31 January 2013

A Personal Treatise on Maps and Fantasy.

Map of Minas Tirith from
The Lord of the Rings
(cc) by Rama
Please read part II here. It's a bit more coherent and expands on the idea.

My first assigned book of the semester is The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The course is Fantasy Classics, so although it's a readings course, it's primarily slanted towards students who write in the fantasy genre, as opposed to the general reading public.

So although I normally do a full-on review for an assigned book, in this case, we were given class prompts. The prompt I chose was to analyze the presence of maps in fantasy literature.  Tolkien was big on including them, and since many writers emulate Tolkien, they're pretty much a fantasy staple. In fact, it's argued that they are a genre requirement of fantasy.  I disagree.

When I first started reading fantasy at a young age, I stuck mainly to stories that re-imagined fairytales. The most "epic" series I managed to wade through was C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and I never finished it--I gave up right around The Horse and His Boy. But the only book of the series I actually remember is the first: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I no longer have physical copies of my Chronicles of Narnia book set, so I'm not sure if they contain maps of Narnia in the front covers or not…but that's primarily what I use to gauge whether or not a novel is an epic fantasy. And if it is, I tend to pass on it.

History is full of fantastical maps!
Here is Asia, redisgned as Pegasus.
Map from 1581.
Epic fantasy is very difficult for me to read, even if it's considered a classic or is very-well reviewed. I thought it was an absolute miracle I made it through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy my freshman year of college, and when I finished it, I vowed, "Never again will I read this book!" It's a big reason why I avoided reading The Hobbit until it was assigned for this class, although I was very familiar with the story (I grew up on the Ralph Bakshi cartoon, and the first stage musical I performed in was The Hobbit.) I've tried to crack open books such as Eragon, The Wheel of Time, and The Sword of Shannara, and I usually quit a quarter of the way into the book. I'm afraid to attempt the Song of Ice and Fire series for fear that I'll burn out on it before I make it halfway through the first book (although an article like this one gives me hope that I may actually be able to get through it after all).

All of the books I listed above have maps in them (some even go the extra mile and include glossaries and histories). I don't think that's a coincidence. It's part of the reason why I ended up disliking them so much.

Because including maps with fantasy novels has "certainly become the proper thing to do," (my professor's words) I feel a bit lonely with my beliefs as a reader and writer of fantasy. I don't like maps, or glossaries, or appendices, and I don't want to write a work of fantasy that relies on them in any way. I'm not against world-building at all--one of my favorite things about fantasy is the discovery and invention of new worlds--but in my experience, books that include maps suggest to me that author will only let you interpret his world-building on his terms. The author exerts a little more control over how much of that world you can imagine on your own.

What else is considered an epic fantasy
genre requirement?

(cc) by David Revoy
A huge chunk of readers want total immersion in a fantasy world. Which means the more pronunciation guides, glossaries, histories, and maps there are, the closer they feel connected to that world. These supplements to the book can quickly communicate to a reader that the world is solid and complete; that there's even more going on besides what's happening in the story.

Since I grew up on fairytales, I was always content with the idea of something happening "Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom…." There wasn't much more development than that. There were no strict geographical rules or histories to the world I could imagine--the only guideline was the world was not the world I live in, and not the world I live in now. By leaving out these kinds of details, the story can belong to anyone--it's a type of direct interaction with readers, because you're allowing them to build the world up as much as they see relevant to your story.

In my thesis, which is dark epic fantasy, I don't name the year in which the story takes place. When I write it, I picture the late 18th century-early 19th century (closer to the British Regency), but to me, it's not very important for the reader to know that. I "suggest" the era through descriptive details, such as clothing, technology, and character dialogue, but if the reader doesn't pick up on the time period exactly, it doesn't matter. All they know is that it's "Once upon a time, long ago…"

As far as geography goes, I will mention names of cities for the sake of suggesting that the world is bigger than the town in which much of the story takes place. My characters aren't static either--they travel (as characters in fantasy often do), but I only drop names if it's relevant to the action; not to establish a history (unless that info will immediately pop up later). I will very generically say "Silva is in the south, the Kun are from the east," and that's it. No countries, kingdoms, or continents. It's enough info for the reader to know that the world isn't the one we live in today, and if they want to fill in the geographical blanks themselves, they can.

