Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: A New Hope - A Comic Adaptation

I went to a Christmas party tonight that had a white elephant gift exchange with a $2 limit. I decided to buy a $1 Star Wars notebook and draw my own comic adaptation of the original Star Wars. This is what I made.

Oh, uh, spoilers for Star Wars from 1977, I guess....

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Have Courage and Be Kind

I watched Cinderella (the 2015 live-action movie) for the second time tonight, now that it's out on blu-ray.

It's so good.

Something that's been lost from pop culture in recent years (or perhaps just ignored) is the unrelenting goodness and joy of modern fairy tales. Watch classic Disney movies and you get a neverending message of optimism: no matter how dark life becomes, there will always be a door to the light.

Most fairy tales made today are fraught with the grime of "realism;" the insistence that fiction, fairy tale or not, must reflect real life, not aspire to be better than it. Realistically, this has always been the case. Cynicism is not a new invention. But Disney films in the past always carried a more optimistic outlook. Snow White is revived by a magic kiss; Pinocchio is made into a real boy by the Blue Fairy; Cinderella's fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a stagecoach. Today, even Disney films have somewhat changed sides. In Frozen, Princess Anna is repeatedly told that she shouldn't decide to marry Prince Hans after only having just met him. This is, of course, perfectly valid and wise advice. Frozen puts familial love on a pedestal above romantic love-at-first-sight. Its messaging is a bit too precisely worded, however, to be anything other than a direct (if gentle) response of disagreement to Disney films past.

The 2015 live-action Cinderella, however, has a response of its own. In the new film, Cinderella is said to see the world "not always as it [is], but perhaps as it could be—with just a little bit of magic." One of the songs from the animated Cinderella (which also appears during the end credits of the new film) says, "no matter how your heart is grieving / if you keep on believing / the dream that you wish will come true." The new Cinderella continues a now-ongoing dialogue:

Cinderella (1950): If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.
Frozen: You can't marry a man you just met. (because he's probably evil)
Cinderella (2015): See the world not as it is, but as it could be—with just a little bit of magic.

That "little bit of magic" referenced is probably the deciding factor: to believe that the world is exactly as we see it with our eyes, or whether we choose to believe that there's something more at work.

Just to cover my argument bases, I'm not saying Anna should have married Prince Hans in Frozen. But Frozen also exists in a world completely unlike that of Cinderella. Anna is a princess who Hans only wants for her royal status; the prince in Cinderella wants to be with Cinderella even if it means giving up the advantages of marrying royalty. The situation is almost completely reversed. But the point stands that miracles don't happen on a daily basis, and good things rarely fall into place quickly and easily. Even Cinderella has to endure years of mistreatment by her stepmother and stepsisters before things turn around. So what does one do in a world that often seems to contradict hope in the unseen? Once again, Cinderella has an answer: "have courage and be kind."

(If you caught my there-will-always-be-a-door-to-light reference, you are wonderful)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Name All My Cats After...

 This morning I was at Barnes & Noble, browsing their collection of anime merch. They've really expanded their collectibles department; it's slowly taking over the store. I approve. I came across a little plush figure of Luna, Sailor Moon's mentor/pet cat.
Can't seem to find a very good picture of the specific plush I found, but it's basically perfect.
It stands on its own four legs, is well-detailed, etc. I saw it and immediately thought of Rachel, the biggest Sailor Moon fan I know. I mentally bookmarked the plush and decided to buy it for her sometime in the future.

Later in the evening at the regular Saturday night families get-together dealie, Rachel gave me a couple of neat Zelda phone straps that she'd randomly ended up with. They're pretty cool, especially this one:
It's from The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where Link shrinks down and meets the tiny Minish people.
So basically, the little figure is a life-size Minish. I am pleased. Also, he matches my Club Nintendo exclusive Zelda 3DS bag.
So after randomly getting a geek gift from Rachel, I thought, "...hmm. I think I need to go back to Barnes & Noble and get that Luna."

