Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guest Lectures in Commenting: Polk Panther

[Editor's Note: Deadspin visual-joke dynamo Polk Panther stopped by to lend his perspective on a topic of significant importance to Mad Bastards All: visual jokes. This is the guy who authored the now famous Jim Tressel Walmart photo and who's had more fun with UweBollocks's face than all the missing-and-presumed-dead prostitutes in the western hemisphere. He's mastered the format, and this was a major coup for the blog.

As mentioned previously, should any other Deadspinners wish to contribute to this blog's mission of commenting on Deadspin commenting, direct your (articulate, thoughtful, well-developed, spell-checked) missives to

I'm not so much funny with my words. I got a +1 from Steve_U once, but I think he just mistook my avatar for IronMikeGallego's.

What I'm trying to say is, I know dick about funny commenting, so you may as well stop reading now.

But, when words fail me, in order to bask in the appreciative glow of The Commentariat, I turn to the visual medium. Yes, I'm the guy who pastes giant cocks onto pictures in Photoshop.

Using pictures in comments is dicey business. You have the opportunity to hit a touchdown or absolutely faceplant, and there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. There is nothing as brutal as seeing an unfunny and unoriginal photo-based comment; on the flipside, the effort and thought put into a well-done original piece can lead to a memorable comment and +1s all around.

There are two kinds of photo posts. First is using an image made by someone else, which can be risky. Second, you can go original and take the time to make something funny yourself in Photoshop, Paint, iLife, etc. I want to talk about why the first frequently fails (but also how it can be redeemed), and then why the second works and why I'd love to see more people doing it.


Allow me to illustrate the former first. Since this is Mad Bastards All, let me present some total fucking duds:

- This one from Slanket in the Facekicker 2: The Kickening post. Really? It's before lunch; nobody needs to see a deformed bloody face, next to an uninspired comment that adds nothing and simply rehashes the tired "soccer players are pussies" meme.
- Or this one from disturbingly-named MaxErnstMankini in the Kareem Statue post. He apparently put "Abdul-Jabbar ninja" into Google Image Search, posted the first thing that came up, and then wrote an italics-laden clunker of a caption.
- Anything by SirTruthington.

And then there are the exceptions to the rule:

- Like this one from JohnnyGentle in the Dan Gilbert Radio Interview post. He balanced the comment and the image beautifully, working in the math joke from the article to perfection.
- Or how about this one in the Gay Superstar post by Steve_U, who, incidentally, I am totally gay for now if he's going keep making astronomy jokes.

What did we learn from those four? The first two tried too hard to use the photo for the sake of using a photo. The bloody head guy thing shouldn't be there to begin with because it's gross and rehashes a tired meme; the comment doesn't pull the photo out of the deep end. The Kareem photo could've been useful, but fell flat because it wasn't supported by a good comment. Conversely, the second two worked because they found a beautiful harmony between photo and comment. Both were humorously referential to the article and made you think before you laughed.

So bottom line on using other people's images: Be careful. Think it out. Make sure it's funny.


Now then. The good stuff.

Philosophically, the rules for being successful with an original Photoshop work are largely the same as in regular commenting, namely:

1. Be funny.
2. Be original.
3. Be creative.

These are all obvious rules. But, notice there was no "be talented" or "be technically perfect" or "use Photoshop" rule, because plenty of guys out there make incredibly funny stuff with nothing more than Microsoft Paint or iLife or whatever socialist open-source nonsense Linux uses. For example: a few weeks back Craggs' series on MLB pulling video highlights forced him to re-enact scenes using Paint. While not a comment of course, this is a style that is hilarious and requires no software investment.

Sheed's Bald Spot has also used this style. (Editor's note: My God, that's hysterical.)

So disregarding the technical aspect of things (if you really want to learn Photoshop, get on YouTube and watch the tutorials), let's talk about the mental process.

1. Get inspired. You have to have good source material. You have to look at photos and immediately start thinking of the terrible, terrible things you can do to them. When I see something like this photo of Colin Cowherd, I immediately want to start splicing photos of large zucchinis into his hand. When feeling particularly inspired (or in a contest setting), I'll actually write down the ideas and knock them out in order. To execute, I treat making the composition kind of like getting dressed in the morning - the original photo is my shirt, but I need some pants and shoes and a tie that will go with it. So you think what you need, go out on Google Image search to find the "accessories," and go from there.

2. Know why what you're doing is funny. I don't follow college football terribly closely; when that set of Jim Tressel photos dropped, I saw the potential but didn't really know a ton about him. Spend a minute, do a little research, figure out what you can do. He coached a now-convicted felon? Boom, Maurice Clarett image.

3. Really analyze the photos - are they making a gesture that you can exploit? Are they positioned in a way you can exploit? Are they easily separable from the background? All these things can make for great compositions. Murray Hewitt's second-place effort in the Whitlock contest illustrates perfectly how thinking about these things can lead to something big:

4. Think outside the box. It's one thing to take the original picture and change the background or paste something into their hands. Good effort, funny stuff, and all that. But in my opinion, the truly great ones flip the script. Take this example from see you suckers later in the Whitlock Photoshop contest: that might be my all-time favorite Deadspin image - technically well done, but also a phenomenal concept that is so out of left field, you can't help but laugh. Be crazy with it.

5. Let the picture do the talking. Memebase-style words and sayings aren't funny. Just don't.

6. Finally, when in doubt, put UweBollocks's face on something. It just never stops being funny.

Happy Photoshopping you magnificent bastards!


  1. As someone who's done a few Photoshops myself over my time as a commenter, this is good stuff. Well said.

  2. +1. That was simply awesome. May someone mistake my avatar for yours someday. Maybe you could even photoshop that for me.

  3. Excellent work, Polk. One of the things that constantly amazes me is the ability of the commentariat to crack me up just with the use of text. It's astounding that there can be so many exceptional jokes found in one dimension. Polk's images are so valuable because they add such a different, unbelievably funny dimension to the field of comments.

    Now, if we find someone who effectively uses video to regularly create uproariously funny comments, my mind will explode.


  4. As an unstarred commenter, it means a lot to be recognized for an unpromoted comment. Thanks for that.