Watching from the Shadows

Impa prepares to train Princess Zelda as a Sheikah warrior during the year following the fall of Hyrule Castle. Zelda is tired of hiding and eager to fight, so Impa shares stories from the past to demonstrate that there is wisdom in waiting for the right moment to strike.

I contributed a story about Impa and Princess Zelda titled “Watching from the Shadows” to Goddess Reborn, a zine celebrating the female characters of the Legend of Zelda series. You can check out the zine’s Twitter account (here), and you can read my story on AO3 (here).

The illustration was created by the magical and marvelously skilled Frankiesbugs, whose sharp and deadly work can be found on Tumblr, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

Your Journey Awaits! Pokémon Zine

I’ve spent the past several years involved in the Legend of Zelda fandom, but I have a deep and enduring love for the Pokémon series. Although I’ve taught classes and given conference lectures about Pokémon, I haven’t written fanfic about the series in years. When a few fandom friends announced that they were putting together a zine about the small towns where your avatar characters begin their journeys in the games, I was onboard.

The story I contributed to the Your Journey Awaits! Pokémon Fanzine is “The New Kid in Postwick,” which is about Sonia and Leon from Pokémon Sword and Shield. It’s about Sonia’s childhood in the small rural town of Wedgehurst, her friendship and rivalry with Leon, and the ambitions underlying her decision to set out as a young Pokémon trainer.

You can read my story on AO3 (here), and you can download a free copy of the zine on Itchio (here). Along with a PDF of the zine, the download includes all sorts of fun digital extras like icons and wallpapers. The illustrations and stories are accessible to readers of all ages, so please feel free to share the zine with any younger Pokémon fans in your life!

The Role of Dōjinshi in Comic Fanzine Discourse

I’m looking forward to presenting at “Histories & Futures of Comics Communities,” the first academic symposium held in conjunction with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Here’s the abstract for my presentation…

In December 2021, a conversation concerning the definition of the term “zine” unfolded on Twitter. This conversation arose from anxieties surrounding the recent rise of fandom zines that, while organized by amateur editors and limited in distribution, are nevertheless professionally printed and highly selective. Many comic artists lamented what they perceive as a betrayal of the DIY ethos of North American zine culture, while others have used quote tweets as a platform to remind their followers that anyone can make a zine.  

Surprisingly absent from this conversation is an examination of the largely separate zine cultures that have developed in parallel at comic festivals and anime conventions. Many exhibitors at local indie comic festivals continue to produce artistic but relatively low-budget personal zines. Meanwhile, exhibitors in the artist alleys of anime conventions have gravitated toward professional production methods for fanzines and associated merchandise, often taking advantage of the services of manufacturers based in East Asia.

I argue that contemporary North American anime fanzine culture has its roots in Japanese dōjinshi, which are typically created by aspiring and early-career creative professionals and tend to be manufactured by specialty presses that guarantee a high level of production quality. Dōjinshi-style fanzines spread to North America during the early 2010s via anime conventions hosted in cities on the western seaboard, particularly Los Angeles, Seattle, and Vancouver. While tracing this transcultural development, I will reflect critically on the tension between DIY zine counterculture and big-budget fanzines and address how neoliberal values have affected public conversations on amateur artistic production.

. . . . . . . . . .

The “Comics Communities” event takes place on June 17, the Friday before the TCAF. You can find the schedule (here). The main exhibit floor of the TCAF is completely free and open to the public, but registration for the academic symposium is limited and already completely sold out. Which is very exciting! The symposium organizer is a fellow contributor at Women Write About Comics, and I hope to be able to publish my paper there soon so that it’s accessible to anyone who’s interested.

The Capra Demon Is for the Gays

While waiting for more news about the Breath of the Wild sequel, I started playing Dark Souls on my Nintendo Switch. I’m not into character customization, so my Chosen Undead is the basic male character. I named him Tulip. I am very bad at this game, and Tulip has been having a rough time of it. Yesterday evening, for example, Tulip fell down some stairs and died.

Tulip is currently spending a lot of time with someone called the Capra Demon. The Capra Demon infamously functions as a gatekeeper who blocks the player’s access to the majority of the game. It’s impossible to beat him without knowing exactly what you’re doing or getting help from real-life friends, and the game makes getting help difficult for reasons that are complicated to explain. Everything about this game is complicated to explain, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I leave it at “it’s just very hard to beat this boss.”