So I drove to Barnes & Noble and bought the Luna. While I was checking out, my cashier said, "what is that cat's name? Luna?"
I was surprised. This lady was in her mid-50s, very bookish-type, with a reasonably thick country accent.
"Yeah," I said, "it's Luna."
She nodded. "I have a cat named Luna."
"Really," I said, "did you name her because of Sailor Moon?"
"No," she shook her head. "I name all my cats after astronomical bodies."
I had to fight the urge to actually laugh. "Wow," I said.
"Yeah, I have Comet, and Jupiter, and I ran out of planets with all the other cats, so she had to be the moon."

So that happened and it was awesome. Rachel liked her plushie cat.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Home Alone: Wandering Lost

I've had the house all to myself for the last week while my mom's on vacation in the Colorado Rockies. It's been kind of a weird experience.

On one hand, it's been nice, having complete control over my own home life. Since my mom is a light sleeper and her room is right next to the living room, the kitchen, the laundry room, and the garage—the front door is also in earshot. To keep from waking her up, I pretty much have to keep to my own side of the house after she goes to bed (between 9 and 10pm on weekdays). No cooking, no watching TV in the living room, no doing laundry, and generally no leaving the house through the front door or garage. Also, when she's home on weekends, she basically parks on the couch or in the kitchen, meaning that I can't be in the main area of the house unless I want to watch QVC, the Bachelor, or NCIS with her—which, surprise surprise, I never want to do. Another thing: my mattress is horrendous. Seriously, it gives me back problems and ensures that I pretty much never sleep well. My mom's mattress, on the other hand, is pretty great. So yeah, having the house to myself is nice: I can watch Netflix in the living room whenever I want, do laundry at 10pm, cook a pizza at midnight, sleep in a bed that actually lets me sleep, et cetera.

On the flipside, though not exactly a negative, is the fact that I'm in charge of taking care of the house. I'm the one who has to feed and watch the cats (we have two cats now), I'm the one who does all the household chores, and I'm the one who decides what to spend grocery money on. It's responsibility, and it's not a bad thing. It's just different. I do wish I didn't have to take care of the cats—they're still rambunctious kittens but big enough to cause problems—because juggling them can be a hassle. But whatever. At least I'm not technically 100% alone in here.

That's the other thing. Being alone in the house is weird. I don't actually feel any more lonely than I usually do—though I sort of always feel lonely so maybe I've already hit terminal loneliness velocity—but it is weird to actually be the only one around. Normally if I'm at home and feel lonely, I feel like a victim of my circumstances. But when the house is empty and I'm the one in charge, so to speak, it feels like the responsibility for my loneliness rests with me. That it's my job to make social interaction happen rather than sitting alone at home.

So I see if any friends want to hang out. I don't ask that many people, because honestly I don't know that many people anymore that I can just call up and ask. Daniel is/was my only real go-to friend, though he's gonna be leaving for college in a month or so. I wonder what I'm gonna do then? Andrew is out of state at the moment, and we don't get to hang out much anyway. Sarah and Zach are gonna be leaving soon, but even they are kind of absent/busy a lot now anyway. Elisabeth and I aren't really friends anymore. I don't really know what to do, but I figure that I need to be making new friends by getting "out" into the world. On that note...

I went to Barnes and Noble earlier tonight to read some comics. I planned on reading some Batman, but ended up discovering this indie graphic novel called The Sculptor.
It's a super-thick (500 pages) one-off along the lines of Blankets. It's about a 26-year-old artist named David whose life is a terrible trainwreck: his family members have all died tragically, his few friendships are complicated, and his huge artistic potential is buried under layers upon layers of depression. I found it a little uncomfortable how much I felt like I could relate. David ends up meeting Death himself, and makes a deal: David will only live for another 200 days, but he can sculpt literally any material however he wants, making his sculptures essentially only limited by his imagination. Over those 200 days he learns about life and has an epic ton of drama. The sculpting superpower angle is actually one of the least important aspects of the story; it's really just about a man trying to figure out his life and what he wants out of it in the remaining 200 days he has left.

While I was reading, there were some 18-year-olds sitting next to me having fun, mostly trading opinions on books, movies based on books, each others' original writing, etc. I talked with them a little. I think they were the kind of people I might've been friends with if I'd been in their social circle (and maybe a little younger). It made me miss having friends like that to hang out with. But on the flipside, I caught one little exchange between them that I found interesting. Toward the end of the night, one of them said, "we have to promise each other that after I go to UNT, we'll get together someday and have lunch or something." The other two nodded and agreed. But the implication was that this group wouldn't be together for much longer. I'd spent a good portion of the night sitting next to them wishing that I still had friends like these three had each other—and yet even this group was soon going to break apart.

