Sunday, March 17, 2019

Larry DiTillio: 1948-2019

Larry DiTillio was a prolific writer of television shows, books, and RPGs. He was responsible for some of the most memorable parts of the He-Man mythos, like the dragon Granamyr and the Lovecraftian Shokoti, not to mention being a co-creator of She-Ra. He was one of the showrunners for Babylon 5 early on, and Beast Wars throughout its groundbreaking run. 

In 1999, he had an AOL e-mail address. 

So did I. I was a sophomore in high school, and I'd been assigned to interview someone for my speech class. Being the giant cartoon dork that I am, and at the time still very heavily enmeshed in my He-Man fandom phase (I showed that same speech teacher some of my fanfic because of course I did), I reached out to Mr. DiTillio, who graciously agreed to answer my dumb, dorky questions. 

I sent him my questions. In my memory, I'm pretty sure there were some back-and-forths over e-mail, and I sent follow-up questions, but AOL lost everything from that time, so I have no way of going back to check. What I do remember is that the deadline was approaching, and I didn't have what I needed to put my speech together. I was pretty nervous about public speaking to begin with (my previous speech, an informational presentation on '80s music, had umm-ed and ahh-ed its way to being four times longer in reality than it was when I practiced), so I was naturally pretty bummed out about it. My parents convinced me to interview my aunt as a backup.

I don't know what happened behind the scenes. I think my dad e-mailed him, though I don't know what he said. I also think Mr. DiTillio was recovering from an illness at the time. I'm not sure how I pieced that together; I think Mr. DiTillio made a comment that my Dad really cared about me, or something along those lines, somewhere in the exchange. Regardless, he answered my questions in time for me to put together the speech, which I kicked off with a little video montage of TV theme show openings from He-Man and Beast Wars and Captain Power that I put together with a couple of VCRs. 

It was the first time I ever interacted with a professional writer. It meant a great deal to me then, as an aspiring writer, even if I couldn't accept his advice against fanfic at the time. 

I'm finding that it still means a great deal to me, as a still-aspiring writer. I can't remember ever being this emotional while writing a post on this blog throughout its long, punctuated history. 

Ever since then, I've always felt a little thrill when I saw "Larry DiTillio" pop up in the credits of a show I'm watching. Part of it came from that brief interaction, and part from my confidence that I was in for a treat. The man was a hell of a writer no matter what he was writing for. 

You can read my interview with him here, though years of site redesigns have proliferated some errors into the text. But to close, I asked him what advice he'd give to aspiring writers, to me: 
Simple. You need 4 things to be a writer - TALENT, DESIRE, PERSISTENCE and LUCK. With those 4 things you can go wherever you want.
BUT, there is something else. Don't look to trends or fads or "what is selling now" to tell you what to write about. Your heart and your head are what informs your work.
You must write the movie/TV show/book/cartoon/play etc., that YOU want to see and your characters must come out of your own experience and sensibility. That is all any aspiring writer brings to the table- human experience and reflection on same. Stories are always about human hearts in conflict, so look for what makes you and those around you human.
And good luck.
I always hoped I'd get a chance to meet him, to have him sign a toy or a video or a copy of his book Shotguns vs. Cthulhu which I think I'm finally going to get around to reading. I always hoped I'd get a chance to thank him for taking the time to make a fifteen-year-old nerd feel special. I didn't, and I guess I won't get to. 

But thanks all the same, Mr. DiTillio. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

On Marriage and Metafiction

Bat-Spoilers Ahead...

Friday, June 01, 2018

How Could You Stoop Solo?

So, lo: A Star Wars Story.

Spoilers Ahead!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

"Both Grunting": A Detailed Look at "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice"

In preparation for my viewing of Justice League, I decided to revisit Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I've been dithering with this post on and off for a month, and while I don't think it's gotten any shorter, at least I feel like it says all I'm going to need to say on the subject. Also, I added some pictures.

