Strong Bad Is the Hero the Internet Deserves

Before this blog ends, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a mighty shout out to Strong Bad, the strongest, baddest, and probably funniest dude on the Internet. In the video above, Strong Bad vandalizes a picture book, greatly improving it.

Strong Bad hails from Homestar Runner, a series of homemade cartoons that conquered the Internet back in the early aughts. In a time when the Internet was still figuring itself out, Homestar Runner used it as a self-publishing platform, making its cartoons freely available to anyone with an Internet connection—and good gosh, what cartoons they were.

Homestar Runner is a unique blend of snark, silliness, pop culture references, surreal humor, and self-aware jokes, all delivered in good-natured fun. Homestar himself is nominally the protagonist of the series, but Strong Bad is the real star, and he knows it. This self-proclaimed cool dude, who wears a luchador-style wrestling mask and boxing gloves at all times, brought us everything from Trogdor the Burninator, one of my favorite dragons, to the legendary “bear holding a shark,” seen below:

Homestar Runner emerged in a time of change for the Internet. In spite of the Y2K problem, with its minor programming issues and major panic, the Internet survived the year 2000 and continued to evolve. Dial-up connections and modems gradually disappeared, along with their characteristic audio tones, which Dave Barry described as “a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.” Wireless connections and Wi-Fi became standard. The Internet entered a new age of digital splendor, but around seven years ago, lost the Homestar Runner series, and became poorer for it.

Homestar Runner stopped updating regularly around 2009, and has updated only a handful of times since. (The storybook video at the start of this post is one of these rare, relatively recent cartoons.) Its creators moved on to other things—including writing and acting for Gravity Falls, one of my all-time favorite animated shows—leaving behind a legacy the Internet will never forget.

Strong Bad, the true star of Homestar Runner, represents the Internet in so many ways: outspoken, zany, sarcastic, saturated in pop culture, and frequently mean-spirited, yet having a softer side. Here’s to you, Strong Bad. How do you type in boxing gloves, anyway?

495. Adam’s Story: The Point of View

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

Up to this point, I have spent the Adam’s Story series discussing elements of my story project. Today’s post, the last of the series, is a little different. It discusses not a planned element, but a possible one: a shift in the story’s point of view.

The Lance Eliot saga is framed by another story. A frame story is a narrative that sets the stage for another narrative. It’s a story within a story. (Cue the “BWAH” sound effect from Inception.) The Lance Eliot saga is presented as a manuscript written by Lance himself shortly before his death, and published posthumously. His fantastical adventures are framed by the story of Lance trying feverishly to finish his account of them.

Lance shall remain the author of his own story. What may change—I haven’t quite yet made up my mind—is not who tells the story, but when he tells it.

Shall Lance’s story remain a memoir, or become a journal?

Journals can be a great storytelling device.

In previous versions, Lance’s story was a memoir written entirely during his last days. It occurred to me recently that I might make it a journal kept during his adventures. Instead of writing three novel-length narratives at the end of his life, Lance could spend those final weeks compiling, editing, and organizing notes and journals that he had previously kept throughout his travels.

Changing the point of view offers potential benefits. It might make the story more immediate and immersive. It would no longer be the reminiscences of a man safe in his own home—it would be the writings of a man on a perilous adventure. The reader would be right there with Lance… in theory, anyway.

This change would also explain how Lance remembers word-for-word conversations and other details so perfectly: when he writes them down, the memories are days, not years, old.

On a more pragmatic note, I think it would be easier for me to write Lance’s story as a series of journal entries. It would help keep me immersed in his travels. Besides, keeping a journal, even a journal of fictional events, isn’t that different from blogging. I have a little experience blogging.

I’m attached to the old point of view for the Lance Eliot saga, but intrigued by the possibility of a new one. What do you think?

How do you think Lance should tell his story? Let us know in the comments!

