498. Special Thanks

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the many people who have supported this blog over the years. Before it ends next week, I want to thank them. Today’s post is basically TMTF’s end credits. Don’t expect a post-credits scene teasing a sequel, though!

All right, I guess we should start by playing some credits music. Fortunately, YouTube has us covered. For maximum effect, I recommend playing the following video while you read the rest of this post. UPBEAT GUITAR IS GO.

(If the video ends before you finish reading this post, you can find another great credits song here on YouTube.)

I want to start by thanking everyone who contributed guest posts to this blog. It would take too long to thank each of these writers individually, yet I’m grateful for every post they contributed.

These wonderful writers shared their own stories, ideas, and perspectives, making TMTF far more nuanced and interesting than it would have been if only I had written it. Iroh, a character from my all-time favorite show, once said, “It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.”

They don’t come much wiser than Iroh.

Thank you, guest writers, for lending my blog your wisdom.

I would be remiss not to give a shout out to Jon Acuff and Wes Molebash. Although I no longer follow their work, they were early inspirations for this blog; TMTF probably wouldn’t exist without them. A guest post I wrote for Mr. Acuff gave TMTF an early boost, and Mr. Molebash created one of this blog’s banners, so that’s cool.

This is a fairly accurate representation of my workspace.

Thanks, Jon and Wes. Stay hip.

I owe a huge thank-you to Kevin McCreary, YouTuber extraordinaire, who collaborated with me on a freakin’ rap battle to celebrate TMTF’s two hundredth post. He went so far beyond my timid request for a backing track that it still kinda blows my mind, and while my rapping wasn’t great, his music and mixing were perfect.

You rock, Kevin. Thanks.

I must also thank my other YouTube collaborators, DRWolf001 and Crowne PrinceThese video makers are phenomenally creative, and also wolves.

Wolves. Seriously, I don’t make up this stuff.

In a video animated by Crowne Prince, DRWolf and I discussed my experiences blogging, and the good doctor offered some advice. It was a terrific privilege to work with this unlikely pair, and I consider our video a high point for this blog.

Thank you, DRWolf and Crown Prince. Stay creative!

I must give a shout out to a couple of fellow bloggers. Amy Green inspires me with her faith, honesty, compassion, and profound thoughtfulness. Thomas Mark Zuniga taught me a thing or two about the value of transparency and vulnerability over keeping up appearances. They both wrote excellent guest posts for my blog. Heck, Tom even dropped by my home during his EPIC QUEST around the country a while back.

If I am very lucky, I may someday have a beard as nice as Tom’s.

Amy and Tom, thanks for using your gifts so faithfully, and for lending them to my blog.

When I decided to resurrect my dream project, the Lance Eliot saga, I really wanted some concept art for the characters. Sabina Kipa created some excellent character sketches, and when I recently wrote that her skills were matched by her patience and positivity, I meant it.

I love these concept sketches.

Thanks again, Sabina. Keep up the great work!

Last year, a Methodist pastor who read my blog invited me to speak at his church. I embarked upon an epic journey to Wisconsin, drinking inordinate amounts of coffee, and even passing through the tenth circle of hell, which some people call Chicago. The Reverend Kevin Niebuhr turned out to be the manliest Methodist I’ve ever met, and also a kind, geeky gentleman.

It was a great privilege to visit Rev Kev and meet his church family.

Thanks for everything, Rev Kev. God bless you, and if you haven’t already seen the new Star Wars movie, you totally should.

Around the time I started this blog, I watched an Internet cartoon series called Fred the Monkey. I enjoyed these Homestar Runner-esque cartoons about a monkey and his eccentric roommates. It was a surprise when, years later, their creator agreed to write a guest post for my blog—and a staggering shock when he became one of the most supportive and encouraging readers I’ve ever had.

JK Riki did more for TMTF than almost anyone. He wrote guest posts, edited images, created original art, shared insights and encouragements in the comments, and was generally awesome. Honestly, I might have abandoned TMTF a long time ago if JK hadn’t come along to support it.

I’m not sure I trust JK’s monkey around any of mine, though.

I honestly can’t thank you enough, JK. God bless you.

I owe my family thanks for their support, and for not smacking me when I rambled about my blog. My younger brother, John, gets bonus points for letting me share his many wonderful mispronunciations.

Thanks, guys. Stay fabulous.

I want to give extra-special thanks to my dad, who supported TMTF since before I even started it. He created much of its original artwork, including one of its magnificent banners.