Anyway, you may recall that I did not care for the movie the first time around. I'm approaching this like I did with my Man of Steel rewatch that I did in preparation for that viewing: trying to focus on the positive, to find the movie that I've seen fans posting gifs of on Tumblr for a year and a half. To that end, I'm watching the Ultimate Edition, which I've heard is better than the theatrical cut.

Without further ado...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Justice is Done

I saw "Justice League" last night, was fine. 

Spoilers ahead.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It Disappoints

My experience with "It" has been a bit of a roller coaster. My dad's a big Stephen King fan, and I know the book was around the house when I was a kid, but I didn't see the TV miniseries until sometime in the last couple of years (and perhaps consequently, never had a fear of clowns). I only started digging into King's novels with 'Salem's Lot a year or two ago, so my knowledge of the story was limited to that miniseries and a lot of jokes about a child orgy scene.

So I went into the audiobook expecting that I wouldn't really like it, and I was pleasantly surprised. Meanwhile, I went into the new film with high hopes and high expectations—a far cry from where I was a week or two before. I mentioned on Twitter that I thought the new version of Pennywise fell into the same trap that so much modern horror falls into, making every monster scary in and of itself, rather than having the horror come from placing this common thing in a scary context. In short, it looked a bit like Rob Zombie's Pennywise, and I thought that was an emblematic error.

But reviews have been largely positive, and from people I generally respect with regard to horror movies, so I figured I was wrong. I went into "It" expecting to be wowed.

I wasn't. Or, well, I guess I was, but only at the breadth and depth of wasted opportunities.

Spoilers ahead for "It" (2017), and "It" (1990) and It (1986), I suppose, as well.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ender Bender 13: Chapter 8, "Rat" (Part 4)

Three years later and I'm still in "Rat."

As you might have noticed, I gave up on Ender's Game some time ago. But all the talk about Ready Player One and the terrible excerpts from it brought to mind Card's overrated masterwork. So I went back and re-read the posts I wrote, then re-read the book up to where I stopped, and while I think there were a couple of places where I was unfair, I think I stand by my thoughts. This book is Not Good, but I feel compelled to follow it through to the end. At least for now.

So I sat down to write the next post in the series, having finished Chapter 8, but apparently I started writing this post sometime between the last post and now. So what you're about to read is a collaboration between myself and a past version of myself, the sweet summer child who didn't know what horrors would be wrought by the years 2016 and 2017. Enjoy!

Fun fact: this book has fifteen chapters. I guess that makes this a little over halfway, right? That's something.

So Ender and his dwindling group of friends practice, and again their practice is attended by older boys from other armies. Instead of cataloging who's present, they shout abuse, which begins to wear on the launchies.

"Listen to them," Ender said to the other boys. "Remember the words. If you ever want to make your enemy crazy, shout that kind of stuff at them. It makes them do dumb things, to be mad. But we don't get mad."

It's pretty good advice as long as your enemies are young children who speak the same language as you. But we're in a space station full of young children who are mandated by law to speak the same language, so no problem, right? It's not like there's some inhuman alien menace that these kids might someday try to cow into submission by shouting playground taunts at or anything.

Shen gets the younger kids reciting the insults like mantras, which naturally upsets the older boys, who jump in for a real fight. Some of the kids are frozen and can't fight back, but that doesn't mean they can't be useful!
Ender and Alai decided to throw a frozen soldier in the face of an enemy. The frozen Launchy struck helmet first, and the two caromed off each other.
I had to look up "caromed" to make sure it wasn't a typo, and based on the definition I found, it still might be. Looks like Card consulted a thesaurus rather than a dictionary for that one, or maybe got a kickback from one of those SAT vocabulary book publishers. Anyway, glad that frozen kid was wearing his helmet, hope it's well-cushioned!

