The Shadows of Hyrule

Honey, everyone has a murder dungeon in Kakariko Village.

The joke is that, while the “evil” Yiga Clan is characterized as violent and bloodthirsty in Breath of the Wild, the “good” Sheikah Clan is canonically just as disturbing. They’re all magical ninja assassins. What do you expect?

These two characters are Sooga and Impa from the Breath of the Wild AU melee fighting game Age of Calamity, and this is fan art of the four-part Sooga/Impa fancomic Shadow Folk by Frankiesbugs on Tumblr. You can read Shadow Folk on Tumblr starting (here), or you can donate 1€ download a PDF version (here). I have to admit that I never considered any sort of relationship between Impa and Sooga until I read this comic, but the art is stylish and beautiful and the story is a lot of fun.

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris

I recently participated in the annual Yuletide fic exchange for small fandoms. More than a thousand people contribute their work to this exchange, in which each participant is anonymously matched with someone who requests a story for one of the fandoms they’ve offered to write for. The person with whom I was matched asked for fic about Deltarune, and they requested “existential horror about free will and the ethics of a player guiding characters with self-awareness.” I’m always up for existential horror, and the recipient’s description of how they view the player-character Kris really vibed with me: “A Weird Kid who’s kinda lonely but not quite knowing how to make friends/not liking many of their options in town before the game starts.”

This prompt inspired me to write a story called “On the Internet No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris,” which is an exploration of Kris’s character within a narrative meta-analysis of the game. You can find it on AO3 (here).

The person who requested the story confessed that they’ve spent countless hours diving down the rabbit hole of Deltarune theories, so I took a plunge into the internet theory maze as well. The game subtly implies that Kris isn’t in full control of their body or personality, and that what’s manipulating them is their SOUL, the red heart that represents them during battle sequences. Many Deltarune theories try to answer the question of who (or what) is controlling Kris’s SOUL. There’s also the issue of what connection Deltarune might have to Undertale, as the two games share the same metaphysics and many of the same characters.

This ended up being my favorite Deltarune theory:
https://theamazingsallyhogan.tumblr.com/post/663249972697907200/great-big-massive-spoilers-under-the-cut-part-1

What this theory posits is that Kris has made a devil’s bargain with their SOUL, exchanging their free will for the power to rescue a childhood friend who mysteriously vanished a few years before the game begins. Although this theory doesn’t explain everything that’s going on in Deltarune – which, after all, has only released its first two chapters – the essay shines light on the characters’ backstory, which is only very briefly alluded to in the game itself.

This theory led me to create an illustration (here) based on the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle in which Howl makes a pact with the fallen star Calcifer, and I drew the comic above about how the ostensible villain of the second chapter of Deltarune might have a radically different view of the concept of free will. I also created an animated illustration (here) of the secondary villain Spamton, but I ultimately decided not to include it with the story. Spamton is bizarrely beloved in a certain corner of Deltarune fandom, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s an acquired taste. Still, I had a lot of fun writing Spamton’s dialog in my story. Despite spending far too long on the Deltarune wiki, I regret nothing.

Growing Up with The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda series has been criticized for its formulaic writing, but one of the strengths of its archetypal characters is that they allow room for multiple interpretations. I was born in the same year as the Zelda series, and my perspective on these characters and their stories has shifted as I’ve grown older.

When I was a kid, I loved Link. I had no innate skill as a gamer, but I enjoyed the thrill of running wild in Hyrule. I may not have fully understood the game mechanics, but this meant I was always discovering new things. Despite my many deaths, I reveled in the certainty that I was a force of good fighting for justice, and it was comforting to know that all I had to do in order to succeed was to follow the marks on my map.  

In my late teens, I began to identify more with Princess Zelda. As my view of the world became wider, I realized that it wasn’t always the best course of action to charge forward with an unsheathed sword. I also came to understand that it was impossible for me to be a lone hero. There were times when I would be at the mercy of forces beyond my control, and sometimes I would need to rely on the strength of other people to achieve my goals.  

Now that I’m an adult, I can’t help but sympathize with Ganondorf. The world is infinitely complicated and filled with impossible decisions. Even though you may have the best of intentions, it’s inevitable that some people will see you as a villain when you challenge the status quo. If you want the power to change the world, you have to forge your own path, and no one will give you a map marked with signposted quests to complete. Still, as long as you’re making your own rules, you might as well be stylish and have gorgeous hair.

The Legend of Zelda series has become a type of modern mythology. The games continue to be relevant not just because of the strength of their gameplay, but also because of the resonance of their archetypes in the lives of the people who grow up with their stories. Instead of growing out of the Zelda series, I’ve found that I’ve grown to appreciate it more now that I can relate to the characters through multiple levels of lived experience.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This essay and its accompanying illustration were originally published in Coin-Operated Press’s Nerd! Zine anthology. You can check out the zine on the press’s website (here).

An Unfound Door

The sacrificial princess Agnes spares the life of a demon from the blade of the hero who rescued her from certain demise, but was this the wisest decision? Upon returning to her decaying kingdom, she finds the beast waiting for her, now in the form of a man. He is determined to restore the ruins of his homeland to their former glory, but his ambition presages calamity. As Agnes follows her enemy through the shadows, she must shine light onto the mysteries of the past if she wishes to restore hope for the future.

