Art Appreciation

Joyce Ballantyne began painting pin-ups for Brown & Bigelow, having been recommended by the king of pin-up artists Gil Elvgren. But unlike her friend and studio mate Elvgren, she often used herself as a model. Ballantyne painted Shaw-Barton 1955 pin-up calendar in its entirety, and that demand was so great that it was reprinted many times.

But that’s not her most indelible accomplishment – that honor falls to the iconic Coppertone suntan lotion billboard that she was commissioned to create 4 years later. She used her then-3-year-old daughter Cheri as the model for the girl whose bathing suit is being tugged at by a rascally dog.

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2014 Holiday Letter

PinUpsJanuary began with preparations for Lee’s big art show of Pin-Ups (featuring more than 3 years of literary calendar art and a few others). Below is one of two longs walls at the Catalyst Studio. And in the next shot, the gorgeous Kiana Phi hangs out with us, and with Miss Kim Stanley Robinson for whom she posed. She has us surrounded!

ShowThe opening presented a splendid chance to meet up with many of our friends as they mingled and enjoyed the delicious cheesecake (and other hors d’oeuvres, natch).
The month ended with a trip to Seattle, where many colleagues and co-conspirators were seen, much fabulous food eaten, and several adorable pets petted.

Guests are marked “G•” and shown in burgundy throughout:
G• Ang, Echo & Her Traveling Troupe d’Arte

February was marked by collaborations with Todd Lockwood: Two paintings in honor of Jeff Easley (one of the original D&D artists), and an unusual Superbowl party where both our “home” teams were playing (like me, Todd grew up in Colorado and now lives in the Pacific NW).  The paintings ended rather stronger than the Denver Broncos, but our other home team won.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 8.17.54 PMG• Gail & Rod

March began with the departure of dear friend Dan Cottle – bound for the wilds of distant Massachusetts. The opening soiree for Kate Ristau‘s book Commas: An Irreverent Primer left us with a new coloring page on our refrigerator (as you know, Lee cannot really be trusted with loose crayons) and a cryptic phrase that might be… a pass code? Mere Dadaist ramblings? Who can know?

DraggyA few weeks after the big Pin-Ups show first appeared, it moved to the Radio Room, site of the original Pin-Ups show some 5 years gone, and we got to spend some time with models Becca and Saamanta into the bargain!

Our friends Tara and Accalia came to stay with us from icy Winnipeg while they attended Rachel Brice‘s intensive belly-dancing masterclass. They were marvelous, even despite their exhaustion and overwork.

We opted for Health Republic (an actual public health co-op) as we sorted out our coverage in light of the ACA.

G• Tara & Accalia

April marked the arrival of The Doom that Came to Atlantic City (just in time for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival!) and the real beginning of Guest Season – Gail and Rod’s visit ending just as Andrew and Anya arrived. The weather was perfect, and a good thing, since Mina and Jamie would arrive from DC the very next day – both couples intent on the HP Lovecraft Film Festival.
Happily, after several years of near misses, Lee finally bested his colleagues at the Film Festival’s live painting demonstration/competition – thus allowing him the right to design the festival’s 2015 poster.

G• Gail & Rod, Andrew & Anya, Mina & Jamie

Doom copyVenetia got a mohawk! She had pondered it for the better part of a year at Lee and Phryo’s suggestion and decided it was the best idea ever. It was… and is!

MohawkCropWith all our guests returned home, we headed back to Seattle that Lee might participate in panels and hang artwork in the show at Norwescon. Artist and Faerieworld’s impresario Robert Gould was this year’s Guest of Honor, but happily past guest John Picacio was in the house too, with Lee rounding out an unlikely trio of Honored Guests. The panel on mapping with Bradley Beaulieu was delightful, and moderator Brenda Carre introduced Lee to the marvelous Carol Berg afterwards (oh, how Lee would love to make the maps for her cartographically inspired books a reality!)

NorwesconHaving done some type design for the von Trapp Family (4 of the grandchildren of the original Sound o’ Music bunch), we ventured out to a local bookstore to see them sing. And while we’d seen them perform with Meow Meow at the Schnitz and Pink Martini in Pioneer Square, the little solo concert was particularly sublime.