From the beginning, I considered this picture one of the best things about my blog. My opinion hasn’t changed.

Besides drawing pictures for this blog, my dad proofread many posts, gave feedback, and offered endless encouragements. If I could thank only one person, it would be he.

Thanks, Pa. You’re a Stout Fella.

I must reluctantly offer thanks to my typewriter monkeys, from whom I will soon part ways: Sophia, Socrates, Plato, Hera, Penelope, Aristotle, Apollo, Euripides, Icarus, Athena, Phoebe, and Aquila.

My monkeys caused a lot of trouble, started countless fires, and didn’t actually help much, but I guess TMTF wouldn’t exist without them, so that’s something.

Thanks for working on the blog, guys. I’ll almost feel bad firing you after TMTF ends next week. Almost.

From the beginning, my philosophy for this blog has been represented by the letters S.D.G. These initials stand for Soli Deo gloriato God alone be glory. Neither I nor this blog have always followed this philosophy, but it’s a good one, and I stand by it.

Thank you, Father, for TMTF.

Finally, I want to give a round of thanks to this blog’s readers—in other words, to you.

I owe special thanks to readers who commented on blog posts, “Liked” them, or shared them on social media. I appreciate every bit of support. I must also give special thanks to everyone who celebrated Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day over the years by, y’know, being nice to someone on the Internet. Thanks also to the generous readers who supported this blog’s charity fundraisers.

Writing this blog was quite a journey. I’m glad I didn’t make it alone.

Thanks for reading!

470. Adam’s Story: The Characters

For anyone new to Adam’s story, here’s an introduction.

Here’s a look at the five most important characters in my story project, with GLORIOUS CONCEPT ART by the talented Sabina K! (There’s also a bonus picture from JK Riki!) I’ve been excited for this post for a really long time, and today is the day I finally get to share it with you. Here we go!

Lance (TMTF version)

Lance Santiago Eliot is a college student in the little town of Crossroads, Indiana. His plans to go home for Christmas are rudely interrupted by a journey to a strange new place: the kingdom of Guardia, a land of magic and monsters, teetering on the brink of war. Lance isn’t exactly pleased by this unexpected adventure. He isn’t a hero. He’s a timid guy who hates shaving, plays video games, and loves coffee—a beverage that doesn’t seem to exist in this other universe. The sooner he can go home, the better… but getting home might be harder than he expects.

Fun fact: Lance Eliot is Ecuadorian American, and fluent in both English and Spanish. He uses Spanish mostly for cursing, though.

Eisen (TMTF version)

To all appearances, Eisen is a former military leader living out his retirement in the luxurious heights of Faurum, the Golden City of Guardia. Lance knows better: Eisen is actually the Chairman of the Guardian Peace Committee, a group plotting the overthrow of Guardia’s king. Eisen claims it’s the only way to prevent all-out war, but Lance isn’t convinced. After all, Eisen gave the order that brought Lance to Guardia, so Lance has a hard time trusting him. Eisen prides himself on his neat appearance, dressing in the old-fashioned suits and uniforms of his military days despite the warm climate. Although he smiles constantly, he seems more polite than sincere.

Fun fact: Eisen always wears dark glasses, even indoors. He claims they prevent his chronic headaches. They give him a slightly sinister appearance.

Note for veteran readers: Eisen replaces the Kana character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Maia (TMTF version)

Maia is an aerist: a person born with the ability to channel aer, a cosmic energy Lance defines as “basically magic.” Maia is technically an aerist in training, but she’s getting there, really! She’s already mastered Linguamancy, the discipline of tongues, and she’s working really hard on Vocomancy, the discipline of summoning. I mean, she summoned Lance to Guardia all the way from Crossroads, Indiana! (She was actually under orders to summon Lancelot, the legendary knight of Camelot, but got Lance Eliot instead. Whoops!) Maia is upbeat, friendly, and easily excited, but seems to have a hard time taking anything seriously.

Fun fact: Despite her childlike personality, Maia is exceptionally intelligent and well-read. Her interests range from contemporary fashion to ancient lore and history.

Tsurugi (TMTF version)

When Lance leaves Faurum, Tsurugi accompanies him as an escort. Lance is both intrigued and irritated by this silent soldier. What mysteries lie behind that blank face and those shifty eyes? Lance’s speculations are soon interrupted by ugly facts: Tsurugi is a war criminal working for Eisen as an alternative to execution. Tsurugi seems tired, even broken, yet hasn’t lost his edge—his military prowess is legendary. Lance suspects there’s more to his story, but Tsurugi isn’t talking.

