For the majority of the trends I’ve explored, I have tried to maintain an open mind. Embarking on any activity with a positive outlook is an essential step in getting positive results. I will admit, however, that I decided to explore Bitstrips out of sheer annoyance.
Bitstrips is both a mobile app and a desktop program that connects to your Facebook so that you can design your own comic book avatar. This cartoon version of yourself can then engage in cartoon misadventures that you create using the Bitstrips app. The concept, on its own, sounds intriguing. The execution, on the other hand, leaves little to be desired.
All of the examples of Bitstrips cartoons that have popped up in my newsfeed are boring. As a member of the generation that grew up with some of the greatest cartoons in the history of cable television (i.e., the animated gems of Nickelodeon) my expectations were maybe a bit high. Bitstrips are like asking a child to paint a Picasso.
The first time I saw a Bitstrips cartoon, which was a month or two ago, I had no idea what it was. About two weeks ago, someone finally had the gall to comment on this particular Facebook cartoonist’s all-too-frequent posts and ask what the hell these posts were about. Once I finally had a name to attach to the silly craze, the cartoons seemed to pop up more and more.
There has been a sudden surge in Bitstrips user activity since the mobile app was launched at the end of September. As a matter of fact, Bitstrips has actually been around for a few years, even though they’ve only been on Facebook since December, 2012. Bitstrips’ chief executive and creative director, Jacob Blackstrock, told the Baltimore Sun, “Basically, it’s an app that turns you and your friends into a cast of cartoon characters. Then you can take those characters and put them into crazy scenes.”
Two problems exist with Blackstrock’s statement. The first is slightly semantic and maybe just a personal opinion, but whenever a product has to be labeled as “crazy,” my consumerist alarms start blaring. Why do the product and its company have to resort to an adjective such as “crazy” to make viewers want the product? “Crazy” as a label, when used in conjunction with a consumer product, is meant to carry a connotation of carefree fun.
Except, in my opinion, an adjective such as ”crazy” is an advertising crutch. You don’t see Don Draper slapping the word “crazy” on any of his Heinz ketchup prints. Making a lame-a– comic book strip and posting it on your timeline is not “crazy” — it is annoying. Go out and do something rather than post about it. Or, if you are really so inclined to share with your entire Facebook network what you’re doing at this very moment, then be annoying like everyone else and just make a status while doing it.
Along those same lines, I have a problem with apps that attempt to force you to swindle other friends into using that same app. If you want to indulge an urge to become a cartoon then hey, good for you, pal. But don’t try to drag me down with you. The Bitstrips compulsion to wrangle other Facebook users into using the app reminds me of the endless requests to play Farmville. Fortunately, those eventually died out, and hopefully Bitstrips will suffer the same fate.
Besides the weak marketing structure, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Bitstrips so irritating. The comic book style itself is not particularly pleasing on an aesthetic level. When I first attempted to download the app to my phone, it crashed several times before finally pulling itself together. By that point, however, I had switched over in agitation to my laptop to create my crazy, cool comic book.
For people who don’t have a natural talent to draw or sketch or do anything artistic, maybe Bitstrips is an appealing outlet. Not everyone can just whip out a comic strip of what they did over the weekend because comics are actually not easy to create. An eye-catching drawing style is necessary, along with enough wit to keep the reader’s attention. Bitstrips has the same appeal that Draw Something did, except at least Draw Something occurred among friends and not splattered across everyone’s newsfeeds.
In my opinion, Bitstrips fails in the vital aspects of a good comic strip. The drawing style is too generic. It’s already been done. Bright colors and big eyes? Yawn. At least give users an option of what sort of style they want to use. I will admit that creating my own avatar was a little fun. Who can resist exploring what they would look like as a cartoon? The fun, for me, however, stopped there.
After my avatar’s creation, the app went downhill. The “misadventures” seem to all be predetermined. It could have been my lack of motivation, but I could not find a way to make my own comic book situations. I instead had to rely on the moods and misadventures provided by the app. Granted, there are supposedly more than 1,000 situations, with new ones added daily.
The underlying problem I have, if I had to summarize it, is that the Bitstrips app takes away a lot of creative agency from its users. Maybe I am just deluded and would like to consider myself more artistic than I am, thus I feel entitled to be frustrated with the lack of options when using Bitstrips.
On the other hand, the app also seems to be another way for Facebook users to attempt to flex their wit and utterly fail.
Nick Cimarusti is a senior majoring in English literature and Spanish. His column, “#trending” runs on Wednesdays.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCimarusti