Greenpath

Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania-style adventure game set in the forgotten underground kingdom of Hallownest. The kingdom fell to ruin after a viral blight infected its citizens, transforming them into mindless husks. As a knight in the form of a small beetle wielding a nail, you venture below the surface through a secret entrance in an old well to challenge the mysteries of Hallownest.

The old underground roads are long abandoned, and there are no helpful signs to guide the player through the maze of passages. The necessity of careful exploration as you find your own path forward is one of the primary appeals of Hollow Knight, but it’s easy to lose your way and fall victim to the undead husks or become trapped in the dilapidated infrastructure.

The tiny protagonist’s journey through Hallownest is lonely, but the ruins of the old kingdom are far from empty. Where there were once cities and markets and train stations, dense vegetation now breaks through the paving stones and covers crumbling structures in blankets of flowering plants. Nowhere is this postapocalyptic explosion of nature more apparent than an area called Greenpath, where small birdlike creatures flutter through the underbrush while giant dragonflies glide in lazy circles above bubbling pools of acid water.

Hollow Knight’s soundtrack, written and digitally performed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, captures both the loneliness and wonder of the kingdom of Hallownest. I find the background music for Greenpath especially atmospheric and evocative. It begins with bright and gentle strings that suggest the twinkling of fresh dew and the whisper of wind over moss. Soft and airy notes from a flute and xylophone join the song to create a melody reminiscent of the rustling of leaves as you scuttle through the bushes. 

The environmental music in Hollow Knight is adaptive, meaning that it changes according to gameplay. Some of the more challenging sections of Greenpath necessitate precisely timed jumps over deadly beds of tangled thorns, and the song crescendos into string chords as staccato as your character’s footsteps as you rush through the beautiful yet menacing jungle. You feel as though you’re truly exploring overgrown ruins, brushing aside vines as you navigate the twisting stone corridors.

The quietly elegiac environmental songs of the Hollow Knight soundtrack are oddly relaxing and make excellent ambient background music. If you’re in the mood for something more upbeat, the boss fight battle songs are fantastic as well. You can listen to the complete album on Spotify and YouTube, and (this link) will take you directly to the song “Greenpath” on Bandcamp. 

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This essay was published in the “Playlist” issue of the West Philly Dog Bowl Zine, which debuted at the Philly Comics Expo this past weekend. You can download a free digital version of the zine via their Linktree site (here).

Wanderers

This comic was written by me and drawn by LunaArtGallery, whose work can be found on Tumblr, on Instagram, and on Twitter. You can read their commentary on the piece on their Tumblr post (here).

Given that the universe of the Legend of Zelda games is characterized by its disparate timelines, I’d like to think that there’s at least one timeline in which Zelda and Ganondorf work out their differences peacefully instead of enacting the cycle of destruction brought about by a war between two ancient gods. Every game in the series is filled with abandoned ruins that Link explores but never questions, so it might be interesting for Zelda and Ganondorf to seek out the truth underlying the legends that have shaped their lives. This idea was inspired by the game Journey, which is about bearing witness to the mistakes of the past in a quest for atonement and enlightenment. If we ever get to play as Zelda, it would be lovely for her adventure to take her in a similarly compelling direction.

The Coming Storm

This is a tribute to the iconic Zac Gorman comic, but with a twist.

I sometimes think about how Ganondorf more than likely didn’t start out as evil. I imagine that he probably went on a journey that paralleled Link’s, but his reaction to the secrets he found in hidden caves and forgotten temples was substantially different due to the circumstances of his life and destiny. While the Legend of Zelda games contain subtle elements of melancholy from Link’s perspective, Ganondorf’s story is more like a full-on Greek tragedy.

A Noble Pursuit

None of the lessons from the Gerudo Classroom have prepared Rhondson for married life with Hudson, who has grown restless and disappeared from Tarrey Town a year after its founding. She travels to the Akkala Citadel Ruins to hunt for her husband while reflecting on the bridges that will need to be rebuilt in order for Hyrule to embrace a peaceful future.

