CIS, Ave Atque Vale.


Last night I held a bit of an email wake with the subscribers to Jacey Services over the death of CompuServe.

I noted in the message which kicked it off that my comics service would never have survived this long (coming up on 29 years next month!) without the word-of-mouth support from members of the old Comics & Animation Forum, nor would I have had an almost decade-long writing career in the comics industry trade press and for the promotions department at DC Comics. My thanks for those two gigs to Pat O’Neill, who shows up here now and again, and Jeff Lang, wherever you are. Comes to that, special thanks to Doug Pratt, the forum sysop.

As the obit linked notes, many of the things we take for granted on the web these days were part of the CIS experience way back in the day. As a “social network” sort of thing, it was, and remains, unparalleled in terms of ease of use and threaded message capabilities. And, under wise sysops, it was relatively free-form and encouraged participation beyond the restrictions of the main topic. In the comics forum,  for example, a special section set aside for never-ending and oft-time bitter exchanges over politics and other controversial issues. It was, as you might expect, my favorite place to hang out.

I made some great friends in the forum, many who remain part of my life today (and some of whom I’ve never seen in person), along with a few enemies. Most of the latter relationships were passing things, wiped away when we met in person, but one guy was a committed wingnut (before the term existed) and outright racist with whom personal accommodation would have been impossible. He sent me an off-forum email at one point with such a vicious anti-semitic attack on another forum member that I actually sat stunned and stared at it for a good ten minutes.

Even that connection was informative, however. A comics anthology, never published, was planned by one forum participant to raise funds for abused children and I signed on to write one of the stories. When it was done, the artist assigned to it was the bad character just described. What I learned was that, despite personal differences, it was possible to work together professionally and creatively. Indeed, one or two changes he suggested to the script were major improvements.

All that, and much more, died with CIS, although a mailing list was created a while back among several old members following the death of one of our best known and liked  fellow CIS-ers. It died out rather quickly, though, aside from the occasional post which turns up in my mailbox, a lonely cry from a time forever gone.

Yesterday is an ethereal thing.


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22 Replies to “CIS, Ave Atque Vale.”

  1. Facebook seems to have taken up the slack, as a number of old friends from the Comics Forum are on my friends list there now. CIS Comics Forum served its purpose well at the time bringing together a very diverse, national and international crowd in service of a common interest. My Internet savvy learned at the knee of CompuServe still gets me looks of awe from coworkers who can’t get this or that thing about Google or some other internet site to work correctly and I just whiz through. I miss the community, but time slogs on…

  2. Really, the shutdown of the last vestiges of Classic CompuServe was more symbolic than consequential. For me, the meat-and-potatoes of CompuServe had always been the forums, and when the last of them was migrated to the Prospero-based web version around 2004, the service was essentially dead, along with its uniquely effective message threading.

    I was a latecomer to CS, signing up in 1991 or 1992, but I did not really make great use of service until I started participating in the ROCKNET forum, and from there, Doug Pratt’s COMICS forum(s). It wasn’t because I was much of a comics reader, having never met a superhero that particularly impressed me, but there were some members in common between the two forums. I became especially active in the WITSIG section (as in wit special interest group) that Doug had generously provided for the few survivors of the erstwhile forum of the same name. The high point was the Sunday brunch, a “conference” or chat that started Saturday night and extended into wee hours of Sunday morning and consisted of extemporaneous chains of really bad puns.

    All of which means that few regulars of the main sections of the COMICS forum would have known who I was (Ambient Noise when I forgot to change my WITSIG handle when making a rare post in the “normal” sections). Even so, I met a bunch of great people, including Jack. I think I attended more RLCOs (real-life conferences) hosted by the COMICS forum than any other, despite not being a typical comic book reader.

    Ah, the irony and the memories…

    70730,470

  3. I’ve been trying and trying to remember my CompuServe numerical ID but it appears to be a lost cause, yet another reminder of how much of the past has been wiped away in computer crashes.

  4. CIS was a valuable tool for me when editing at Wizard, providing me with a roster of possible writers, many of whom–like you–I introduced to their first comics writing gigs.

    There’s nothing like it in existence today. Facebook is a social network, but it doesn’t present the exchange of ideas in well-crafted writing that CIS did.

  5. Heh — nice to see a number of old-timers popping up in various threads across the net this week! Some among old Forum hands, others among former CompuServe employees (sorry, Associates). There was even a gathering at the old HQ building, I hear.

    Noise — good to bump into you again here!

    The Wandering Bard
    Wandering Dave Rhee
    70003,5000; 71154,1064
    SYSOP Forum Sysop, WITSIG Sysop, New England Senior Network Technical Specialist

  6. The amazing Tim Fitzpatrick, former CIS stalwart and Jacey Services computer guru, has solved the mystery that haunts me!