Gritty or Glittery?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of gritty media: books, films, and video games characterized by darkness, angst, violence, and square-jawed men brooding over inner conflicts. From Wolverine to Walter White, we’ve seen plenty of angsty characters on the large and small screens. Books—even young adult literature—feature people killing (and dying!) in all sorts of creative ways. The video game industry continues making games with guns, gore, and roughly one in every five words of dialogue being the f-bomb.

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Angst! Darkness! Square jaws!

Why is gritty media popular? That’s a tough question to answer. I suppose there’s some truth to the darkness and violence in these media, and it resonates with people. We all feel sadness, discouragement, and anger. Some face depression, abuse, self-destructive impulses, or equally “gritty” problems.

Finally, gritty media often seems mature, sophisticated, or “grown-up.” All of this begs the question: Is it?

While gritty media has become more popular in past years, there are still plenty of lighthearted books, films, and video games: “glittery” media, so to speak.

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Light! Smiles! Goofy braces!

Throughout history, comedy has nearly always taken a backseat to tragedy. Shakespeare’s most famous plays are his tragedies; Mark Twain’s cynical Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is celebrated over his cheerfuller books; P.G. Wodehouse’s clever comedies are largely eclipsed by the gloomy writings of his contemporaries. It seems humor and optimism can’t be taken seriously.

While there are certainly good things to say for gritty narratives, I don’t believe grittier is necessarily better. A purpose of art is to reflect or represent truth; the truth is that life isn’t always gloomy. A Farewell to Arms or The Things They Carried may be brilliant depictions of the horrors of war, but peace is no less real than violence. I think it’s absurd to suppose, say, Anne of Green Gables is necessarily an inferior book because it reflects joy and sentiment instead of pain and despair.

In the end, it’s a mistake to judge the quality of a thing by whether it’s gritty or glittery, tragic or comic, cynical or optimistic. That said, I would love to see people take glittery media more seriously. Can we study humorists like P.G. Wodehouse or James Thurber more widely in schools? I’m sure students wouldn’t mind putting down The Lord of the Flies. Can we have fewer gritty superhero movies and have more like Marvel’s quirky Guardians of the Galaxy? We could use a break from gloom and doom.

The world is an awfully dark place, but there’s a little light left. Some stories remember that, and I think they’re worth taking seriously.

This post was originally published on October 24, 2014. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

421. The Beginning of the End

Well, dear reader, this is it. This is the beginning of the end. After four and a half years of caffeinated rants and geeky ramblings, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is starting its final laps.

Final lap! (Watch out for banana peels.)

Final lap! (Watch out for banana peels.)

I’m ending this blog, but not quite yet. TMTF shall conclude with its five hundredth numbered post, which will probably be published toward the end of this year. I don’t yet have an exact date for that post; it depends on how many more breaks I take from blogging.

(You know, this bittersweet blog post could use an appropriately bittersweet soundtrack, such as “The Best Is Yet to Come” from Metal Gear SolidHere you go. No need to thank me.)

Why am I ending this blog? Well, that’s a good question. (I’m glad I asked.) Ending TMTF is a big decision, and I’m not the only one it affects—if you follow this blog, it probably affects you, too.

You may be a little saddened by TMTF’s impending demise. If you’ve enjoyed something over a long time, it can be hard to see it end. (Gravity Falls ended just a few days ago, so believe me, I know the feeling.)

Then again, you may just be wondering why I didn’t put this blog out of its misery ages ago.

There are a few reasons for my decision to end TMTF.

It’s getting harder for me to come up ideas for new posts.

As I think of posts to write for this blog, I feel like I’m beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I would much rather give TMTF a respectable finish than drag it out endlessly: as Tolkien put it, “like butter scraped over too much bread.”

TMTF has lost its purpose.

I began this blog years ago with a strong sense of purpose. TMTF originally had three clear objectives.