This is my working description for An Unfound Door, the dark fantasy mystery novel that I’m currently writing. I borrowed the title from this passage in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, a coming-of-age story primarily set in an old and decrepit town: “Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the dark lane into heaven. A stone, a key, an unfound door. O lost and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”

The character illustrations are by Marianne Lalou, who is on Tumblr, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Lalou was able to take my amateur designs (that I posted here) and polish them into something magical. They’re one of my favorite fantasy illustrators and character designers, and it was an amazing experience to work with them!

Agnes and Zidan from An Unfound Door

An Unfound Door is a Gothic mystery set in a decaying castle. Agnes, the princess of Faloren, hopes to save her crumbling kingdom by recovering a long-lost relic, but she must find it before it’s discovered by Zidan, a foreign prince with mysterious motives. As their paths repeatedly cross in the twisting corridors and hidden passages, Agnes and Zidan realize that they must descend into the shadows of the past together if they hope to bring light to the future.

While I’ve been planning this story, I’ve also been working on character designs. This is what I’ve come up with…

Agnes is in her early twenties. Her palette is fairly monochromatic, making her look somewhat ghostly. She’s not used to interacting with people, and she’s aloof and serious to a fault. Her floral motif is the moonflower. I was aiming for something like a “dark academia” aesthetic.

Zidan is also in his early twenties. His palette is warm with accents in brighter colors. He’s charming and polite, but he’s too proud to conceal the sharp edges under his smooth exterior. His floral motif is the Chinese lantern flower. I was inspired by the work of the artist Emily Cheeseman in creating his design.

Free Real Estate

Just another day in the life of a powerful but clueless wizard and the princess who (barely) tolerates him.

This scene takes place at the end of the second arc of my original fantasy novel, The Demon King. In this segment of the story, Balthazar attempts to learn how to control the weather and ends up harnessing ancient forces at the limits of human comprehension. He uses his newfound power for silly nonsense that does not benefit him or anyone else, but you have to admit that floating islands are cool. And, as Ceres says, it’s free real estate.

This comic was written by me and illustrated by Mjoyart on Twitter (and elsewhere). I wrote the script and sketched a set of rough thumbnails, and Meghan was able to turn my stupid joke into something truly magical. Meghan posts Pokémon and Legend of Zelda comics and fan art on Twitter, and I highly recommend checking out her online portfolio (here) to see her original storyboards and animation projects. Her art is fantastic and never ceases to amaze me, and I’m very lucky to have been able to work with her!

Tsuboniwa

Shigeru Miyamoto has famously said that he envisions video games as small gardens. He uses the Japanese word tsuboniwa, which refers to the tiny courtyard gardens of traditional Kyoto machiya townhouses that are narrow but long enough to have a private garden in the middle. This is how video games have always felt to me. When I enter one of these virtual worlds, I can explore the green space at my leisure while taking a quiet moment to rest and reflect.

. . . . . . . . . .

I created this piece to include in the Philly Zine Fest 2021 Anthology. You can check out this year’s event on their Instagram account (here) and their website (here).

My Great Outdoors

When I moved to West Philadelphia at the beginning of the pandemic, the neighborhood was a mess. The city sanitation workers were on strike (good for them!!), and trash was everywhere. No one had trimmed the vegetation growing along the sidewalks, and there were all sorts of weeds and flowers pushing their way up from underneath the piles of loose rubbish. Most of the university students and faculty had evacuated the city, and no one was walking around outside to begin with, so the crows and opossums had gotten bold. It was quite nice, actually.

I don’t intend to suggest that there was anything “good” about the pandemic, which was and continues to be a nightmare, but I have to admit that it was still a welcome relief to be able to walk around outside while feeling like I was just another part of nature.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is a comic I created for the third issue of Nature Held Me Close, a zine about “gender dysphoria and the great outdoors.” Free digital copies of all three issues of the zine are available on its website (here).

Flowerblight Ganon

I posted a short story on AO3 (here) about a minor character in Breath of the Wild named Magda, who is affectionately known by the fandom as “Flowerblight Ganon.”

In Breath of the Wild, Malice is a tangible substance that infests objects and locations controlled by Ganon, including the four Divine Beasts, Hyrule Castle, and the Akkala Citadel Ruins. It also infects the dragon spirit Lanayru who guards the Spring of Wisdom.

While writing this story, I wondered if it were possible for Malice to infect regular people. If so, the woman who zealously guards the garden of flowers surrounding Hila Rao Shrine is as good of a candidate as anyone.

The story illustration is by Clara Kay, whose gorgeously monstrous horror art can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here). I really enjoyed working with Clara, and I also want to give a shout-out to her store (here), which has all sorts of cool Legend of Zelda merch!

I’d like to share a bit of the artist’s description of this piece, because it’s fascinating:

There’s a lot of symbolism packed into the flowers here. The petunias (pink) represent anger and resentment, the devil’s trumpet (the tall white one) represents power and caution, the spider lily (big spiny red one) represents death and reincarnation, and the carnation (white with red ring) is considered the ‘flower of the gods’ and represents admiration, passion, and love.

Carnations represent “passion and love” because they’re thought to be white flowers dyed red with blood, which is entirely appropriate for this story. “Flowerblight Ganon” is my first foray into botanical horror, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with Breath of the Wild to understand what’s going on. Magda is a regular woman enjoying gardening, quiet living, and occasional tea with friends in a dying postapocalyptic world, and if she lives her best life by indulging in murder every once in a while, then at least her flowers are well fertilized.