The Capra Demon exudes Pyramid Head energy in that he’s extremely fit, shirtless, and carrying two heavy meat-cleaver swords in such a way that his shoulders are pulled back, his chest is thrust forward, and the muscles of his arms are bulging. I made a stupid pastel-colored sketch of him and put it on Twitter, and I immediately lost five followers. I lost five more overnight.

When I say that I hate Pride Month – and sometimes I do hate Pride Month, kind of a lot – what I mean is that I hate the commodification of queer identity, and I hate how this commodification necessitates the sanitization of queer sexuality. Everyone is happy to see cute Disney animals dancing with hearts and rainbows, but nobody actually wants to see gay people being gay. And the Capra Demon is just about as gay as gay can be, which I think is charming and delightful.

I know the history of Pride Month, and I know why it’s important. Still, I wish people were able to accept difference not because it’s fun or attractive, but because… I don’t know, because it’s the right thing to do? Because we’re not animals? Because we’re capable of moral reasoning and extraordinary flexibility concerning what we’re able to accommodate into our worldview? And I just don’t feel that corporate rainbow merch and police-sponsored city pride parades are really helping people outside the community understand that being gay isn’t like Christmas, meaning that it isn’t a “special” thing that we collectively tolerate because it only happens once a year.

Like, being gay is being thirteen years old and playing Dark Souls because your friends are playing it, and then you get to this one boss, and you don’t know what’s going on but there’s just something about him, and the next thing you know you have your pants down and a wad of tissues in your hands, and then when you go to school the next day, maybe the way you talk about this video game character is a little weird, and your friends would never say that they’re homophobic, because of course they aren’t, but there’s just something about you that they don’t like, so they stop talking to you. You’ll make other friends as you find your community, but now you’ll have to live with the anxiety that there’s an element of who you are that a lot of people are always going to understand as being bad and wrong. Just like the Capra Demon is bad and wrong… but don’t his legs look fantastic in that cute little skirt?

I don’t really have a thing for the Capra Demon myself, to be honest, but as soon as I saw him I knew what was up. The Pride Month version of “this is for the gays” has become whatever sweet and wholesome child character is trending from whatever sweet and wholesome children’s cartoon is popular at the moment, but I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of the reality of queer identity and sexuality. The Capra Demon is for the gays.

Goddess Reborn Zelda Fanzine

I’m excited to share a preview of the story I contributed to Goddess Reborn, a collection of art and fiction that celebrates the female characters of the Legend of Zelda series.

The zine is beautifully inclusive, and the amount of love that has gone into this project has been incredibly uplifting. I can’t wait for everyone to share their full pieces, but you can check out previews on Twitter (here) in the meantime. Preorders are open until May 31, and all proceeds go to international women’s charities.

goddessreborn.etsy.com

The End of the Line for the Shinra Corporation

Over the course of its expansive story, Final Fantasy VII changes direction and shifts focus but holds fast to the goal of saving the world from a crisis created by Shinra. Even if there were no interstellar demons or mad scientists, the Planet would never have survived were it not for a small group of activists who dared to challenge the most powerful corporation in the world…

I contributed a meta essay titled “The End of the Line for the Shinra Corporation” to the Return to the Planet fanzine, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the original 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII. My piece is about how the game references the corporate critique and real-world grassroots environmental activism in Japan during the 1990s. The zine is filled with gorgeous artwork, stories, and nonfiction, and it’s free to download. You can read my essay on my Japanese fiction blog (here), and I also posted it on AO3 (here). You can check out the zine via these links:

🌿 https://twitter.com/ff7ogzine
🌿 http://whitemateria.net/ff7ogzine/
🌿 https://archiveofourown.org/collections/FF7OGZine

The Legend We Create

The courageous hero loves the wise princess, but they are bound by their fate and must put their feelings aside for the sake of a world floating above the ruins of an ancient kingdom.

…or so the legend goes, but some storytellers have a slightly different interpretation.

The Legend We Create is a tale of mutual pining and second-chance romance on the Great Sea, as well as a meditation on how each new generation heals the wounds of history by telling their own narratives about the past. You can read this short story on AO3 (here).

This story was published in Fated: A Zelink Zine. You check out the work of the other contributors on the zine’s Twitter account (here).

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€ to 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.

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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).