Naturally, this escalates the battle. But even though the other boys are older and more experienced, they don't know how to work together like Ender's ragtag group under his expert command. They position themselves to maneuver around the older kids, who have blundered out into the middle of the arena where they have no cover and no ability to move under their own power, which says wonderful things about the quality of training at this facility, doesn't it? You know, the advanced future military training at the elite military training center that Card has presented as training soldiers better than modern militaries with their useless marches and drills and learning not to get caught out in the open and surrounded?

Ender goes for the sacrificial move, heading toward the frozen kid he'd just used as a weapon, who was no longer frozen. This moment makes it fairly clear how little we've been told about how this whole "freezing" mechanic works; I understand not wanting tedious technobabble infodumps, but there's a middle ground between that and "looking like you're making up the rules as you go along." Some authors can pull that off well, but so far Card is not one of them.

As the enemies come after Ender, he notices that Stilson is with them. Stilson, you may recall, is the bully that Ender beat to a pulp back at the beginning of the book. Ender then, immediately, notices that Stilson isn't with them.

Yeah, I don't know either. Like, there's no edit here, no ellipsis:
Ender was startled to see Stilson's face among them. Then he shuddered and realized he had been wrong.
The sentence adds nothing to the moment; the next bit is Ender realizing that this is just like the situation with Stilson, then outlining details of the situation (there's no leader, these boys are much larger, they're in zero-g) that are totally different from the fight with Stilson.

It would be one thing if Stilson were actually there, brought up by the same administrators who want to put Ender through all sorts of hell to make him a better soldier. It would be another thing if Ender had a flashback, or just noticed the similarities, but its portrayal here, with our omniscient narrator saying that Ender saw a thing, then that he didn't, feels like cheap manipulation or bad writing or both. It's the Goosebumps chapter ending scare that I brought up in a previous one of these posts, but without the page turn to make it effective.

One of the boys catches Ender, who kicks at him hard enough to tear his ear. This, of course, causes Ender to go full-on Buster Bluth for causing other people pain.
Then he breaks the kid's nose by headbutting him.

Ender naturally beats all of the older kids, winning him the admiration of the other launchies, who praise him with their awful, at-least-a-little-racist slang. Also, one of the older kids was Bonzo, Ender's old commander who had hit him a couple of times already, which I guess wasn't relevant before or during the fight.

Later that night, Ender checks on his assailants, finding that their injuries have been chalked up as accidents, meaning nobody will get punished for the skirmish. Then he plays the fantasy game on his computer, where it shows him a picture of his brother in a mirror. I'm pretty sure this means that Orson Scott Card invented Creepypasta.

Ender learns that other commanders approve of his practice sessions and send some older kids down to join them, and act as muscle against the bigger kids. He can't get the game out of his head, though, and wonders what the military wants from him. Also, for a paragraph here at the end, it lapses into first-person narration for no discernible reason.

So, that's the end of "Rat," but I wanted to bring up a couple of things I noticed on this read-through that I missed before. First, when Ender's hearing Dink's conspiracy theory about the Buggers, Ender says "I'm not like my father," interrupting Dink in what seems like a meaningful way. And maybe it would be, except we don't actually know what Ender's father is like. We know that his father is a Polish Catholic who distanced himself from the religion but practiced in secret, like Ender's mother, and that's about it. This feels like it's meant to be a significant line, an important thing to say, but it tells us nothing because it's a comparison to an unknown quantity.

Also in this conversation, Dink says "Your grandparents weren't born yet when Mazer Rackham wiped [the Buggers] out." Which means that the big war was several generations ago. All that would be fine and great, except for that bit where Ender said his "great great grandpa would have sold" Alai's grandfather. Did...did slavery make a comeback? Are Alai and Ender meant to be incredibly advanced, highly precocious children except when it comes to the perception of the passage of time and how many generations it's been since Emancipation?

Or was Card just working out his best comeback for someone trying to tell him he said a racist thing?