Fun fact: Tsurugi wears a military uniform with one unusual addition: a red bandana, which he often wears around his face. The bright color is very poor camouflage for a soldier, but Lance knows better than to question it.

Paz (TMTF version)

Paz is a professional gambler, and she’s eerily good at it. She travels alone, making money in pubs and saloons all over Guardia, and hitting the road before anyone can ask too many questions. When asked why she never seems to lose, she insists she’s “just lucky.” Experience has taught Paz to act tough around strangers. In good company, however, she’s friendly and kindhearted. Paz has mastered many survival skills, including self-defense, but doesn’t have much schooling. After all, if you’re lucky enough to profit from every hand of cards and roll of the dice, do you really need a formal education?

Fun fact: Paz has picked up all kinds of hobbies to keep herself entertained on her solitary travels. In addition to cards for solitaire, she always has a book or two in her pack; when she finishes one book, she trades it for another in the next town she visits. Paz also carves trinkets and figurines out of wood. Since wood is neither expensive nor hard to find, woodcarving is the perfect hobby for a traveler!

Note for veteran readers: Paz replaces the Regis character from previous versions of Lance Eliot’s story.

Courtesy of JK Riki, here’s a bonus picture of Paz:

Paz alt (TMTF version)

That’s all for today! My next post in this series may cover the story’s lore or geography, or maybe some of its less important characters. I’ll work on it.

Thanks for reading!

(Before concluding, I want to thank Sabina and JK once again for their time, patience, and amazing talent. Working with each of you was a pleasure and a privilege. Thank you!)

468. Of Mice and Men (and Monkeys)

This blog is taking a two-week break, returning with new posts on Monday, September 5.

I had planned to work ahead on this blog during my recent vacation. However, in each of the places I visited, I couldn’t get the Internet working smoothly on my computer. Alas! This means TMTF is now behind schedule.

(It doesn’t help that my typewriter monkeys, my reluctant assistants for this blog, are currently in jail. It’s a long story.)

Instead of scrambling to write quick-and-dirty posts for this blog’s next few deadlines, I’ve decided to take a couple of weeks off. It was a reluctant decision. I really wanted to finish TMTF before this year ended, but at this point I’m not sure that’s feasible. By taking a break, I resign myself to ending this blog early next year, which will save me a lot of stress and worry in the long run. Now I don’t have to rush.

My sense of responsibility borders on the pathological, so I always feel guilty when I miss deadlines or neglect commitments. However, as I said the last time I took a sudden break from blogging, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Translated from the Scots language to contemporary English, this phrase by Scottish poet Robert Burns reads something like, “Stuff happens, yo.”

And it does.

“Stuff happens” is a recurring theme for this blog, actually.

The best-laid plans of mice and men (and monkeys) go often awry. We’re only human. (At any rate, I’m only human. My typewriter monkeys are… well, monkeys.) I suppose the occasional break is inevitable.

TMTF won’t go dark during its two-week break; I’ll republish old posts on the blog’s usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. We recycle here; TMTF is very eco-friendly.

Before taking that break, I would like to share a few sneak peeks of what TMTF has in store for the months ahead.

  • I want to write one more Gabriel Green story: a last hurrah for the man whose star-crossed career has provided a couple of short stories for this blog.
  • I’m really excited for the next Adam’s Story post, which will include some concept art. I’ve already given one preview. Here’s another:

Paz follow-up concept

  • Do you know what irritates me? People who don’t wash their hands. They make me… angry. Really angry. Bad stuff happens when I’m angry.
  • I’ve written a lot of That Time I _____ posts, but there’s one important event I’ve never mentioned. It involves burgers.

There’s some cool stuff ahead… I hope. I should probably start working on it.

Louisa May Alcott once wrote, “First live, then write.” Solid advice. I have some living to do, but I’ll be back. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5. Thanks for reading!

464. Something Bookish This Way Comes

I’m attending a writing conference today. At this very moment, I’m probably scribbling notes, clutching a half-empty bottle of overpriced coffee, and being awkward and self-conscious. Such is the lot of introverts at social events.

Seriously, though, I’m excited to attend this conference. In preparation, I read Networking with Penguins, and also bought a lot of coffee. (I consider it an investment in my future as a writer.) I hope to learn more about marketing, social media strategy, book proposals, and all the other stuff I should have known before publishing a book.

After the conference, my family and I will spend a week on vacation. We plan to travel, visit friends and relatives, and eat many doughnuts. It will be glorious.

