Up, Up, and Away, My Friends

In 2014, about four or five years ago I’d been in Canada for a long time. I hadn’t left the country since about 2009. My passport had long since expired, along with my formerly independent student life, and I ended up living at home with my parents again. At the time, I didn’t really have an excuse to travel. I had few others that wanted me to visit at that point in time, and those that did were in other places in their lives entirely. I basically had no reason to go anywhere.

That changed in 2014. For the first time in about six years, I had an excuse to visit the United States. I went through all the ridiculousness of filling out a whole new passport, including going back to the office, and having to explain to them that I needed it sooner so I’d have it for my trip. That began the first of my four year Greyhound commuting trips: from Canada to the United States. And, you know what? I was happy. I was happy to see the windmills, the grass, even horses, the change from Canadian to American streetlights, and even the feeling of relief of getting through the usual customs routine. Hell, I was lucky back then in that I didn’t miss my connecting bus: that hell would happen later.

When I was there, amongst many other things that first time in six years in the United States, I went to a place called the Dawn Treader Book Shop, in Ann Arbor. In it where so many different vintage science-fiction and fantasy books: so much so they crowded the aisles in, well, piles. I remember that day well. I’d eaten a really good lunch, and here I was browsing these different books. It was a warm, sunny summer afternoon, and anything felt possible. Life was still complicated, and I knew I’d have to go back home eventually and all that entailed, but I was there, and I was happy: possibly for the first time in almost two years at that point.

I almost didn’t get anything at that Shop. I tend not to buy much of anything for myself when I travel. Part of it is because I always try to limit my baggage to carry-on luggage, because I don’t need more complication in my life. Another is, really, I can get most of what I want online or through the mail. But then, before I left, I found that the place also had other media. Namely, there were DVDs. And while most of them didn’t interest me, I found this.

And I couldn’t resist. The old 1940s Fleischer cartoons of Superman: a series created by two Canadians who came to the United States to make something new for themselves, and ended up creating a legend. There was something, I don’t know, auspicious about that. I like Superman. I’ve mentioned it before. I suppose some people who know me might be surprised that I like his character. I mean, many might tag me as a Marvel child, or a Batman fanatic. Certainly, these days and when I grew up, I grew to appreciate Wonder Woman.

But Superman had been with me since my earliest childhood. I had a poster of him on my old closet door, and I Am A Super Kid frame with the younger version of myself on it. Maybe I’d felt like, on some level, finding this was all about feeling reborn in a way. Like I was beginning some kind of new life, and the vistas were not dark and gritty like a lot of Revisionist comics out there, but golden like the Reconstructionist comics afterwards: stories that drew from the original creative well, but brought a whole new level of maturity and heart to them. Like something you love growing up with you: a thing I think a lot of jaded, more cynical people do not completely understand beyond deriding a sense of nostalgia.

I thought I found an artifact of freedom, perhaps. I kept it in its Dawn Treader paper bag, and took it home with me. It was easier getting back home through Customs than going through, and when I eventually came to Toronto again and its convoluted mess of city-roads, I went to the Silver Snail and picked up Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, and Matt Hollingworth’s We Stand on Guard.

Basically, the premise of this is that in the future America would go to war against Canada for its supply of fresh water in our ice. I thought it was ridiculous, in that it didn’t quite capture my own experience of being a Canadian citizen — whatever the hell that is given how diverse we all are — but I was entertained, and the characters were believable. But what attracted me to this comic, initially, was one of the rebels talking about the tattoo he had of Superman. The other rebels hated the Canadian that wore it, thinking they were a traitor for wearing an American icon. But he explained that Superman had not only become an international symbol of hope, optimism, and inspiration but he had been made by Canadians. Hell Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel’s creative partner, was the relative of Frank Shuster who had been the comedy partner of my cousin the Canadian comedian Johnny Wayne. Degrees of separation, I know, but it struck a chord with me, and I got the first issue just for this tenuous connection alone.

I remember, on the subway ride back from Dundas Street East, reading this issue and recalling how uncomfortable I’d felt under the scrutiny of the American border agents, and the feeling — having traveled to America for the first time by myself as an adult — of it actually being another country. It wasn’t Canada. It wasn’t where I grew up. No matter how much television I’d seen about it, or visited it as a child, I would never be American. The closest I’d be would be North American, and what does that ultimately mean in the end? But I kept thinking: America and Canada being enemies like the nations had been in the past, during the Colonial and Victorian eras? It was silly. And yet … I couldn’t really shake that feeling: that what if our longtime friend became something else for other, unforeseen purposes? Was it conceivable that such a friend could become a stranger or, worse, an enemy? And what would we do? What would I do?

For five years and over seven months, I never opened my Superman Adventures box. For ages, it sat on my desk in its Dawn Treader white paper bag, and I never took it out. I wanted to save watching this old cartoons for … something. For some special occasion. I just didn’t know what that might be. It was something special to me. Something golden that on some level, perhaps, I thought I could preserve forever in that crinkled paper. And I thought, I would be able to go back to the Dawn Treader one day. I’d be able to relive that moment, or have others like it.

But I never did go back to the Dawn Treader. The closest I came was watching the old BBC adaptation of the book, the third book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, also from my childhood and part of what formed me as a person — of my heart, from YouTube while I was there. And despite everything, I was happy then. I was happy, until of course, I wasn’t.

This was a year or so after the American Elections when pretty much everything changed. That time was gone now. This was reality. All of it. That sunlight still exists somewhere as starlight, distant, in another galaxy that perhaps Superman might be able to travel to if he actually existed. But it isn’t here anymore, and it hadn’t been for a long time.

I don’t know how long Superman Adventures sat on my desk. Even the paper around it seemed unreal, as though despite what it said I could have just got it anywhere. I took the bag and put it away, where I didn’t have the heart to see it anymore. Then it sat under a bunch of other DVDs I didn’t watch. I got busy with life, and chaos, and shadows, but I knew it was still there. It was still waiting.

Finally, today — or I should say last night — having had too little sleep, I took the box out. And I realized, then, that it was time. It was time to do this on my own terms.