The World Horror Convention came to Portland in May. And while we were too busy with work to attend, Lee did put art in the show and pop by the odd party. More importantly, we got to host most of the Illuminaughty – that amazing group of guests we’d met the previous year in Winnipeg. From Mexico, author Ann Aguirre; From Canada, authors Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Chadwick Ginther and GmB Chomichuk – a sort North American Embassy was established here on Alameda Ridge.

Lee created a coloring book and a couple Golden Tickets as part of the party favors for his birthday party and costumed whing-ding at the end of the month. We must again thank the marvelous Jessie and Annabel for hosting, and Ang and Gail and Alanna for abetting! And of course those who could attend. Such good food and idyllic weather!

G• Ann, Silvia, Chadwick, Gregory, and Ang

BirthdayJune. At this point there is precious little we need to acquire, but the siren call of the annual Laurelhurst Yard Sale is irresistible and beautiful objets de art have to live somewhere.

Is there a more curious juxtaposition than ‘Showboat’ and The March Violets? We took in the former at Lakewood Center. The latter came to town (and the menfolk in the band to our house) from England. Sadly, Lee missed meeting up with talented singer (and author) Rosie Garland, the wife of Lee’s friend and collaborator, Aly Fell. Next time for sure!

Larry and Serena’s wedding celebration brought many notables to town – including Dr. Melissa Ganus and her assistant Tara, who we were happy to host. Doctor Mel’s research on children and their cognitive development is quite interesting, and Lee did a little design for her upcoming book too.

G• Tara, Si & Tom

SquidKate Ristau’s birthday Kickball party gave Venetia her first sport’s related injury in years, and cost her a favorite pair of pants (being a ruthless competitor clearly has it’s costs). We enjoyed the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ with Kimberly, and looked all the more forward to comparing an actual grand Budapest hotel with Wes Anderson’s more fantastic one.

July began with Roxanne’s sublime show of Gummi Bears as the appetizer, and Keith’s birthday the main course. Lee and Kimberly ventured up the Oneonta Gorge, and enjoyed the sushi in Troutdale thereafter (both of which sound oddly like euphemisms now I come to write them….)

We stayed with Ang in her timeshare during this year’s pilgramage to San Diego, and traveled to both the Hotel del Coronado and the San Diego Zoo with her. The San Diego ComicCon was mad as usual, but seemed to peak with the appearance of the amazing Francois Schuiten. Lee gave him a calendar, and Francois drew the hand you see below in pen! And it’s one thing to get your caricature drawn at the mall, but another to get it drawn by the astonishing Bill Plympton!

SanDiegoG• Zan & Sam

In August, we drove down through Salem to see ‘Avenue Q’ with our friend Kim’s star turn as Christmas Eve, arguably the world’s worst therapist. Seeing the Bad Idea Bears try to sell Venetia (sitting on the aisle) on Scientology was especially delightful!

BadIdeaBearsLater in month we were delighted by a surprise visit from Doug & Lisa. Time was shorter than we’d have liked, but so much good food (at Verde Cochina and Laurelhurst Market) and such lovely sights (the Falls, the Hatchery and Bonneville Dam) were taken in!

G• Doug & Lisa, Gail & Rod, Rose

September was our month of adventuring overseas: to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. We’ve written about that journey HERE.

The timing of our trip abroad was specifically designed to put us back into DC in time for Della and Kevin’s wedding in Alexandria  – as well as allowing Venetia to get back to the precious Smithsonian! This time the highlights were largely sculptural, but the exhibit of Andrew Wyeth still lifes was a refreshing break from the Euro-snobbery that so defines the National Gallery. We didn’t plan on having our luggage kept overlong in Brussels, but when we arrived in DC, our luggage did not. The Barkers kept us in high style and we used the opportunity to see everyone we could amid our wild ride around and through the Beltway. This included the Kate and Heather Hanna at Kate’s home in Annandale, and Helen Svensen in Raljon (Actually Landover. Thank heavens the grasping Jack Kent Cooke couldn’t tar the community with his spoiled children’s names forever!). Helen kindly donated one of her late husband’s shirts for me to wear, and directed Venetia to an amazing shoe store. After our stop in College Park to pick up a frame for the wedding gift, we found Ellie at home in Tacoma Park, where we patted her adorable wee rabbit and dined alfresco. Then, we made the mad dash through the dark heart of DC, arriving at the wedding exactly on time. It was a sort of miracle!

