Penny Dreadfuls from the 19th century, a kind of cheap popular literature that was mostly about crime and horror. The main difference was that pulp ended up creating a very specific subgenre of horror. The pulp magazines were already one step closer to comics, as it were illustrated by excellent artists from the period - some which also worked at the comic book industry, such as Lyman Anderson, Adolphe Barreaux and W. M. Allison. Many comic artists were influenced by pulp illustrators or worked in pulp magazines – most notably Will Eisner, which drew western magazines. In the beginning, pulp comics just got the characters from the magazines to work with. Much of the them are remembered today as comic characters but starred first in pulp the magazines, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, Zorro, Ka-Zar, Buck Rogers, Solomon Kane and Conan the Barbarian among others.

Space opera and crime stories were among the most popular pulp genres, along with a kind of disposable horror with strong influence in the naturalist horror popularized by the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris. The main thing of the naturalistic horror was to move away from supernatural – for the most part – and delivering stories with gruesome and graphic detail about crime, conspiracies convoluted plots and, mostly, a bunch of explicit blood and deaths. This ended up becoming a subgenre in itself called "Weird Menace", where we have a protagonist – in many cases a sensual woman or a noir style detective – involved with a sadistic villain that was just an excuse to show a lot of violence and brutality, with some nudity as extra1.

In general, the resolutions of the stories within the “weird menace” framework invoked rational explanations, although sometimes it could go as far as to show some supernatural element. But that doesn't mean the comics didn't have its supernatural and ghost stories. It did, but they were not part of the crime and weird menace type stories that were by far the most popular at that time.

The first weird menace pulp was probably Dime Mystery, which started as a typical detective story – the most popular genre at the beginning – but with time became a new genre, with influences of the Theatre du Grand Guignol mentioned earlier. It was about 1933 and from there other publications followed this line of thinking and new magazines arrive like Terror Tales, Horror Stories and magazines from the Red Circle Publishing2 like Mystery Tales and Marvel Tales – later turned into comics – that increased the graphic content of torture.

The most perceptive reader must have figured out that the increasing graphic horrific scenes, especially in comics, didn’t go unnoticed by American society at the time and created a public outcry. The following backlash and the increasingly popularity of the superhero genre that exploded after Superman in 1939 ended up burying the genre. This was the early 40s, well before the infamous Comics Code.

This was the beginnings of horror comics, mostly in the United States. Of course, horror is not limited to North America but this is definitely the best way to start to talk about it. I will try to write about horror comics in other countries as the column progresses – especially because I’m Brazilian and I want English readers to know more about the horror comics in Brazil. But mostly, the North-American comics are the best reference point.

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, a short horror comic about Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence are available at Amazon – digital and paperback.


1. One analogue in film would be the “splatter” subgenre.
2. “Red Circle Publishing” was an umbrella name of a group of book and pulp companies lead by Martin Goodman. Goodman was the one who expanded the subgenre of “weird menace”. The main comic book arm inside Red Circle was Timely Comics – which later became Marvel Comics.

terça-feira, 31 de março de 2020

Is a post-capitalist world possible?

Yes, I know it's a cliché

This is one of the topics in which tends to result in nasty comments criticizing the text normally – usually people even read it. It’s a subject that brings all kinds of heated responses. Some see capitalism as a “necessary evil”, the best that we got and, since capitalism was the economic system that prevailed it’s probably the best we can do. I will ignore this reasoning for the sake of the argument that I will make in this article. For that reason I will start from the assumption that it is indeed possible to overcome capitalism and think about some new thing (whatever that new thing may end up being). And no, this is not an article defending socialism.

First, let’s talk about the “villain”

Usually when people talk about capitalism the tendency is an ideological exaggeration towards some extreme: or extremely optimistic about what capitalism has done for human progress and individual justice; or extremely pessimistic about the social and psychological damages that capitalism brings. Since we already have plenty of content defending either extreme I will try to make a more nuanced analysis – knowing there’s a risk of being misinterpreted.

It’s not a surprise that the capitalist economic system has its problems and also its qualities. On one hand the social division of labor brought something which were virtually impossible before – like social rise for example. On the other hand this same capitalism kept some of the vices from other systems – in particular the tendency that, once someone has more economic power he can use this power to gain more power, making more and more difficult for others to rise economically as well.

