First a quick follow up to my last post. On the slacker issue I never really finished my thought. It was basically this: Alex and I can’t truly be slackers because we work too hard. We put a lot of effort into this. The real issue is that we sort of stumbled into it and have never really knew what we were doing or how to succeed. Frustration at a lack of measurable success has stalled our momentum in the past, but it was never from a lack of trying. Anyway, as I said last time things are starting to change.
Previously I mentioned that I was working hard to improve our SEO and increase our digital fingerprint. Well, these last couple days I’ve been submitting to every comic directory and blog I could find, and I’m already happy with the results. It was a nice surprise to learn that such a large, strong webcomic community exists and there are some nice helpful resources out there. I installed Google analytics tracking code roughly 2 weeks ago and see constant improvement in our traffic. People are starting to take notice of Black Snow and it’s exciting. I was shocked to see that we are getting traffic not only from the United States, but Canada, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Colombia, India , the Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom as well. I wonder how Germany feels about the Anti-Nazi? To all our new international readers, welcome. In case you’re wondering, yes this is a perfect portrayal of life in America.
With so many people visiting the website for the first time I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself. In case you didn’t know by now, I’m Michael Balistreri. I’ve spent all my life in San Jose, CA, barring the 2 years I was going UC Berkeley. You probably don’t know much about San Jose since it gets no respect from the media because we live in the looming shadow of San Francisco. Well, it’s a decent place to live. It’s in close vicinity to beaches, forests, hills and sprawling country side. It’s a giant metropolis which used to be known as “The safest big city in America” and is apparently “The capital of Silicon Valley.” So this is where I’m from.
The most noteworthy thing about San Jose is that it’s basically the hub for new technology and the internet. Beyond that it’s really a pretty boring place to be. I never was a very technologically oriented guy, so it was never too interesting to me to be around it all. I liked video games a lot, so it was cool that I was close to game companies, but it didn’t really effect my day to day life. It did generate my family’s income, but that didn’t really connect with me as a child. For years I lied about being at Great America, our local theme park, during the filming of Beverly Hills Cop 3 and appearing as an extra. I did this because I felt it was probably the most exciting thing to happen around here and I wanted to be a part of it. Appearing in a background sea of people in a crappy movie that I could never even force myself to sit through was the best I could come up with. So you might be wondering how a non-tech guy got to where I am today? Relax, we’ll get there.
In middle school I took a video production class and realized that was something I wanted to do. I also went to summer camp and met the girl who would eventually become my wife and the guy I would go on to create this comic with. I also started using the internet for the first time to find out how to beat those damn point and click “adventure” games and look at pictures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So it was an impactful time for me. In case you wanted to know, I eventually started dating my future wife senior year of high school, we got married a little over a year ago, and now we have an adorable 11 month old son.
Yes, my son is the cutest. Back to topic, if I indeed had one. In high school I took a Photoshop class and a web design class where I picked up all the basics. I also noticed that classes in general started assuming I could/requiring me to use the internet for research and such. Now I think this mentality starts in grammar school. Around this time Alex and I started a “fake” band called Taft’s Brigade. Neither of us knew how to play music, so the band existed via the website we created and the personas we portrayed to people. Think something in the vein of a modern day punk influenced Spinal Tap. Alex initially created the site by writing the html code. I found it very interesting and learned everything I could from his example.
Our next project was Black Snow, and I decided to create the website for it using GeoCities. I had created a couple personal sites and a Count Duckula fan page I made using templates before, but this time I made everything from scratch by writing my own html. It was hard but fun. In junior college I took another web design class. learned a bit more and created some stuff with flash which still appears on this very site. So most of my motivation to learn about web development has been directly related to wanting to promote this comic book and make it’s site cool. I also started using the net more socially during this time.
At my community college I made the crazy decision to focus on film as my career. It had always been a passion and I irrationally resolved to pursue it. So I transferred to UC Berkeley where I got my BA in Film. I did not take any web classes there, but I did start using it constantly for classes that put material online and required research. BTW, UC Berkeley is a weird place to take film. Too much theory. After graduation I had a hell of a time finding a film related job in the Bay Area and started to question some of my life choices. Eventually I landed a job with a company that did a variety of video projects. I was brought on to be a full time contractor at Google, where I recorded guest speakers, meetings, events, and tech demos. Oh, occasionally I also went to YouTube to record stuff as well. Every once in a while I would do something more creative for other companies, like a couple rap music videos, but mostly it was corporate stuff.
For those of you who have never been to Google, it’s the greatest company in the world. It’s huge, exciting and full of perks. They treat their employees amazingly well, and for roughly a year I got to be a part of it. Free food everywhere anytime you want it, free video games to play, all kind of free technology and products, beautiful sprawling buildings with free shuttles or bikes so you could travel between them, amongst other perks. Hell, I got to meet Obama shortly before he became our president! In short, I fell in love with the high tech lifestyle. Eventually we lost our contract and we were exiled from heaven. I languished in purgatory for about a month before being laid off. During this time I was in the process of being interviewed by Google to work directly for them on their video team, but our failing economy called for a hiring freeze on the position which is still in place today. I’m told that I’m still at the top of the list if it ever opens up.
After the lay off I saw it wasn’t any easier to get a video job and started looking for graphic art and web design work. I had picked up a lot during my time at Google and my interest in technology had been fully sparked. These jobs are hard to get now as well, what with all the major companies going out of business every day and the world seemingly crumbling all around us. So I ended up taking a job with my uncle and helping him expand his company, which specializes in helping car dealerships with their websites. I’ve been learning furiously ever since. Any demand we get, I take on. I’ve learned all about creating site maps, running pay per click campaigns, raising organic search rankings, using all kinds of back end tools from various web providers and much more. Now I find myself fully entrenched in the very world I once found so boring. Oh, and I still make video for these companies. So that’s my story. I had a taste of the good life, saw what it takes to get there, and I’m slowly clawing my way back up to heaven.