For many readers, this is the default fantasy setting.
(cc) by David Revoy.
Readers have a tendency to imagine things the way they want to, anyway, so I don't want to fight that impulse too much. For example, whenever I submitted excerpts of my thesis to workshops, many readers kept imagining my thesis in the Middle Ages, even though I've not dropped any clues to lead readers to that era. It's what they want to see. (Or, you could argue, it's what they've been programmed to see, considering most epic fantasy suggests basis off of medieval European civilizations.) It's not what I see when I write, but I still can't tell the reader they're wrong for envisioning the world that way. It's still "long ago and far away," which is the only real rule for the book.

By keeping some of the world-building a bit on the bare-bones side of things, not only will my reader create enough info on their own (and only as much as they need), I also feel like the emphasis will remain where I want it.

 I write character-driven fiction, which means I also spend less time on plot than a typical epic fantasy does (the quest, after all, is a story that comes from a specific action). Books with maps indicate to me that the story will be more plot-driven than character-driven, and so far my assumption hasn't been wrong yet, though I'm sure someone will be able to give me an example that proves otherwise.

My promise to you, readers:  my fantasy will always be
Anyway,  part of the reason why I fail to make it through an epic fantasy series is because I don't feel connected to the characters. Why would I follow someone over the mountains and across to the sea and to the ends of the earth if I just don't like them or identify with them? The journey that is so much a part of epic fantasy feels like a chore--a series of tasks, that although are of Dire Consequence, mean nothing to me if I'm already exhausted before they've reached the first landmark in the journey. How do I know what the first landmark is? The map in front of the book told me--if it took one hundred and fifty pages to get from point A to point B, and there are still five more areas to cover on the map, it suggests to me the story is going to take forever to get through and won't be worth it (especially if I haven't found someone in the party to root for).

Many fantasies I've read and dropped had maps and info that, although included, didn't seem to integrate well with the actual story, and if they did, it took forever to make it relevant (which means, after I quit reading). I think this speaks to the idea that fantasy authors feel "obligated" to include them for the reader who wants to dive into immersive fantasy--again, this info can help solidify the world even if it has no direct relevance to the plot. But I don't care for books that do that, for the many reasons I already stated. I am far more in favor of a fantasy book that includes maps to complement the text as opposed to supplementing it.

Readers, what do you think? Do you read fantasy, and if so, do you read for the world-building, or do you read for the characters and story? How do you feel about maps and supplemental materials published in fantasy novels? Are they a genre requirement?

21 January 2013

Ohayocon 2013

This badge wants
your braaaaainnnsss....
Art (c) Ohayocon LLC
2013 is the year of the zombie at Ohayocon! The convention started Friday the 18th, and as I write this, it's still going full steam ahead until later tonight. And to state the obvious, the convention's theme this year is zombies. 

...Which I thought was pretty fitting, seeing as how I felt like a zombie for most of the con. 

Let me give you some context about this first so you can see what I mean. If you remember in this post, I was super-excited to be a potential panelist, having submitted three awesome topics in September, and getting a good deal of views about them on the forums. Then, if you recall in this post, I pulled my panel submissions because I've been under a lot of stress lately, had a negative doctor's appointment since my health has dipped low, and I've been told to take things easy and take care of myself. The day after I pulled my panel submissions, Ohayocon contacted me and rejected all three panels anyway. It all worked out in an odd way, but it was kind of crazy all this happened just two weeks before the convention. 

So, I'd been in a mehhhhh mood for a while, and that definitely shaped my con experience. I wasn't particularly motivated to do anything, and was considering not going at all, but I prepaid my hotel and bought my ticket back in September, and I didn't want to waste all that money (as it was non-refundable). My goal was to relax at the con with no real plan or obligations (no cosplay, no panels = no stress, right?) and I hoped it would be like a small vacation before class starts tomorrow. 

With that in mind, let me share my convention experience with you! Like my 2012 review of Ohayocon, I'm going to do my daily play-by-play, so start your engines, kids.