Many times the “cons” surpasses the “pros” because of capitalism’s own configuration and the visibility that those who take advantage from it easily gain. When fighting for less economical regulation, the “economic liberals” only reinforce how much a non-regulated economy tend to an unfair balance in the market – the opposite of the original goal of an ideal free market. Those who have more will always have more opportunities to have even more, mining the chances of social rise of those who are at the bottom of the economic pyramid – and this has nothing to do with meritocracy1. The fact that these same defenders of less/no regulations are always begging for it when things get bad – like in times of economic crisis – sound hypocrite. Especially if we consider that those people frequently represent mega-corporations or banks, whose owners pile up huge fortunes and are in positions of such privilege that it’s difficult for regular people to identify with them.

But as a system per se – and excluding those who seek to take advantage of it – capitalism has, of course, its merits. Today it’s possible to distribute goods and services to a much broader population thanks to this configuration. At least in theory, no one is the “owner” of the system like in feudalism or in the aristocracies from the ancient world – although we can argue that the owners of the Capital are the owners of capitalism, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Anyone can hope for a better social and economic position; and proportionally, there’s less starving people in the world today.

The configuration of the capitalist system allowed more access to goods and services and globalization in a level that would not be possible in previous economic systems. The capitalist economy become a common language between culturally different nations, probably avoiding many wars that now are fought in the realm of international trades – although I know capitalism had created some new conflicts as well. But on paper, capitalism seems like a good idea.

What really matter in this debate

When a debate about capitalism comes to light, it’s common to talk about its pro and cons and if the solution is to keep using it or to change it. This is, at least for me, the main problem and the reason why this debate always ride in circles and never evolves: to give capitalism a subjective value – for good or bad – instead of analyze it in a more practical way.

Considering that capitalism is the predominant system in the world, the real debate should be: with the knowledge that we have about other systems and the experience with the capitalist economic system that we have until now, is it possible to do better? Is it possible to improve the distribution of goods and services, decrease the insecurity, improve human relations, individual liberties and the social justice? A pessimistic vision would say that this is the best we can do, that the limits of the system aren’t related to it – like our biases and biological needs, for example. A more optimistic view would say the opposite: that it is possible to overcome capitalism and that it’s a system that accentuates, promote and/or create many of the problems that we take as human nature. According to this view, it’s indeed possible to do better. Both visions have its truths, at least in some level. Of course the answer demands that we consider several factors, and many are indeed outside the system. Questions of:
Human nature – egoism is accentuated in a capitalist system and can be decreased or is it inevitable no matter the system?
Ethics – it’s fair that a single person or a small group be able to possess disproportionally much more in comparison to other member of society, which many of them are significant contributors to this fortune?
Society – violence and crime are increased in a capitalist system or it’s impossible to escape it? 
Politics – full economic interference, no interference at all or interference only when it’s necessary?

Among other questions. Having a position about this and other issues is what will define what comes next.

But what about the alternatives? They even exist?

When we talk about a post-capitalist society, the usual thing is to think about a transition to some kind of socialism and/or communism – which is odd, considering that one is an economic system while the other is a form of government, and technically would not be comparable with each other. That’s because the dichotomy left/right is what we grew up with. But we can’t think of changing a system to another one that is now hundreds of years old. We have to think forward; after all, they’re both products of its time. And the world carry on since then, with new problems and challenges that neither Karl Marx nor Adam Smith would had being able to conceive.

There’s a quote, frequently attributed to Einstein – but I cannot say it was really him who said it – that reads: “you cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that you had when you created the problem in the first place”. I believe there’s a good argument to be made there. Capitalism, Socialism, Anarchism, Monarchy… All of those ideas are part of the old mindset. If we really want to overcome capitalism and carry on to something better, we need to learn from the old models, but thinking towards something actually new, more suited to our needs and our current problems, like:
The increasing growth in world population;
The profound cultural differences;
The climate change;
The management of limited resources;
The distribution of goods and services;
The technological advancement;
The real time flood of information;
The new models of interpersonal relationship;
And so on.

Talking is easy

Thinking about something totally new is extremely hard. Some would say it’s nearly impossible. It would not be possible for people from feudal societies to think about a system like capitalism the same way it was not possible for indigenous people in Brazil to understand the greed that the Portuguese conquerors had for rocks that they could not see any real value. The Greek Philosophers, the greatest minds or their time, couldn’t imagine a post-slavery society in their utopic visions of the world. Even the afterlife in most religions is just an imitation of the social/political system of the society in which the said religion are rooted.