    My CIS ID was….

    72437,506.

  7. CompuServe? I had no idea any vestige of it still existed this long. Anyone remember the beer forum there? Hubey Plummer was the beer czar back in the day. Wonder what he’s up to these days.

    If I had to guess, my ID was 76754.740. But that was a long time ago and my memory ain’t what it used to be.

  8. Oh, sure, you post the userid I found for ya, but do you put up the picture of you and your Little Buddy?

  9. If it were better quality, I would have. I’ll see if I can make it worth the effort. And “little Buddy” has a whole new meaning around these parts now.

  10. I am shocked to hear that a 15-year-old photo scanned with a crappy home scanner isn’t of good enough quality.

    So the dog was named after Carl? How appropriate…

  11. I would be honored if I thought in fact that Buddy was named after me, but in reality, I think if Jack had named the dog after me, he would have made a much different choice.

  12. Another link to the past broken. I still have my name patch that was made for a RLCO I was never able to attend. The one time I was going to call into a RLCO that was going to be held at Mr. Wizard’s, I was a day early :-(.

    The most important thing I got out of Compuserve, however, was my wife, who I met over on HSX where I was a member, then a section leader, and finally an assistant Sysop (70007,3673- I could find mine original ID before the “free” one). We just celebrated out 20th wedding anniversary about two weeks ago.

    I will always keep warm memories of CIS, WITSIG, and the Comics Forum in my heart (I’d say in my mind, but the way things keep slipping from it nowadays….).

    Thanks for everything!

    Knocan Du

  13. I’ve just seen Jack’s two emails and blog postings after returning from a long weekend staying over with family. Here are a few of my own thoughts as an old CIS die-hard.

    First of all, I think that there’s a bit of confusion going around concerning this. “CompuServe” (or what’s left of it) still exists. What has actually happened is that AOL have closed down the original classic CIS service – the one where we all had octal numerical designations (my own CIS ID was 100647,753). The old service has been effectively dead for years now anyway, and the forums long-since migrated to the Prospero webforums (a sort of clone of the Delphi forums) back in 2004.

    These CIS webforums are not gone, although many of them (including the Comics & Animation Forum) have become ghost towns in recent years. They are still chugging along, much diminished from their heyday, but still there, and now free and open to everyone, unlike a few years back, when you had to pay for a CIS or AOL account before you could get into any of the forums. There’s absolutely nothing stopping old members of the C&A Forum getting back together again, visiting the forum, and revisiting old past glories. Nothing, that is, except the grand old enemy, APATHY.

    If each of us would just decide to open up a web browser and occasionally (or frequently, if you prefer) visit the forum, contributing a few posts here and there, Comics & Animation could be a vibrant community again. All it takes is a relatively small number of enthusiastic ex-members to take the first steps (I’ve seen more than a few ‘lively’ forums kept active by fewer than fifteen or twenty regular posters). A few of the old die-hards like Howard Cherniak (Cherns), Dave Stout and Bob Ingersoll (remember him?) still hang out there occasionally, although they’re obviously feeling a bit lonely, and are still pining for the rest of the C&A family to return. If they’re joined by a few others, the old place might just start coming back to life again.

    So why don’t a few of us ex-members get together and try to resurrect the forum? Since we’re all riding along on this current wave of CIS nostalgia at the moment, some of us could start posting the occasional message in the Comics & Animation forum – you me, Carl P, and anyone else we can round up. I’ve already started the ball rolling by making a couple of postings in a thread that I initiated. If we managed to rope in maybe a dozen or two ex-CIS members, even one or two posts per week from each of us would start to make the place look busy. An added bonus is that everyone could always link back to their own blogs/websites, maybe helping to drive some traffic in the reverse direction as well. The old ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours’ tactic.

    I really think we all lost something very special when we bailed out of CIS. The wilds of the internet just don’t have the same sense of cohesion and “family” that the old Comics & Animation Forum had. Now we’re all isolated, split off into our own little blogs and websites, with only occasional communication between a relatively small number of us. We need somewhere central, somewhere outside of our own blogs and websites, somewhere neutral where we can all drop in as we feel like it and take part in ongoing conversations.

    I suppose we could always start fresh somewhere else, like on one of the social networking sites. But why bother? The Comics & Animation forum is still there (if very quiet at the moment), and it has a history, and a whole bunch of fond memories for the extended ex-CIS “family”. If we could persuade even a handful of the old guard to start posting regularly, it has the potential to grow, and once again become The Place To Be for all of the old CIS comics fans.