“A Noble Pursuit” is a short story that explores the theme of cultural differences, including different attitudes regarding the preservation of historic sites, via the Akkala Citadel Ruins.

As the Gerudo tailor Rhondson crosses the Sokkala Bridges, she’s impressed by how sturdy and practical they are; and, at the end of the story, she considers how building more bridges – both literal and cultural – might help make the Akkala Citadel habitable once more.

At the end of the story, Rhondson finds that her missing husband Hudson has made friends with the monstrous Hinox who’s always snoozing away on the citadel’s parade grounds. She realizes that both the Hinox and her husband need a renewed sense of purpose, and she encourages Hudson to direct his energy into rebuilding the ruins of the Akkala Citadel into a place better suited to cultural exchange.  

This story about archaeology, castles, ruins, giant monster friends, and what it means “to live happily ever after” was written for Memorabilia, a Breath of the Wild fanzine​ that you can check out on Twitter (here) and on Tumblr (here). The accompanying illustrations are by the stylish scholar Pocketwei, whose art of handsome characters and beautiful landscapes can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here).

You can read “A Noble Pursuit” on AO3 (here).

Malice

Malice is an urban fantasy AU of Breath of the Wild starring Zelda, a scientist researching ancient technology, and Ganondorf, a tech investor who takes an intense interest in her work. Ganondorf is more than he seems, however, and Zelda is about to learn just how real her nightmares of calamity might become…

The complete illustrated story is on AO3.

Only Power Remains

Only Power Remains is an Ocarina of Time fancomic that explores the backstory of Ganondorf, the iconic villain of the Legend of Zelda games. According to the series lore, Ganondorf was the only male child born to the Gerudo, and otherwise all-female society living in the desert at the border of the kingdom of Hyrule. Through a series of connected scenes, Only Power Remains investigates how Ganondorf grew from a strong-willed boy to a power-hungry warlord.

This comic is a fascinating and insightful exploration of Ganondorf’s backstory that rings true to the Legend of Zelda canon while still being accessible to casual fans of the series. It also stands on its own as a cohesive story, and I would happily recommend it to curious readers who may not be familiar with the details of the Zelda games. Louisa Roy’s writing is sharp and original, and her vibrant and expressive art does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of introducing and developing established characters.

In her extensive “Author Notes” at the end of the zine, Roy explains that she especially enjoyed drawing Ganondorf’s childhood interactions with a merchant in Hyrule Castle Town. The merchant is disrespectful during their first meeting, as he sees Ganondorf as nothing more than a bratty kid. Ganondorf therefore learns the Hylian language spoken by the merchant in order to come back a year later and verbally cut him down before taking what he wants from his stock of musical instruments. Without becoming too political, Roy conveys the tensions of cultural differences, and there’s a certain charm in watching Ganondorf slice through the Gordian knot of xenophobic stereotypes.

The supporting cast receives a similar level of nuance and sympathy, especially Nabooru, a Gerudo leader who eventually rebels against Ganondorf. With Nabooru, as with Ganondorf, the reader is given a sense that the tragic story of the Gerudo could have gone a different way had circumstances been even slightly different. The comic ventures into many unexplored corners of Hyrule during its journey, but the artist’s design work is brilliant and remains faithful both to the world of the games and to their real-life cultural influences.

Only Power Remains is far from the first Legend of Zelda fancomic created by Louisa Roy, who has published a number of zines featuring side stories that allow the minor characters in the games to shine in their own heroic (or antiheroic) light. The publication quality of these comic zines is consistently excellent, from the layout to the lettering to the cover design. You can follow the artist as @om_nom_berries on Twitter and @om-nom-berries on Tumblr, and you can find her comics on her website (here) and browse through her zines on Etsy (here). If you’re interested in Only Power Remains, you can check out the listing is (here).

