Rudis Muiznieks is the creator of Cectic, the webcomic with an atheist/skeptical bent.
Cectic is quickly growing in popularity, with each new comic now immediately followed by a flurry of links to it from the atheist blogosphere and beyond.
At least that what it seems like in my feed reader.
Rudis graciously answered some of my questions about his comic, background, and future plans.
Hemant Mehta: Who are you…?
Rudis Muiznieks: I’m a Canadian-born computer programmer and skeptic (now living in the USA), who also happens to draw comics in his spare time — some of which are even considered to be kind of funny.
HM: What’s your own background with atheism?
RM: My family was not very religious, and growing up in Canada you don’t get exposed to as much religion in the media as you do in the States, so it never really played a role in my life at all. I was aware of the concept of God, and I knew that there were people who liked to get together at churches and dress funny and sing about him and stuff, but it all just seemed so silly and uninteresting to me.
I can’t remember what triggered it, but when I was around 11 or 12 years old I prayed to God for the first time. I told him that if he really exists, and really cares if I believe in him, to just give me some kind of evidence that I can use to justify the belief. My suggestion at the time was to materialize a Bible or Quran (or whichever book was the right one) while I was praying. Needless to say, nothing happened. After that, I became more curious about how so many people could believe in a God that couldn’t be asked to do even a simple little thing like that. A few days of Internet research led me to the conclusion that agnostic atheism was the only position that made any sense. That’s pretty much still my sentiment today.
HM: What on earth do you really look like?
HM: How did Cectic begin? Did you draw comics in the past?
RM: Cectic is my third webcomic.
My first one was called MikeyComics, which I started in the late 90s, and sporadically updated for several years while I was going to the University of Calgary — I believe it even did a short stint in the student newspaper there. It was mostly random violence, odd humor, and inside jokes shared between me and my friends. After I graduated and lost touch with most of the people who read it, I slowly lost interest in updating it and eventually shut it down.
I don’t own the domain they were hosted on anymore, and I haven’t had a reason to put the archive up somewhere else yet, but here’s an example of what they were like for anyone interested.
I started my second webcomic, called Psience, while MikeyComics was winding down. It was a single-panel gag strip that reflected my long-lasting obsession with the paranormal (ghosts, E.S.P., alien abductions, astral projection, and so on). The ideas and mythos around paranormal beliefs have always fascinated me, and at the time I was watching X-Files reruns and listening to Art Bell on Coast to Coast AM on a nightly basis.
Again, the archives aren’t available online anymore, but here’s a sample.
Eventually I decided to stop updating Psience as well, in order to focus more on the home business my wife and I were starting up at the time. A couple years ago I toyed with the idea of turning it into a skeptical-themed blog/webcomic combo, but ultimately decided that I didn’t have enough time to keep up with both a blog and a comic. I also decided that the single-panel format was too limiting, that I wanted to do things from a more skeptical angle, and that I wanted to take jabs at all unscientific beliefs — not just the paranormal. Cectic was the result.
HM: Where did the name Cectic come from? What does it stand for?
RM: It’s an acronym that I made up, but I can’t say what it stands for yet. It’s all part of my secret plan to take over the world.
HM: Can you tell us about Net Authority?
RM: I made Net Authority several years ago (2001, according to Wikipedia) because I had way too much free time on my hands. It was a spoof of religious fundamentalists trying to censor the entire Internet in order to “protect our children.” It included what I called the “Internet Acceptable Use Policy” — a list of rules that everyone who ever puts anything on the Internet must implicitly agree to, including “Thou shalt not post blasphemous materials,” and “Thou shalt not post pornographic materials.” The catch was that the definition of pornography was so loose that pretty much anything at all would qualify. I tried to make it as ridiculous and offensive as possible, including lumping interracial relationships and bestiality together as a single offense.
Originally, there was a form on the site where you could report people for violating the site’s policies, and it would automatically email the offender, warning them that they are under investigation by the Net Authority and must stop their porn-mongering ways. A couple popular blogs and news sites got reported and posted about it, which spawned tens of thousands of people being reported within a matter of days.
I was getting hundreds of emails and even phone calls (since my cell phone was the contact number for the domain name) from people who genuinely believed that I was a religious nutjob trying to censor the entire Internet. I even got a few threats of violence and legal action, including one which claimed that I “endangered the life of an unborn child” because the expectant mother was so shocked and horrified by the email she got. That last legal threat looked legit on the surface (though very poorly written), so I took it to the lawyer who worked for the company where I was a summer student at the time, and he recommended that I stop sending out the emails. Go figure.
After that I watered the site down a bit — it no longer sent out emails, instead keeping a database of offending websites (basically every site that ever got reported would be added to the database). It still got little spikes of notoriety here and there, but never anything approaching the insanity of when it first went up. I finally shut it down a few months ago because it had pretty much been universally outed as a prank, and maintaining it was starting to feel like a chore. Now I can put that time and energy toward Cectic instead.
HM: Word on the street is that you’re a young female.
RM: In my experience, I have learned that if it’s on the Internet, there is almost certainly at least a kernel of truth to it.
HM: Which Cectic comic is your favorite? Which one has generated the most controversy?
RM: Right now, I’d say my favorite comics are the ones that tied in with EDTheFuture.com from around Christmas last year. It was a lot of fun doing those ones and seeing all of the responses they got around the ‘net.
As for generating controversy, I would have to say that the very first comic is the one to beat. I still get comments from people who tell me that I screwed up and made a pro-creationism argument. Sadly, my application for fellowship at the Discovery Institute was denied, so I guess it still needs a little work.
HM: When did you realize Cectic was becoming popular?
RM: Occasionally seeing the comics pop up on the blogs that I regularly read is always pretty neat. Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, RichardDawkins.net… and I think there was some other atheist one that’s linked to them before… The Amicable Atheist? The Affable Atheist? Something like that…
HM: I’m still awaiting the Friendly Atheist comic… That’s not a question. I’m just sayin’.
RM: Oh, the FRIENDLY Atheist! Yeah, that was it!
HM: When’s the book coming out? (There *is* a book coming out, right?)
RM: I don’t have any definitive plans yet, but there will be one at some point. By the way, if there are any publishers reading this out there that are dying to throw their money at me, then get in touch!
If you have any questions you’d like to ask Rudis, leave them in the comments, and I’ll pass them along!
[tags]atheist, atheism, humor[/tags]