Monday, November 20, 2017

The Life Cycle of an Artist/Content Creator - What to Expect When You're Creating

Based on what I've seen floating around Youtube and the internet in general over my long, long years of heavy internet research, I've concluded that there is a basic overall arc to the life cycle of an artist...or pretty much any kind of content creator in general. Of course, this is not universal and depends greatly on the person. If one is interested in being a professional on- or offline maker of things and purveyor of ideas, this is a simple breakdown of the stages that most seem to go through in that particular life path.


Level One - The Student


For a lot of people this stage takes place while they are still at school. Certainly most animators, comic book artists, and most artistic doodlin' types begin to find their artistic interests at this time. Scribbles in middle school start to fill sketchbooks with terrible anime drawings before someone throws an anatomy book at them. Maybe in high school they will start posting things online or getting more feedback on their work, but the drive and the interest is there. Not everyone starts so early. Each person may have their own path, but it's something that seems to be common in the stories of many an artist.

Artist Spotlight: Arin Hanson, aka Egoraptor


Arin Hanson started working on his art fairly young, though he will be the first to adamantly correct people who suggest that artists are just born with talent. He had an online presence while still in school that let him connect to other animators and essentially start his own brand of education/training to be the animator, voice actor, and video game funnyman he is today.

Artist Spotlight: Jason Gastrow, aka VideoGameDunkey


This is another example of starting an online presence very early on and experimenting with art. Jason Gastrow is know for his tightly-edited funny video game reviews and various riffing on pop culture these days, but his early animations and funny videos on Newgrounds started with all the pre-teen humor and charm of someone doing what they loved.

Level Two - The Specific Spark


This is the stage where people are really starting to figure out something they truly love or want to explore. Often this is accompanied by more attention to their work or sometimes just a distinct connection between the content creator and something they will end up being known for. It can be a genre, a style, a brand of humor, a medium, anything that really focuses their hard work and pays off. This is also a good time for the start of a long-term series or project that requires commitment and passion.

What often happens on the internet is a sense of intense feedback for a specific project; a simple experiment can draw a whole drove of new fans who want to see more, more, more. Yes, videos and projects can "go viral," but two billion views doesn't have to be the only starting point. I find that the more sustainable path stems from a project that people enjoy, but don't necessarily go rabid about or forget about in a month's time.

Artist Spotlight: Cara McGee, aka ohcararara

Cara McGee worked in a number of different styles of art, currently culminating in comics and work with Over the Garden Wall. One project that seemed to propel her into the spotlight was quite a diversion from that path: tea blends. Originally just a fan project, she would eventually work with a company called Adagio creating tea blends based on popular fandoms. Paired with each custom tea blend (which anyone could go on the Adagio Teas website right now and make their own) was some of her cute art on the packaging, featuring tiny Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter characters, the cast of Doctor Who, and more. The crossover of fan art and widespread recognition got her art out there even more.

Arin Hanson Returns

Before the soaring success of his Youtube series Game Grumps, Arin Hanson was probably most known for his animation work. His animated series Sequelitis exploded online. It gave viewers a good look at his art style, humor, and video game theory that would translate and expand further into later projects. That format really worked for him and allowed him to express views on video games through an exciting and authentic medium for viewers looking for something new.


Level Three - Super Star


This stage tends to be what a lot of people see or think of regarding an artist or content creator. I liken it to what a fifteen-year-old guitarist imagines when he's "famous" and touring in a band. At this stage an artist is working in their preferred medium. One usually sees a lot of growth, and they may be collaborating with other content creators. Financial security may stem from working for or with a company or even from banding together into a network with other like-minded people.

I like to compare this stage to the Super Star that grants invincibility to Mario. It's time to go real fast and smack into Goombas, sending them flying. The inspiration's there, and the work just seems to flow...to the outside viewer, anyway. At this point people are able to expand a bit with projects and reach out to fans or the media easily and often. A downside to this stage can be overwork; people often feel more pressured at this point to keep up or increase output in order to not fall off the radar (in case of a "viral" jumpstart to their career) or they are just trying to please too many people at once.


