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Gnomon Chronicles: An Interview With The Man Who Makes Up Movies

Meet the satirist blurring the line between entertainment and reality…

Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

Join me on my journey of discovery into the world of Karl Gregory Jones, a rabbit hole of satire, cinema, and online oddities…

Spicecrawlers And Satire: How I Met Karl

The date, according to the undying record keeper known as Twitter, is the 25th of October, 2021. I am scrolling through the replies to a meme about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune when I come across a bizarre little photoshopped poster that blends elements of Dune and Pulp Fiction together to create this completely bizarre image titled ‘Pulp Freman’:

This was my first exposure to Karl… Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

I respond to this image, being the Twitter intellectual I am, with “wtf” and a crying emoji. Little did I know that in doing so, I was taking a course of action that would lead me to where I am right now: writing one of the strangest interviews you ever would have read. For in responding to this image, I assisted in the birth of Spicecrawler.

Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

‘What the hell is this bizarre pop culture culmination I see before my eyes?’, you may be wondering. To be frank, that’s exactly what I was thinking too. Little did I know that I had just witnessed the birth of a ‘Gnomon Chronicle’, a satirical post designed to blend unexpected aspects of pop culture to create an ultimately comedic result. Here, have some more:

HE IS THE LAW! Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones
The names… Bond? Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

Why am I bombarding you with these ‘Gnomon Chronicles’? Well, it’s simple really. I want to introduce you to the man who makes them. A man deeply consumed by the satirical edge at the border of popular culture, a man who dedicates his time to the imagination, and a man with a sense of humor that both cuts deep and flies ferociously above my head at the same time. That man is Karl Gregory Jones, or twitter user @GnomonChronicl1.

Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

Meet The Gnomon

The man staring intensely into your soul in the photo above is 61-year-old Karl, from Minnesota. After my strange first encounter with his content, me and Karl ended up keeping in touch over Twitter, and he has kindly agreed to open up his bizarre world of satirical cinematic creations for you to take a peek into his brilliant (and occasionally terrifying) mind.

As a brief summary of what to expect, Karl runs the Gnomon Chronicles online site, a satirical wiki that blends facts and fiction to create a sort of false reality in which his site inhabits through the form of, for lack of a better word, memes. The most appealing part of this, and his experience the most popular, are his made-up films. Inventions of his mind, crafted by blending imagery from two different movies to create odd little movie posters, granting his imagination a physical form..

It should be noted that this interview, unlike prior interviews I have conducted, was entirely digital and text-based, but Karl more than made up for this by providing deep and thoughtful answers to my requests for knowledge about him and what it is he does, alongside a variety of personal portraits for the imagery, both edited and natural. With all that in mind, sit back, relax, and enjoy this textual trip into the digital rabbit hole.

Mr. Gnomon, I presume? Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

The Birth Of A Satirist

“I grew up in a middle-class household in a nice neighborhood”, Karl began. “My parents were both liberal intellectuals who encouraged reading, art, science — whatever I wanted to study, they encouraged it…”. This certainly sounded like a home that stimulated an effective mind.

Karl claims his childhood held a great impact on what it is he does now: “Satire appealed to me very early in life. I remember being eight or nine years old. My dad worked for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, so we got the paper delivered for free. Dad had a custom: on Sunday mornings, he would make a big skillet breakfast for the family, with cinnamon rolls and orange juice. After breakfast, we would all…sit down in the living room and read the Sunday paper. For the kids, this meant reading the funny pages. Then the real fun began. Dad would pull out this book of classical art prints… Dad would pick a comic panel, carefully cut out a talk balloon, and paste it over Napoleon’s head. I forget what the talk bubble said, but whatever it was, we found it hilarious.” Let’s call this a lightbulb moment, shall we?

