Fun Factoids And Fluff

Last year, I posted some fun background bits about the Action Figures series — trivia about the series and my writing process. Readers enjoyed the peek inside my head, so as I get ready for a weekend working MASSive ComicCon with my wife (and therefore will be away from my laptop), I thought I’d share some more insights (be forewarned, there might be some slightly SPOILERY tidbits).

  • Lovecraft references are scattered throughout the series. One of the more obscure references is to the film version of Re-Animator; the Lumley brothers — Gordon, Stuart, and Jeffrey — are named after director Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs.
  • While the series is roughly plotted out through the final book, game plans change as the story progresses. Originally, Matt and Sara were going to end up together, but the more I thought about it, the less I liked that idea. It fell into a trope I rather despise: boy meets girl; girl has no interest in boy; boy ignores girl’s feelings and keeps after her; girl breaks down after realizing boy wouldn’t keep trying so hard if his love wasn’t real; boy and girl get together. I dislike that trope because it sends a message that boys shouldn’t respect a girl when she says no, that a girl is a prize to be won, and that someone with self-esteem issues can be “fixed” by the love of a good person. I abandoned that story thread while revising Secret Origins and started planting hints that Sara’s lack of interest was due to the fact she was still coming to grips with her sexuality.
  • Edison “Concorde” Bose is named after Thomas Edison (who, like Concorde, was kind of a dick). Edison’s son Nick is named after Nikola Tesla.
  • Carrie owns a copy of the first American printing of The Hobbit featuring the revised Riddles in the Dark chapter, passed down to her from her father, who got it from his father. In mint condition, this book would be worth close to $2,000. Carrie’s edition is very well-read and nowhere close to mint condition.
  • The Hero Squad’s favorite flavors: Carrie = mocha. Matt = caramel. Sara = maple. Missy = ginger. Stuart = why play favorites? They’re all good.

And now, a bonus factoid or two about The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot

  • The main characters are a subtle homage to a classic Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party composition.  There are two fighters (Derek, a straightforward fighter, and Erika, a ranger type), a thief (Felix), a magic user (David), and a cleric (Winifred). Also, the party starts to form after a chance meeting in a tavern — a traditional starting point for many adventures.
  • Speaking of Winifred, I’d originally planned for her to be a one-adventure character, but I liked her too much. How will she factor in with the rest of the series? You’ll have to wait for Assassins Brawl to find out.
  • Jorge Garcia, who should be cast in everything.
    Jorge Garcia, who should be cast in everything.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes cast actors as certain roles to help me find their characters. In S&L, Winifred’s look is based on former WWE star Stacy Keibler (which I guess would make her a Keibler elf), Derek was inspired by Mummy-era Brendan Fraser, and Felix I’ve always pictured as a scruffy Ryan Reynolds. In Assassins Brawl, I’ve fan-casted two new characters — Lord Paradim and his captain of the guard, Isla Manse — as Jorge Garcia and Gina Torres, respectively.

Curiously, no one has stood out in my mind as suitable for Erika. If anyone has their own fan-casting suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Strongarm & Lightfoot – Cover Reveal!

Hey, everyone! My awesome cover artist Tricia Lupien just wrapped up the cover for The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Scratching a Lich, which means the book is ready for final prep and release! I’ll let you know when the book goes live on Amazon, but for now, let’s reveal in the glory of the full cover, with and without the cover text.

Final cover art for "The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot - Scratching a Lich." Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien.
Final cover art for “The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Scratching a Lich.” Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien.
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien

I dig this cover so hard.

When I sent Tricia the character descriptions for Derek Strongarm (left), Erika Racewind (center), and Felix Lightfoot, I told her I wanted the cover to have an old-school Dungeons & Dragons handbook/module vibe. Aside from the fact it matched the tone of the story — fun, full of adventure, and slightly irreverent — D&D was my first serious exposure to the fantasy genre, so it felt appropriate on a personal levels as well as an artistic level.

As always, Tricia sent me screencaps of her work in progress, and it’s always cool to see her develop a cover image for me. She continued to justify my decision to throw money at her right off the bat when she sent me the logo she worked up…

Strongarm Lightfoot Banner

That couldn’t be more perfect. Tricia even commented that it might be the best logo she’s ever created and I’m not going to disagree.

After that Tricia sent me shots of the main art in progress, starting with her rendition of Habbatarr, the titular lich of the story (seen here with a silly caption she added for our amusement):

Artwork by and Copyright Patricia Lupien.
Artwork by and Copyright Patricia Lupien.