Level Four - Those Golden Years


This stage somehow sounds like a downturn of the arc, a settling of sorts, but it's probably the point in most art careers when people are happiest. The pressures of trying to juggle too many projects or carve new paths every year subside and mostly artists are able to relax with a clear idea of what they like and don't like. No longer caught up in survival mode, they're able to get out of their comfort zone. This stage may see changes in genre, format, or a completely different change from art to music to film making altogether. It's an opportunity to try new things and show other aspects of themselves.

An example of this would be the Game Grumps moving from just gameplay with commentary to podcasts like The G Club, now expanded into a D&D podcast called Dragons in Places. Other content creators may move platforms, such as from Youtube to Twitch, or switch from digital to traditional art.

Artist Spotlight: Alton Brown


Best known for his groundbreaking cooking show Good Eats, Alton Brown has since evolved into an ever-reaching presence in food science and food fun. Since the wrap-up of Good Eats he has toured with his rock and roll food science live show, turned sinister as the host of Cutthroat Kitchen, and led his Instagram followers around America in search of good food and fun times. Cookbook collaborations? Mini Youtube series? Personally torturing Bobby Flay? Alton Brown and cats do as they please.



Level Five - Becoming the Mentor


It's at this stage that artists or content creator seek to give back to the community that supported them from the beginning. They may pursue smaller projects and less of a grand vision or major series like one would see in Levels 2-3. Many projects at this stage also center around spreading a wealth of knowledge and experiences to others to help inspire more people to go out and do what makes them happy.

Artist Spotlight: Adam Savage


Well known for being half of the kooky pair hosting Mythbusters, Adam Savage continues to work to share his love of science with the masses. His expertise in cosplay and special effects makes him uniquely suited to work with Maker spaces and collaborate with other nerdy-minded individuals to build and create. At this point in his career, he has all this knowledge and freedom that he wants to share with people. His content online is now more educational and about uplifting the maker communities that can share resources and experiences to the next generation of mad scientists. He often tours to speak to crowds of people who hope to be as inventive as he has managed to be. Adam Savage has mastered the shift from producing to inspiring...though that still won't stop him from learning how to forge his own replica swords and armor to go incognito at Comic Con every year. That's just plain fun.

In the End...


These stages of course are not absolute. Creators may flit back and forth among the stages, get stuck going from one to the other, or even fail to progress as an artist all together. Millions never make it past Level One, shafted by disapproving parents or the heinous mix of adolescent insecurity and caring too much about the opinion of others.

Think of them more as guidelines than rules, and just keep creating.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

#Inktober Wrap Up - Art Challenge Reflections

Today we're doing a quick wrap up of Inktober 2017.

This past October I participated in an art challenge called "Inktober", the goal of which is to produce a finished, inked drawing every day of that month. A full disclaimer before I begin: I am not experienced at all in art, even in a hobbyist capacity. No formal education whatsoever. Aside from the occasional doodling and art electives in middle school, I have never endeavored to create an art practice. This year I've been trying to expand my artistic horizons by simply filling sketchbooks with studies, cartooning, and even some hand-lettering. Having filled one sketchbook, I looked to the Inktober challenge as a way to get at least 31 pages of my new sketchbook filled.

What I Learned

It turns out that it is really easy and helpful to get into a drawing routine. I eliminated a lot of decision-making stress by making each drawing as simple and routine as possible. Stress can come from deciding what to draw, how much time and effort to put into it, how much to shade/color, etc. I stuck to a general spooky/generic Halloween theme to keep the ideas flowing and used maybe 1-2 reference images for most drawings.

Starting with a reference image definitely eased me into drawing each day. I would sometimes just scroll Instagram or Tumblr or be on the lookout for a Halloween-related image that day to get started. As long as the image was fairly simple with clean lines and easy-to-see contours, it worked for me. I also learned how to use references effectively. If I was drawing something specific, I learned how to lay down guidelines, get the sizing down, and to break down even simple objects into simpler shapes and segments. I really can't draw from memory at all because I don't have that visual mental art dictionary that artists tend to build up over the years. References were key!

Another way I simplified the process was to not focus on color much. In general I stuck to black and white with the occasional accent of orange/green/purple (for Halloween of course) and a few instances of red. So each drawing was essentially a main object/figure or group of objects, using minimal reference images, with some hand-lettering practice to write the date on each page.