    ‘Build It And They Will Come’ (or, in this case, rebuild it). What do you think?

  14. Phil – a nice sentiment, but I doubt it will ever happen. A while back,if you didn’t hear, Paul Grant aka Zeus passed away, and a number of the old guard ended up on a YahooGroups site setup by one of our own (I can’t offhand remember who). For a while, as people remembered Zeus and became reacquanted, it was fairly active with almost 500 messages posted the following month. But it slowly died off, with no messages since March until I posted a link to this blog entry and a few people have replied over there.

    I said at one point there that it was starting to feel like a high school reunion – everyone shows up, says “hi, how ya doing?” and catches up, talks about the old times, and then as the weekend wears on, slowly peel off and go back to real life. As much as I would like to get that old CIS magic back, I don’t think it is going to happen. A shame, but that’s how it is.

  15. Hate to say it, but like Tim says. I used to stop in at the web version of the Forum and compared to using thread reading and writing software (I still miss TAPCIS), it felt horribly slow and clunky to me. I truly think that being able to follow individual threads in a sort of multiple fashion is/was the magical extra that made the forum(s) there able to be so much for so many.

    Now, having to pick ONE thread and go through it methodically, etc. and having to be online to do so, well, it just doesn’t work for me as well. I suspect it is the same for many.

    I enjoy seeing my old pals and reading messages here and on the Facebook, etc. I like exchanging e-mails and messages. But there was a certain, shall we say, je ne sai quois (I am doubtful of my spelling here) about the forum that is not matched on the web version, nor IMHO, anywhere else on the web. This is mainly because of the different ways things are done using HTML and on web pages compared to the now ancient methods used back then.

    It’s sad, but things change, people change, times change. There are no livery stables, no horse drawn milk carts and you can NOT send a telegram anymore.

    Let’s agree to be pals and friends and talk when we can, but the old meeting house burned down and will never be rebuilt to look the same.

  16. Makes me think of “Internet in a Box” – Spry.net from Seattle developed and ran it.

    This must have been 1995 or so…and provided rudimentary web access; rudimentary discussion forums; as well as newsgroups. Sprynet was eventually transformed into Sprynet (a division of Compuserv)

    Then this morphed into Interserv.com with a more advanced web interface and newsgrops….and ultimatley into Earthlink.net …..

    The digital experience continues to evolve and challenge

  17. Tim: I heard about Zeus when it happened. It was all over the comics web. Really sad. I didn’t know him personally, but I recall reading a few of his reviews and postings on CIS.

    Is the Yahoo Group you were talking about the CIS-CAF group? ‘Cos if it is, I’d already joined up a night or two before I read your comment, courtesy of Cherns over at the old C&A Forum on CIS, who pointed me in the right direction. 🙂 I’m already a long-standing member of quite a few other Yahoo groups, including the various British comics and scanning groups. They’re great fun to hang out in, and the perfect way for groups of friends and like-minded individuals to keep in contact.

    The Yahoo groups are quite nice and unsophisticated – a threaded text discussion platform (not as good as the old CIS, but better than the clunky HTML boards), a centralized location where everybody can drop in any time they want, and which a relatively small but enthusiastic group of regular posters can turn into a buzzing community.

    That’s the operative word – community. Not a bunch of individuals contacting each other very occasionally, mostly when someone dies. I’m talking about a buzzing, active community. Community is good, it’s fun, and it’s what REALLY made the old Comics & Animation Forum what it was. If we can’t recreate the old forum again, let’s build a totally new one, and invite all the gang back.

    The point I’ve been trying to make is that a single, central meeting place, away from all our little individual watering holes, would be a great way to keep in regular contact with ALL the old gang, and get some fascinating (and longer) discussions going again, like we used to have back in the Comics & Animation Forum. I’m a nostalgic type, which is why I’ve mentioned the existing CIS forum – it’s our old home, and there’s already a history and sense of connection there. But it doesn’t even have to be the old C&A Forum – any meeting place will do, just as long as we can all meet and talk on a regular basis. Any of the social networking sites would do – Facebook, ning.com, any of these would make a nice little regular meeting place.

    My overall sentiments stem from me being a ‘glass is half full’ type of guy, essentially an optimist. I believe that we can all remain in contact, if we really want to. It’s really quite easy – find a place for all of us to hook up regularly, a forum, a group on a social networking site such as Facebook – most of the old CIS gang are already on there – even the existing Yahoo group. And just make sure we go visit it and post, say once or twice a week.

