469. Be Wherever You Are

For years and years, I’ve been waiting for something.

Don’t ask me for what, because I have no idea. I can’t shake a subconscious conviction that I’m fighting to get somewhere, somewhere, and I’m not yet there.


I’m waiting for… something.

When I was in college, I thought it was a career as an English teacher. After those plans crashed and burned, I assumed it was the publication of my book series. Those plans eventually wound up in the crash-and-burn category along with my ambitions of teaching English. At that point, I was waiting for a better job situation, or for my religious skepticism to go away, or for something beyond the grind of my day-to-day existence.

Waiting some more

Still waiting? Still waiting.

My job situation is much improved, thank God. I’ve come to terms with my decision not to pursue a career in education. I’m resurrecting my failed book series as a project for fun, and have decided not to pursue professional writing… for the moment, at any rate. My faith survives. I’ve faced my doubts, acknowledged them openly, and persisted in spite of them.

I feel fairly stable, settled, and contented, yet can’t shake a vague dissatisfaction. It’s a feeling of waiting for I know not what.

In other news, I’ve been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately.

Steven Universe is a television series about a boy who loves pizza, wears flip-flops, and protects the world from monsters and hostile invaders. He lives in a seaside town with the Crystal Gems: three survivors of an ancient, ill-fated attempt by an intergalactic civilization to conquer Planet Earth. When Steven isn’t helping the Gems clean up the lingering threats of the alien invasion, he’s probably watching cartoons or hanging out at his dad’s car wash.

Steven Universe

“We’re good and evil never beats us. We’ll win the fight and then go out for pizzas!”

Steven Universe is an amazing show. I could spend an entire post explaining why, but I have other things to discuss today, so I’ll keep it fairly short.

Steven Universe balances adventure with slice-of-life stories. It’s infused with magical realism, sincere positivity, and hints of geeky nostalgia. (When Steven is baffled by a VHS tape, his friend explains, “It’s like a DVD shaped like a box.”) An intricate narrative and compelling characterizations slowly emerge from the show’s charm and humor. Steven Universe has a gift for tackling serious subjects (grief! war! trauma!) without ever veering into the extremes of gloominess or false cheeriness. I could say a lot more, but will leave the rest to smarter writers than I.

Oh, and Steven Universe is just fun to watch. I shouldn’t forget to mention that part.

At this point, the show has become one of my all-time favorites. (It probably ties with Gravity Falls as my second-favorite, surpassed only by Avatar: The Last Airbender.) It has been incredibly fun and satisfying to revisit the world of Steven Universe over the past five or six weeks, and the show has often made me think.

Truth and wisdom turn up in unexpected places. There is truth in Batman and Doctor Who, and apparently in Steven Universe. Who knew-niverse?

At one point, Steven finds himself stranded on a deserted island with a pair of acquaintances, Lars and Sadie. Lars, understandably, freaks out. He can’t get cell phone reception. He doesn’t belong on the island. He needs to get home now.

Steven doesn’t panic. Instead, he finds the good in his situation, and asks his companions an important question: “Why don’t you let yourself just be wherever you are?”

Mask Island

I’d vacation there.

It takes a little while (and a chipper musical number) for Lars to realize it, but the island actually ain’t so bad. Being stranded is basically an extended vacation. He might not be in control. He might not be able to move on quite as soon as he wants. However, if he accepts his situation instead of fighting it, he can enjoy it while it lasts—and it doesn’t last forever. In the end, of course, Lars and Sadie and Steven make it safely home.

There’s a lesson there.

Instead of waiting for something to happen, living in faint unease and dissatisfaction… why don’t I just let myself just be wherever I am?

Technology Is Confusing

I like to think I know a thing or two about technology. As a millennial, I consider myself competently tech-savvy, able to function in today’s high-tech world.

…Nah, whom am I kidding? I can’t even hook up my brother’s Wii U without his guidance. Why doesn’t it use the same AV cable setup as other devices? How do I make it connect to the Internet? Why are there so many downloads?! Back in my day, I just blew the dust out of the game cartridge, slammed it into the Super Nintendo, and turned it on.

I’ve become a relic of a bygone age, and I’m only in my twenties. I hate to think of how technologically illiterate I’ll be in fifty years. Maybe, at that point, I’ll have robots to hook up my electronics for me. We’ll see.

Mickey Mouse in Mexico

I never did trust piñatas. After so many generations of being beaten by children with sticks, it was only a matter of time before they struck back.

Incidentally, I’m glad Disney is still making Mickey Mouse cartoons. It’s nice to see that this juggernaut of mass media, which now owns everything from Marvel Comics to Star Wars, hasn’t forgotten the little mouse that started it all.

The Ability to Pull Stuff from Nowhere

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. As you watch a movie or play a video game, a character pulls out something from nowhere. Bugs Bunny and Wakko Warner reach behind their backs and bring out anvils or sledgehammers. Solid Snake and Link produce an endless assortment of gear and weapons from thin air. As Link demonstrates in the clever picture above, actually carrying around all that stuff is a physical impossibility.