So I watched all seventeen episodes in one go. The discs were basic. There were no special features, and only poor attempts at titles screens on both volumes. There was no restoration, beyond perhaps the basic, or digital remastering. But I didn’t care about any of that. I had to see them. I had to see them through.

Most of the episodes were self-contained and basic. When I read up on the animation style later, I realized just how avant garde it was for the time: how they used some rotoscoping — tracing live action figures from film footage — and how animators inexperienced in drawing, and illustrators inexperienced in animating came together and made this work. The detail in the background is excellent, and you can see all the care that went into it. And the cartoon animals, still possessing anthropomorphic flare, remind me of Disney, even though I have to remember that Fleischer Studios also created Felix the Cat by that logic.

The first Volume dealt with Superman fighting mad scientists, and bank robbers. Lois Lane gets herself into a lot of trouble, and takes a lot of risk while always banking on Superman to save her, and outclass Clark Kent with her scoop while he always seems to look at the screen, breaking the fourth wall with the expression of “We all know I am the best though, right? I’m the real star here.” Volume Two, which contains episodes made after the Fleischer brothers were removed and the company making them renamed Famous Studios, has a lot of those same elements and … some unfortunate — read racist caricature stereotype — particulars that happen when you are essentially creating WWII propaganda. Nevertheless, given history — and contemporary circumstances — it is fitting that these episodes be mentioned, and not forgotten. I mean, can you just imagine the media that will be created after our time if we all survive it?

They were all, like I said, self-contained episodes, and Superman almost always rescues Lois Lane, she writes the story, and he saves the day. Patterns always repeat themselves. There is no Lex Luthor, possibly no Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White is just a person that introduces stories to his reporters. For some reason Superman was adopted by an orphanage instead of Ma and Pa Kent, and apparently the Fleischers were the ones that gave Superman actual flight instead of accelerated jumping: meaning that they first introduced it, and later DC Comics adapted it into their own comics … something I had no idea about until I read up on it.

I also read up on the fact that … all the episodes are online, and public domain. In other words, as far as I know I never needed the DVDs to see these anyway. I don’t know what that says, really, when you put it into the philosophical and retrospective context with which I had framed the whole thing. Perhaps, there isn’t any meaning at all, to any of this except for what you put into it.

I am glad I watched them, though, in the way I did. The last two days of the year, of 2018, where so much changed for me just seemed appropriate. I am definitely in a different place now than I was even a year ago. Perhaps this isn’t the New Year’s post that you were expecting. To be honest, neither was I. But sometimes, while some patterns and mythic cycles are eternal or beloved — and you can learn from them — others become tropes or stereotypes — tired and worn sentiments — from which you just need to break away. Perhaps, one day, that light will come back, or another light in another form. I haven’t gone to the United States since that time, and I do not see myself doing so in the near-future, but there are other places to go, and other things to find.

Perhaps, in the end, I should take Superman’s catch phrase — the one in this title — into account. Until then, my friends.

Whatever else, I am still a Super Kid.

SilSol: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Here is my second, and last Dark Crystal character sketch. I made a lot of speculation as to which urSkek SkekSil and urSol came from: especially from the second volume of The Dark Crystal Creation Myths. To me, this writing represents what I could have done, and what I did actually do. I hope you will enjoy it and appreciate this in the spirit that it is meant. 

SilSol flew through the lines of stars and suns with his brothers as they finally left Thra through the Crystal of Truth. His own mind, though clearer, now was no less blurred as they passed the point beyond space and time and perception.

He looked down at his form: such as it was now. It was a brighter orange: almost a bright white light. Once, UngIm would have told him that a white corona symbolized a process of healing. And he, above the rest of his brethren, shone the whitest of all.

Even now, travelling with the others, it was hard to think of Thra: of the place of their banishment. He remembered wanting to leave and rejoin his people so badly. He hovered in the skies far across the ocean and sang in a place where he thought no one else would hear them. To the Gelfling people, he taught them songs of growth, and peace, and love. But to himself, singing to an audience that no longer listened to him, that he was no longer a part of by virtue of being a “he,” of being an individual, he sang of loss and loneliness and the clinging to of false hope as temporary staving off of despair. But it had been a deceptive salve, one that ate away at his very being, that stained his reddening form with a spreading blackness … it had proven just as corrosive and as ineffectual a balm as essence, as vliya

Deep regret flowed and passed through SilSol’s ethereal form. He had not known the mariner Gyr had been there that day, listening to his song. It hadn’t been the Gelfling’s fault. It had been none of their faults. In his spite he thought them primitive savages and only Aughra was considered even remotely equal to his kind. But she had been wiser than he in many ways, though he did not spend nearly as much time with her as TekTih had, and the peoples of Thra had their own songs, their own rhythms and variations. It was the very opposite of the former unity and symmetry—the perceived perfection—of the communal consciousness of his own race. Once, long ago, SilSol knew his music had been as precise and perfect—as crystalline—as mathematics and the physics of the cosmos. But he had split away down a quantum path into something else, like the rest of his brethren and he hadn’t been able to find that perfect note again, that rhythm that he needed, that he craved for balance …

Is there no place in all the realms of the Crystal where a single being will show me compassion!?

It wasn’t even Raunip’s fault that he had finally unleashed his anger and bitterness. That one had his own imbalance, his own lack of connection with himself to deal with and SilSol had not envied him. In the end, SilSol blamed Thra, the place that graciously took them in, for this sense of loss: though the fault, he knew now, lay within himself.

Dark Heart, Raunip named him, once.

Is there truly no love for me in all creation!?

The Crystal, and Thra, and the Universe had answered him. They had always spoken to him. He just did not hear it. He chose not to hear it. Like the Chanter that he had been, he closed his hearing to everything but his own song, letting it play around him and drown everyone out, let it deafen the world, let himself become deaf …

He knew now that his brothers had been the same: had denied their darker impulses, had secretly hoped to purge them with the light of the Crystal, to go home … SilSol had just been the catalyst to ignite and rip apart their wilful ignorance.