I should be able to connect to the Internet on our vacation, so regular blog updates shall continue. (If I take any more long breaks from the blog, I shan’t be able to finish it by the end of this year as I’ve planned.) Today’s post is a short one since I have to finish vacation preparations, but I’ll conclude with a sneak peek at a future post.

The next Adam’s Story post shall introduce the characters in my story project. I’m really excited, guys. Now that the preliminary stuff is out of the way, I can begin to explore some of the project’s other concepts, such as reworked characters.

I leave you with an early glance at the worried, whiskered face of Lance Eliot.

Lance Eliot early concept

I’m sure my own expression at today’s conference will be equally uncertain and wary. Fortunately, unlike Lance Eliot, I’ll have the moral support of coffee, so that’s something!

Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures

Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures

The panels above mark the exact moment at which I fell in love with Bone, the epic comic book series by Jeff Smith. I could provide story context, but really, none is needed. Stupid, stupid rat creatures.

As an artistic medium, comics face unique challenges, such as depicting action and movement in a limited number of small, silent, static panels. I’m sometimes amazed by the ingenious ways artists bring their comic panels to life, and have noticed a number of visual tricks and techniques used to tell stories in comics.

Absurd sound effects are one way, of course. Others include filter effects, blurred backgrounds, and squashing or stretching to represent movement. In Japanese comics (and animation), symbolic shorthand is common: for example, an oversized bead of sweat to represent anxiety or a throbbing vein to represent anger.

Manga iconography

Manga iconography is a visual shorthand for character emotion.

A thing that delights me in the Bone panels above is how economically the artist tells the story. Several actions must occur between the first and second panels, yet the artist doesn’t bore the reader with them. He sets up the joke and then immediately provides the punchline, assuming the reader is clever enough to infer what occurred between panels without having to be shown. It’s quick, efficient storytelling, and I really dig it.

Bone is an incredible comic series. There’s nothing else quite like it: an unlikely blend of The Lord of the Rings with the Pogo comic strip. It’s at once dark and lighthearted, serious and cartoony, and above all, quirky. There are bloodthirsty rat-monsters in one scene, and jokes about Moby-Dick in the next. Heck, one scene even pits the rat creatures against Melville’s novel. (The rat creatures lose.)

Moby Dick Vs. the Rat Creatures

I adore the rat creatures’ expressions in the third panel.

Jeff Smith self-published the first issues of Bone in the early nineties, helping kick start the indie comics movement, and eventually winning boatloads of awards. I was introduced to the series by the same kindly relative who occasionally sends me random books and comics. (I aspire to be that kind of person.)

I began reading Bone a year or so ago—at this point, I own the entire series—but had to set it aside halfway through due to busyness. At the moment, my reading list is dominated by background reading for my book project, but someday I’ll revisit Bone and read it from start to finish, stupid rat creatures and all.

A Painting a Day Keeps the Art Block at Bay

Frilled lizard

Yep, that sure is a frilled lizard. (Art by Piper Thibodeau.)

Art is hard. Art is really, really hard, yet here is an artist who paints a new picture every flipping day. There is a word for such people: dedicated.

Wait, that’s not the word I meant. Masochistic. That’s it. This artist is masochistic.

Nah, I’m only joking. I have nothing but respect for Piper Thibodeau, the artist who creates a brand-new digital painting every day to keep her artistic skills sharp. That’s just bonkers. I mean, heck, I thought writing two and a half blog posts a week was hard! It must take quite an imagination to come up with a new idea for a painting every single day.

A lot of Ms. Thibodeau’s paintings are visual puns. Some of my favorites include crab apples, a Capuchin’o monkey, a pheasant peasant, and a guaca’ mole. Cute art, impressive creativity, silly puns—what more can you ask for?

In Which a Cartoon Bunny Is Adorable

As you may have noticed, I recently saw Disney’s Zootopia. It was fantastic. In the video above, Byron Howard, a director of Zootopia, demonstrates how to draw Judy Hopps, the film’s bunny protagonist.

You apparently start with an S for snake—excuse me, I mean a shape like a gumdrop. Once you have sketched that gumdrop shape, you draw the rest of the bunny’s face. Simple, no?

In this regard, drawing a cartoon bunny follows pretty much the same process as for drawing an owl:

How to draw an owlIn seriousness, the video gives excellent step-by-step instructions for drawing Disney’s most adorable character yet. It also gives a shout out to the great Glen Keane, who animated some of Disney’s most memorable characters.