The ability to pull stuff from nowhere is sometimes called the back pocket, a wry suggestion that the things characters pull from behind their backs were in their pants pockets the whole time. (This concept is particularly amusing in the case of characters that don’t wear pants.) In anime, the concept is called hammerspace. A comedic trope in Japanese animation is for characters to express anger by hitting something (or someone) with a large hammer produced from nowhere, making hammerspace the hypothetical place where all those hammers are kept.

The back pocket concept is usually played for comic effect in animation. Pinkie Pie, an exuberant character from a surprisingly awesome show about ponies, produces a wide assortment of items (including freaking cannons) from nowhere. Other characters know better than to question Pinkie’s defiance of physics.

In fact, when back pockets are used in any show or film, no one ever seems surprised.

In video games, back pockets are utilitarian rather than comedic in nature. The fact of the matter is that Link from the Legend of Zelda games needs his gear—all of it. Limiting his inventory would be a hindrance to the player, who would have to backtrack every time she needed something Link didn’t happen to be carrying at the moment. Constantly retrieving items, or plodding slowly under their weight, would be horribly annoying.

Thus Link carts around enormous shields and heavy explosives and iron-shod boots without any trouble. (Humorously enough, the iron boots only weigh down Link when he’s actually wearing them.) Solid Snake somehow sneaks through enemy territory burdened with cardboard boxes, sensor equipment and an entire arsenal of weapons (including massive rocket launchers). Every Final Fantasy character carries up to ninety-nine of every kind of weapon, armor and potion.

Where is all that stuff kept? Where does it come from?

Some questions, dear reader, are simply beyond answering.

This post was originally published on April 2, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Peppocalypse Now

PeppocalypseThe photo above transforms Peppa Pig, the cutesy star of a British preschool cartoon, into a harbinger of destruction, death, and everlasting gloom. Behold Peppa embrace the coming darkness with open arms and a soulless smile. Listen, and you may just hear Peppa whisper: “My motto: apocalypse now.”

The apocalypse—nay, the Peppocalypse—has come. Heaven help us all.

This haunting photo was snapped by M.A. Larson, an author and screenwriter notorious for carrying a sharpie marker and signing anything that holds still long enough. He has joined Katie Cook (comics writer) and Alex Hirsch (creator of Gravity Falls) on my list of Most Entertaining People to Follow on Twitter. Besides writing some stellar episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Mr. Larson snapped the photo above at a theme park somewhere, unleashing the Peppocalypse upon the world.

Peppa PigI don’t know much about the Peppa Pig cartoon, except that it’s a well-received preschool series, and also twee as all heck. Whether it stars a harbinger of doom, as M.A. Larson’s photo suggests, is a question best left unanswered.

388. Fans, Geeks, and Waifus: A Momentary Study

I once had a friend who had a crush on Legolas from The Lord of the Rings. This puzzled me greatly.

Granted, Legolas isn’t ugly. He has two eyes, which is generally the preferred number of eyes. That’s a good start. Legolas also has a nose, all his teeth, and a full head of hair. (At any rate, in the movies, he wears a nice wig.) So far: so good. His skin is healthy—no leprosy there—and he isn’t painfully thin or morbidly obese. Legolas also seems to have “the smolder,” a trait considered desirable by females of the species… I think.

Look, I’m no expert on what ladies find attractive in gentlemen. I’ve simply been told Legolas is a smokin’ hot stud or some such, and I’m not sure I’m qualified to argue.


Exhibit A: Legolas the (apparently) sexy elf.

All of this, however, doesn’t explain the adoration my friend (whom I’ll call Socrates) lavished upon this imaginary elf. She thought Legolas was the sexiest thing since Hugh Jackman’s abs in the X-Men movies, and I thought Socrates was crazy.

Nah, my crush was on Daphne from the old Scooby-Doo cartoon.

Of course, that was back when I was in kindergarten: a faraway time when I was tiny and blond, barely knew the alphabet, and didn’t drink coffee.

Exhibit B: Adam Stück in kindergarten, roughly nine years B.S. (Before Sideburns).

On the right, Exhibit B: Adam Stück in kindergarten, roughly nine years B.S. (Before Sideburns).

By the time I reached high school and met Socrates, my secret crush on Daphne was a thing of the distant past. As the Apostle Paul wrote, doubtless referring to childhood crushes on fictional characters, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

By high school, I had put childish ways behind me, and Daphne from Scooby-Doo with them. No, I was enamored of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.

My point here is that fictional characters can be attractive, and real-life people can be attracted to them. This is a common enough phenomenon. In geek culture, however, it is sometimes embraced wholeheartedly… even to a point that is frankly weird.

Let’s talk about waifus.

No waifu no laifu

Exhibit C: The anime-obsessed President of the United States voices his support for waifus.

A waifu is a fictional character to whom a person is attracted, to the point of considering that character a significant other.

The word waifu comes from an exaggerated Japanese pronunciation of the English word wife. (Thanks to anime and video games, a lot of weird geek culture originates in Japan.) A waifu doesn’t have to be female, by the way; the term can be used for characters of either sex.

