The Way of Dryden
I thought for my first Medium article I might share awareness of a potent project very close to my creative heart called The Dryden Experiment, which I first became embroiled in some five years ago. This may at first glance appear to be a shameless plug (I admit it does seem to double up..), but the fact is there is a very relevant message behind it, which I feel is worth sharing every bit as much as the actual project itself.
So, as Kevin Flynn might say, set the way back machine for 2011. From my own point of view I decided to investigate how the web might better help me progress my digital creative endeavours, and quite without any real plan I resorted to doing what I often do when a concrete plan eludes me — I put my trust in the randomness of life. I happened upon the massive online phenomenon called Deviant Art, and after a little poking around I elected to make this my home away from home. It was only a matter of a couple of months in that my work caught the attentions of transgender artist Katie Papilio, herself primarily a writer living in Kansas, and with whom I’ve forged a creative and (over the last half year or so) semi-professional working relationship.
The Dryden Experiment is the product of some personal reflection on Katie’s part over the issues which most creative people face when attempting to profit from their spirit. For her there was also the dream of having an entire playground, reminiscent of the beloved and well supported Star Wars and Star Trek genres, where whole worlds could be created and adventures woven. At the time she was already somewhat published, but frustrated by the reality that tales of major traditional success often paralleled the best anecdotes of winning the lottery — that the chances of any work reaching its audience by way of the traditional submission “slush piles” are slim, and any success that is found is all too often short lived. If asked what inspired the experiment, she would probably recount the events of a WWF-style TV event which unfolded one night. That particular evening one of the fighters indulged in some ‘trash-talking’ before coming to his senses and abruptly apologising to everyone present; fighters, audience and in particular the head organiser. Katie was inspired into realising that this guy had highlighted the concept of ‘interconnectedness’ — that beneath the obvious apology was the notion that the enjoyment and success of the event for everyone present relied upon an unspoken communal commitment to the cause. She reasoned that this could be the key to building a forum for creative success which could transcend the limitations of the established outlets, using the internet to create a ‘crucible’ into which artists from any background could bring their talents and interests, and interact for mutual benefit. All that was missing was something to help smooth relations between the thorny issues of copyright, a matter which I would argue has probably scuppered as many projects as it has protected those we cherish. This was resolved by ultimately adopting the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 licensing system. A broad explanation would be to say that it facilitates the sharing of created works, for fun or profit, by way of acknowledgement and promotion, whilst still allowing the artist to retain full ownership of their own work.
As I write this Dryden is only five years old, but the project has expanded from a kitchen table blue dream into a self-propogating phenomenon, with artists in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and Australia on a roll, collaborating and dreaming up projects. Indeed what started out as a simple goal of creating a science fiction playground (and that is arguably still the dominant genre) has expanded to encompass Steampunk, Nightmares (horror), Rose and Scarlet (romance and erotica respectively) and Apierogon, an overarching ‘multiverse' genre dreamed up especially for those creations which don’t fit neatly into what is already established! Loosely attached to the experiment but in no way binding (no pun intended) is Dryden House Publishing, an independent outfit which to date comprises of Katie (Chief Editor), Tracy Vincent (Editor) and myself as Art Director. As is probably implicit in the company name we choose to work exclusively with people directly involved in Dryden projects, and it was established as a one-stop but discretionary facility for those contributors who wish to further their work, but who have little or no experience or contact with people in the publishing industry. We function on the basis of passion for the project and zero/minimal financial investment, with an even split, profit return on the lifespan of any given project for those contractually involved. As any successful artist will tell you, half the battle in the creative sector is actually moving a project from the mind/napkin/bathtub and into reality. Of the many strengths we’ve discovered along the way I would say that because of the above, one of the most prominent is the ability to motivate projects which would be deemed too risky or niche by major investors. As with the inclusive principles upon which the Dryden Experiment was founded, Dryden House also stands for a ‘people before profit’ approach, meaning that we support and treat the artists first and foremost as human beings, with daily problems and hiccups. We would rather help to simultaneously nurture their productivity and allow all necessary room for those personal interventions, believing that the potential in any creative project can be best encouraged by a supporting role rather than a forced, dictatorial one. We believe that it’s more profitable in the long run to have a little shared out across the many, to build a thriving community which will grow over time, and that akin to well treated farm land, it will help nurture the growth of many over a period of time, rather than bestow excessive wealth to the few. In a world filled with messages which extol virtue in achievement to excess, I happen to think that a moderate comfort for many more is preferable. I personally have an affinity for Japanese culture, and they carry a wonderful notion that though things don’t change fast in their business models, something that goes up slowly will also come down slowly. I have a personal preference for the long game, and the fact that they have businesses that are still around to celebrate over a thousand years of business is a testament to that cultural mentality. I think Dryden follows that concept rather neatly.
So what has actually happened? Well, personally speaking I’ve built up a wonderful portfolio of work which is being added to with every project I choose to be involved with, or am involved with as a matter of course within my brief as Art Director. Some people have fallen by the wayside, but collaborative, creative and cross-promotional efforts have yielded very positive results for the vast majority of those involved, from artwork portfolios, role-playing games and novels through to multi-author anthologies, and Dryden currently has several publications in print and e-book format, available (ironically) through the major online publishing outlets.
Finally we come full circle to that relevant message behind it all which I promised at the beginning. The notion of communal collaboration is a very potent one, and I would staunchly advocate for such an approach across almost everything we do in life. As much as we stare at the media and go about our daily rituals, cursing our politics, cultural clashes, incompetences and foibles, I believe that this Dryden Experiment, which has helped me to kick start my own creative efforts, is a very clear and concise model for the future. It’s proof positive that though the large scale has a place (the internet probably qualifies as such an institution) we can now, at grass roots level, peel back the complexity, knuckle down and achieve real, concrete goals with will and human effort, and all it takes is a little organisation and self-confidence. In something as simple as the internet we have a fantastic opportunity to embrace the possibilities for self-organisation, right now. The tools are there for the taking. It was commented upon in a news report I read on the very morning that I began writing this article, that the web ought to be a place where peace and constructivism should rule, rather than the divisiveness of anger and hate speech. I absolutely agree. My gran had a saying — “look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.”. There is some measure of truth in her aphorism when you look to our systems and the way they might be made to work better for the smaller group or the individual. Think about all the collaborative working aspects of day to day life which could be simplified and enhanced, all those positive results which could be filtered directly to the people who really matter and stand to benefit most from the solutions. Opportunity for real feedback less prone to being lost in bureaucracy, and systems quicker to change and adapt as a result of them being that much smaller and closer to the source. I say whatever it is that you’re positively inclined towards, dream it and go for it. If you’re tempted to think that something insurmountably special has to occur before something so profound can emerge from something so simple, know that such reasoning isn’t true. From my point of view the Dryden Experiment started essentially with nothing more than a stranger admiring my work on the internet.