Monday, June 22, 2009

In Search of Negropedia Brown...

Well, last couple weekends I tried out the "Negropedia Brown" concept on Gawker.

On paper, the idea is this: there remain "ethnocultural mysteries", which is to say the issues of racial inequality still exist in this country (c.f. Barack's race speech). Particularly in certain institutions, media, for example.

And I've always been a big fan of the "Encyclopedia Brown" boy-detective mysteries. So wouldn't it be sorta cool to use that conceit to explore these "ethnocultural mysteries". It's a more creative and fun way to dig in on a touchy subject, perhaps wag your finger at The System. Harkening back to childhood storytelling can soften what often comes across as harsh sentiments.

So far I've done three cases:

Case of Will Leitch and the Burning Q-Tip
Case of Jay-Z and the Undead Auto-Tune
Case of Vanity Fair and the World White Web

Unfortunately, the execution hasn't lived up to the dream in my head. Primarily, as I see it, because the answers to Encyclopedia Brown mysteries were simple, succinct, and definitive. I haven't managed to recreate the same effect of suspenseful storytelling leading to a clear satisfying conclusion.

I'm posting this cause I'm going back to the lab with Negropedia Brown. I believe strongly in creative transparency and crowdsourcing, and want to get more of "The Process" on TAN; especially if I'm outsourcing the product anyway. So this a post/space for any thoughts, suggestions, and for referring people to the samples.

There are certainly other variables at play: Is referencing Encyclopedia Brown already making for a very niche group (do kids today or even young adults remember/revisit those stories; they seem classic to me, but maybe not)? Does the complicated nature of race totally short-circuit any attempt to have satisfying answers? i.e. when we solve the mystery of race at-large then you can broach this. How does "turn to the back of the book" storytelling work on blogs/the internet? And how much does timeliness and news relevancy play a part-- the first and third cases above were not timely at all. All this before even getting to the nuts-and-bolts of the actual writing.

I still think the seeds are there for something very very cool. It might play better as video or sketch where a character can better translate the mood/tone. Maybe it works better as a cartoon, a la Boondocks. Maybe it's just one of those ideas that doesn't get all the way *there*.

If you have thoughts on any of the above, feel free to share. You won't hurt my feelings. And if you have the notion that gets it right, you're totally in on any byline, $, etc. I just think there's upside, style and substance potential. And so many ideas get shelved and forgotten I wanted to give this one some special attention.

TAN/Negropedia Brown

Illustrations by the illustrious Brandon.


  1. Anonymous6/22/2009

    I enjoyed the Negropedia Brown stories [all of them]. I guess I have a good imagination when reading and can picture the scenes as I read.

    I think more illustration wouldn't hurt. I like the flow of the stories, so don't change that.

    In todays society; people are dumbed down and want the summary of things. I cannot and will NOT fully comprehend something in 140 characters or less. Please don't dumb down the Negropedia series.

    Alot of us are in need of good content [a good blog read] that will have you thinking after reading it. That's why I come to your blog. :D

    You can also execute the cartoon or other forms, but the blog version was fine. I always hear dumb ass people complain something is "too long" to read, but how do you get the FULL story if you don't READ?

  2. TAN, audience is a big part of this. Your last two segments were posted on Gawker, where ideas with earnest intent go to die. Don't get too twisted over it.

    I enjoyed the Q-Tip story and Obama. Not so much Jay-Z, but that's probably because I hated DOA as a song.

    Love the blog, so whatever you decide to do I'll be sure to take a look.

  3. thehoustongirl: thanks. yeah, more cartoons might help the length go down easier. I don't think they were excessively long, but they do veer in the 700-1000 word territory vs. 300-500 for typical blog length.

    JJ: audience is a point well-taken. i wonder how NB would go over at a black-oriented website.

    although my goal, of course, especially with the children's story format is to appeal across the board.

    Question for both of you: Is Encyclopedia Brown an easily identifiable reference? or do you have to google it? and then i guess, pending that answer, how old are you, 20s, 30s, older, younger(?).

  4. tilda m.6/22/2009

    I'm with JJ. Many gawker commenters are interested only in gossip and testing out their latest snarky quips.
    But even that's not fair in this instance. Seems like a few angry race ranters got a hold of the discussion and led it in twisted ways obama would not approve of.

  5. My claim to fame will be that I came up with the Negropedia Brown name.

    I'm 40ish and loved the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid. I bought one E.B. book for my 9-year-old son; he liked it alright and wouldn't mind reading more. You can find the books in Borders' kids section, so the series must have commercial legs.

    I missed your Obama story. Must read! I read (...or skimmed, for the Jay-Z one) the other two. I'm a sucker for the E.B.-style writing shtick. OK, just skipped ahead to the two-word answer to the V.F. mystery--heh. Well. That one does lend itself to a simple two-word answer, doesn't it? You could probably write a zillion of these stories that have the same ending. When will Negropedia Brown begin to recognize the underlying theme and get radicalized? I could see this progressing to Negropedia Brown cracks the case of "Who Finished the Black Panthers' Cheerios and Put the Empty Box Back?"

  6. Orange: Yes, the naming of N.B. is yet another sterling credential for your Hall of Fame resume.

    also,good note on handing E.B. down. when i picked up some reference/for-fun copies I had to dig around a bit. but that might be because i was looking for the "box set" (which has four thin paperbacks) ...i'm always wondering if it's like giving "kids these days" jacks or marbles or something.

    but i totally agree with the Black Panthers cheerio riff. after a while the cases should be totally hilarious almost on spot. hence "no inquiry too ridiculous" on the signpost....

  7. Anonymous6/23/2009

    I laughed my ass off at Negropedia Brown, emailed the links to all my friends, and then nodded sagely at your analysis and conclusion on each ethnocultural dilemma. Feel free to go back to the lab and tweak this one if you must, but I'll miss it while it's gone!

  8. Now, I don't know if this offers you anything as a writer, but here's how my kid approached E.B.: He read the stories, made up his own half-asses, implausible explanations, and skipped reading E.B.'s solutions. Maybe your approach should be to omit the answer and leave that for reader contributions? Then you can sit there rolling your eyes at all the people who miss the point.

  9. I think you are being to hard on yourself. I enjoyed reading what you have so far. Keep it up!

    (and the "That's racist!" kid cracks me up. He really made my day.)

  10. Anonymous6/25/2009

    TAN, you expect entitled liberal types to accept your finger-wagging? Come on. Who gets called racist and says "Thank You"?

  11. I think they're great. Keep at it.


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