  1. I wanted to build up an audience for the novel I was finishing at the time.
  2. I wanted to make some sort of positive difference with my God-given talents for writing, humor, and creativity.
  3. I wanted to try something new and exciting.

At this point, TMTF has either completed or failed these objectives; either way, they hardly matter anymore.

  1. My novel failed, and it won’t be getting sequels anytime soon, so there is no longer any point in finding an audience.
  2. At this point, I think TMTF has made pretty much all the difference it can. I’ve said most of the things I really wanted to say… except for the word pulchritude, of course, and now I’ve said it.
  3. After four and a half years, TMTF is neither new nor exciting. Writing this blog has been a great experience, but I’ve lost my passion for it.

When I started TMTF, I was motivated to write blog posts by a sense of purpose. Now I write them because I have to keep the blog’s publishing schedule. I’m trying to live more purposefully; it’s one of my resolutions for this year. My writing should be driven by a sense of purpose, not feelings of obligation. I owe that much to my readers, and to myself, and to God.

I want to work on a new project.

I could say more, but that’s another post for another day.*

I’m thankful for this blog, and I don’t regret the time and effort I’ve put into it. Working on TMTF over the years has brought me satisfaction, laughter, gleams of insight, and moments of catharsis… not to mention quite a lot of harmless fun.

I’ve met a number of amazing people through this blog whom I would never have met otherwise: JK Riki, the animator and creativity expert; Tom Zuniga, the wandering blogger; Rev Kev Niebuhr, the manliest Methodist of our generation; and more. I’ve also had the privilege of collaborating with awesome folks like Paul McCusker, a veteran writer for Adventures in Odyssey; Kevin McCreary, a YouTube and podcast creator; and colorful YouTube personalities like DRWolf and Crowne Prince, among many others.

This blog motivated me to write a fantasy novella and some short stories, not to mention hundreds of pointless rants thoughtful reflections upon faith, writing, video games, literature, TV, movies, life, the universe, and everything. With the help and support of its fabulous readers, TMTF raised hundreds and hundreds of dollars for charity. I even invented a holiday on this blog: Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day—which is coming up on March 4, by the way!

I’m thankful for Typewriter Monkey Task Force—and it ain’t over yet, folks! It shall continue yet for months and months, and there’s one thing I want to make very clear about its end. I’m not abandoning this blog. I’m finishing it.

Finally: Thank you, my dear readers. Thanks for the past four and a half years. I welcome you to stick around for whatever is left, and for whatever comes after!

*And that day shall be Friday.

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.

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.

370. Jesus Is Offensive

The US Supreme Court recently legalized gay marriage nationwide. Today’s blog post actually has very little to do with that, and much more to do with the sudden, blinding proliferation of rainbows across the Internet.

My eyes! MY EYES!

My eyes! MY EYES!

Rainbows are a symbol of the LGBT community. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, they began appearing everywhere on the Internet. Facebook was overrun by rainbows, and my Twitter feed would have given Joseph’s many-colored coat a run for its money. Flipping heck, even my blogging site, WordPress, replaced its usual monochromatic theme with a rainbow-colored one.

(On a vaguely related note, I recommend listening to the Rainbow Road soundtrack while reading the rest of this blog post.)

With rainbows suddenly popping up all over the Internet, I signed back on to Twitter to make a joke about them. I planned to say something goofy and innocent, something like: “The rainbows! They’re everywhere! Where are my shades? Ah, it’s too late! My eyes! MY EYES!”

However, as I typed out the joke, I hesitated. My comment wasn’t bitter or celebratory or controversial. It wasn’t anything but silly, but I couldn’t help worrying that it would ruffle someone’s feathers. Gay marriage is such a touchy subject that I was reluctant to mention it, even in the most lighthearted way. In the end, I remained silent.

(By the way, I thought about discussing the legalization of gay marriage in this blog post, but everything I want to say has been said much more eloquently by another blogger. Whatever your stance on gay marriage, I recommend reading her blog post; it’s a sensible, compassionate take on recent events. I’ve already discussed my own views on homosexuality on this blog, so I won’t repeat myself here.)