Creative talent flowed everywhere in Karl’s family: “Both my parents had multiple artistic talents; they both could draw, mom sculpted and made jewelry, and later wrote. Dad made telescopes, and ground his own lenses when he was young. He had a fine hand with pastel drawings, very sensitive. he was a shy man, not prone to share his work. Far more characteristic is that story about Sunday paper and the cartoons and talk balloons over art prints.  That’s the dad who stands out in my mind.  Later, after he passed in ’97, I got to know his more hidden gifts.” It is intriguing how our perceptions of a person change as time passes.

What makes a man? Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

Gnomon Chronicler? I Hardly Know Her!

So we know of Karl’s origin, and childhood influences, but what exactly is a ‘Gnomon Chronicle’? Let’s start with the name: “Around 2014, I decided that I needed a short snappy name for an original comic book series…I was working with a comic book illustrator at the time, kicking around ideas for stories that I would write and he would illustrate. That collaboration ended, and the project lapsed half-finished. But I kept the name Gnomon Chronicles, and expanded on it, rethinking it as a brand name for multiple activities. If not comic books, then science fiction stories, animated short films, or even life-sized flat panel figures of characters I developed during the comic book project. This last was suggested to me by a marketing professional.”

“Gnomon (/ˈnoʊˌmɒn, -mən/), from Ancient Greek γνώμων (gnṓmōn), ‘one that knows or examines’, is part of a sundial that casts a shadow. The moment it came to mind I felt a spontaneous exaltation that sealed the deal. But ‘Gnomon’ alone felt insufficient, so I pondered a bit, and — hey presto! — up came ‘Chronicles’. Both of these words have deep literal significance for me. ‘One that knows or examines’ is who I am, and what I care about. ‘Chronicles’ describes me. In much of my writing, I think of myself as literally that, a man chronicling his time, leaving a record of events he has witnessed. Finally, the rhyme of “Gnomon Chronicles” seals the deal: it’s catchy, easy to remember, almost a jingle.”

Finding out the meaning of Karl’s chosen title was, to me at least, a groundbreaking discovery. For over a year I have followed this account on Twitter, and not once did I ever consider where such an odd yet intriguing name could come from. According to Karl, however, he was not the only chronicler in the family: “My mom was something of a chronicler herself.  She kept a scrapbook of work by both her boys, usually writing our ages in the book or on the work.” The idea of immortalizing one’s ideas runs deep within Karl, it would seem.

The genius’ shadow Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

The Eureka Moment

So how does one actually create a ‘Gnomon Chronicle’? I’ll allow Karl to explain: “An idea will come to me…two real movies…mashed together…I mashup images from the two movies to make my new movie poster. I do much of my work in GIMP…occasionally I use an online editor for simple mashups…I may upload the image to the Gnomon Chronicles wiki… with the article, title, and a description of the movie.”

“…[Then I] post my fictional movie to Twitter and other social media. I like to accompany the post with links to YouTube showing trailers for, or scenes from the two source movies…the reader is presented with thumbnail images of other Chronicles: bright shiny objects to follow. My hope is that readers who enjoy this kind of thing will click from page to page to page, one Chronicle after another.”

The process is quick, too, with Karl commenting that it takes,

“ten, maybe eleven minutes, from Eureka [the moment the idea is born] to post. I think of myself as a cartoonist, as a comic strip artist”, he adds. “I don’t have syndicated publication, and I don’t have a hand-drawn cartoon style.  But I do what cartoonists do, at least in my mind.”

What has he made? Don’t ask me, ask him yourself. Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

A New Form Of Literature

So, why does Karl do what he does? What motivates someone to dedicate their time to creating satirical posts on a near-obsessive level? “What keeps me going is my obsession. This is what I want to do most of all, more than anything else”, he tells me. “Some authors write short stories. Some write novels. Some write plays or poems or scripts. I write my Chronicles… when I’m feeling full of myself, I sometimes declare that I am ‘inventing a new form of literature’, wiki as art; I chronicle our age”. A bold claim, but who am I to dispute it?