Ballad of the Wind Fish

Ballad of the Wind Fish is a bittersweet narrative minicomic that uses the 1993 Game Boy game The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as a stage to explore the connections between childhood fantasies, nostalgia, and escapism.

The comic is twelve pages long, with one panel per page. I created it for the #Linktober drawing challenge on Instagram during October 2019, but it’s still very near and dear to my heart. Although the comic is ostensibly about Link’s Awakening, it’s really more of a meta exploration of a certain glitch in the original release of the game, as well as a meditation on being a child of the 1990s. I formatted it into a zine and created two pieces of polished art to use for the cover. It’s my hope that this short comic fills the reader with warm memories and sunny summertime vibes.

You can download a free digital copy from Gumroad:
https://gum.co/windfishzine

If you like, you can buy a physical copy on Etsy:
https://www.etsy.com/listing/1035486197/ballad-of-the-wind-fish-zelda-minicomic

The zine is 4.75” square, or roughly the size of a Nintendo DS game case. It’s professionally printed in vibrant full color, and it comes with a 3” circular vinyl sticker depicting the eponymous Wind Fish.

If you’d rather not bother with any of that, you can read the comic as I originally posted it on Tumblr (here).

Radiant Princess of Dawn

Gin and cranberry juice is a healthy way to start a magical day.

Ceres is my take on magical video game princesses, and it is my headcanon that all of these ladies are consummate day drinkers. I think you’d probably have to be in order to summon the emotional fortitude to deal with the shenanigans of heroes and villains on top of the everyday business of running a moderately large kingdom.

Ceres’s Story Arc

I’m going to start writing my query letter for The Demon King soon, so I’ve been thinking about how to describe the story, which has two parallel threads that unspool in alternating chapters. The eponymous “demon king” Balthazar (he’s not really a demon king) is the main point-of-view character, as it’s his actions that push the larger narrative forward, but the role of his “nemesis” Princess Ceres (she’s not really his nemesis) as a deuteragonist is equally important and will only become more important as the story progresses.  

Balthazar’s plot arc in the first novella is simple: he says he will go to a temple and find a magical artifact, and he goes to a temple and finds a magical artifact.

Meanwhile, what’s going on with Ceres is more complicated and can’t be succinctly summarized.

Ceres opens the story by sending a hero to fight Balthazar. This “hero” is actually a convict whom she has effectively exiled, and she intends for Balthazar to dispose of him. He does so, but not before the hero kills two people and injures a third.

Back in Whitespire, Ceres grants a private audience to a viscount from an outlying territory who essentially asks to stop paying taxes. Ceres dismisses him, but she allows herself to be seduced by his daughter, who wants the viscount to step down so that she can manage her family’s estate. While engaging in an openly sexual relationship with the viscount’s daughter, Ceres realizes that the viscount is being manipulated by a shadowy anti-monarchist political faction. In an attempt to provoke the members of the faction to reveal themselves, Ceres orders the head of her intelligence staff to direct a covert attack on the viscount’s estate.

Members of a separate anti-monarchist faction, fearing that they will be blamed for this attack, offer a scapegoat in the form of an advanced student of magic – a grad student, basically – who has been distributing seditious tracts. Ceres has actually discussed the matter beforehand with one of the leaders of the grad student’s faction, who is her close friend (and happens to be the author of the ongoing series of romance novels that Balthazar is addicted to). She therefore exiles the student, ostensibly to die at the hands of the demon king but actually to study with his friend Melchior, a wizard from a foreign kingdom who has strong anti-monarchist leanings of his own.

Ceres has grown fond of the viscount’s daughter, and she doesn’t want her or her father to become pawns of court politics in the way that the grad student did. She therefore engineers a minor scandal involving the viscount, which serves as the excuse the daughter needs to transfer power away from her father.

At the end of the first story arc, the viscount and his daughter leave the castle alive and unharmed. Ceres hasn’t been able to figure out who was manipulating the viscount at court, but she’s content to have secured an ally in the viscount’s daughter, who will almost certainly manage her family’s estate better than her father.