Because I didn't focus on full-color drawings, another thing I learned a lot about throughout this process was shading. I had never generally worked with ink or ink shading before, so this was all new to me. This month I experimented with inked cross hatching, squiggles and loops, diagonal and horizontal lines with varying spacing, dots, and mixing all of the above with different line thicknesses. I really liked the variety that the shading possibilities gave to the drawings. Just mixing a few shading techniques gave my simple drawings more texture than they usually would have.

Something I hadn't really considered before Inktober was eraser quality. My art supplies are pretty bottom of the barrel -- #2 pencils, the erasers on the end, some ballpoint pens, Sharpies, and a $5 hardcover sketchbook from the craft store. I quickly found myself going crazy when lines wouldn't erase or when I was left with shredded eraser bits everywhere. I've learned to covet kneaded erasers and art-quality erasers in general. A good eraser adds to that satisfaction of drafting a very rough sketch, inking it out, and erasing all of the dirty work that made the picture in the first place.

The Take-Away

The last thing I learned from Inktober is that, provided one doesn't stress out too much, art can be very relaxing and fun! It got a lot easier to get sucked into a drawing when it became routine. I reach for my sketchbook a lot more often than I did before thanks to building my discipline with practice. Even if I'm just sketching, I also usually feel like properly finishing pieces with inked line work now as well. Finished drawings are just so satisfying. Before I would have a bunch of studies or doodles in my sketchbook, but to have a clean, inked drawing feels like I've really accomplished something at the end of the day.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed and recommend Inktober and art challenges like it. Any challenge that reinforces an artistic practice with a time limit is going to be useful. Following along with drawing tutorials on Youtube can be fun, but I learned the most just sitting down with a reference image and figuring it out for myself.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Top 5: Tips for Attending a Convention



Given that it is currently sort of peak convention season time, I wanted to offer my top five tips for attending one. These can be for first-time convention-goers or even for people who maybe haven't been to a con in a while and need a few reminders.

This list is not specific to cosplaying at a convention. Instead it is aimed more at a casual attendee. I can't offer any advice at this time on wearing body paint for eight-plus hours or keeping a wig on. Maybe that will be in another post.

5.) Draft a Plan (and Be Okay If Things Don't Go Accordingly)


My pre-convention routine regularly includes scouting out the website for a prospective schedule of events for about four weeks. No one has to be as silly as I am about schedules, but it does help to have a rough plan or at least a few key things to focus on seeing. For some people this will be autograph sessions or meet-and-greets with writers, actors, and artists. Some people might want to make sure they see a few specific people on Artist Alley or hit up a few of their favorite merchants who maybe only appear at conventions. I usually center my schedule around panels and longer events, such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show Shadowcast or a costume contest. Having a plan involving times, especially for panels and shows, also allows some wiggle room to plan for standing in line.

That being said, don't have a cow if things don't work out. At my first convention I missed both the showing of Rocky Horror (my Plan A for ending the night) and the big costume contest (my Plan B for ending the night) because we didn't get in line for either early enough. We stood there for nearly an hour before being told there was no more room. Don't get too terribly bummed out about things like that. Sometimes it's more fun to just do general sweeps of the convention floor or even get stuck around a slowly-growing group of related cosplayers who keep getting stopped for pictures.

4.) Scout Out Food Options (and Consider Bringing Your Own Rations)


It can be an adventure just to get into a convention. The ones I've been to are inside huge convention centers with a labyrinth of parking, up escalators, on multiple levels. The last thing anyone wants to do after spending possible hours in a car or maybe just a good half hour to park is leave to get food. Sometimes there isn't an option of leaving for the day. Luckily conventions have a variety of foods to offer in a mall-like food court full of wafting smells and No Face from Spirited Away eating a burrito next to a Power Ranger. Unluckily, that food is ridiculously expensive. I once downright panicked when I ordered some pizza and drinks for three people and immediately started doing math to see if we could afford to eat something that night with my remaining money.

I heartily recommend eating before or after the convention and bringing snacks. My go-to snacks are beef jerky sticks, string cheese, and packs of nuts or trail mix. Anything portable, possibly one-handed-eating-friendly, and survivable in a small bag would be a good idea. I wouldn't even trust a drink from the vending machine to be a reasonable priced, so a water bottle and maybe some of those little drink powder packets might also be a good idea.