By calling a character his waifu, a geek wryly acknowledges his crush on that character. It’s basically a form of shipping in which a real person ships a fictional character with himself.

Is it weird? Yes. Do I support waifus? Nah. Do they worry me? Not really. I’m pretty certain the waifu phenomenon is the sort of harmless, silly nonsense the Internet does best. At any rate, I hope it’s no deeper or darker than that!

379. Writing Tips from Gravity Falls

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: rogue writer, animator, and cool dude. For more great stuff from JK, check out his websites on creativity and animation, and find him on Twitter!

If you’re a regular reader here at TMTF, you know Mr. Stück is a big fan of the animated show Gravity Falls. His thoughts on the series are short and sweet, encouraging you to watch without mincing words. In case you need an extra push, though, today we’re going to take a longer look at what makes Gravity Falls so compelling (and some tips you might take away from the show).

Gravity Falls1. Gravity Falls knows where it’s going.

In an interview, GF creator Alex Hirsch talked about the process of creating the show. He explained, “We have a storyline. There is a broad storyline that we’ve come up with—a beginning, middle, and end.”

In today’s television, that is a rarity. Studios and networks are so keen to drag things out for as long as possible that they begin a story with mystery and intrigue, and have no clue where it will end up. If they do know where it might go, they put obstacles in the way for the sole purpose of extending the shelf-life of the series. If it gets renewed for an additional season, up pop more meaningless obstacles. If it does not, hopefully there was warning of the cancellation early enough to produce a reasonable final episode (but often not).

There needs to be a lot of wiggle room in writing. You can’t be so strict that you don’t allow characters to take things in new directions on a whim. That said, if you don’t have a vague idea where you’re headed, it can lead to a mess farther down the road.

2. Gravity Falls isn’t afraid to change.

Possibly because the show has a planned beginning, middle, and end, it isn’t afraid to change. The Simpsons, bless its heart, reverts to status ­quo at the end of almost every episode. Some episodes even make note of that fact for humor purposes. It’s not alone, either. A vast majority of shows have this sort of reset, especially in animation.

Gravity Falls bucks that trend by allowing progress to be made. Overarching mysteries unfold, and characters grow. One example of this (spoiler warning) is that the protagonist’s crush on a local girl actually plays out, instead of becoming a forced motif for the entire series. I was sad to see it go—I’m a sucker for secret crushes—but giving it closure improved the series.

Dipper and WendyIt’s important when writing a series to allow room for growth. It can be tricky, because some fans of early work will hate later stuff and pine (loudly) for “the good old days.” (This happens a lot in music with long-­running bands, too.) It’s still worth allowing for change to happen, because frankly that’s how life works, and you want there to be a foundation of truth in any creative work you do.

3. Gravity Falls is about characters.

In another interview, Mr. Hirsch mentioned, “Gravity Falls is a show about mysteries and magic, but first and foremost it’s a show about characters.”

The reason Gravity Falls is as charming as it is has very little to do with its marvelous story twists and hilarious jokes. It succeeds because the characters are true and compelling. They have soul and depth. They connect with each other, and the relationships feel solid and real.

Mabel and WaddlesIf you have one take­away from Gravity Falls as a creator, let it be this: Living, breathing, compelling characters will take you farther than any other writing device.

An audience will watch a compelling character do his laundry, but will quickly grow bored with a flat, one-note character even if they are piloting space ships in a fascinating alternate dimension. Do not skimp on knowing your characters; invest time in them, and you will be handsomely rewarded.

How Cartoons Are Made (and Why It Takes So Long)

When my favorite animated shows undergo hiatuses—those bleak times when no new episodes are released—I am left alone in grief and misery to ponder the cruelty of the universe. Why must all good things end? Why must I dwell in a twilight existence of interruptions, cliffhangers, and mid-season breaks? Why? Why?!

The good folks at Disney have offered a brief but illuminating explanation. (They have also reminded me that I need to watch Wander Over Yonder sometime.) Apart from the animation itself, which takes a long time, every episode is bounced between teams of artists, writers, actors, musicians, and producers, with executives weighing in regularly. Many studios ship stuff to animators overseas to cut costs. Amid the chaos, I assume, scurry interns: answering phones, running errands, serving coffee in foam cups, and greasing the gears of the mighty machines known as animation studios.

Of course, I can’t discuss how cartoons are made without also sharing the following video, in which the creators of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb explain the process in a rap song. Yes.

Fun fact: This video convinced me to watch Phineas and Ferb a few years ago. That show revived my interest in cartoons and animation, thus guiding me toward a brighter existence… albeit one with hiatuses.

Hyper Camelot

This goofy song would be the perfect opening theme for an eighties-style cartoon. Imagine Hyper Camelot, a show based very loosely on the Arthurian legends, in which King Arthur, Lancelot, and the other Knights of the Round Table fight with courage, chivalry, and the power of friendship™ to protect Avalon from the forces of evil. Pandering to misplaced nostalgia for the cartoons of our childhood, such a show would be packed with terrible one-liners, cheesy life lessons, and spectacular explosions.

I… actually kinda want to watch this show.