Monday, August 04, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Chaos
Chaos may have just been another in the parade of Far Side wannabes, but the feature and its creator have an interesting biography.
Brian Shuster claimed to have created Chaos in 1989, but the earliest evidence I can find for its existence is in 1994 when it was being offered by Daily Features Syndicate of Los Angeles. Although Editor & Publisher talked of it as if it were a real syndicate, complete with marketing manager spokesman, a little Google sleuthing revealed that the syndicate was actually based in a private home on a residential street in LA.
So presumably Shuster was self-syndicating his Far Side knockoff, a seven day a week feature in which the Sunday was little more than a color daily (see above). But Shuster had a knack for marketing. When Gary Larson announced that he was retiring his feature, Shuster started a marketing campaign guaranteed to both get him clients and infuriate Larson and his syndicate.
Shuster sent out a marketing piece to prospective clients in which a letter from Gary Larson himself said that Chaos was the feature that he endorsed for taking over his spot. Only problem was that the Larson who penned the letter was not the Gary Larson, just a guy Shuster picked out of the LA phone book.
Shuster claimed it was all meant as a light-hearted joke and nothing came of Universal's threats of a lawsuit. It did, however, seem to work like a charm. Shuster boasted in 1995 that he now had 220 client papers for his feature, an astounding number in the fractured marketplace looking for Far Side replacements.
With that number of papers taking his feature it was inevitable that the major syndicates would come calling, and King Features carried away the dubious prize of Chaos. Only problem was that Shuster seemed to already be losing interest in working on it himself. He later claimed that by this time he just wrote the gags and had several cartoonists drawing the panels. Note on the samples above the credit to "PanGaniBan".
King Features dropped the feature in 1996 after a very short run and Shuster went back to self-syndication. He was now more focused on the internet, though. Shuster started a site running his Chaos cartoons and also started some porno websites. Chaos finally ended in 1998, but the porn sites lived on. Facing a huge number of competitors in that market, Shuster realized that he needed to bring his mind for marketing to bear on the problem of gaining traffic.
Shuster was apparently a technical whiz as well as full of marketing savvy. Though few know his name, he was quite possibly the most hated man in America for several years because Brian Shuster has the distinction of having created the web pop-up ad. Though he failed to properly protect the idea and thus didn't become a zillionaire, few are interested in disputing the claim that he was the first to annoy millions of users with those incessantly appearing gimmicks.
The pop-up porn king eventually left all that behind him and is now running a virtual reality social networking site called utherverse.com.
You can read an interview with Shuster here: Porn's Prince of Pop-Ups Speaks.