3.) Budget Thyself (and Accept Treating Thyself Sometimes)


So the ticket is expensive, parking can be expensive, and the food is expensive. Conventions are also a magical wonderland where I can go buy a sword that I've wanted since I was eight years old. And a copy of Leeloo's multipass from The Fifth Element. And the ancient key from The Mummy. And a new Renaissance Faire outfit. And tiny potion bottles. And art prints. And vintage comic books. And...you see what I mean.

My point is that it's very easy to walk into a convention with enough money for groceries for a week and walk out hoping there's enough soup in the cupboard to sustain basic caloric needs. I highly recommend researching everything down to parking and gas and possibly put everything on a pre-paid card with enough cash to buy the products and/or experiences you want at the convention itself. If you followed the previous tip, you'll be able to grocery-shop or set aside food money ahead of time to avoid the dilemma of "con treasures versus $15 in pizza" in the food court.

Work within a budget but, like the advice for making a plan, leave some wiggle room (or just forgiveness) if there's something incredible, life-changing, and must-have-able in a booth tucked into a corner. It will probably be worth it. Once.

2.) Ask for Photos (and Say Those 3 Magic Words "Please" and "Thank You")


Conventions have become especially well-known for elaborate and enthusiastic cosplay opportunities. This simple rule is all about pictures and interactions with people in costumes:

Don't touch people/props/costumes without permission.
Don't take pictures without permission.

The severity of adhering to these rules depends on the demeanor of the person in costume, of course, but I try to be strict with these sort of things. To be fair, I've also been hit in the face with wings and tripped over a dude's dragging Pyramid Head sword as well. The pictures thing sometimes doesn't make sense to people. "They spent forever making/combining/sourcing/putting on a costume! Don't they want people to take pictures?" They probably do. However, they did put a lot of time, effort, and/or sheer bravery into said costumes and also deserve the opportunity to pose and actually show them off properly. A horrifically-zoomed shot of their back and half of their face from 60-feet away isn't the best way to capture that hard work.

What to do?

Ask. Nicely. I'm still working on it myself (which is why I have probably less than 20 pictures of cosplay from my con experiences), but it's that easy. "Hey, I love your costume! Can please I get a picture? Thank you!" That's the script. A few other observances would be to not bother people in the middle of something (like adjusting or fixing a costume, in mid-conversation with someone else, shepherding children about) or eating. Accept "no" as an answer, but also know that the answer will usually be positive.

1.) Wear Comfortable Shoes (and Be Prepared to Queue)


This is the most vital tip and one I've constantly overlooked despite normally being a practical person. Wear comfortable, practical shoes with arch support. Please. All of the conventions I've gone to were held in places with concrete floors. Ask anyone who works in a warehouse what it's like waking around on concrete floors for ten hours. It sucks and it kills feet plus anything connected to the feet. Going to a convention wearing thin shoes with no arch support (such as my trusty Converse) results in slight stiffness, fatigue, and muscle pain at the end of the day. Amble tiredly back to a hotel room, eat some pizza, fall asleep, and wake up to a new day of sheer hell with extreme stiffness and a deep-seated muscle soreness that ages a person 20 years until it's worked out again.

Please. Comfy shoes. Arch support. Otherwise Day Two of a convention involves stopping by the first steampunk booth to get a spiffy walking stick and hoping for the best.

Bonus: Con Gear


I like bringing my ThinkGeek Bag of Holding - Con Edition, a portable battery bank (Anker usually has good ones on Amazon), a FitBit to count the ridiculous number of steps, my 3DS XL for StreetPass opportunities (and for waiting in long lines), and a water bottle to refill.

Have fun out there!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Film Files: Jaws (1975)

One of my firmest beliefs is that a summer without a viewing of Jaws is somehow a lesser summer, a summer of missteps that didn't get the full realization it deserves. Another of my firm beliefs is that any tv ad, poster, review, or person who says that a movie is "the next Jaws" is 1.) lying for the sake of pushing a mediocre monster movie into the public consciousness or 2.) has clearly never seen the sheer perfection that is Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Peter Benchley's best-seller.

Before we start, let's have a summary.