You can probably tell how happy we are watching Della and Kevin married:

023DK_blog_-1024x682Despite the three weeks of traveling, we still managed to fill the last weekend of the month with guests from all points, and luncheon with Stephen, Nicolle, Rajuli, Alaina, and Rose.

Though it happened while we were overseas, one of the definite highlights of the month, (and the year in general), was Arisia’s Author Guest of Honor N.K. Jemisin getting a tattoo of the blue lotus design Lee rendered from her description of it in the Dreamblood Duology.

JemisinTattooG• Rajuli, Rose

In October, Lee was invited to reprise his Month of Love with a Month of Fear. Other entertaining projects this month included Lee’s heartfelt tribute to Kim Newman‘s exemplary ‘Anno Dracula’ in the online comic (beloved of Librarians everywhere) Unshelved. (We had found Kim’s ‘Life’s Lottery’ earlier in the year and found it, though completely different from ‘Anno Dracula’ or the ‘Diogenes Club’ books Lee has illustrated, to be quite astonishing. As she navigated the complex and surprisingly meta narrative, Venetia had some bad life experiences that left her bitter. Lee, by contrast, enjoyed his golden life so thoroughly he couldn’t bear to dip back in for results virtually guaranteed to be less pleasant.

We traveled with Tracy traveled down to Salem for a splendid autumn party hosted by Kim and a couple of adorable dogs. Venetia journeyed on her own via Portland’s excellent public transit to see outed-spy and budding-stateswoman Valerie Plame at Powell’s in Cedar Hills.

We attended Halloween Parties hosted by Trinity & Sam, and Stephen and Nicolle. While Lee’s Willy Wonka seemed to go over well, who can compete with Totoro in any form? Much less as Iron Totoro?

HalloweenWe finally replaced our iPhone 3s with iPhone 6s – not because they were lacking or busted, but because the 6 is large enough to serve as a proper little portfolio (well, in Lee’s case 28 different little portfolios), thus allowing us to leave the iPad at home far more often.

Peter Beagle, Connor Cochran and ‘The Last Unicorn’ started our November in style. The following week we flew out to DC for the World Fantasy Convention in Lee’s old suburban Virginia stomping grounds. The Art Show was as fancy as an convention art show could hope to be and there were many parties and delightful people throughout – especially Les Howle’s fine Clarion West Party where I almost tripped over that tightknit Ben Rosenbaum/Lis Argall cabal! We found the private Kelly Collection as inspiring as the Belvedere’s more famous one, and spending quality time among the Pyles, Wyeths, Leyendeckers, Cornwells and Schaeffers was a real honor!
ArtMina’s lovely houseparty provided Lee an opportunity to see some old friends, and meet the marvelous Christine Watson at last. And since she had experienced a flat tire en route from Richmond, we put her up that night in our Crystal City hotel room. Here’s to that extra bed!

Panels were moderated and participated in, with the creme de la creme of artsy society – from British art guest/s of honor Les Edwards/Edward Miller to Irene Gallo to Chris Roberts to Michael Whelan. A good time might not have been had by all in attendance, but we had a fine time indeed. And not just because the mohawked ladies were representing.

WFCBack in Portland, we treated ourselves to a concert by Postmodern Jukebox which is currently the most popular band playing in our house. (Maybe tied with Andy Prieboy, but at least our most recent favorite.) Within the same week, we went to Amanda Palmer‘s book launch which Lee wrote about earlier.

And we continued the tradition of inviting our multi-talented friend Jaym to help us host a Thanksgiving feast:

ThanksgivingJaym proved herself to be an especially amazing friend by sacrificing her computer to Venetia’s lust for Civilization V. The game is addictive as can be, but can also easily be used as a teaching tool to show why the world is in such an ongoing state of disaster.