My younger brother, who is quite an artist, has taken to drawing pictures on little pieces of notebook paper and leaving them for me on my desk. He decided to sketch Judy Hopps after watching this video. That picture is now tucked into my lampshade with some of his other sketches. At this very moment, backlit by my lamp, Judy Hopps beams down at me with bright benevolence, threatening to stop my heart with her staggering cuteness.

Heck, I shouldn’t have said that. It was insensitive, and I apologize.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Hero Drinking Coffee

Link Drinking CoffeeLook at that picture. Look at it. I wish I could draw pictures like that.

While I fool around on this blog, my younger brother sketches fantastic pictures in pencil and posts them on his DeviantArt page. Seriously, I don’t know how he produces drawings like these. I’m guessing pencils and paper are involved somehow; the rest is a glorious mystery.

The image above is my brother’s profile picture: Link, the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda games, drinking coffee and drawing… himself. (If his coffee cup is to be believed, Link is also the World’s Best Hero.) As a Zelda fan, I find my bro’s profile picture clever and hilarious.

I strongly recommend taking a look around my brother’s DeviantArt profile. Seriously, it’s cool. Check it out!

This post was originally published on November 27, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on February 22, 2016!

412. Christmas Fallout

Another Christmas has come and gone, leaving behind a mess of crumpled wrapping paper, empty boxes, and those tiny strips of green plastic from artificial Christmas trees. (Those fake evergreen needles are a pain, man.) Here on TMTF, I have post-Christmas problems of my own.

Santa camAs much as my typewriter monkeys deserved coal for Christmas, they received fire extinguishers instead. My monkeys are notorious pyromaniacs, and fire extinguishers are usually less flammable than coal. However, I didn’t foresee the potential dangers of giving my monkeys cans of pressurized chemicals. Ah, well. Live and learn.

(After reading TMTF’s Christmas poem last month, my dad drew the picture above: a screenshot from one of Santa Claus’s many hidden cams. Saint Nick apparently puts the NSA to shame with his surveillance systems. “He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake,” indeed.)

Yes, Christmas is done. A new year has begun, and I’m thankful for another nine or ten months before I even have to start thinking about the holidays. The older I get, the busier I become during the Christmas season. I say this not as a complaint, but as a statement of fact. The holidays are a busy time of year, and they end so abruptly.

After months of holiday music, planning, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, baked goods, baked bads (I’m looking at you, fruitcake), church programs, television specials, and peppermint-flavored everything—Christmas simply ends.

Granted, New Year’s celebrations do provide some sort of epilogue to the holiday season. It’s as though we all share an unspoken understanding: “Well, Christmas is over. We might as well just end the year and be done with it.”

At last, the holidays are over… for another week, at least. The stores will soon start running ads and selling stuff for St. Valentine’s Day. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Doctors Who

Doctor Who, the British television program about an eccentric time-traveling alien, has been around for more than fifty years. That’s a long time for a TV show to exist. The sci-fi shenanigans of Doctor Who have delighted audiences (and occasionally caused them to hide behind the sofa) for five decades. For perspective: Star Wars, another enduring classic of science fiction, hasn’t even hit the forty-year mark.

When a series becomes as old as Doctor Who, it runs into the problem of its actors aging. Actors are only human, after all. They sometimes tire of roles, get sick, move to faraway places, retire from acting, or simply expire.

Most long-running film or television series find ways around this problem. Some, like many James Bond films, cast new actors as the same character, ignoring changes of appearance. Some series retire old characters to make way for new ones. Many series are rebooted, telling updated versions of their stories with new actors in familiar roles.

Then there’s Doctor Who. Its hero, the eponymous Doctor, has been portrayed by more than a dozen actors. The show never pretends not to notice the Doctor’s changing face, but instead offers a suitably ridiculous explanation: the Doctor is a space alien, and changing his appearance every so often is part of his life cycle.

This silly explanation become a brilliant and integral part of the show’s story. Every time he changes his face, or “regenerates,” the Doctor’s personality changes, but he retains his values, knowledge, memories, and sense of self. This storytelling trick allows the role to be passed from actor to actor, and keeps the character from becoming stale.

Which Doctor is the best? This is the sort of Kirk-versus-Picard question that fans never tire of arguing. In the end, like so many petty conflicts between fans, it doesn’t really matter. Every version of the Doctor has strengths and weaknesses, and is valuable in his own way.

That said, the Tenth Doctor is the best.