But it did nothing to assuage his guilt. Better urSkeks than he: so many others including TekTih and the great SoSu passed on fragmented while he, the catalyst that made the Crystal divide them, remained. He recalled the Division vaguely: remembering the scorn of his brothers and their hatred of his one discordant note: for the vestige, that grating reminder of what he had cost them, of what they had lost and he had taken from them when they were all whole. He went around and used that crooning voice, that one note, to tell lies and ruin lives … At the same time, he recalled the Valley and the peace, though unearned, that he had finally found for his soul there, for the love he had of the planet he once disparaged, and the time he spent singing with his brothers, with the Gelfling Jen that was like their child …

As these fragmented memories unified, the pain in SilSol eased and flowed out of his body into the darkness of space, into the streaming of his brothers’ light. Even fragmented, he taught Jen his songs, and his selfish part—the part that caused so much pain—guided him to where he needed to go. Unity and symmetry won out at the end of the day, disparate notes becoming a single song again.

Around them, as they continued to travel, his brothers began to sing. UngIm, at their forefront where SoSu had once been, beckoned him forward. SilSol found his light becoming a brighter white and gold again. He understood that he would heal—that they all would heal and had healed—together. With this thought, this solace, his two voices—become one once more—joined the rest of the chorus as they, all of them, continued on their final and eternal journey together and whole again.

Urskeks

Jen: A Dark Crystal Vignette

Two years ago now, I immersed myself in the world of Thra: in an attempt to write a novel for The Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering Contest. Every day I would write notes on my novel outline in my journal while reading the old novelization and the visualized encyclopedia. Before this, I had only taken smaller creative challenges that I displayed on this very Blog. But taking this on, even though I didn’t end up creating a novel, actually helped to save my sanity and cultivate my own creative energy. 

Still, sometimes I regret the fact that I didn’t write that Gelfling Gathering novel or the short story I had planned. To be honest, though, sometimes I’m just sad the contest itself ended: with all the interactions on the Community Forums and the possibilities of making myself a part of this world. During this time I wrote a few story sketches on the Board: to immerse myself and my writing into that world. Basically, I wanted to see if I was capable of writing Dark Crystal stories. So in honour of that special time in my life, I want to present to you one of the first story sketches that I made: from the point of view of our favourite Gelfling Jen in light of everything I learned afterwards. I hope you will enjoy this, my friends for I know I did, in writing it. Take care. 🙂 

Jen watches the luminous beings—the urSkeks—as they ascend into the air, through the Crystal, dissipating into mist, into space, and time and energy, and all the other elements and concepts that his Mystic teachers and friends attempted to instill in him until they were gone completely: as though they had never been there to begin with … as though they had never come to Thra at all.

But Jen knows better. The gleaming palatial white of the Castle that houses the Crystal of Truth—once blackened and warped by the filth and depravity of the Skeksis—is a testament to the beings that were here: that did all of these things. He sees the inscriptions on the newly clean walls: with art and frescoes rivalling that of the ruins of the Gelfling cities … so many cities … so many people … so many of his own kind gone.

UrSu had known. All of the Mystics—the urRu—had known. Even when they taught him, he sensed their collective weariness—their awful guilt—and a few moments ago he realized why.

Jen looks out through the window at the sky. The three suns have passed other another. The Great Conjunction has ended: not to begin again for another one thousand trine. And the wake of those three mingled suns leaves Jen with much to think about.

The urRu and the Skeksis had been one people: two halves of the same being.

His Master had always instilled into him that everything has symmetry and balance: and that when balance was broken, Nature—abhorring a vacuum—would adapt accordingly. UrAc, the Scribe of his people, of his brothers, once showed Jen a myth that his long-departed brother—who Jen now remembers as urLii the Storyteller—used to tell in which a race of great and powerful beings challenged the gods and for their hubris were torn asunder into two peoples. They would spend the rest of their existences trying to live and yet always searching for their other halves. UrAc had written this tale down: as one of the many chronicles that urSu let him see when he was learning to read, and the irony of this story does not escape him now.

He saw them. After the Skeksis cut down Kira, even after he saw her graceful, beautiful winged form crumple to the ground reaching for him and he slammed the burning shard into the Dark Crystal with a righteous fire in his veins, he saw his teachers come into the Chamber. They surrounded the Crystal and he saw them … He saw the light refract from the whitened Crystal blazing as they drew the panicking Skeksis towards them.

The usurpers of Thra were so afraid: as their moment of triumph became one of their greatest fear. It was as though the Skeksis feared death and, in a way, that is exactly what happened. Jen saw that even the Skeksis that tried to trick him and Kira, become drawn into the waiting arms of urSol. The urRu had always been so hunched over, so old, so humble but when they came before the restored Crystal they towered powerfully … majestically over the quailing Skeksis. They were beautiful as their thoughts and considerations finally followed through to definitive action.

The words of the long-dead Storyteller flashed through Jen’s mind of two becoming one again. So much more happened after that. The urSkek—the one that had ordered the Garthim and urIm the Healer both—told him so little, but enough. One mistake had cost them their unity, one mistake had cost the lives of the Gelfling people, and almost the life of Kira. But then … the urSkek sang and his brothers sang with them. It was urSol’s chant and the deep resonant hum of the other Mystics only with another chord running through the sound, a high pitch to match the heavy thrum. For a few moments Jen thought he had heard what was once the squealing “mmm” of the Skeksis he met before, which he now saw as just a broken fragment, a base echo of the brilliance surrounding him as his heart glowed against Kira’s body: clutching it for dear life.

And as the music filled him, it was like the dreamfast … only different. There was no touch of skin, but it went beyond that. He saw stars and a crystalline world, and the urSkeks, Thra in the beginning, Aughra younger and his people all whole and spreading throughout the world … the urSkeks aligning crystals to make the Crystal brighter, cultivating it … the Great Division, the inhibitions of the urSkeks turned into the Skeksis and their horror, the compassion and conscience of the urRu powerless to do anything but protect and pain, and sorrow, and joy, and peace and yearning manifesting into one place through another people entirely: Jen’s people … Jen and …

The joy of Kira stirring against his breast would never leave Jen as long he lived. And that was when he saw the glimmers of the urRu through the strange and ageless forms in front of him, the active power that was once embodied by Skeksis made into something positive again.