My reluctance to discuss gay marriage in even the most lighthearted way was an uncomfortable reminder that I selfishly want to be liked. I don’t want to offend anyone, even if it means keeping my views and thoughts and beliefs to myself. If being honest or insightful offends others, I’ll settle for being funny or clever.

This is a problem, because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and he offends practically everybody.

In his lifetime, Jesus offended religious people; today, Jesus offends nonreligious people. The religious leaders in his day despised him every bit as much as many atheists do today. Jesus Christ has never been politically correct. He condemned not only sin and faithlessness, but pride and religious hypocrisy. In the end, the people who orchestrated his execution were religious authorities, not secular ones.

If I insist on following Jesus Christ, it will be only a matter of time before I offend someone. As a follower of Christ, I must believe that truth is absolute, even in our pluralistic, postmodern culture. I must believe that some things are not okay, however widely they may be accepted or celebrated. To wit, I must not compromise my beliefs, even when they offend people—and sooner or later, they will.

That’s hard for me to accept. I hate upsetting others. I really want to be liked by everyone. Offending others for any reason makes me feel like a deplorable jerk.

It all begs the question: Do I believe Jesus Christ is worth the risk of annoying, upsetting, or alienating people? Is the Christian faith, which is built upon loving others, worth offending some of them?

I believe it is.

Of course, I’ll do my best not to be a jerk. I can definitely be a jerk sometimes.


As it happens, this is one of my favorite shirts. I wonder what that says about me.

Jesus Christ offends people, but he is not a jerk. In his lifetime, even when flipping tables and railing against sin and hypocrisy, Jesus acted with the utmost of intentions. He loved people, all people, crooks and prostitutes included, without ever compromising his convictions or beliefs—and yes, he offended people. He still does.

I will offend someone at some point. I must come to terms with that fact, while doing my best never to be a jerk, and to be as kind and accepting as I can.

That said, after a week of seeing rainbows flipping everywhere on the Internet, my eyes are really starting to hurt. I’m thinking I should invest in some shades.

350. Your Questions Are Answered!

A couple of weeks ago, I invited my dear readers to ask me anything. Today I answer those questions, and conclude by making an announcement about this blog.

Here we go!

Kristi asks: Since choosing to not continue with the books following the one you published, have you regretted or reconsidered that decision? Do you continue to write in that world, even if you have no plans for publication?

The unfinished tale of Lance Eliot is near and dear to my heart, yet I’ve neither regretted nor reconsidered my decision to let it go. The first novel was a commercial disaster, I didn’t have time to continue writing fiction, and Lance Eliot’s story was exhausting me. I believe it was right for me to set it aside.

Someday, if I have the time, I may try again. I would like to rework the first novel, The Trials of Lance Eliot, and then write its two sequels at my own pace. Then, with all three novels completely finished, I could focus on getting them published.

In this chapter of my life, I already feel overwhelmed by work, blogging, and other commitments. In order to write The Eliot Papers, I would have have to stop working or blogging… and I doubt I’ll be quitting either of those any time soon!

ferrettt55 asks: I’ve kind of been wondering why you wrote your book under the name M.L. Brown. Any particular reason? A story behind it, perhaps?

I had two reasons for using a pen name. The first is that I liked the idea of being an anonymous success: a literary superhero with a secret identity. (In retrospect, this was a stupid reason.)

My other reason for calling myself M.L. Brown was to build a frame story around the tale of Lance Eliot. I wasn’t Adam Stück, the author of novels—no, I was M.L. Brown, the supposed “editor” of Lance Eliot’s “memoirs.” Brown was eventually going to appear as a minor character in the last book. (The author who called himself Lemony Snicket did something similar in A Series of Unfortunate Events.)