I will point out that Cover Habbatarr bears very little resemblance to Prose Habbatarr, but I honestly couldn’t care less. I left the character’s look to Tricia’s discretion and imagination, and Cover Habbatarr screams D&D module cover villain, so there are absolutely no complaints here.

Then she started working in the protagonists, and this is a mid-process image; you can see the rough outlines beneath the characters, but the details have yet to be laid down…

Artwork and Copyright Patricia Lupien.
Artwork and Copyright Patricia Lupien.

Even at this stage you can get a grasp on the characters — Derek’s boyish face, Erika’s lean physique, Felix’s scruffy, roguish nature…

Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien

Those are partial inks, which start to bring in some of the fine details and fix problems with the earlier version (note that Felix’s head is smaller and his left shoulder has been fixed). Next up: the beginning of the color work:

Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien

And with more of the basic colors laid down, and before the addition of a background.

Art and Copyright by Patricia Lupien
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien

Reasons To Love ‘The Big Bang Theory’

This morning I came across an article on UGO.com entitled 11 Reasons Geeks Hate The Big Bang Theory, and I felt compelled to respond to a few of the accusations.

I came into the show late — as in, within the past few months, after it entered syndication — and I watch it religiously. It never fails to entertain me, in part because of its geekcentric world view. Being a geek, I can relate to the characters and I get all the jokes (that don’t have to do with advanced physics theory).

To be fair, UGO made some good points, but missed the mark on others. I’ll hit them in the order listed in the original article (be warned, some of these have nothing to do with the writing-related aspects of the show).

11 ) The Laugh Track

That’s a laugh track? Really? It’s a damn good one, because it sounds like an actual audience to me.

10 ) Losing Leslie and 3 ) Girls Are Weird

UGO laments the show’s poor treatment of the female characters; the site says the show regards them as sex objects, with the notable exception of Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert), a fellow scientist who was dropped from the cast after a few episodes because the writers “didn’t know how to write for her.”

My knee-jerk reaction is the show should have gotten better writers, but that’s unfair. The fact of the matter is, characters sometimes simply never click. They sound good in concept, but once the character starts talking on the page (so to speak), you realize that he or she just isn’t working like you thought he/she would.

That does not mean the character is bad. Sometimes it takes another writer to show everyone a character’s potential. An example in my own career is when I co-wrote the script for Pastimes‘ 2004 King Arthur Festival with my friend Amy (of Asperger Ninja). One of the characters in that show’s particular continuity was King Uriens, Morgan LeFey’s consort, and in previous shows, he was a very bland, flat, second-string villain. Paul, one of the producers, remarked to me how much he hated the character because he was so dull.

He was dull because he was never anything more than Morgan’s yes-man. The character agreed with Morgan constantly, spouted evil dialogue, got into fights with the heroes, and that’s it. Amy and I were able to make him interesting by writing him not as your basic Evil Goon but as Morgan’s husband and as the co-ruler of a kingdom. In this particular storyline, we added emotional conflict by creating friction between Uriens and Mordred, Morgan’s son with King Arthur — the son Uriens believed should have been his.

Most of the Big Bang Theory eps are written or co-written by show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, and in the case of Leslie Winkle, they could have farmed her writing out to someone else who could have found the character’s center and given other writers material to work with.

All that said, UGO totally overlooked Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) girlfriend, who is very much not an object of lust for the male cast members. Amy started off as She-Sheldon but has since evolved into a very well-realized and layered character — perhaps the best in the cast.

9 ) Endless References and 8 ) Messed-up References

UGO compares the show to Family Guy in terms of its ham-fisted use of pop-culture references, and yeah, the refs can fly fast and furious on Big Bang, but they feel less disruptive than the Family Guy references, which are clumsy, abrupt non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the story. Big Bang is not as slick, subtle, and sly as, say, Futurama (which UGO rightly credits as the best when it comes to pop-culture references), but the show uses them to better effect than Family Guy.

As for the gripe that the show gets its geek references wrong, well, UGO’s example — that a player cannot in fact loot allies’ bodies in World of Warcraft, despite the show’s assertion — only bothers the hardcore players who know better. It bothers them in the same way it bothers neurologists when a character gets knocked out cold for several hours and wakes up with nothing worse than a headache, or the way it bothers cops when an action movie police officer — well, does just about anything.