And now they are gone: the urSkeks leaving them with the mysteries of the Castle and the Crystal: with hope. Kira is at Jen’s side: stirring against him. Jen realizes he isn’t angry at the urRu for not telling him. They did in their way. But he wonders. What of the urRu and the Skeksis that died before the Conjunction: fragmented and separate? Were they consigned to a void? To an abyss of nothingness? Did the gentle and inquisitive urTih cease to exist? And what of urSu: the wise Master that shared his fate with a dying corrupted Emperor: who Jen now knew had finally let himself die so that he could succeed this day?

But then Jen remembers. He recalls his Master telling him about another life, and Aughra saying that urSu could be anywhere. Jen smiles and closes his eyes: basking in the light of the Crystal and Kira by his side: for he now remembers another lesson. For just as urSu once told him that Nature abhors a vacuum and that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, the urSkek also taught him another lesson.

Everything is connected.

It is with this thought that Jen knows he and Kira can build again: and that there is again, finally, hope.

Jen and Kira

It’s Always Halloween At Five Nights At Freddy’s

“And under this carnival disguise the heart of an old youngster who is still waiting to give his all. But how to be recognized under this mask? This is what they call a fine career.”
— Jean Anouilh, The Waltz of the Toreadors

Freddy Fazbear

My first disclaimer, right off the bat, is that I haven’t played any of Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s games. However I have been following them and, specifically, the overall story line.

The reason that the story behind Five Nights intrigues me so much is due to my own particular interests. Some of you who have been following Mythic Bios for a while know that I am absolutely fascinated with a special kind of creepypasta. You know the one: a short story told through different forms of media that become viral memes which proliferate through the Internet and user imaginations in the most strange and disturbingly wonderful ways. At the same time, I am a very nostalgic child of the 1980s and 1990s: especially when it comes to 8-bit and 16-bit video games.

In addition to all of this, for a while now I’ve been following the work of Kris Straub: the creator of Ichor Falls, Broodhollow, and the infamous Candle Cove. And, frankly, if I didn’t know any better I would say that in a lot of ways Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s feels like stories that Kris Straub would create if he were working in the medium of video games and playing with late twentieth century children’s nostalgia and urban legends eroded by adult decay and a wickedly self-aware sense of humour. At the very least, it taps into a similar place of childhood nightmare fuel from which Straub’s horror work and Christopher Howard Wolf’s (SlimeBeast)’s Abandoned by Disney series also spring.

FNAF Gameplay

As it is, Cawthon takes a multimedia approach to his interactive storytelling. For the most part, each Five Nights game is a point-and-click endoskeleton requiring exacting precision tempered by a slow-burning sense of paranoia and and an ever increasing level of danger: all an attempt to survive long enough before faulty spring-traps snap down in a jump-scare that will leave your peace of mind — in pieces — for at least a night or two.

But then there is the rest of the game’s material — its costume — to consider. There are, after all,  the masks that you’re forced to wear, and those that stare at you right in the face before the long dark.

You have the newspaper clippings on the corners of your office. There are the children’s drawings on the walls of the pizzeria which you have to watch through faulty security cameras. You have an answering machine from your supervisor telling you about the dangers of walking animatronics in the night, and then more ominous references such as “The Bite of ’87.”

Then we get into the second disclaimer of this article: namely spoilers. You play this game from a second-person perspective: working six hours at night a week in a pizzeria to keep an eye on the place, but aside from seeing your character’s name on a pay cheque — should you survive to the end of at least two games — you never see your face. In fact, you don’t see any human faces in any of the three games. The only faces you get to see are those of the animatronics, the walking large, cuddly, worn, and mouldering robotic children’s mascots at night as they try to stuff your sad naked flesh “endoskeleton” into an empty suit full of pistons and wires.

FNAF Gameover

Even your supposed ally, Phone Guy, is just a voice on an answering machine: and the person who is responsible for all of this is a loathsome 8-bit purple sprite.

And here is where I think Cawthon’s genius truly shines. In the second and third games of the series, Cawthon institutes a platform game element. These mini-games are often considered reminiscent of those created for the 8-bit Atari 2600. You would totally think that with their blocky graphics and crude sound effects couldn’t be taken seriously. Of course, even if you somehow disregarded the resurgence and adoption of the 8-bit aesthetic by contemporary independent game designers, you would still be dead wrong.

FNAF Death Mini-Game 2

Between the “Death Mini-Games” of Five Nights 2 and the hidden mini-games akin to easter-eggs in Five Nights 3 — morbidly reminiscent of Warren Robinett’s Adventure and the Pac-Man level 256 perfect score glitch respectively — the mythos of Five Nights becomes more fleshed out.

While the animatronics in the point-and-click parts of the games come from a grim place where neoteny — child-like traits often incorporated into exaggerated cartoons — is combined with the uncanny valley — the notion of discomfort caused by an object that unsuccessfully tries to imitate a living being are terrifying because of how realistic they are made to look, they are creepy in a different way when rendered into pixel form. They are like 8-bit hieroglyphics, allowing you to explore the horror with a detached and almost dream-like manner. There is just something incredibly archetypal and gloomy about the graphics of the games that brings out its dark subject matter: especially when you consider that they are traditionally from a child’s medium of entertainment.

FNAF Death Mini-Game

The Death Mini-Games of Five Nights 2 introduce you to the Purple Man and his role in what might be wrong with the animatronics that are attempting to kill you while, at the same time, giving you a little more background into the development of Freddy’s pizzeria and the animatronic characters therein. And in Five Nights 3, instead of having to die in order to gain random access to mini-games, you can voluntarily search for the other mini-games to perhaps change the fate of certain characters in question.

FNAF Game

I think there are two elements that I truly appreciate from the combination of mini-games, newspaper articles, and answering machine information. First, there is what Cawthon is not telling you. There is what he implies and what he leads you, as the player and viewer, to put together. Cawthon even goes further in the advertisements for his games: implanting secret codes and clues into his messages. He makes you do all the work and all of the speculating: somehow making the dread and horror that much worse.