So, who does he write for? And why “Followers, because they have earned my time. Strangers because I want to charm them with my work, win them over, convert them to followers”. What about the people in his life, though? Does he do it for them? Apparently not, as he informed me: “A few of them get it, and support me. Most don’t know about it or don’t care, it’s not their thing.”

Whilst it would seem that Karl’s support circle for what he does is, sadly, not too large in his ‘real life’, in the digital world he has found much more support: “I have met a small group of people… with whom I feel a connection, a real human connection. I have met none of them in real life, and don’t suppose I will. But they are important to me.” In fact, some of them were kind enough to provide a quote for the interview, on how Karl’s work impacts their lives:

@AoftheH – “While you can edit Wikipedia, Gnomon Chronicles edits you.”

@Dian2BetterDays – “Gnomon Chronicles is highbrow quirkiness…  I admit it’s sometimes over my head, but that’s all part of the fun.”

@WaitItsKim- “I love the gnomon chronicles… some of it is…permanently burnt into my temporal lobe.”

@KokoRemains- “A great surreal comedian yet weirdly undiscovered… I always recommend the site and then run away, because people ask me what it’s about, and it’s hard to be precise. It depends on where you land. It depends on how far you dig. The Chronicles are trivial AND deep. They are goofy AND brainy. Magical yet practical. They are light-hearted and inky. Such clever humor: simultaneously polarising, yet to all tastes. Sometimes the madness hits you instantly, like being whacked with a rubber chicken. But the best jokes burn slowly, curling around your subconscious, until you erupt with laughter, in the middle of the night (or a library), at a witty piece you read three days previously.”

@paleoludic- “He has the prophet’s calm manner and quick wit… always carrying himself with an air of humility and friendship.”

@Shamanator- “A prime example of concentrated genius from a time-traveling savant… [he] forces me to examine my own relationship with both the mundane and spiritual realms.”

@soyeahbasically- “He puts common images, ideas, and tropes into a kaleidoscope for us, turns it around, and then has us view them through the other end, for a completely different perspective.”

@chaosprime- “A significantly underrated account and body of work with a lot of gems lying around for the picking”

@doctorbellowz- “A mashup of virtual cultural touchstones as seen through the wonderfully twisted creative mind of Karl Jones.”

@Stuzipants- “This guy is great fun and put a really far-out twist on my content (which is oftentimes pretty far out already).”

@profdwh- “Inventive, witty, sometimes profound.”

@MindOverMatt518- “Witty, creative, thought-provoking, occasionally bizarre.”

Major thanks to each and every one of these people who took the time to reach out to me, as each quote lets us see how much a satirical account like Karl’s can really mean to a lot of people.

Elevated from busking quite a bit here… Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

The Twitter Busker

However, to achieve success online as Karl wishes to, one needs more than a close circle of friends observing their work, and Karl is more than aware of that: “I do want followers, as many as possible. What artist does not want an audience for their work?”. Success has certainly been achieved for Karl, with him amassing over 1000 followers on Twitter, but he wishes to remain (somewhat) humble: “My promise is to not forget the first thousand [followers]: to always hold them close, in special regard, no matter how many others come along.”

However, whilst Karl holds a strong community and large follower count, engagement is not particularly kind to him sometimes on Twitter, and like counts are not as high as he wishes they could be: “It is what it is, I try to not get emotionally attached.”. This was clearly not a subject of interest for Karl as he had a lot less to say on it than on other matters, so I will not dwell on it.

Let us instead look at how Karl plans to gain more interaction: “Harlan Ellison did this gig once at a book store, where he sat in a chair at a desk with a typewriter in the store’s front window.  All day he wrote and wrote, and at the end of the day, the story was finished… I see myself doing something like that… Might earn me a reputation as ‘That writer who writes stuff on Twitter as you watch!… A friend observed that my method is ‘like busking’, and in fact, I did some busking when I was younger – got out with my guitar in public places, and played and sang – even made a dollar or two, now and then. It was an exercise in overcoming fear, believe you me. So I go busking on Twitter, looking for posts I can mimic and modify in hopes of seducing the poster. Seducing in a purely intellectual sense, you understand – seeking an audience for my genius. I am not here looking for partners.”

