Calvin and Markov: text-chaining new, weird computer humor

Josh Millard's Calvin and Markov uses a small perl script to mine transcripts of Calvin and Hobbes strips using Markov chains to make new, weird, computer humor.

Millard did this before, with Garkov, which remixed Garfield strips. This is a mark II project that makes substantial improvements over his initial Markov code (the Wikipedia Markov chain article is a good introduction to the technique).

His script pulls from an anonymously produced transcript of all C&H strips, but he has to manually reformat the strips to make them work with his script (he welcomes your contribution to this work). To date, he's got 14 months' worth of strips, from 1985-6.

Why Calvin and Hobbes?

Because I like C&H. Because other folks like it. Because it’s recognizable, and familiar, and the familiarity of the original lends a kind of weird suspension of disbelief to the broken, altered output of this kind of transmogrification process—if a thing looks enough like the real thing, we try to treat it like the real thing a little longer, give it the benefit of the doubt even as we know we should be doubting it. No one will really be fooled by Calvin and Markov, but all of us who’ve read thousands of the originals are wired to sort of give it credit long enough to produce a double-take, which is great.
Why treat C&H so weirdly?

One thing I’ve thought about while working on this—and I’ve heard it from at least one friend I showed the work in progress too as well—is how different Calvin and Hobbes is, as a cultural property, from the previous choice of Garfield. They’re both totemic, instantly recognizable comic strips, but that’s about the end of the similarities; C&H is loved for its doting, dynamic inkwork and artful writing and characterization, while Garfield is generally derided for its predictability, minimalist and samey art, and overall cash-in, sell-out, factory-produced sterility.

And so building Garkov, a machine that swallows up Garfield strips and spits out something dada and broken and absurd, seems like sort of a gimme. Of course people should fuck with Garfield. What else is it good for? I hate Mondays. Etc. It is, however justly or not, an easy target. (And I was not by far the first or the last to futz around with Garfield as a template for recontextualized weirdness; see the links at the bottom of the Garkov page for many others.)

Whereas C&H is a strip people hold up high as more or less the zenith of the modern newspaper comic strip, a piece of work that was so consistently beautiful and smart and heartfelt and uncompromising that nothing on the page could compete with it during its ten year run, and nothing has been be able to replace it in the years since. C&H was funny, but it wasn’t a joke; as mainstream pop cultural artifacts go, it’s pretty unfuckwithable.

You mess with Garfield, no one says How Dare You. Calvin and Hobbes, though…

So I’ve wondered as I built this how people would feel about it. Not so much that I expect condemnation—weird for weird’s sake gets by okay on the internet and I doubt anyone will get the mistaken impression that I mean any harm here—but really just how they’ll feel about the oddball output of this given their likely more fond releationship with the source material than in the case of Garkov.

Calvin and Markov [Strips/Josh Millard]

Calvin and Markov [Explanation/Josh Millard]

(via Waxy)