So how can we think of something new? This is the million-dollar question. But there are those who dwell over these questions. The late futurologist Jacques Fresco promote for decades his idea of a post-capitalist society called The Venus Project. Like every idea that proposes a solution to all of the world’s problems, It has its supporters – in an almost religious way – and its critics. But it’s at least an attempt to think in a detailed and systematic way about a new system taking into consideration the current problems of the world and the possibilities of today’s technology. I don’t remember another alternative that is so well thought out.

So, is it possible to think about a totally new – and better – system?

Well, the good news is, during all History of humankind, new systems were created, changes in status quo were made and human mentality were transformed. Slavery is not seem as something natural or socially accepted anymore. We refine our ethics in relation to punishments. We shift from a profoundly religious Europe to a more rational Europe. We left the aristocratic heritage and its authority behind and began to focus on individual skills, and so on. Changes happened. There’s nothing that indicates that it will not happen again.

One can argue that there’s still much to do regarding the topics I mentioned above. That much has change, but in practice, nothing changed. But the truth is we live in a world where racism is a crime. It’s a step forward. It’s possible to get even further ahead? If we think we can’t, we close ourselves to new ideas and we will never be able to overcome our own mental limitation. We will keep trying to solve the problems with the same mindset we had when we created it. But if we think that the answer to this question is “yes”, we already got one step forward. The next is to focus on “how”.

I don’t think we will get to solutions trying to bring back old ideas. But it is important to recognize the past, learn from it and have it as a reference point. We can’t put all humankind in suspended animation and wakes us up a decade later with a new mindset in a new world. A new system will have to grow gradually. That’s why the title of this article refers to a “post-capitalist” world and not a world “without” capitalism. Whatever comes next will not be created from scratch; it will be the result of what capitalism got right and what it got wrong. This is the best interpretation of “progress” that we can have.

So, is it possible to think about a post-capitalist world after all? In a way, we already are. We are starting to think about things like creative economy, collaborative communities, basic income, decentralized virtual currency, 3D printing, among others. These ideas are starting to bring new solutions to old problems. Some of those ideas may disappear with time, but others will stay, grow and transform into other things, things that we can't even imagine – just like societies from the past couldn’t imagine post-slavery, post-feudalism or post-barter worlds.

But the truth is that I think this is not even the right question. It’s not about thinking if overcome capitalism is necessary or possible; it’s about thinking if we can do better than what we have now. I believe we can. History already show us that. If we will actually do it, that’s a totally different question.

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, a short horror comic about Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence are available at Amazon – digital and print.

Further reading: The Venus Project Website

1. The concept of “merit” is a topic for another time.

quinta-feira, 26 de março de 2020

Why do we believe in Conspiracy Theories and fake news?

(note: this article is adapted from a 2017 text written in Portuguese by the author)

When I was a kid, I studied in a small school in my neighborhood. The back of the school border with an abandoned land and, since it was there for a long time, it was taken by nature, dirt and a lot of wild animals (and probably some wild people too). It was very easy for us, students, to jump from the back of the school to the land and this was a problem for the teachers. One day a big hole appear “out of nowhere” in the ground of that land. No one knew exactly what it was and what happened. Soon rumors began that weird things happen in and around the hole, like smoke from inside, some strange lights rounding the place and even sightings of a woman carrying a baby float through the school and spread quickly. Even the teachers confirm that they have seen some weird things there.

Things took such a proportion that students were really scared, so teachers finally told the truth: it was all a rumor invented by one of them to avoid kids to continuing to go to that land – which was dangerous because of all the wild animals. It was an innocent “white lie” that the teacher didn’t thought it would blow up so out of proportion. But the thing is no one believed the truth. All the students were convinced that teachers were just trying to cover up the “real” truth. One day, the hole was found closed. Just like that. Out of nowhere like it first appeared. Kids speculate what happen for a while but eventually almost everyone forgot it – and those who didn’t stop taking it too seriously. This is a true story that happen about 30 years ago.