CivG• Jaym

December started out with Lee deep in the throes of pneumonia (he might well have stayed healthy had not the furnace died amid November’s vicious cold snap) and while taking excellent care of him, Venetia and Jaym had their own adventures in Portland and in Seattle – shopping, visiting friends, and seeing the final night of Todd Lockwood’s art show at Krab Jab Studio. This year also saw the last of Lee’s teeth receiving it’s own golden crown and some festive holiday parties: our neighborhood block party, cookies from Andy & Susie (well, Susie’s Mom), Krampus cheer with Michael and Liv, and a gorgeous family meal the day after Christmas. Venetia also saw Jason Webley‘s return to Portland for his kickstarter tour of ‘Margaret‘. And Ang brought her lovely family up and took Venetia to see the sparkling Zoo Lights.

ZooLightsOur year ended full of parties and friends and we hope to see much more of both in the coming year.

G• Ang, Jordan, Kitra

Work

Lee’s art year in review for 2014 is in it’s own separate blog (to keep this one from being overwhelmed with images) and you can view it HERE.

Harry Palmer: Starstruck with Elaine Lee, Mw Kaluta and James Ratcliffe is not quite finished, but we made some serious headway! And from where I sit, the book is looking like a masterpiece…. Here’s a small sampling of 3 non-consecutive pages:

StarstruckTrioStill-unrevealed: the cover for ‘The Best of Caitlin Kiernan, Volume II’, a board game for Sasquatch games, and the branding for a fabulous wedding in 2015.

Other activities

Yoga

Kickstarters We Supported
Periscope Studio: Maiden Voyage
Grandmother Fish
Margaret by Jason Webley and Friends
Strong Female Protagonist
EVOLUTION: The Art of Rebecca Guay 1993-2014
The Tooles Record
Reading Rainbow

Books We Read
Carol Berg’s Lighthouse Duo
Impulse by Steven Gould
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman
Hounded by Kevin Hearne
Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult by Marion Goldman
The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Dreamwalker by C. S. Friedman

Movies and Shows We Watched
Game of Thrones
Venture Bros: Season 5 (and then re-watched Seasons 3 & 4)
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Rocketeer
Boardwalk Empire
The Tick (the series)
The Lego Movie
The Artist
City of Ember
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Snowpiercer
How to Train Your Dragon
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Winter’s Tale
House of Yes
Sky Captain: World of Tomorrow

Theater
The Last Five Years
Lizzie
Avenue Q
Showboat
39 Steps

New Artwork
Three posters from the Kelly Collection: Pyle’s extraordinary ‘Angel’, Leyendecker’s triumphal ‘Saturday Evening Post’ parade, and Mead Shaeffer’s sublime ‘Count of Monte Cristo’; a stupendously framed print of James Christensen’s ‘Superstitions’; Malachite Glass ashtray-turned-crystal-globe-holder from Prague. Also: Paul Komoda’s Ceratosaurus as well as a mystery commission as yet unrevealed!

Grrr

R E S P E C T

Like many of my predecessors of the past century, I use models for all of my paintings with human figures and, in all but a few cases, I direct the photo shoots to get the exact reference I need to paint from. And most of you reading this will be aware of my Pin-Up Calendar and some of the good it’s done for charity. I suspect that’s why I was contacted last week by Jim Hines about my thoughts on the topic of sexism in SF/F. I have been following Jim Hines’s projects with interest, amusement, and a bit of an editorial chagrin. (Really Jim, you want some other kind of cover for the book Esther Friesner intended to call “Fangs for the Mammaries”?)

ShirtPART 1: THE INTERVIEW

Jim Hines: “Do you believe sexism is an issue in SF/F art, and why or why not?”

Yes. Just as I believe racism, classism, and perhaps most dangerous of all, capitalism are.

Why is it an issue? Because people in the SF/F field are leaders, not followers. All of these isms are pieces of the human condition – the very area that our field claims to excel in exploring. All of them need to be dealt with. There are enough clever and sensitive people in our field and we need to be paying attention to and caring about these issues. Who else would think of having an award named after James Tiptree Jr.?

Jim Hines: “If so, where do you believe that problem comes from?”

It clearly comes from society. To paraphrase Madge in the old Palmolive commercials: “We’re soaking in it.”