A police chief from the city moves to a island off the coast of New England and slowly acclimates his happy family to a life filled with boats and beaches. However, the peace doesn't quite last to their first summer, when swimmers start dying. The mayor and town elites are eager to say "boating accident" or "misadventure," anything but the word "shark" to keep the tourist dollars coming in. The new chief prefers safety to business and, prevented from outright closing the beaches, he deals with public pressure by going out himself to hunt the shark that he thinks is still roaming uncaught. With him is a grizzled shark hunter and a young, eccentric marine biologist. Together the three form an unlikely bond as they seek to protect the town of Amity from disaster.

Jaws represents so many iconic film elements rolled into a summer blockbuster of all things. That plot sounds like a classic monster movie plot. The Big Bad creature from the Unknown shows up and starts killing quietly. The townspeople panic, yet resist panic. The hero doesn't want to be a hero, but shows up to do what he must do. There's even a scientist, a classic monster movie staple, in Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss) who at once understands and even empathizes with the hunted before realizing that it truly is a monster worthy of destruction.

Chief Brody is a sheriff on an island who's afraid of water! It's fantastic!

How about an Outsider plot? Brody (played by the wonderfully expressive Roy Schieder) is branded as this city boy who doesn't understand the community of Amity. He deals with this small-town stuff like bickering neighbors, nothing major until these bodies show up. And when presented with real danger, the mayor ends up stopping his every attempt to investigate. The opinion of the business leaders who rely on tourism and happy people splashing in the water is firm in the iconic line from Mayor Vaughn:

"You yell barracuda, everyone goes 'Huh? What?' You yell shark, we have a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July."

It isn't until the danger touches his own children that the mayor and community finally relent to hire Quint, the formidable boat captain who agrees to find the shark, and kill it, for the right price. His recklessness, determination, and hyper-focus on the rough manliness of shark hunting combat perfectly with the wealthy, sardonic marine biologist Matt Hooper.

What takes this from a cheesy B-movie about a "killer shark" leaving a string of bodies to an iconic piece of film is the writing, the acting, and the editing.

The screenplay was adapted by the original author, Peter Benchley. His dialogue is so pared down, realistic, and downright funny in just the right ways. For being such a classic movie full of danger and drama, Jaws is also intensely quotable. Hooper's self-righteous sarcasm gives him some of the best lines. In response to Mayor Vaughn's unwillingness to admit the killer shark is at large, he scoffs, "I'm not going to waste my time arguing with a man who's lining up to be a hot lunch!"

The audience first meets Hooper when he comes in to aid Brody in learning more about shark behavior. He steps into the scene amid a crowd of fishermen piling into boats, hoping to catch the shark for the promise of bounty money. When he sees too many men overcrowding a boat and tries to warn them, he gets rebuffed. Instead of anger, attempting to engage them again, or simply leaving, he laughs hollowing and idly muses, "Hahaha, they're all going to die."

Brody's lines are clear and to the point, representing a man who wants to get things done with the best understanding he has. When Hooper expresses concern about being allowed to dissect the caught shark to see if it's indeed the killer shark, Brody gives a simple yet amused reply: "I can do anything. I'm the chief of police."

The acting also lifts Jaws from the fodder of monster movie schlock. Great lines can be butchered, but the natural delivery from the actors makes the film seem authentic. Quint, played by veteran Robert Shaw, conveys his sheer determination with a simple look at times. His character often bursts into quiet sea shanties instead of lines, an amused smile tugging at his lips as though he's seen it all. Dreyfuss's portrayal of Hooper's exasperation and nervous energy clashes well with Quint's solid presence; it always seems like Hooper is moving or making faces or busy with equipment against Quint's sure and controlled movements. Roy Schieder offers a face elastic with expression. He often looks intensely deep in thought, but he'll snap to high-strung surprise bordering on panic. Brody's best line, and the one most synonymous with Jaws, is delivered with a panic so severe that Schieder goes around the bend and turns it bitterly monotone. He sees the huge jaws of the largest shark in living memory, backs deep into the cabin, and says calmly to Quint:

"You're going to need a bigger boat."


Another beautiful quality in Jaws are the moments of silence. There's a scene in which the conflicted Brody is brooding over how to proceed now that he is fairly sure the shark is still out there. On one hand, he's terrified of the water. The mayor doesn't want to hear this. On the other, he feels responsible for a little boy who has died and the safety of his own children. His youngest son sits next to him, quietly mirroring his father's concerned face, clamped hands. They mimic each other back and forth until they're pulling silly faces and laughing, breaking the tension. A silly B-movie would keep up contrived drama and skip such a scene altogether. Theres no shark, theres no screaming. But there is a moment in which the audience remembers that this man is a father. That he is a sheriff outside, but inside his house he's a loving man who drinks wine with his wife and plays with his sons.