Of course the teachers didn’t expect that a simple comment trying to keep the kids out of that abandoned land would take such absurd proportions. But this is a good example of what happens when people are so easily susceptible and have the tendency to believe in anything. But we talking about kids here, right? They eventually grow up and start to think more rationally. Right? Well, that’s the thing: we don’t.

This goes back to theories regarding how superstitions are created. it’s tied to experiments done by B.F. Skinner with pigeons in the 1930s. He put a pigeon inside a box and the pigeon, desperate and hungry, accidentally pecked a button and got food. Two more times doing the same and he started to “think” that, every time he pecked the button he would get food. But the interesting thing here is, even when he doesn’t get food, he still tried to peck the button. Sometimes harder, sometimes in different ways. This experiment gives us a good view of the superstitious thinking and helps us to understand a little about how our mind works. But what superstition has to do with conspiracy theories or fake news? When, everything, actually.

We, human beings, are used to see ourselves as different from other animals – we even think that we are superior in some way. Well, this helps with our ego, but it doesn’t add up with our actual scientific knowledge. Although we do have characteristics that other animals may not have we are, actually, ruled by the same biological instincts of any living creatures and our own society, complex as it is, still was made from those biological needs – although I know that is a little more complicated than that. The thing is most of our actions are the same, just adding complexity in the mix.

In the jungle, we don’t have time to analyze each particular situation like we can do in a modern society. To stop to think, in a scenario where you are constantly in danger of being attacked by a predator or, being yourself a predator, are constantly under threat of not finding a prey and die from starvation – it’s not just dangerous; it’s stupid.

To make sure we have speed of thought in a world where wasting time could be fatal, animals develop the ability to create patterns that allows them to easily spot a danger – or an opportunity. For example: something is moving in the bushes is always a danger – even if it isn’t, it’s better to think that is a danger when it’s not than to think there is no danger and it actually is; a light reflection that means water nearby, an opportunity. We survived and got here thanks to this. But, as all abilities brought to us by evolution, it has its flaws: a pattern created from a failure of judgment can lead an animal to get wrong about a threat or an opportunity and the thing that could help him stay alive could harm him – or even kill him. Of course the benefits of this ability surpasses potential errors, reason why it was selected by evolution and pass it along.

In our complex society1 this “pattern generator software” that we have in our brains can also either help us or harm us. What appears to be a shadow figure may be and intruder trying to rob our house… Or could be nothing.  It’s good if helps us be more careful, but it could be bad (especially for your pocket) if you decided that this shadowy figure is a ghost and pay someone to “exorcize” your house.

This kind of behavior - although it doesn’t look like it at first – is similar to the belief in conspiracy theories and how easily we believe in fake news. Behavioral scientists already know this kind of thing for a while now. We, human beings, have a deep – and evolutionary – obsession for give meaning to events. Our brains hate contradiction and everything that seems nonsense. Everything has to have a meaning. The problem is the reality is not that simple and, in a complex world that frequently doesn’t make sense superstition, conspiracy theories and false assumptions about things you take for granted arise as a way to simplify the world and make it easier to digest.

Of course, in a world dominated by technology and with information in real time, we receive news so quickly that we can’t afford to look it up if the information is solid. But "pattern generator software" along with our obsession for meaning keep strong in our brains and end up just switching the focus. Don’t be fooled: believing in fake news is pretty much believing in conspiracy theories, although without the same kind of life engagement that a whole conspiracy theory often demand.

But why believe in conspiracy theories in the first place? Why not any other thing? Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that, so I will talk about only a few. But first, it’s important to make some distinctions: conspiracy is a secret gather of individuals with intent to harm/take advantage of someone or many. Conspiracy is a real thing, and we have several examples in History to back it up. But then there’s conspiracy THEORY, which is the hypothesis about some allegedly conspiracy that may exist in the world. The term is often associated with UFOs and secret societies, but there’s all kinds of conspiracy theories, from allegations that dead celebrities didn’t actually die to the moon landing being a fake – I bet you know a bunch of those.

All conspiracy theories – as in mostly all fake news – there’s some common patterns. They usually start from a real thing - like, for example, the incident in Roswell – which helps build verisimilitude to the story. They also revolves around a sinister agenda – which frequently is associated to the future/destruction of humankind), which helps with the storytelling aspect and arouse interest – who doesn’t like a good story about secrets? And, last but not least, the story has plot holes that can quickly and easily filled and frequently cannot be verified – or demands knowledge in a specific area of expertise to debunk.