And I don't really know what lesson I should take from that. That nothing lasts forever? That it's always best to keep moving forward instead of holding onto people from the past?

If I had to guess, I'd say that I haven't been looking for friends lately so much as a family—the kind of people who won't go away, no matter what. Of course, then again, half of my family died in my teens anyway, so maybe even family isn't that permanent. But it should be, right? I don't want to be demanding, or to expect the impossible. Just as long as I don't have to sit inside the house by myself anymore.


As I decided on a title for this blog post ("Home Alone"—look at me, everybody, I'm clever...), I fell across the words "lost" and "wandering" (no doubt because of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), and the Tolkien part of my brain remembered the line "not all who wander are lost." I googled it to remember the full context, and realized that it's actually part of a larger poem that refers to Aragorn and his destiny:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king
Well. Isn't that nice.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Back in 2013, Man of Steel came out, and I was pretty excited about it. You may have noticed. Even when there were some pretty heavy criticisms of the movie, I defended it. When the Batman/Superman movie was announced, I was pretty ecstatic.

And now we have the first trailer:

And I hate it.

In the last couple years, I've watched Man of Steel maybe five or six times. Every single time I've seen it, I've liked it less and less. Now I can barely watch it at all; it grates on me to a point where I just don't enjoy any of it.

Here's the thing: Man of Steel is not a Superman movie. It's a movie that has Superman in it, but it's not a Superman story. It's an alien invasion movie, along the lines of Independence Day or Transformers, but way more serious and less fun.

Seriously, let's cross-examine Man of Steel's plot with the plot of the Transformers movies:

Man of Steel, and, from what's shown in the trailer, Batman v. Superman, essentially give us a morally gray universe and story. One where Superman isn't so much a hero as a powerful being, perhaps trying to do good, but in many ways seemingly failing.

And here's the thing: if Superman were real, in our world, these kinds of controversies absolutely would happen. It's a reasonably realistic view of the way things would work. But that runs contradictory to everything that Superman is.

Superman is a character made to challenge our views of what is possible or realistic. Not simply because he has superhuman powers, but because he dares to make a difference. In the 1930s, when Superman was created, problems like political corruption, economic devastation, and rampant crime were huge issues in the United States—far worse than today. Superman took those issues head-on. He helped save citizens whose apartments were literally falling apart above their heads. He stood in the path of gang violence. He shone a light upon corruption, and forced politicians to take personal responsibility for their actions. Even problems like domestic abuse weren't off the table.

It's been said (and rightly so) that at their core, superhero stories are adolescent power fantasies. That sounds juvenile and wrong, but it's a good thing at its core. It could be translated as, "what if I had the ability to fix society's problems and make the world a better place?" It's the idea that every young person has in his or her head, but most somehow lose in adulthood as the status quo of cynicism sets in.

And of course, that's the trick: we do have the power to change things; we only think we don't. We assume the world is broken in ways that can never be fixed, and we therefore don't even try. Every single problem that Superman faced in those early years is something that we can fix ourselves, as long as we're willing to try. Throughout his entire history, Superman has always encouraged others to do what they can to help in their own way, no matter how small. Superman himself—when written correctly—thinks of himself just like anyone else. At his core, he's "just a guy."

I've quoted this before, but I think it's poignant so I'll quote it again. Mark Waid, one of the greatest comics writers of all time—and one who claims to have read literally every Superman story ever written—once said this:

"Here is a guy with the power of a god, someone who can rule the world starting today if he desires. Who can have anything his heart longs for and get away with positively any deed imaginable, all without one single threat of reprisal. But with the totality of time and space subject to his slightest whim... he chooses only to help others. That is Superman's greatest power. When presented with the opportunity, he takes action to make things better — and that's a power that lies within us all."

Superman isn't a story about a powerful alien bringing simultaneous destruction and salvation upon mankind, nor is it a story of humanity's moral grayness. It's a story about making a difference; about improving our world through nothing more than our belief in what's right and our will to carry it out.

