“What in the hell is a JACKPHLA?”
Good question. First, it’s JACKPHLASH. See the clever thing I did with the .SH domain name there? 🙂 Jack Phlash is the pseudonym (we most often called them “handles” like we were driving big rigs or something) that I’ve used in the computer underground scene from the mid 90s on. How I ended up with such a stupid name will probably be the subject of a future article.
“Oh, right. Ummm… should I have heard of you?”
Well, probably not, but if you were around the underground scene, particularly the parts of it centered around BBSing, back in the 90s, it’s possible you’ve come across my name here and there. We might have even been chums.
Maybe this will shake a few cobwebs loose:
In the mid 90s I got my big break in the world of textmode art by joining the legendary Creators of Intense Art (CiA) as an ASCII artist. I stayed on with CiA for quite a while, even helping found and run its breakaway ASCII division, Hazmat, for a while. I’ve also sought recognition in the more euro-centric ASCII scene as a member of such ASCII only groups as Serial and Impure, and more recently Break, and while my style has never been all the rage, I think I’ve slowly built a good reputation for myself over the years.
I’ve dabbled in a little of most of the art scene related art, a little tracking (music) here and there, some lit (writing) RIPscript art, and yes, ANSI. Despite beating my head against the function keys for years, I’d hardly consider myself much of an ANSI artist, with most of my proudest ANSI achievements having been in more recent years with groups such as Crisis, Roots, and currently Blocktronics.
In the case of textmode art, I’ve used the signature and file prefix of “jp” and “jp!” with the latter becoming my norm these days to make it a bit more distinct since I’m not the only “jp” out there (shout out to j33p33!) If you look you can find my stuff all over the place, and some of it is even decent! I need to put a collection or at least a curated gallery together one of these days, but for now my tag page on 16colo.rs is good enough, only missing a couple of notable pieces.
Many other people probably know me better from my involvement in the BBS modding scene which is really where I first got my start. I’ve been in tons of groups, such as TRiC, Thought Surfers, FSW, Project-X, Sinister, Taura, and finally, I founded Demonic Productions in 1997, which I ran for quite a few years, with quite a number of awesome members releasing awesome mods and programs I’m proud to have had our name on. Good times!
Returning to the art scene for a moment, I’m most well-known in some circles as being one half of the legendary Gutter, an ANSI focused e-mag released in the late 90s that, for a brief moment in time, was easily the most popular e-mag around.
Given my growing connections in the BBS scene, I was also involved with many other groups and developers, working on testing software such as Impulse, Iniquity BBS, Instinct, and Illusion BBS. Hmph… that’s a lot of Is! I worked on putting out my own bug fixes (including a much needed Y2K fix) for Iniquity, and have been involved with various attempts to revive or remake it over the years. I’ve also been a supporter of Mystic BBS since the relative early years of its development, running one of the first (if not the very first) highly customized art scene style boards running Mystic, and I still very much support it today.
Speaking of my BBS, I run a bulletin board system called Distortion which has been around in one form or another since the mid 90s, and has been online almost consistently since 1999. It’s had its ups and downs, but for awhile it was likely one of the most active scene-related telnet boards out there. You can check it out @ telnet://d1st.org
As an extension of my efforts with Demonic, I co-founded an underground focused Fidonet style echomail network called Zer0net (or The Zero Network) in the late 90s which was focused on, get this, leveraging the powers of the Internet for “mailing” packets around. Ooooh! Even more amazing, somehow it’s still around today, some 20 years later. Whether I’m a stubborn bastard who refuses to quit, or I just managed to automate things to the point that I didn’t need to expend any effort on keeping it going is still very much up for debate.
Finally, a lot of non-underground scene BBSers probably know me best by the Legend of the Red Dragon style door game I released in the early 2000s, Darkness. Darkness was, in some ways, the culmination of my involvement in the BBS scene, and while it’s one of my prouder moments, I rewrote and relaunched it as Darkness 2.0 in early 2020 in order to leave something I can be a little bit prouder of behind in my wake.
There’s plenty more I’ve done or been involved with that’s not really worth naming dropping – groups I was a member of but never had any output with, wacky hacking and phreaking zines that no one ever read, my efforts to try to archive underground scene related files, etc. It seems that I was quite prolific back in the day. Then again, maybe you just know me from the fact that, like most of us back then, I practically lived on IRC?
For everyone else, the short answer is: I’ve done a bunch of unimportant stuff. Check out the “Egomania” tag for articles that are more biographical in nature, if you’re interested.
“That all sounds nifty. Where do I sign up?”
You’re in luck – right here! While I’ve never completely ceased my involvement in the scene, my output has been anemic since those nostalgic nights as a teenager staying up too late, peering into a tiny CRT monitor and dreaming of making a name for myself in the scene. This blog is an attempt to address that, just a little.
I’ll be using it to recapture some of those days gone by with personal recollections of projects I was involved with, and other related anecdotes, as well as deep dives into the nostalgic days of DOS prompts and dial-up modems by digging into old programs and hooking up with old acquaintances. I’m also planning on using this blog as the place to keep those who are interested updated on some of the projects I’m still involved with, such Distortion, Zer0net, and Darkness 2.0. Finally, I’m going to try to give back to the scene a little bit by documenting my modding and coding project in the form of “howto” guides. I can’t make any promises of how often I’ll add new content, but with the publishing of this first entry, I’m committing!
“Awesome. What’s a BBS?”
But seriously, until I can put together my own series of compelling articles on introducing a lot of these subjects, here’s a nicely written overview of the dark ages before the Internet took over. If you want even more, maybe give The BBS Documentary a watch.
1. jp!imp54.ans by Jack Phlash from Impure #54 (2017)
2. jp!aeon1.ans by Jack Phlash from Blocktronics: Space Invaders (2013)