With this structure, a story can be extremely difficult to debunk – sometimes impossible – because the evidence to refute it can be ignored simply by saying that it’s “manipulated”, “fabricated” or “are part of the disinformation plan.” This actually is a more complex version of Skinner’s pigeon experiment that I talked about in the beginning: if another pigeon were put there and could ask why the first was pecking the button when is not always that food comes, he (or she) would probably give an explanation, an excuse sort to speak to maintain the superstition. Maybe he didn’t peck strong enough, or not pecked the right part of the button. Or maybe he need to peck and scratch at the same time. Explanations would arise to justify the behavior instead of the pigeon simply admit that it’s not a sure knowledge.

I know it sounds weird to say that conspiracy theories and fake news are about simplifying the world when a lot of those stories are intricately complex. But regardless of the complexity of the storytelling, they provide meaning to an event other than “it’s a random thing that happens to random people” – for humans it’s extremely difficult to deal with the randomness of life.

What’s emotionally easier to believe: that a virus are destroying humanity randomly and that has nothing to do with anyone or; that some shady government – that you were raised to hate in the first place – is responsible for creating a biological weapon to destroy the world? Or that the virus is an attempt from a divine being to wipe out true evil in the world?

For those who don’t believe in a specific conspiracy theory/fake news, it’s really hard to believe that people could…well, believe in those things. But it’s just that your mindset is not the same. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own patterns regarding certain news or certain information. You have. Even if you are aware that your mind may be deceiving you, you still have those patterns. Generally, we call those patterns “biases”, but they are created the same way: A bunch of patterns – sometimes random, sometimes not – are registered in our brains as something meaningful. What happens after that is the tendency to believe everything that fit into those patterns.

Thinking from this perspective, it’s a little easier to understand why people believe in stories that, for others, clearly don’t make sense. The world is too random to have the meaning that we wanted and frequently too disappointing. It’s hard to accept a world where thousands die in a pandemic that doesn’t discriminate just from unjust, rich from poor, police from criminals. It’s complicated to admit that there’s no evil master plan or a test of a secret weapon; that it’s simply a tragedy: chaotic, random, and worst, inevitable2. Associating this things to conspiracy theories helps us not just to make sense but in a way to cope with a world that is many times too hard to handle.

I’m not saying that believing in conspiracy theories and fake News is a good thing. I’m just trying to explain why it’s so easy to fall into those traps and, specially, why this is more natural and that we think and will happen frequently. And that’s exactly the problem. Skepticism, although is not a thing from another world, is frequently counter-intuitive. It needs you to reject what your brain does naturally – and, therefore, will appear as you’re rejecting what is real. Because that’s what our brain does, make sure that all that we think seems right because the brain hates contradiction and randomness.

So, what can we do about it? Well, not much, unfortunately. But there are things that we can do to diminish the unintended effects of our “pattern generator software”. To search for available real data is always helpful. Being aware that any information that you’re receiving has the potential to be misleading just for your own biases alone. Read multiple sources of any information you receive. Understand that people who makes/gives those infos are also susceptible to the same problem and has their own biases – but don’t hold it against them. Being aware of the official information available about a subject. Try to fact checking important information; not just information that seems strange to you, but specially the information that seems right – you are most likely to be fooled by thing you already believe.

Perhaps you are thinking “but what’s the purpose of this ‘software’ if it only brings trouble?”. Well, here’s the thing. As I said earlier, this “pattern generator software” are really important when we have to make decisions on the spot. Besides that, there’s some unexpected yet beautiful side effects to this ability: any drawing is just a bunch of lines that our brain connects as a recognizable pattern. Without our pattern generator software, we wouldn’t have art. And even reading this would be impossible. So, easy on putting all the blame on our “pattern generator software”. It’s just a part of a more complex picture, but one that helps us to understand why it’s so easy to be fooled.

So the truth is that conspiracy theories and fake news aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But we can learn how to live with it – and, most importantly, how to deal with it and search for the truth.

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition”, a short horror comic about Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence are available at Amazon – digital and print.
1. I try not to call our society “advanced” because, let’s face it…
2. Of course, I’m talking about the pandemic as it is. This is not a commentary on how governments are dealing with this. I know deaths can be avoided with good pandemic policies, but that’s not what this article is about.

quarta-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2020

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