This quiet tonal shift happens again on the boat when the men rest from shark hunting for a while. There's alcohol and food, rough talk and banter, and a contest of sorts where they show off their battle scars. The warm moment suddenly cools when Quint calmly corrects Hooper about his tattoo removal scar; it had been a tattoo from the USS Indianapolis. The atmosphere changes palpably as Hooper realizes the gravity of such a statement. Dreyfuss and Schieder visibly tuck-in for this gruesome story that at once interests and appalls the characters. Shaw tells of the sinking of the ship and the bloody, shark-filled waters he was in with just the barest dip into emotion. A lesser film would have emphasized the horror, drawn out the violence like a campfire ghost story. Instead it's solemn and finite, a survivor's tale.

Despite the writing and acting, Jaws still could have slipped into cheesy B-movie territory were it not for the careful editing of Verna Fields. The issues with the manipulation of "Bruce," the nickname given to the mechanical shark playing the killer Great White, were legendary. Whole scenes didn't work, the shark would break down, and worst of all it would sometimes look too fake. When interviewed, Spielberg often admitted that he wanted that expensive, scary mechanical shark in the scenes far more than it appeared in the final cut of the movie. The decision to leave the reveal of the shark until much later in the movie, and to cut short many of its appearances in the water, was what made the movie so effective. Quicker, shorter visuals of the creepy dead-eyed shark offered far more of a viscerally shocking effect. If the shark appeared on screen even a few seconds more per scene, there's a chance that the audience would feel that artifice of the shark's mechanical nature, ruining their suspension of disbelief and undercutting the effect that made Jaws the movie that made people afraid to go into the water for years to come.

Jaws is my official must-see movie every summer. No matter how many times I see it, I always keep coming back.


Chief Brody: [swimming back to shore] Hey, what day is this?
Hooper: It's Wednesday...eh, is Tuesday, I think.
Chief Brody: Think the tide is with us.
Hooper: Keep kickin'.
Chief Brody: I used to hate the water.
Hooper: I can't imagine why.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Golden AUs*



Some things are storytelling tools rather than stories themselves...




How can they make a Minecraft movie? The thought popped into my mind one afternoon as I scrolled through blog feeds from a few gaming news sources. The Minecraft movie is a definite, real project and is currently expected to come out in 2019. The whole idea of a Minecraft movie is as puzzling to me as the story mode that came out recently. I was entirely unused to the idea of having named characters with their own motives and personalities in the Minecraft world. Why the disconnect?

In short, Minecraft is not conducive to set storylines; it’s a storytelling tool. In a world where gamers have taken over the likes of Team Fortress 2, hacked Mario and Sonic games, and a multitude of skins and mods to make games their own, something like Minecraft clearly exists as a place to project stories onto rather than something to talk back. When I was younger, I had a fair number of dolls. Barbies, off-brand barbies, even Bratz dolls. They interacted with action figures, stuffed animals, and weird yarn-and-paper creations to have their own stories. Something like a Bratz movie or a Barbie movie seemed unthinkable to me; these dolls were mine, damn it, why would I want to listen to someone else’s story when I can craft one of my own?

That’s the puzzle of a Minecraft movie, an echo of the distaste I had with the Lego movie. The entire point of these environments is to be a sandbox. The person gets to take these blocks and stack them as they will, regardless of anyone else’s ideas about what makes a good story. The whole idea lead me to a further digression on stories and story-telling tools. I came upon two fandoms, if it were, usually similar in their Anglophilic devotion but diametrically different in their role in stories.

So...fanfiction, right? If the term is new to one’s perspective, that is easily remedied. Fanficton exists to explain, fill holes in, extend, or entire diverge from a completed story. It’s been around since stories have been around, especially since before copyright determined legal ramifications for taking characters from, let’s say, Wuthering Heights and putting them on a space station in the year 3714. While the most-written-on properties vary depending on popularity and access to internet environments these days, two have been fairly persistent: Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes. Both are British male characters, both from very well-established times and places and situations. Both, however, offer different storytelling tools to fans.