After all, there is a particularly challenge in another form containing the horror genre: how can you keep building up tension in the story when you reveal what the monsters look like? In addition, you certainly don’t want to reveal everything about the horror in the story or it becomes expository and rote. You have to keep a little bit of mystery in horror so that you always ask yourself why: while a part of you is always at least partially afraid of the possible answers.

These are the kinds of elements that inspire fans: that made this series into something of a viral meme on par with creepypastas. There are fan-made stories, games, animations, art, and trailers based on the archetypes that Cawthon creates. A Five Nights at Freddy’s movie is in the works and there is even speculation that Freddy’s is a real restaurant somewhere: probably based off Chuck E. Cheese’s. Certainly the mascot costumes, pizza, and arcade games taps into a resonance in me as a child of the eighties and nineties: a nostalgic feeling that Cawthon is trying to invoke and distort.

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, the three Five Nights at Freddy’s that exist right now can stand by themselves. There didn’t need to be another game after these. However, I had my suspicions. Perhaps it was because of the empty product page he kept for some time with the discarded top hat. Maybe it was his silence about whether or not there was going to be another game.

But sure enough, come October 31, the fourth and final Five Nights at Freddy’s will arrive. And if you look at the graphic on Cawthon’s page, it is extremely appropriate if you think about it. I think it actually sums up a lot of the second element that has been on my mind, in some form, when I think about this game.

FNAF 4

I mean, of course it makes sense for the last chapter of a horror survival game to come out on Halloween, but here’s what gets to me. Imagine Freddy’s Pizzeria is like Chuck E. Cheese’s or even Disney World or Land. Certainly, a place for children would celebrate Halloween in some fashion: or at least take advantage of it commercially. Maybe “The Bite of ’87” might not come into it as many fans are speculating, but imagine how freaky it would be to be in a haunted children’s restaurant on Halloween of all days: perhaps even during the day this time around. Perhaps there are actual Nightmare toy versions or animatronics for such a lovely occasion.

But all speculation on my part aside, take this a step further. Remember what I said earlier about faces? How you never see any human faces in any of the Five Nights games? There are always costumes involved. There are always roles to consider. You arguably wear a uniform as a security guard. A murderer might have worn a animatronic suit. In Five Nights 2 you have to hide your face under a Freddy Fazbear Head in order to survive an animatronic intrusion. And children might be hiding — or hidden — in other inside the darnedest places. Even Phone Guy, the former security guard who showed you the ropes of your new job and was your only ally for the most part, tells you that he is curious to see what is inside those animatronic suits.

Freddy Fazbear Mask

The fact is: it’s always Halloween at Freddy’s, and I suspect that it’s always been. No one is as they seem, everyone wears masks, no one rests, and everyone wants to play. Sometimes nostalgia is an illusion of the fabled “good old days” that can, when stripped away, becomes a dark, ravenous thing in the late hours of the night. Sometimes you lose track of time when you so desperately want to keep living, and you don’t always want to see what’s under that costume. After all, some seemingly innocent dreams are, at their core, rotting nightmares.

And just when you think its safe to take that mask off, to forget the night time, to mistake the performer taking off his top hat with a flourish and a bow as the end: the story only continues at an elegant pace … and the suspense will kill you.

Freddy Toreador March

When I Recognized Elfquest

It took a long time for me to discover the World of Two Moons.

Back in High School, my Mom started me reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. It was a fantasy series with a world of magic and puns and where practically everyone had a magical Talent of some kind. At one point in the series, Piers Anthony got a letter from a mother whose twelve year old daughter Jenny was in the hospital paralysed from being hit by a drunk driver. She was very fond of the world of Two Moons: with the Wolfrider Elves and their wolf mounts: so much so, that Anthony actually created a character from that world named Jenny Elf and transported her to the world of Xanth. This was the first time I’d heard of this place, and for the longest point it was almost the last time.

This was until about a year or so before I started working. I was finishing off my Undergrad at York and I came back to the world of comics with extreme prejudice. I came to Cyber City Comix near Bathurst and Clarke where I found the DC Archives volumes of The Spirit and a strange series called Elfquest. Elfquest looked particularly strange and vintage: from the covers alone they looked like 70s adult versions of my childhood fantasy cartoons mixed with Tolkien on a beautiful manga binge for good measure. They were colourful and compelling and beautiful and also very expensive.

Little did I know that Elfquest and the World of Two Moons were one and the same, or that they would be relevant to me. I did, however, have the nagging suspicion that we’d meet again at some point. But it was not at that time. Not yet.

A lot more things happened with me. I finally moved out and got into Grad School when I discovered the black and white versions of the books at the Seneca Library at York. I was just going to read them there, but I didn’t for some reason. I kept putting it off …

A few months later, I found out that Labyrinth Comics were having a comics sale in Seneca. I planned to stop by the place after I picked up my OSAP grant and loan. Unfortunately for me, that particular day I found out that the Faculty of Graduate Studies had changed my status to part-time without my knowledge and as such withheld my loans from me: just as they had before because my previous government ID expired. I was in at a very low point at this time when I came back from the Student Financial Building to Seneca, not expecting to find anything, not really expecting to be happy for a very long time …

And then I found it. I found the first Elfquest Archives volume for $30. I put down a copy of Mark Millar’s 1985 and decided to buy this. I didn’t quite know what to expect at this point but I was glad to begin with the first volume.

Then I read it.

Somehow, something in me knew that I would relate to some aspects of this series. And that something, somehow in me was right. The DC Archives edition of Elfquest were coloured and vibrant in precisely the way that its creator Wendy Pini planned it along with her husband Richard. Her paneling is not unlike Will Eisner’s comics work in The Spirit and is varied and far beyond the traditional boundaries of squares and rectangles: bringing you closer into the world she made.

I was treated to a world that had been in existence since the late 1970s: that strange, weird and somehow marvelous place that made other things like Star Wars and Wizards.  The premise was that ages ago a floating castle containing a race of Elves crashed onto a world populated by primitive and superstitious humans. These beings drove them out of their fallen castle and their descendants had to adapt to and survive in their new environment.