Ironically, there's something about the story seen in the Batman v. Superman trailer that I think perfectly captures my overall point. The world, as seen in the Man of Steel universe, is unaccepting of the idea that Superman is "just a guy" trying to do the right thing; they can only see him as a savior/destroyer. Man of Steel is the story of a world unwilling to let Superman be what he is. In Man of Steel, Superman never wanted the Kryptonians to attack Metropolis, and he was never directly responsible for any innocent deaths himself. He didn't want to kill Zod, and the fact that he was forced to practically broke him. And now in BvS, he's put on a pedestal that he undoubtedly never asked for. Like I said in the beginning, Man of Steel has Superman in it, but it's not a Superman movie. It's not a story of hope, or of positive change. It's a story of destruction, with a world angry at and afraid of an alien invader despite his best efforts. Batman, apparently, represents the voice of an angry humanity, ready to tear Superman down out of the sky.

Warner Bros. (and perhaps DC Comics in general) seem unwilling to actually let Superman be Superman in the way that he should be. Instead of meaningful stories of hope and "what might be," we're given darkly self-reflective stories that show humanity mired in its own fear.

If there is any hope in Batman v. Superman, however, it's that we know there's a battle. This is a chance for Superman to stand his ground and make a statement; to put his foot down and say "this is who I am; deal with it." And maybe when the dust clears, we'll have a story that proclaims "this is Superman." We'll have to see.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Christmas Vacation 2014

So my mom and I drove out to Green Bay to visit family for Christmas again. To be technical, it was the week after Christmas, so more like New Years with a side of late Christmas.

Leaving Haslet.

Mom didn't know I took this, but if she did she'd be very upset.

Just inside Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has these cool rock walls from where the roads were cut into the hills.

Eventually it started snowing. We didn't know it at the time, but despite the fact that we were headed to Green Bay, this was the most snow we'd see the whole trip.

This is the 2nd-story back porch view from my Aunt/Uncle/cousins' house. You can kind of tell in the below photo that the bay is frozen over.

The basement is pretty cool.

And these are my cousins. Left-to-right: Rhiannon (Rio) (15), Sierra (19), Colin (17), and Celine (20).

They got a new kitten. He apparently liked my leg.

Celine also got a chameleon recently. I persuaded her to name him Pascal after the chameleon from Tangled.

Rio watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Even super nice/fancy restaurants in Green Bay have Packers logos on their cups.

My uncle Mike and Sierra completely dead asleep.

I played a bunch of X-Wing Miniatures with Uncle Mike. As you might imagine, it's a strategy game using miniatures. Uncle Mike really really likes strategy games, so he got really intense with it.

Celine with the cat.

Celine and Sierra after a long day.

Everybody watching Oculus. Which I did not finish because stressful.

I guess in hindsight Celine was on her phone a lot.

There actually wasn't a whole lot that went on during this trip. Most everyone was busy doing their own thing, so I spent most of my time alone playing video games at the house. Not that I'm complaining, exactly. I wasn't sad/angry/disappointed. It just kinda turned out to be a "pretty decent" trip rather than the usual "that was awesome" trip it usually is. Maybe if we'd actually been there on Christmas day it would have been better. I dunno.
Probably not, actually, because most of my cousins are getting older now. Celine and Sierra are both adults, with their own lives. College, working, driving places, seeing friends, et cetera. It's not that they didn't want to spend time with us while we were there, it's just that they have lives now. I kinda always figured it would happen, and I sort of figured I'd be more sad about it when it did. But I think it almost feels normal, really.

On the way back down to Texas, my mom asked me if there was anything I still wanted to do or anywhere I wanted to go. I said the only place I really wanted to go to was Metropolis, Illinois, a tiny town that's famous as "the home of Superman." Stephanie went there on a road trip earlier in 2014, so it was sort of fresh on my mind. But it was way out of our way, so it wasn't really an option.

When I got home, I found a Christmas present package from Stephanie. Inside was a deck of playing cards and some green rock candy... from Metropolis, Illinois.

I can't even explain how awesome that was. It was like finding a piece of a dream in reality. Also, the timing was just too perfect.

So yeah. That was my trip. Pretty uneventful, but nice. Sorry it took me a week to post this, but I've been out of the blogging habit. Oh well. Hopefully that will change.