Harry Potter offers a universe, a Wizarding World. Take any beloved characters or even entirely new characters in any situation, and they can be squarely put into the Wizarding world. There are particular rules to Harry-Potter-esque magic, there is a Wizading society, education and history is established. There are set ideas of morals, set illnesses and conditions and dangers, set creatures, set wars and timelines. It is comfortable yet inherently magical for anyone reading it. I could stop right now and ask the reader to look up a handful of well-known characters (Spock and Kirk, the Avengers, characters from Game of Thrones) and odds are someone has figured out their Hogwarts house, Patronus, animagus. While the characters, somewhat unfortunately, have very clear stories already done, the entire world is a playground. This aligns the universe closer to that of Minecraft. Sure, we could hear about Harry’s children or the past of the Marauders, but the true freedom just lies within the grounds of Hogwarts itself. The possibilities are near endless.

The second fandom, far older and more scholarly, is that of Sherlock Holmes. While their original setting, Victorian London, is oft-explored in fiction, the real beauty of Sherlockian possibilities lie in the characters. Take Dr. John Watson and detective Sherlock Holmes and plop them down anywhere, in any time or place or situation, and there bubbles a story in the making. Unlike the fairly set timeline of Harry Potter characters, Holmes and Watson are perpetually dancing around each other and their enemies and always a dynamic duo. Their shadows lie in stories already. Dr. House and Dr. Wilson. The analysts in Lie to Me. Spock, Kirk, and Bones to a degree. There is always a brooding and somewhat dangerous genius and a stable, war-worn doctor type. And it’s always 1895.

So to the original question, how can there be a Minecraft movie? There can be one because of money, exploitation, the ease of pumping out computer-animated movies. But don’t be annoyed if a beloved universe is tarnished with generic characters and weak plot filler; that’s what the fanfiction is for.


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*AU: Alternate reality from the original story. For example, a James Bond story set in the Star Wars universe or a reality in which a character did not die.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Beyond Bookshelves: Punk Stuff #3

How to Be Idle

By Tom Hodgkinson


Hodgkinson’s first book in this series of sorts, How to Be Idle follows the average day hour by hour through its chapters. It starts by discussing how people all around the world wake up on a daily basis, immediately bashing the ideas of alarm clocks and calling upon men of letter to expound the horrors of being forced to wake up early in the morning. The rest of the book follows suit.

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto is exactly what it says on the tin, and it’s brilliant. Hodgkinson uses classic British literary references, early modern history, and call-backs to pre-Industrial Britain to explain why idleness is actually ideal. This book and the others in the series follow along the central idea that being perky, wage-driven drones is playing into the hands of our capitalist overlords. The meshing of rising early and moral rectitude, the admonishing of employees who “have time to lean and time to clean” in minimum-wage jobs, and replacing religion with materialism and competition are all key themes.

Recommended for:
People who idealize medieval peasants, people who can’t wake up before 10am for the life of them, people who are sick of capitalism, people who look at rush hour traffic and see a hoard of mindless drones, people who want a list of classic books to read after reading a book that references all of them


The Freedom Manifesto

By Tom Hodgkinson


Despite acting as a sequel to How to Be Idle, The Freedom Manifesto (also known as How to Be Free) was the first Tom Hodgkinson book I came across.

This book follows in a similar vein of How to Be Idle, organized around maxims about Housework, Fear, and Competition instead of around the hours of the day. Hodgkinson uses the initial argument against corporate strain to suggest a return to a simpler way of life in which people only use technology for communication and only work to better themselves. Much like the last book, this manifesto encapsulates the anarchist ideals of punk without suggesting a violent revolt or specifically aligning with the “big names” of anarchist philosophy. Because the book covers so much, it’s easiest to understand (as I originally did) from it’s list of mottos behind the first page:

Death to the Supermarkets
Bake Bread
Play the Ukulele
Open the Village Hall
Action is Futile
Quit Moaning
Make Music
Stop Consuming
Start Producing
Back to the Land
Smash Usury
Embrace Beauty
Embrace Poverty

And so on until we reach the last three, my favorite:

Life is Absurd
We are Free
Be Merry

Recommended for:
Wandering mistrels, back-to-the-land punks, anyone who needs a cheery productive mood boost that isn’t grating, hopeful anarchists

The Idler’s Companion: An Anthology of Lazy Literature

Edited by Tom Hodgkinson and Matthew De Abaitua


Not merely content to refer to the great minds of several generations in his other books, Hodgkinson also offers an extensive anthology lovingly organized around the values of daydreaming, sloth, and idealistic lollygagging. This book is a chance to expand on the lovingly sprinkled quotations from the first two books. Even though it’s an anthology of collected materials, the organization and thought put into the collection are just as motivating as How to Be Idle and How to Be Free.