Bleh bleh bleh! Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

The False Film Buff

Now, one would imagine that to be inventing movie memes on a scale Karl does, one would require an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, right? Well, not necessarily: “I don’t rate myself as being up to date on popular culture, not for the present day, nor for any era of the past. It’s true that I know a lot of things about a lot of things: but this is a fishing line in the ocean. I catch fish almost every time. Yet I can see from my boat that the ocean is unimaginably vast, and populated by creatures equally unimaginable.”

In fact, Karl doesn’t even consider himself “a cineaste. I don’t know films like film buffs know films. In the course of making Chronicles, I have watched hundreds of trailers for films I’ve never seen.” I found this deeply intriguing, as I assumed that Karl had a deep knowledge behind every target of his satire, and yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

“I enjoy making movie mashups. But perhaps I have drained some of the vitality from my awareness of movies. Often they are like tools, something I pick up and use then I need them, then put down without further thought”. However, not all his cinematic passion has been lost, and he was eager to tell me the tale of his favorite film: “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988. I distinctly recall telling my friends, as we debouched from the glamorous Uptown Theater into the milling Saturday night crowd: I am going to see that movie eleven times! And I did.”

Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

Musings Of Obscurity

Before we wrap up this adventure in oddness, I’d like to include some quotes from Karl during our interview process, ones that stood out to me yet I could find no place for in the greater interview:

“‘Extreme Juxtaposition’. This was my original Twitter tagline and remains the root element of the current tagline. Like “Gnomon Chronicles”, it is a literal assertion inspired by my poetic soul.”

“[On interacting with posts] My reply is real, I do like their post.  But I am also fishing for their follow, and attention from their followers.  Casting the net.”

“I’m like an improv comedian. To do my best work, I need to interact with an audience…I love to wing it, to improvise.”

“Satire stands out. It demands attention. Satire is an aggressive art, by deliberately defying expectations.”

“Man is a paradox. I’m a loner.  I am happy spending ninety percent of my time alone.  When I get less time alone, I am less happy. Yet I do my best work in collaboration with others.”

“I went through a phase early after starting the account where I resolved to be in character at all times as a bot … a wildly humorous bot with delusions of grandeur. The bot phase didn’t last long. Too confining.” [This one made me chuckle]

Photo Credit: Karl Gregory Jones

A Smuggler’s Tale

For the finale of this grand expedition into the mind of a modern chronicler, I would like to hand the reigns over entirely to Karl, who has a story to tell you, one that has inspired him and he hopes will inspire you too:

“First let me admit that I have always, since early childhood, had a firm and entirely unjustified belief that I can do anything at all that I put my mind to. Sad to say, this is ridiculously untrue. Nonetheless, I have what I think are a formidable array of talents, and if thinking too highly of myself means I experience both amazing successes and predictably stupid failures, so be it.”

“I met a smuggler once, back in the nineties. Nice guy, Don. ‘Antiquities, and gems’, he would emphasize: ‘Not drugs.’ Great story-teller. He would get onstage and keep an audience captivated for an hour or more. Don would say, ‘There I was, in the desert at the edge of South America, carrying illegal emeralds, with four native guides I couldn’t understand and didn’t trust. And if I managed to reach the ocean, and hire a boat, and head toward the United States, more problems would come at me. Problems and more problems inherent in smuggling.’ And so smugglers have a creed: ‘There is always a way.’ There is always a way, yes. There has to be. Art demands it. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Find a way. Believe in yourself.”

How To Find Karl’s Work:

Find The Gnomon Chronicles Website HERE

Find The Gnomon Chronicles Twitter HERE

Find The Gnomon Chronicles Patreon HERE

Find The Gnomon Chronicles Instagram HERE

Find The Gnomon Chronicles YouTube HERE

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