The Noel Gamboa story by Cthulu
The Noel Gamboa story by Cthulu
Greetings and salutations, textmode art fans! My subject today is Noel Gamboa,
a name that, prior to my digging it up from in August of 2016,
hadnt been heard in an ANSI art context since ... basically, 1990, twenty-six
years prior, and well before anything weve traditionally recognized as the
ANSI art scene was even crawling out of the primordial soup. And yet his early
Public Domain ANSI art work was sufficiently meritorious and, it turns out,
influential that I had to dig up its bones and parade them around as some
species of missing link. But like the coelacanth, sometimes youre surprised
by living history jumping out of the fossil record and giving you a thumbs-up
on Google+. Really, anything taking place on Google+ is an improbable
surprise, but this one doubly so. Ha ha, thats what you get partially
writing infofiles about online matters and then setting them aside for a year,
RIP Google+! So we were able to make contact and I was able to ask him a few
questions -- hoping to shed some light on the ANSI scene before the ANSI scene,
like a more powerful telescope looking farther away and hence further back
toward the beginning of the universe. I, uh, asked him way too many
questions, which actually paralysed him into not answering any of them, but
fortunately some of them ended up being addressed in our subsequent
correspondence, so Ill see if I cant edit that into some kind of coherence.
It seems like ANSI art has been with us always -- the timeline
went back to 1991, but tracks pieces all the way back to 1982!
The further back one reaches into its early days the harder it is to keep a
straight face describing the ANSI compositions as art. Despite their small
scale the only scale available at the time -- TheDraw, first launched in 1986,
limited works by default to screens of 25 lines, 50 if you pushed it...
Wikipedia is claiming 100 lines, but citation needed, mofos, Noels pieces
stand out as effectively rendering detailed subjects recognizably at such a low
resolution, no small feat. He managed to somehow hit on a basic precept
adopted by the later underground ANSI art scene via comic books, that of
rendering fundamental details through strong black outlines. There were
evolutionary leaps forward after his time, of two-tone colouring of highlights
and using the shading characters to achieve all of the hues possible by
combining all foreground and background colours... leaps he tentatively
employed, but not as a matter of course but those just put muscles and skin on
ANSI art as we know it, though -- black outlines provided the bones on which it
all hung.
But he also drew schematic diagrams of starships in a completely different
oldschool ASCII art style. And then to my delight he combined the traditions,
taking the ASCII schematics and tinting and animating them with ANSI control
codes! Straddling both worlds, belonging to neither. Was that something that
people did back in 1990? I havent seen much overlap in my archaeological
digs. His context is far enough back that it challenges what we think of as
the most fundamental basics of the context of historical ANSI art production:
that ANSI art was drawn to beautify and promote specific BBSes, and successful
ANSI artists were compensated with increased traffic to their boards, status
among local SysOps, and in some cases while the statute of limitations may be
up, its not my intention here to trick anyone into incriminating themselves
access to forbidden file bases on other BBSes where warez and XXX materials
were illegally traded. Intriguingly, many of his specimens dont appear to
have been associated with any particular BBSes, existing independently -- to
satisfy a personal curiosity or challenge... basically these were pictures he
was going to draw whether there was any application for them or not.
Much like his ANSI art successors, back in his era he also drew some pre-
Image comic book superheroes, and also dabbled with subjects from pop music
ranging from the globally successful -- IRS Records and Billy Idol -- to the
acutely SoCal-local with Dread Zeppelin, just emerging at that time. But for
the most part his ANSI art themes gravitate to two distinct realms of youthful
enthusiasm: anime and Star Trek. Indeed, we here incorporate in its entirety
v2.2 of his AnsiTrek collection from 1990 -- the first artpack? -- which first
drew our attention to his oeuvre while doing a Pixel Pompeii profile on Trek
ANSI art through the ages. But as a lone wolf with no group affiliation,
without any scene or crew of competitive, trash-talking peers spurring him on
only his colleagues Michael MCL Ling, Michael Arnett and Ebony Eyes on the
RelayNET RIME ANSI conference -- basically an earlier incarnation of the
FidoNet-style echomail message bases that the underground artscene harnessed
with eg. TwingleNet, AgoraNet, CyberCrimeNet and KiTSCHNet, in a story any
BBS-based artscene veteran will woefully recall, he was part of an earlier wave
of cyberspace pioneers drifting from BBSes to university Internet access circa
1990: By the early 90s my time was consumed by some other hobby/obsession.
Thats why I dropped out of ANSI art. I was playing MUD games, writing MUDs,
and neck deep into anime fandom. And also this whole college thing: college
helped with internet access, internet access helped to wean from woefully local
BBS affairs.
There are a couple of dominant California narratives for career trajectories,
and his went more in the Silicon Valley than the Hollywood direction -- after
college he wound up paying the bills at Microsoft and Amazon. But back in
cyberspace, like a tub of leftovers overlooked in the back of the fridge while
youre away on vacation, strange new life took up from where he left off.
Though Noel lived in San Diego, there were eyes on him peeping from San Jose --
radical ones. By which I mean that Noel Gamboas early works proved highly
inspirational to RaDMaN, whose impact on the PC underground artscene in his
years steering ACiD Productions cannot be overstated. How do we know that
RaDMaN liked Noels stuff? Easy: because he ripped it on at least two
occasions. Settle down there -- attribution was free and loose in the
freewheeling Wild West atmosphere of 1990 online, and it was not uncommon to
find the same Public Domain ANSIs a label that Noel, incidentally, finds
troubling and confusing: Its weird to read it referred to as PD as theres
nothing public domain about what we did... every readme file youll see in the
archives, the artists claim ownership of their art. I think we can make an
argument for a better name: pre-scene ANSI and BBS art. ... or something.
Sorry Noel, I fear that ship has sailed! circulating in various altered forms
promoting different BBSes and credited to different artists. I dont want to
make excuses for anyone here, but early ACiD packs broke rules that didnt even
exist yet, unwittingly perpetrating violations such as releasing GIF2ANS
conversions and even worse, ANSI art drawn in the 80x50 screen mode! To his
credit, RaDMaN didnt just scrawl his tag over Gamboas, but he made changes
and enhancements for the original works before taking full credit for them.
But you cant blame him, theyre great! The ACiD infringements are included in
this collection, as is one other rip from a Liquid artpack.
Indeed, Noel Gamboa has earned a strange distinction among the ANSI-drawing PD
contingent of most likely having had their creations inadvertently exposed to
the widest audiences -- not just in ACiD acquisitions but unwittingly served up
to every unfortunate whose desktop PC was infected with the MadMan.1663 MS-DOS
virus, which displayed a vicious ANSI glare cropped out of a Noel Gamboa
portrait of X-Man Wolverine. This specific infection was sufficiently
pervasive that I was able to round up two creative reinterpretations of the
Wolvie glare from the outside world folded in to this collection, including
one coincidentally by Illarterate, the man who inadvertently sparked off a mass
teletext revival and who we already work with in Mistigris on a monthly basis.
Noel is well impressed by the ANSI art feats of today, though you can tell that
his a e s t h e t i c has clearly been informed by bygone ages when he asks
how todays ANSI artists go about embedding ANSI music into their screens. But
despite reminding him of this fondly-remembered portion of his life, I do not
think we are going to be getting any more ANSI art out of him. His old stuff,
however, stands the test of time more than most of his PD peers, and presented
as new to most of you in the audience, its fresh enough. Fresh, you know,
like 1990, phunky phresh? Is that a weird note to wrap on? I cant help it,
all of my notes are weird. Anyhow, I hope that you enjoy this curious little
time capsule!