All’s well that ends well, but the reader is left with the dangling thread of why Ceres is so amenable to the idea of deposing herself from her own throne. In addition, how does she know Balthazar, and why is she so friendly with him? There’s also the matter of Ceres having sent Balthazar a “hero” that he was given no choice but to murder. Balthazar alludes to the fact that this isn’t the first time Ceres has done this, which is even more disturbing.

At the beginning of the second story arc, probably at the end of the second chapter, Ceres is going to address this matter directly and reflect the main theme of the story back on Balthazar by saying that these “heroes” have a choice. What she means is that no one is forcing them to attack the people they see as their enemies, but this raises the question of whether Ceres is giving Balthazar a choice in how he handles the circumstances she has created. This digs even deeper into the story’s theme by suggesting that some choices aren’t so simple, and that people suffer when they try to deal with making these choices on their own.

Also I intend for Ceres to make a lot of jokes about oral sex in her second story arc.

This summary is much more complicated than the story itself, hopefully. Ceres is not an unreliable viewpoint character, and none of these plot elements are supposed to be confusing or mysterious to the reader.

In the end, the goal of all this political intrigue is to set up Ceres’s kingdom as a battleground while establishing that it is primarily a battleground of relationships and feelings.

If Balthazar is a means to look at high fantasy heroic quest narratives from a different perspective, then Ceres is my take on the traditional “pure-hearted princess” trope. Ceres is in her early thirties, and I don’t think a princess can survive that long in a position of near-absolute power without being extremely clever and at least a little evil.

The above illustration of Ceres was created by the stylish and magical Fernanda V. (@artesiants on Instagram and on Twitter + @artesiant on Tumblr), who draws bold and fashionable designs of witchy characters. The prompt I gave her was “an elven princess who is beautiful and ethereal but delights in destroying her enemies,” and I love how she’s mixed diaphanous skirts and delicate jewelry with a lightly armored Amazonian halter that leaves Ceres’s arms free and ready to handle any conflict that comes her way.

It’s so interesting to see how various artists interpret this character, and every illustration of her makes me even more committed to telling her story despite the occasionally stress-inducing intricacies of its twists and turns.

The Legend of Haiku

The Legend of Haiku celebrates the natural environments and quiet moments of the games in the Legend of Zelda series. This 46-page zine collects the work of 28 poets and artists from around the world who have pooled their talents to create a gentle adventure into a beautiful green world filled with mystery and discovery.

🌿 You can download a free digital copy on Gumroad (here).
🌿 There are a handful of physical copies available on Etsy (here).
🌿 You can download the digital zine directly from Google Drive (here).

This project was a journey. I had initially planned to release the zine in November shortly after the end of the submission period, but I received such an incredible diversity of submissions from such a large number of people that I found myself at a loss regarding the best way to move forward. In addition, the pandemic resulted in severe delays with the United States Postal Service, and I actually had to close my store on Etsy because nothing was getting where it was supposed to go. I therefore had to put the project on hiatus for three months, and I was only able to resume work in March.  

If I learned anything from this process, it’s that most people are lovely and patient and kind. I was expecting to encounter more frustration, but everyone was very chill and nice.

I also learned that it’s good to take a big project like this in baby steps until I reach a sense of critical mass and can work for longer periods as I get a better sense of what needs to be done and how best to do it. I wasn’t prepared for the incredible response I got concerning this project, but I’m very grateful for the support of the contributors as I muddled my way through.

Thankfully, the zine turned out to be gorgeous, so it was all worth it in the end.  

I want to give a special shout-out to the cover artist, who goes by @flyingcucco on Twitter and @acro_bike on Instagram. Trina was an absolute pleasure to work with, and she put an extraordinary level of thought and attention into creating a design that captures the themes of the project. The full, unedited wrap-around cover illustration was awarded the honor of being a Daily Deviation on the portfolio hosting site DeviantArt, and I highly encourage you to check it out (here) if you’d like to read Trina’s concise but insightful artist statement.