There’s this term that you see sometimes used by digital archivists, called bit rot. It’s this phenomenon where electromagnetically stored media, despite being ostensibly ‘permanent’slowly accumulates non-critical errors in the storage media, meaning that you get these special kinds of errors, which can often result in this eerie kind of work where the structure of what how computers save and store information is different enough to ours that we see things that look really wrong but in a really interestingly recognisable way. Bit rot doesn’t tend to show you media that’s completely alien, just that what it prioritises looks really weird. Sometimes it’s a simple as half a picture being A Bit Green. Sometimes it’s all the colours becoming neon and bright while still keeping as much of the shadows that preserve the image.
Bit rot is not just limited to the data stored on electronic media, though. The internet has its own form of bit rot. Any given site you visit on the internet isn’t necessarily talking to one computer hosting one website. It’s going through a vast network of interconnected components. Websites reference one another, in some cases hosting images on one another, and when you start digging into the old web, you start getting weird errors that, again, are about the way computers preserve things in a way that you wouldn’t expect, because computers aren’t people. The internet, originally conceived as, in part, an indestructible archive of the sum of human knowledge, therefore, has the eerie phenomenon of human archivists who do their best to try and manually ensure the internet is preserved in ways that won’t break over time.
Thus it is for someone who grew up knowing about Crosswinds and AngelFire and Geocities and the like, and came of age during that period where the webcomic boom coupled with the first arrival of the manga market in the west resulted in lots of stuff getting platforms with a lot of things that were normally gatekept away. There was a demand for people to make webcomics and manga and well, that meant lots of stuff got put out there, got a viewing and then… at some point, stopped. And then, with the internet moving on and various platforms taking over, that means those old sources have bit-rotted away.
I bring this up to explain how it is possible that I have this strangely resonant familiarity with the category of media I jokingly call ‘Amerimanga’ without being able to name a single real actual example. I went looking, I really did. I tried to find it – remembering character names like Colvin and Kyle, and transition that was enabled by such wild things as haunted videogame cartridges and the fact someone started reading fanfic about themselves or in one cases, a duck.
The genre is pretty simple: I describe it with an image, usually of some unrelated, or generic non-anime anime source, and then use the title of the thing to describe a very specific plot that has in some way gone off the rails from an existing, ‘legitimate’ framing to instead be about the main character being a girl, and being very in to that.
What happened then was that in this weird little space of webcomics-and-non-manga manga, where often comics weren’t really being overseen and all that could get you driving on to keep going was an audience response, was a lot of people were making the stories they could best throw out, week to week or issue to issue, in some sort of vague, semi-professional, almost-a-failure but-probably-not way. This isn’t to talk ill of this space: Odds are good, it’s just like any other existing community of creatives, where some fail and some succeed and that’s it.
But the most amazing thing about it, to me, is that going back to find this stuff, this little weird bubble of what amounts to ‘fanfiction through to published works that are all tapping the same basic vein of queer feelings, as a weird genre joke, ha ha’ is pretty much… nothing. I can’t find it again.
It’s old shames or it’s lost histories or it’s pseudonyms that disappear or it’s fragmented onto livejournals. And all that remains is the stuff I can dredge from my memory and pin in place in my silly joking images.