One of their descendants are the Wolfriders: short, powerful Elves (not unlike a friend of mine’s drawings of other beings in our shared world) that are linked to and ride on wolves as hunters and warriors in their forest. Wendy Pini’s drawing style was this vintage hybrid of manga and North American comics illustration that just really somehow managed to touch that 80s childhood part of my heart. But what was more was in addition to magic and a really varied world, she also touched upon new elements that I was also dealing with in my life these days as well. She touched upon these in a way so poignant that tears almost came to my eyes. Suffice to say, after starting to read this series in colour, I could not in good conscience go back.

I wouldn’t do justice to Elfquest by simply summarizing it or trying to explain what the Wolfriders and their Tribe are like. They have close bonds with their Wolves, who they hunt with, and each other. Especially each other. If there is a positive archetype or ideal for the concept of “Tribe,” they would be it. In many ways, they are like humans, though not necessarily like the barbarian humans we initially see in their world, but in others they really aren’t. They are savage, and merciless but at the same time fiercely loyal, sensitive, and honourable. And they are so incredibly close with each other. I am very glad that the people at DC at that time decided to include the comic strip that others before them would have rejected in the first Volume of the Archives. And Wendy Pini was not afraid to talk about just how different Elf relationships could be: reminding the reader that for all we can relate to them and some of their ways, the Elves of Two Moons are definitely not human.

It’s sad sometimes to realize that Sending doesn’t exist in humankind, just as it is humbling to realize that Recognition as a visceral feeling of affinity with another being is weaker in us though when it’s not, it’s really not. Even so, the Elves get into conflict and this spans a great deal of a world. A world I really wanted to follow.

Unfortunately, a while ago I learned an unfortunate fact about the Elfquest Archives. The first was that they were out of print. And second was that while I could buy Volumes 3 and 4 for $30 as well, Volume 2 somehow has become especially rare. I have seen some of these copies go for over a hundred if not two hundred dollars or more. This is money that not even the creators get, but only the comics store owners. It was very disappointing and infuriating: especially since I remembered being in Cyber Comix and realizing that they were all there and I could have bought them all at that time.

But the good news is that the Pinis have taken all their Elfquest comics and put them on their website for free. That’s right. All the Elfquest run to date is online for free. You just have to look it up online and it’s right there. Granted, I know I would have liked my own complete book copies and it saddens me to know I probably never will, but you know: I’m just glad I found them at all. I have even started reading beyond what the DC Archive books contained. Coincidentally, I find that out of all the Elf characters, I relate the most to Cutter’s fierce heart, Rayek’s brooding ambitions, and Skywise’s sense of curiosity and understanding.

Personally, though, I can see myself as the leader of a group of Gliders that left the Blue Mountain in the early days before Voll fully settled and sought to reclaim magic for ourselves, and continue to evolve as opposed to languishing in stagnation. I always liked the idea of having a bird mount, even though I am not adverse to wolves on a spiritual level.

It’s funny how you find something when it is time and when you Recognize its significance in your own life.

Participant in One Marathon, A Spectator at Another

Originally this weekend I was going to participate in the 12-Hour Comic Book Marathon at the Comics Lounge and Gallery. I didn’t end up writing anything or collaborating with any artists there. If my experience at the Global Game Jam taught me anything it was that most people there probably already knew each other and either way they would have come in some pre-made teams: those that needed them anyway.

As I’ve said before, I am not much of a graphic artist.

Really, I didn’t want to potentially take up someone’s space on the possibility that I couldn’t find a partner and–to be perfectly honest–I didn’t want to be the odd one out: feeling painfully self-conscious.

Later on, I found out that there were still a few writers and artists who cancelled or were actually still looking for a partner, but by then it was too late. However, it was just as well that I decided not to do it because my brain is full with all the work I’ve been doing and I had never actually been to the Lounge before. I would most likely have gotten lost trying to find it.

Essentially: I wanted to get there, get a feel for the space, meet some of the people there, talk a bit with them, maybe make some connections so that I could participate in a later event, or–really–just get to know people who have similar interests to my own.

I still felt bad, though, that I hadn’t participated as I intended and looked forward to doing. Keiran Templeton–who I saw in her tiara as she held court over an assortment of writers and artists–not only organized the entire event, she also had time to go face book and ask if there were any people that wanted to work with others, and she even told me by email that she would keep my name on a list to let me know about next time.

As it was, I made it up to myself by punching some of my procrastination out and starting to really script out my own collaboration with Angela O’Hara: you know, the comic I keep saying that I am working on. In my defence, I have been working on it on and off with little tidbits of notes here and there: much like every other long-standing story I’ve been dealing with. In fact, for The Project I actually made a rough outline of everything that I want to happen in our first issue.

The key of course was actually beginning to flesh it out. I’m beginning to realize that in industry terms, I work entirely too slow on comics scripts. Even from my limited understanding I can see that they take time and a lot of concentration. But the day before the Marathon, I decided to get into the spirit of it and expand on the very first part: to actually take one segment and go wild with some descriptions and leave room to artistic interpretation in others.

And that Friday before the Marathon, I sent something to Angela via inline text and–if it’s not perfect–it is at least something to start from and a good subject for us to discuss. I look forward to talking with her about it when we find the time and see what she will make of it.

So I had this little bit of positive energy to tide me over as I finally did leave to find the Comics Gallery and Lounge I’d been hearing about for so long. The journey was ironic for me. It seems like so long ago that I used to live on the Bloor-Danforth line: specifically close to Woodbine Station. Even before that, when I was at York, I always found that energy to take various transit to get to find my away to College and Clinton: where the Lounge actually is. It’s only now that I’m in Thornhill–in York Region–again that I decided to go somewhere cool that I’d been putting off for so long.

When I found myself outside the shop, I paced around a bit: suddenly really feeling the nervousness. It was strange: being back downtown on the streets again after basically huddling away in Thornhill. And here I was outside a place with people who obviously loved comics and other Geekery and I was hesitating. It would be helpful to mention that I’ve developed some very crippling social anxiety over the years. It probably has roots to older sources, but after so long dealing with Grad School and being by myself a lot I kind of really retreated into myself. It also doesn’t help that I was shy to begin with and … it’s hard for me to put myself out there.