In the end, I regret not using my real name. It would have made marketing my novel much, much easier, and perhaps sold a few more copies.

Fun fact: The initials M.L. stand for Michael Lewis. In full, my pen name alluded to the archangel Michael, the author C.S. Lewis, and the detective Father Brown.

JK Riki asks: If you had unlimited resources (time, money, skill, whatever necessary) what is the one thing you would do that you’ve either always wanted to or felt called to do? (It can be a silly answer like “Eat a taco with both chicken AND beef” but I’m kind of plumbing for a deeper response here with some real meaning and thought. Your choice, though.)

If I had boundless time and money, I would first celebrate with pizza! I would then take a few weeks to plan my next steps, pray, and confer with trusted friends and relatives. In the end, I would probably move to a cozy apartment somewhere on America’s west coast, donate most of my money to churches and charities, and spend my time writing fiction, volunteering, blogging, and drinking too much coffee. (Some things never change.)

If I had limitless talents, I would probably become a professional author and an ambassador for a charitable organization or relief agency. I would also drink too much coffee, natch.

Socrates asks: Where are your monkeys from (and I DON’T mean I mean, where were they actually born (are any of them from, y’know, THE Amazon?), what schools did they attend, are any of them related (to each other, I mean), had you met any of them before finding them on the internet?

I didn’t know any of my typewriter monkeys before I purchased them from, but I’m pretty sure they have ties to criminal cartels, and at least two of my monkeys have spent time in Colombian prisons.

Listen, sometimes it’s best not to ask these kinds of questions.

Some Guy asks: Do you know anyone actually named Socrates? Have you seen Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? It’s not that great of a film, but I am reminded of it whenever you refer to Socrates. What is the plural of Socrates? You play and review video games, but what are your favorite non-video games? I’m thinking board and card games, but other categories are fair too (tag, dodgeball, darts, etc.)

Sadly, I don’t know any Socrateses. (I’m guessing Socrateses is the plural of Socrates.) Socrates is my go-to pseudonym because I respect the ancient Greek philosopher, and also because I’m too lazy to come up with a new pseudonym every time I need one.

I’ve heard of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I haven’t seen it. Doctor Who has satisfied my desire to see someone travel through time in a phone box!

Confession: I… um… I don’t like non-video games. Competition stresses me out.

Mind you, I have absolutely nothing against sports or board games. In fact, I’ve played quite a lot of them: Monopoly, cards, bowling, Munchkin, darts, Sorry, checkers, Risk, fútbol (or soccer, if you want to be American about it), and badminton, among others. As much as I appreciate these games, I seldom enjoy competition. (Mario Kart is an exception, of course.) I prefer relaxing pastimes such as one-player video games, going for walks, and climbing trees.

Thomas Mark Zuniga asks: Do you have other awesome hats like the one depicted here? What is your hat-wearing to non-hat-wearing ratio? I’ve always been intrigued by hats and hat-people.

I’m honored to be called a hat-person.

When shopping or running errands, I generally wear my cherished cloth cap. I occasionally wear a fez at home, especially when watching Doctor Who or Gravity Falls, which are my reasons for owning a fez in the first place. (I have no regrets.) My other hats include a couple of beanies, a leather flat cap, a baseball cap, and a gaudy jester hat promoting Ecuador’s national fútbol team.

I once shared pictures of my hats in a post on this blog… which promptly received more views than nearly any two of my other posts combined. As a blogger, I was humiliated to be outperformed by a bunch of hats.

I would like to thank everyone who submitted a question for this Q&A! (Without you, this would have been a really short post.) I would also like to make a quick announcement about this blog.

TMTF will be taking a three-week break, returning with new posts on April 20. The blog will not go dark during the break; I’ll post an original short story on Monday, followed by old posts on the usual schedule (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) until TMTF resumes in a few weeks.

We’ll be back with new content on Monday, April 20. Thank you for reading!