It comes from fearful publishers and advertisers who know that “sex sells” in a country where “Prurient” and “Puritan” are all-too-often synonymous.

It comes from a culture that has become increasingly… disembodied, where the life of the mind is out of sync with the life of the body.

Sex is powerful, and sexism is a clear and present danger.

Jim Hines: “What’s the difference between painting a beautiful, sexy woman (or man) and objectifying them?”

This is perhaps a more difficult question than you intend. In my experience, the intent of the artist matters very little. Objectifying is, like beauty itself, in the eye of the beholder.
Robin Hobb, a participating author in my 2013 pin-up calendar, said it wonderfully:

“Lovely, scantily clad humans are sex objects only to people who objectify other human beings. And those people do that no matter how draped that person might be. In 1967, a Jesuit priest observed to our class that he really did not see the sense of a dress code, as an immodest girl cannot be made modest no matter how you drape her, and that a modest woman can be stripped of her garments but not her modesty. So there it is, for me. If you are looking at our calendar and seeing sex objects instead of fascinating characters, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And so are sex objects.”

I cannot speak for other illustrators. But for myself, the goal is always to paint the person first. To paint women as persons in their own rights is key, as opposed to painting women for the male gaze. In the case of my calendar, I consider most all of the characters portrayed therein hero shots of a sort. And if they’re not raising swords or aiming guns, that may give you a notion of what I personally find heroic.

There are a few pin-ups in this year’s rank who have not been well-received. When I have read the comments thereon, I am struck to the extent to which I perceive slut shaming.

“Thanks for the assumption that a girl in a miniskirt must be slutty […] Why is my cover getting slut-shamed by someone who doesn’t know the girl in that picture, doesn’t know who she is or why that image is an accurate one? It’s like the art is awesome as long as it’s on a closet door, but if you’re asked to like it in public, it’s time to throw out a few micro-aggressions to keep people from thinking you’re ‘that kind’ of person.” – Seanan McGuire writing about Aly Fell‘s cover for her book Discount Armageddon.

Untitled-10

As a cover artist, Aly Fell’s job, like mine, is to create an interesting or exciting visual narrative to promote the book, the product. I want to catch the eye, to engage the potential reader, and the more I can honestly reflect the author’s characters and intent, the better.

As a viewer, what narrative have you constructed in your head that tells you that a girl in a miniskirt is a slut or a surprised girl in lingerie is a bimbo?

Jim Hines: “What do you think we should do (if anything) to try to move past the modern-day trend of awkwardly posed, semi-clad heroines on book covers?”

Before I get into what I think is the real heart of your question, I want to speak on the importance of negative space and silhouette on the efficacy of a painting. While we see far fewer examples of pure silhouette than we did in the glory days of Leyendecker and Rockwell, the shapes of the figure and the shapes cut from the background by the figure are one of the most useful tools to an illustrator looking to create dynamism. (It should come as no surprise that the great Charles Dana Gibson was a child prodigy at cutting paper silhouettes years before he would probably look twice at a “Gibson Girl.”) Why are most models so tall and thin? It’s all about how dynamic a taller figure can be made to read. There’s a reason Jim Hines and I (playing the “average” person below) are not models:

HeadsTall

There are many figures on book covers that are awkward at best and hideously malformed at worst (the tumblr site EscherGirls speaks to this at length). Sometimes that is the fault of an artist lacking skill or reaching too far for an interesting silhouette. Often however, the artists pull it off with nary a thought from the viewer as to the character being “wrong”. As I did my research about pin-ups I discovered something that surprised me: Pin-ups I’d seen for years were hiding something in plain site. Here’s a fun position you can assume in the comfort of your own home… if you happen to have between 3-5 extra vertebra that is:

Elvgren1As to the scantily clad heroines, I dare say there is a time and place. This is a truth well recognized by today’s brilliant crop of art directors. Whether Irene Gallo at TOR or Lou Anders at Pyr, our field is being led by the best, and in this I believe that our field is now largely the exception to the rule. Sci-fi and fantasy create beautiful, often inspiring covers. We have a readership and creators that are aware and active in the discussion of sexism (and the additional isms.)

What can be done to make our covers better?