There are countless instances when a movie or TV show gets wrong some technical detail, but the flub goes unnoticed by all except those in the know. Any good writer should know enough to do their research so they don’t get the facts wrong, but sometimes writers don’t exercise due diligence, and other times they ignore reality to move the story forward, hoping the general public won’t know any better. The Big Bang Theory is not committing a crime that Hollywood hasn’t committed before and won’t commit again.

PS: reductio ad absurdum is indeed, despite UGO’s claim to the contrary, a logical fallacy; it’s just not the one Sheldon describes. I’d call that irony, but UGO might point out that I’d be using “irony” incorrectly.

7 ) Other Geek Shows Are Better

Yes, and others are worse. That’s just a lame argument. Moving on…

6 ) Evil Wil Wheaton

UGO remarks that Wesley Crusher was the worst part of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know why fans hated Wesley? Because he was getting to do what all the fanboys wanted to do: be on the Enterprise having adventures. The character had problems, but it was mostly jealousy on the fans’ part that led to Wesley’s low standing in the Star Trek universe.

But that’s beside the more important point UGO makes, that the “evil Wil Wheaton” character has shown up too often and is losing his punch with each appearance. Wait, what? Wil’s made three appearances on the show, that’s three appearances in five seasons and 100 episodes. That’s hardly a glut of Wheaton.

5 ) Sheldonmania

UGO writes:

There’s a common tendency in many sitcoms to abandon their original premise when one character becomes more popular than the others. Probably the best example is Family Matters, which eventually just became a showcase for the antics of Steve Urkel. In the case of The Big Bang Theory, that character is Sheldon Cooper, the Aspergers-esque theoretical physicist.

I’m not sure what they mean by the show’s original premise being abandoned. The show is about the lives of four geeky friends. Yes, the Leonard-Penny dynamic was a major point in the show’s early seasons and remains a recurring theme, but to act like that was always meant to be the main point is not accurate. Leonard and Sheldon are the anchor characters, and always have been.

Besides, there’s a difference between a wholesale character takeover, like the Urkel-ization of Family Matters, and writers finding their footing writing for characters. Sheldon’s quirks were definitely less pronounced in the very early episodes, but the character as we know it was there.

4 ) Bazinga

Character catch-phrases are always going to be hokey and contrived, but Bazinga abuse is far less egregious than, say, anything ever uttered by any given character in any given sitcom during the 1970s or 1980s. It’s hardly in the same class as “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

2 ) It’s Not Us

UGO writes:

At the end of the day, the biggest geek gripe against The Big Bang Theory is that we know plenty of geeks who would be better protagonists for a TV show. Most scientists we know are the absolute opposite of the stereotype on the show — when you’re super-smart, you spend your time working on world-changing projects, not visiting the comic book store every Wednesday. The real geek is too busy subtitling anime or modding Skyrim to keep a job like that. If they wanted to show the actual world of geekdom, they need to lose the high-paying science jobs and focus on dudes writing articles for Internet magazines.

So, the problem with the characters is that they have real and respectable jobs and DON’T spend obscene amounts of time on their geeky hobbies? Seriously, guys?

One of the things I love about the show is that the characters are, undeniably, geeks, but they are not the typical Hollywood interpretation of geeks as lonely, zit-faced, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing sexless losers who live in their parents’ basement and spend all the money they earn from their McJob on action figures and comic books. Except for Howard (Simon Helberg), the guys all live on their own — real apartments and everything. They have and have had relationships, real and purely sexual.

UGO’s insistence that a “real geek” is too busy indulging in their hobbies to hold down a day job — at least, one that is not an extension of their leisure-time activities — is not just untrue, it’s insulting. You know that episode in which Leonard and Sheldon have a heated debate over exactly how Superman’s powers work? Yeah, I’ve had that conversation. You know what I do for a living? I’m a reporter, and my work and my social life are two totally different worlds.

I do have friends who apparently eat, sleep, and breathe their geeky fun. I call them “the minority.” Most of my friends are teachers, scientists, lawyers, artists, techies of every variety, writers, medical professionals — jobs that utilize their intellects but are utterly unrelated to their funtime, like performing at renaissance faires, getting together for weekly Dungeons & Dragons games, hitting the comic shop en masse on Free Comic Book Day, holding Lord of the Rings movie marathons…right now I know of several people playing Skyrim and Skyward Sword until their eyeballs dry out.

To act like they’re the exception is to perpetuate a stereotype — which, I guess, is only worth complaining about when the show is stereotyping women. Sorry, UGO, but you’re WAY off-base on this one; the Big Bang gang are closer to “real geeks” than you think.

1 ) The Theme Song

That’s UGO’s number one gripe? For Christ’s sake…