Saturday, April 08, 2017


Seems like just yesterday that I was dusting the blog machine off to say farewell to one of my favorite long-running comics (and other stuff) blogs, Dave Ex Machina, and remarking how a lot of the bloggers from those old days left for bigger outlets. In reality, it was just over a year ago, and that post is still on the front page, if that gives you any indication about where I'm at with comics blogging.

One of those bigger outlets was Comics Alliance, where you could find Chris Sims, David Brothers, and David Wolkin, some of the comics blogging voices I most enjoyed following. Through CA, I discovered Chris Haley and Curt Franklin, I enjoyed thoughtful pieces by Matt Wilson and Ziah Grace and Kate Leth and Caleb Goellner and Andy Khouri and Joe Hughes and J. Caleb Mozzocco and David Uzumeri and Jennifer de Guzman and Dylan Todd and James Leask and Betty Felon and Luke Brown and Janelle Asselin and Andrew Wheeler and Katie Schenkel and Kieran Shiach and Elle Collins and pal Charlotte Finn and goddamn legend Laura Hudson and probably a dozen others I'm forgetting. It's the only comics website I have linked in my browser toolbar, and I still click it like four times a day without thinking about it.

Comics Alliance was different in a familiar way. The main page of Comics Alliance never read the way that the main pages of Newsarama or CBR do. It felt like a blog, with regular long-form posts on interesting and important subjects, alongside long-running features by creative bloggers with distinctive voices. Where other comics news outlets were shuttering blogs and shifting hard into news content, Comics Alliance went the other way, even covering news with biting commentary. It was this incredible Voltron of the things and people I loved about old-school comics blogging all in one place.

More than that, Comics Alliance cared. It cared about the people making comics, it cared about the people going to conventions and comic shops, it cared about the people reading comics, it cared about what stories mean, who characters are, why representation matters, and it made you care about those things too. CA drew a lot of flak from the worst parts of the Internet for being unrepentant social justice warriors and wading into politics. I spent some time on the old Wayback Machine to get the image up above, wanting to get back to the earliest page of Comics Alliance as I knew it. I didn't succeed, but along the way I saw articles about superheroes and sexuality, articles about the culture of comic shops, and articles about Chip Zdarsky. That makes for a pretty consistent eight years of blogging.

The people who made up Comics Alliance aren't gone, and many of the ones I mentioned have transferred to other projects already. It's a damn shame that talented, good-hearted people lost a source of income, and it's a damn shame that comics media lost a major source of thoughtful, socially-minded commentary. There are other outlets with similar worldviews, but nothing quite fills the niche that Comics Alliance filled. I'm going to miss that, but it's the little things I'll miss the most.

I'll miss David Uzumeri's Morrison annotations, even if it's been awhile since he did them. I'll miss Chris Sims's "Hedging Your Bets" and "Ask Chris," which I looked forward to every week. I'll miss Elle Collins's "Cast Party," which was always fun and thoughtful. I'll miss Collins and Katie Schenkel's "Together Breakfast" Steven Universe recaps, which I always went to right after catching an episode. I'll miss Charlotte Finn's "Lost in Transition," which didn't get a chance for enough entries. I'll miss Kieran Shiach's "This Magazine Kills Fascists," which was so important for the current political climate. I'll miss all the articles I was holding out on—the TV show recaps for series I haven't caught up on, like Riverdale and Supergirl, Charlotte's Transmetropolitan series and Sims's old Transformers series, which I haven't managed to read yet. I hope some of these series manage to continue in one place or another.

I don't know how to end this. I've realized recently that I'm not good with things ending. I've been reading the same comics and books, watching the same TV shows, playing with the same toys, since I was a kid. Those were the constants throughout my life. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I realized recently that the things that ended for me most commonly were friendships. I don't know if that's why I can't finish things or get hit so hard by things ending. But the end of Comics Alliance feels kind of like that. Like I've lost a friend.