I mean, who can feel bad about being lazy when it’s validated by famous authors, politicians, and artists?

Recommended for:
Literary anthology lovers, people who love good quotations, anyone who wants solid proof that great writers are on their side

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Beyond Bookshelves: Punk Stuff #2

Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution

By Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan


Super quick story time: When I was fourteen, I took a trip to California with my high school chorus. Our travel package included breakfast at the hotel every morning and dinner at a different mid-grade restaurant every night. I brought along a pre-loaded debit card for drinks, snacks, lunch, and souvenirs. I should preface this by saying that I am/was very responsible with money and saved up thousands of dollars in high school from part-time waitressing.

Anyway.

The second day/first full day of the trip we were around Los Angeles and got dumped out of our bus at a pretty impressive mall to wander about before our next stop. My friends and I were immediately drawn to a three-story Borders bookstore, something we had never encountered in our small area of Florida. We all left with books, but I left with books and…no food money left for the rest of the trip. I bought a language book and two books on this list at their full MSRP and even got talked into a rewards cards despite the lack of Borders in central Florida. That's how important these two books are to me.

First, Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution. In my defense, this book had been on my nascent Amazon wish list for at least a year before I set eyes on it for the first time in real life in that California Borders. It’s a fantastic coffee table book of original photos and writings of the heyday of '70s punk, primarily focused on the London/King’s Road scene that led to Sex Pistols and The Clash. It talks fashion, politics, scenes, court decisions, record labels, and the strange changemaster who is Pistols’ former manager Malcolm McLauren.

Highlights include proto-punk backstory of the Stooges and MC5, a full story on the fashion side of UK punk featuring Vivienne Westwood, and so so many interviews from just about everyone who was around at the time.

I adore this book. It’s one of those books that has somehow become a part of my personal psyche, like the movie Clue or Beatles music. Even after losing my first copy (which is ridiculous because it’s a pretty big book), I just had to rebuy it on Amazon to experience it all over again.

Recommended for:
Fans of British punk music, people who say punk began in the UK, history fans, photography people, people who really like Sid Vicious, artsy and fashion people, people who do not mind having a book that includes graphic imagery on their coffee table


Turning Points in Rock and Roll

By Hank Bordowitz


This was the second book for which I willingly spent five days’ worth of lunch money while visiting the price-inflated land of Los Angeles. I read the entire thing on the two plane rides home and have never once regretted the decision.

While this book isn’t specifically about punk, it is another key book in understanding the history and evolution of music from the rhythm and blues that predated rock all the way to the grunge movement. Each chapter marks a specific “turning point.” For example, the movie Blackboard Jungle coming out in 1954, Beatlemania, or MTV’s original launch. Each point in time does something to change and propel the popularity of rock music.

Punk gets its own chapter mostly centered on the US tour of Sex Pistols in 1977. This “turning point” after the metaphorical death of the 1960’s ideal at Altamont transitions rock from the twenty-minute keyboard solos of arena and prog rock back to the basics of the three-piece band and three-minute song. For the book, it also straddles the line from live music to the MTV era of music videos and graphics competing for attention. Despite only committing ten pages specifically to punk music, Turning Points in Rock and Roll helps to put the explosion of ’76-’77 punk into a larger musical and cultural context. After reading from cover to cover, one can really pinpoint the influence of Robert Johnson’s blues, Les Paul’s solid-body guitar, the death of Buddy Holly, and even the influx of rock journalism in punk culture as a whole.

Recommended for:
Music history buffs, people who may not understand how punk is/was important to the story of music, people who want to read random chapters of a book without committing to the entire read, people who would gladly put aside a few hours to read a great book cover to cover


Stay tuned for more book reviews concerning the philosophy and politics of punk culture.