I also was thinking to myself: what if I go in there and no one likes me? I know: it’s a pretty irrational series of thoughts and I have gotten better at dealing with them. I knew that if I needed to, I could leave at any time I wanted and–it being a Lounge–I brought some work to do as well. My plan was to stay there for the party that was going to happen after 11 pm–when the Marathon was officially over–talk with some people and then leave.

So I walked up the stairs and everyone was friendly. I had to get used to, well, being in a new place and around people I didn’t know but I browsed around the shop and entertained myself looking at comics. There was a very comfortable black couch–most of the inner room was set up with benches so people could work–and I sat down to write. I actually started to feel a lot more comfortable writing and having something to do.

It was strange at first. I’d seen a lot of the people around me on Facebook or the Internet when I was finding out more about the Lounge, but actually being around them in person was just different and cool. It turns out some people were late for the Marathon anyway and, really, they just seemed to have a whole lot of fun doing what they did, browsing comics, and just socializing. I didn’t talk with as many people as I wanted to, but my cousin Shane Kirshenblatt–who made such awesome comics as Dorothy Gale: Journey to Oz–and his wife Sari came in and we talked for a while about comfortable things like comics and writing and creation and all that fun stuff.

Coincidentally, I wrote my first Conference paper partially on Shane’s Oz comic and he inspired me through a conversation to write my first ever science-fiction story in ages: one that didn’t win the Friends of the Merrill Short Story Contest granted, but I am still proud of it to this day. He actually talked with me about looking at a script of his to see what I could do with it: something that really intrigues me.

I even briefly talked with Keiran as she was managing her Empire of comics creators and there was a dog or two, and some cheering, and various geeky discussions. I ended up having a really good conversation that night with Debra Jane Shelly. I had seen her before, like many of the other denizens of the Lounge, on their Blog and Facebook. She really stuck out at me the first I saw her and I knew before I ever talked with her that she was a hard-core comics geek. But it is one thing to know that intellectually, but experience it first-hand in a conversation was entirely different and enjoyable. I barely got a word in edge-wise, but I enjoyed listening to what she had to say and I learned a few things.

For instance: I never thought about the first-impression that people got of Watchmen when it came out in the 1980s. As Debra pondered this, I remember thinking that it was true: it was during this time period that meta-narrative and pastiching were being implemented into comics narrative along with a certain more blatant kind of adult irony.

When you think about the comics that came before, during the heyday of the Comics Code–of comics industry self-censorship–and then you look at something like Watchmen you can definitely imagine a kind of “culture shock” for some readers. But, as Debra put it, we will never really know that feeling ourselves: you know, aside from reading about it through secondary sources. It’s like those accounts you hear about from famous writers and comics creators about growing up with the old Pre-Code Horror Comics: with EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow, and all of that really fun and twisted stuff. But even though we can read a lot of those twistedly ironic and morbid goodies now, the spirit of Zeitgeist of the times where they were written are not really as accessible to us or perceived the same as someone who was there.

I think it was good to talk with someone who knew as much–if not more–about comics: someone who had read some really good and memorable works. It was sort of humbling, to be honest: to know that wasn’t the only one as insane about this stuff as I sometimes delude myself into thinking. There was a whole room of them. :). I did talk with some more people and then I took my leave as it was about that time. Debra actually made me pose for a picture where I am holding Alan Moore’s Nemo: Heart of Ice: a book I actually got there. As for the reason that she took it, if one is needed, she told me that she likes to take pictures of people having found their favourite books: or something to that effect.

It occurred to me–or I remembered–as I smiled at the camera that I rarely ever smile when I’m in public: especially in Toronto. Sometimes the exhaustion, and anger, and sadness ingrains itself in you so bone-deep that it’s difficult to even smile for real. I thought about just how sad that fact really was.

In any case, I said some goodbyes and then I left to find the streetcar back to Bathurst Station. I missed the car, so I decided: “Screw it! I’m going to walk the fucker!” So I walked by myself all the way from Clinton and College to Bathurst Station. I hadn’t walked that long or been in this area in ages. And as I did so, with my travel bag on my shoulder and my black winter coat covering me I felt more alive than I have in a really long time.

Coincidentally, it took me 16 minutes and there was no other streetcar during that entire time.

I know when I wake up tomorrow, or later, I’m going to be very embarrassed by some of the sentimentality and haphazard writing I’ve left here. It’s no new thing, to be fair. Actually, I’m surprised I wrote so much about–well–doing so little: by my standards anyway. However, I really felt the need to write this out while it is still fresh.

I am definitely going to check out the Lounge again. Here is the Toronto Comics Lounge and Gallery Blog in case you are interested and you didn’t see it on my Blogroll section. Thank you for reading this and, next time, I do plan to make something.

Excelsior, ladies and gentlemen.

Paradigms Lost, Paradigms Regained: Looking Back and Looking Forward Can Be Both One and the Same

Foregone Warning: the title of this post is a play on words and borderline off-key rhyme. It almost verges into the territory of the pun. Actual warning: this article is going to be a very link extensive post and I hope it will all make sense towards the end.

In my post A World Coming Together, A Possible Paradigm Forming, and Other Stories That Find Themselves On Their Way, I make a lot of promises and claims but there is one in particular that I feel I need to go into a little more detail about.

I said before that it seems like we are in the process of the rise of a new paradigm: based on the geek nostalgia of the late seventies, but mostly the eighties onward to early 2000. As I said before, I feel I need to be more specific about this. What I actually mean is that we have been, for some time now, at a point where we can look back what was the present not too long ago and actually subvert and critique it. I mean, we can actually ask some questions about a lot of things that we took for granted: either in all seriousness or through satire.

For instance, look at Robot Chicken and how it makes fun of a lot of popular culture from the 80s and onward. The thing about Robot Chicken, however, is that it makes fun of generally everything to a warped and twisted degree of hilarity: and I wonder if this hasn’t also been a product of the past thirty or forty years or if it takes a paradigm about that amount time to gestate and create itself.