1. Understand that there is a problem; be conscious of the pitfalls of the combination commerce, text and images
2. Call atrocious work out when and wherever we see it, granting weight to all the parties involved (see Part 2, below)
3. Reward good work that shows our ideals in action
4. Continue this conversation, ideally in the context of all those other isms.
5. And painters? Don’t paint slavishly to the white male gaze, ok?

PART 2: EXAMPLES FROM COMICS AND GAMES

So, having spoken about SF/F covers, let’s look….ahem…briefly at a couple related fields that are nowhere near as circumspect.

I feel lucky that I don’t have to defend DC Comics’ (Warner Brothers’) decision to bring Power Girl’s costume back even as their arch nemesis Marvel (Disney) does the right thing by making Ms. Marvel into Captain Marvel at last:

cptmarvel>Shudder< I have it on good authority that the brilliant editor at Lucasfilm would never allow this on her watch:

526313_10151327932977495_33828980_nThis is the entire range of playable characters. Oy:

oddqueensbladeAnd this game “sizzle” art was brought to my attention by the splendid NK Jemisin:

Dante_Angels

“It’s more than just the ridiculous butt-shots of the women in this image, complete with translucent boy shorts. It’s the contempt and humiliation in the way this is arranged — contempt on the part of Dante, a character who until lately has treated the women around him like people and not props; and humiliation on the part of the women. They’re groveling at his feet, clinging to him slavishly, even as he pantomimes shooting one of them in the face with his oh-so-phallic finger. Because women getting shot by their sexual partners is soooo hot and edgy, don’tcha know.” – NK Jemisin discussing the horror seen above.

The first time I saw this poster the only thing I could say was “Oh f&©# no.” This is a cover so deeply horrific that it can’t be fixed. Why even bother to comment that there are no women of color among the angels for example? Or ask why angels are wearing clingy Flash Gordon panties? Making any small changes to this horror show would be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The fact that the painter seems quite adept at painting somehow makes the piece all the worse.

PART 3: OTHER, MORE FULSOME RESPONSES

The day after I sent my response to Jim, Arnie Fenner posted a typically thoughtful response to Jim’s projects on the Muddy Colors blog. He raised many excellent questions. Among them: are artists are being made the scapegoat for sexism, omitting any mention of the the industry, the art directors, and indeed the authors themselves? He received excellent responses, but my favorite is from a former ad man whose well-intentioned mistake led deep into the heart of how our isms are intertwined:

Gilead – March 13, 2013 at 8:02 PM

In my advertising days I once did an ad for a weight loss product. It had two cartoons showing the same guy as a before and after. On the left is a fat, stupid-looking guy busting the bathroom scale. In the middle is the product and on the right is the same guy looking robust, slender and somehow smarter. Are you picturing it? It’s kind of cute right? Kind of funny and gets the point across.
Now picture it again only this time, instead of a man, it’s a fat, stupid-looking woman. Or a black guy. Or an Asian. Whoa! All of a sudden that’s not funny. Now it’s like “What are trying to say here mister?”
I’d had this naïve idea that I could do some good by being all egalitarian. If the product was non gender-specific or race-specific I could mix it up and give everyone equal representation. It turned out that was a really bad idea and I got into all kinds of trouble. I learned that, in most people’s perception, a picture of a white male is a picture of a person – just a person. It could represent anyone: male or female, old or young, black or white. But a picture of a black person somehow represents blacks exclusively, and a picture of a woman somehow represents women exclusively.
If you draw a man you make a picture, but if you draw a woman you make a statement.
This is a cultural thing and it is probably fading away as we speak, but for now it still seems to be true. Which is why a picture of Conan can be accepted at face value as what the character looks like and what he wears, but a picture of a scantily dressed woman is seen not as a depiction of a character, but as a statement about women.
So I have no solutions I’m just trying to show a less obvious reason for the problem. When we look at a painting of a man and a woman we don’t see an every-man and an every-woman; we see a man and Women.

I am glad that so many people in our field care about these issues and I hope that this continues to be a deep and thoughtful discussion among artists, authors, publishers, and readers. Not just in the F/SF field, but in comics, games and everywhere else in the media landscape.