    That’s all it takes. It’s really as easy as clicking on a url and going to the site, just like we do with every other forum or website that we visit on a daily basis. Honestly, if we’re too apathetic to even do that, if we really can’t be bothered to make even a minimal attempt to keep in regular contact or get some kind of a central community going again, then maybe our experiences and friendships on CIS weren’t as great as we make them out to be. Email (or even blogging) is not a very efficient way of keeping in contact with large numbers of friends, even if all the old friends are in each other’s address books. It’s certainly not a suitable method of maintaining multiple simultaneous long conversations and discussions.

    Whilst I also understand the analogies that you and Carl are making about the ‘high school reunion’ and ‘old meeting house’, these are physical real-world references, and bear little real comparison to online relationships, which are a heckuva lot easier to manage. Something like a high school reunion can be a huge upheaval, often involving putting your life on hold for days, just to travel huge distances to meet face-to-face with people you haven’t seen in twenty years.

    This virtual community/get together is a lot easier, just a matter of moving your mouse, clicking on a url, and talking with people, many of whom you’ve remained in contact with for years, both online and at comics conventions. Even people you haven’t chatted with in a few years – it’s very easy reigniting relationships and conversations with ‘old friends’ on a computer screen.

    Much, much easier than face to face meetings with someone you haven’t met in years, someone who now may look, act, and essentially IS a totally different person from the young guy or girl you were pals with when you both were teenagers.

  18. Carl: I, too, miss the off-line readers (I started off with NavCis and moved on later to OzWin). This was easily the most effective and sophisticated (yet pleasant, intuitive and easy) way ever devised to interact with online forums. I really, REALLY miss my old OLR – I absolutely LOVED OzWin in particular, and when we could no longer use the OLRs, I pretty much went into mourning and ended up turning my back on CIS for years. I’ve only relatively recently started going back there.

    The new HTML forums ARE clunky and slow in comparison to the threaded OLR format, not just the current CIS forums, but ALL web forums. But the days of the OLR are long gone, and we’ve had to adjust to the more ‘modern’ type of forum in recent years. The current CIS forum is just another modern webforum – just as easy/hard to reach and navigate as any other webforum on the ‘net, and no better, or no worse, than any other. Aside from a severe lack of residents, something which could be easily cured if a few of us started popping in every now and again.

    We seem to have no problem visiting other forums (or blogs, which are even worse than HTML forums for lack of threading etc). Many of us have our ‘favourite’ forums that we come back to regularly (I have no less than five that I make a point of visiting at least once or twice a week).

    So just what is the problem with visiting the current CIS forum? Why the resistance from many of the old C&A Forum residents to going back to read or make a few posts in the ‘old home town’? They certainly do enough of it everywhere else, on forums and blogs with exactly the same clunky, slow, non-threaded environments as the current CIS.

    Rather than any real physical reason (‘cos I don’t really think any of the excuses/reasons given actually stand up to close examination), I think it’s more psychological. Sort of like teenagers leaving home after a spat with their parents, and refusing to go back for years (or ever again), burning all their bridges.

    CIS stopped allowing us to use our OLRs any more, so we all stomped off in a huff/disgust and refused to go back. Dunno if I’m right – but that’s pretty much what happened with me for a long time, if I’m to be totally honest about it. And I suspect that this may be the real reason for many other ex-CIS members leaving as well.

    Well, I’ve been back a few times now. Talked to a couple of the die-hards who refused to abandon ship, and THEY can’t understand why everybody else left en masse either. And they’d love some of their old mates to come back and pay a visit. Feeling really lonely and rejected, they are, almost as though it’s something personal against them. 🙂

    Like I said, the current CIS forum is no different from anywhere else online at the moment, except that a dozen or two extra voices around the place would seriously increase the quantity and quality of the discussion, and make the forum a more attractive place to visit.

    I’ll keep going back anyway, unless, or until, they lock the doors for good.

  19. Phil – I understand what you are saying, and agree with a lot of it. I’d love for there to be such a thing going on, but it looks like it just isn’t going to happen.

    I saw that you had joined the YahooGroup, so I would suggest you go and look over the old messages for at least a partial idea of why I think this is true. So many of the people there in re-introducing themselves said they really don’t read comics anymore. When I brought up the high school reunion analogy, I wasn’t saying this is how things should be, it was the way things ARE. We all came together for a while, shared stories of the past, caught people up on what was going on with us, and then over a period of time, everyone drifted away.

    Now, it is clear from the responses to my posting about this blog entry that folks are still checking in occasionally, but for some reason, nothing much is sustained. Why? I don’t know. Like you, I’d like to have a place like the old one (and not just the mechanics of things, I’m fine with the YahooGroup, or the current CIS forum, or any of the other similar places), but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to happen.

    Thomas Wolfe, it appears, was right.

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