I guess I am trying to talk about a few things at once: which is not the first time something like this has happened for me. So I’m going to take a risk and bring up some theory, and then see what I can do with it from there.

In about the 1980s, there was–or even is–this theory that we had entered something called post-modernism. There is a lot of debate as to what post-modernism actually is, but from my understanding it seemed to be a period in which  literature and other media had become fragmented or combined with one another to make entirely different meanings from what they once were, or could have been. In addition to this was the rise of another idea called deconstructionism which, in the very reduced way I’m explaining it, is a theory that likes to take things apart. When you combine these ideas together, you essentially create writings and cultures that are incredibly ironic, sometimes “self-aware,” and that like to dissect themselves while at the same time attempt to reveal a multiple amount of different meanings.

There are a lot of scholars and artists that dispute these terms, of course, and say that every generation or paradigm goes through a phase of critiquing what came before and making something new from these elements afterwards. I like to think that the 80s and onward really favoured making pastiches–narratives and stories created from parts of things like patchwork monsters–to either subvert something that once existed or make as unique as is humanly possible.

Now, take that idea. You can definitely apply that to Robot Chicken. But it goes further than that and it doesn’t always manifest in the same way. For instance, take ItsJustSomeRandomGuy. As I mentioned in another post, he takes primarily Marvel and DC superheroes and villains and actually makes them aware of their fictional status but keeps them in character in doing so and even manages to make some incredible meta-narrative plots with a whole lot of geek culture references. I‘m A Marvel, I’m a DC is a whole lot less “profane” than Robot Chicken, but they operate on similar principles. I also would be greatly remiss if I forgot the How It Should Have Ended series: where popular movies and videos are depicted as cartoons and their plots are changed or subverted by … well … common sense. But since when do good fictional plots make sense with common sense? 😉 We can argue that point.

The whole idea of popular cultural or geek references, sometimes to the point of being self-referential in different media seems to have originated from Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer: where in addition to a whole lot of witty “dialogue without pity,” there was a regular string of different kinds of references. The issue, however, is that I’m not sure this where it came from, or one of the points of entry into mainstream culture and entertainment. All I can say is, it was for me.

I have noticed, however, that a lot of my examples of this paradigm are very television and Internet-based. And there it is. I would argue that a paradigm or a culture is created when it evolves to the point of being able to look at itself and critique itself. And right now, this impulse, which may have started in the 80s as we know it, has sky-rocketed as information technology has advanced.

Look at the Abridged series for instance. Abridged series are fan-made parodies of television shows and cartoons. Parodies like LittleKuriboh’s Yu-gi-oh Abridged and Team Four Star’s Dragon Ball Z Abridged have become very popular and entertaining shows among fans: so much so that many other fans create their own Abridged series, or parody the Abridged series that exist. They are practically viral phenomena.

And these are just the fictional examples. I haven’t even begun to go into the actual Critics  like The Nostalgia CriticThe Angry Video Game Nerd and Cinemassacre Productions, Nixie Pixel, G33kPron and countless others who review and critique video games, movies, and geek culture old and new. They also use the pastiche form in some cases to make various verbal and media references. There are also so many more people we do this as well.

Now, somewhere in all of this fictional and non-fictional stuff … is me.

It took me a really long time to realize that not only was I already a part of this nebulous process, but that it was legitimate and more than okay to be so. I’ve had at least one teacher or two who would have once considered comics and video games utter dreck: or at the very least very un-serious diversions from real life. And I’m not going to lie to you or myself: there is a lot of garbage out there that isn’t even entertaining like “YouTube Poop”: videos created specifically to be obnoxious. But every literary and media culture has garbage. They also have gems and other treasures.

Think about this prospect. All the video games you’ve played and the comics you’ve read are becoming references that more people from a generation of thirty or forty years understands. These references make it into literature and criticism. Moreover, we exist in an Age of Information: where many obscure and old elements of our childhood are much more accessible to us now than ever before.

Some scholars have even argued that we are–or we were–in an age of Hypertext: a situation where we can click on a vast amount of chain-information through links and linked words on the Internet. You know, like when you are on Wikipedia or anywhere else, and you search for one thing, and then click on a highlighted word or phrase to be linked to another–or multiple other–online pages. In part, this allows us to look back on “our childish things,” and we don’t turn our backs on them, but instead we embrace them with an adult perspective and understanding that only someone who knew them way back when can give.

Moreover, we can even take this perspective–possibly created from our own nostalgia–and apply it to times that existed before us, or take that and make something entirely new in our time now. But also think about this: in addition to having more information technology, we are developing more interactive technology as well. Video games are much in the same place that comics, and film used to be–and to some extent–still are in public opinion. They have not always been respected, but as we continue to make them we can add more content, more distinction, and more variety. We can–and we have–gotten to the point where video games can even make references or “literary allusions” to other video games and culture in general. I am definitely going to revisit this thought at some other people.

Then consider the other people who participate in these interactive narratives and add the Internet to that fact: which connects people all across the world and different forms of life. Sometimes, I believe–in my more optimistic moments–that we could be on the cusp of creating something truly great and maybe even in our own lifetime. I can’t even imagine what will come after this if all goes well.

So in all of this, I am trying to find my own place: to find my niche. I want to take advantage of this time and do something that matters. This Blog, in no small way, is a part of this drive. It is here that I can combine my geeky interests with my academic background and my creative impulse to construct new things and state my opinions. I want to be a part of this. I want to do something great as well.

I grew up in the nineties or, as a friend of mine likes to chant, “90s 90s, living in the 90s!” Once, it was my present and sometimes it’s weird–really weird–that it and the early 2000s aren’t anymore. Sometimes, I feel time-displaced. I feel lost. I have another acquaintance who once stated that the children of the 80s, and even those before are a Lost Generation: of people who never really achieved their full promise in today’s world. But we’re not. We’re really not. I think we have been coming into our own and we will continue to do so as we ascribe a multiplicity of new meanings to old things, and create things that will make other things together.

Because there it is: perhaps post-modernism and deconstructionism might have taken things apart to see how they work, as they work, but we–whether we are in a Hypertext age or not–are starting to put them back together … and make different things entirely. Now that is something to celebrate.