I had a plan of action for the entire convention in terms of when I'd arrive and when I'd leave, and it started with hanging out with friends. This was my first con going solo, so I wanted to work in some quick visits before checking into my hotel. I had a lot of stuff to print out though, before heading off. I frantically tried to pack and spent almost an hour trying to print this schedule. Now, last year, Ohayocon didn't have schedules printed and available until Friday morning, the day of the convention. And then the schedule kept changing over the weekend where we had to pick up reprints...it was kind of a disaster. So the fact that a spreadsheet was up and available on the website a couple of days before the start of the con was a HUGE improvement from the year before. However, it was not well-formatted for printing, and that's what took me forever--I couldn't get a legible version printed no matter how much I played with the sizing. In order to get it to fit on one sheet (one per day) I had to print it at 20% its original size. Bifocals needed, stat!
Thor cosplayers and crossplayers!
Image (cc) KEB.

Anyway, I showed up late to my friend's house (late by my standards, not his) and we had one of our marathon chats over sushi, yum YUM! It was great to catch up (it always is!) but a part of our discussion very briefly brought back up some old stuff that was kind of...yucky. It didn't bother me too much at the time, and I had a blast with him and my other friend--horror movies and creativity and writing and friendship, huzzah!-- but right when I checked into my fabulous hotel room  and had some time to myself, I couldn't shut my brain off about it. My brain was already functioning at sub-level 2 from stress but add some negative thoughts and I pretty much started things off like a grumpy kitty. Although depressed kitty would be the better way to describe it. 

Tumblr has a gif for everything.
Image via user Resident Shota
Before I tried to conk out for the night, I flitted over to pre-reg badge pickup, which is always the best and fastest way to get your badge. The con schedules weren't printed; but they did do a cool faux-newspaper for the con program, which of course was about the zombie apocalypse ready to storm Columbus.  I enjoyed flipping through it and tried to read my own minuscule printout of the schedule in the meantime, but decided to give up and grab the schedule in the morning. 

Didn't get a lot of sleep.

I will always have love for Legend of Zelda
Especially LINK cosplay.
Image (cc) KEB.

Started the morning with breakfast room service. Yay. But then came the first sign I was turning into a zombie...I had to wake up early in the morning to go shopping before the convention, because I FORGOT TO BRING PANTS. That's kind of a big brain fart right there. It's funny to talk about it but at the time it was a pain in the ass, because my convention money had to go towards that. 

And valet parking. Last year, parking was a nightmare and I missed out many things because lots were always full and I had to park really far away. This year, since I had an on-site hotel, I was going to use their parking lot...which turned out to be valet parking. Of course, I didn't have to use valet parking,  but if I wanted to leave my car in one space and not worry about it, I had to cough up $23 a day for the privilege. I figured it would be worth it if there was lots of stuff I wanted to do at the convention, and I liked the peace of mind of having my car in one spot the whole time. So aside from the steep costs, it was a wise decision to go valet.

Second sign I was turning into a zombie... returning from Target with new pants in hand, I came back to the hotel at the wrong time. Lots of people were checking in, so it took a while for me to return my car to the valet. When I handed him my keys and left my car I forgot to put it in park so my car started driving on its own and it's a miracle it didn't hit anything (like the car and people in front of me). I was so mortified at how stupid I was that I hid in my room for a good hour before officially starting my Ohayocon. I figured, "I shouldn't be in public right now!"

Midna's true form, from LoZ Twilight Princess;
and Horse Head Mask Memer.

Image (cc) KEB.
I tried to get a print out of the schedule again but they weren't available, and I was a bit miffed and ready to mentally complain about the lack of organization, but it turns out I shouldn't be so hard on Ohayocon because they were busy dealing with this bullshit. Aw man, what a mess. I'm sorry that valuable time had to get sucked away from the people in charge in order to deal with some mindless commentary from mindless idiots. Mindlessness...isn't that a symptom and characteristic attributed to a zombie? Whoa. 

Now back to some positive stuff! I had been on the fence as to whether or not I should bring one of my DVDs with me in order to get autographs. Even though I've loaded up on anime since my first convention (I know a lot of popular shows now!) I still didn't recognize a lot of the guests on the list. Truth be told, the only DVDs I've ever wanted autographed are my Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood DVDs...and two voice actors from Brotherhood were there but their characters weren't on any of the DVD covers or boxes. Instead, I brought my copy of  Ouran High School Host Club and at the last second decided to meet Greg Ayres for the first time. I didn't even wait in a line to get in the room...in fact, I was a little late but still managed to get a spot for autographs.
Greg Ayres signed Big Hitachiin Hugs!
 Greg plays Kaoru, the younger Hitachiin twin.
What I love about Ohayocon autograph sessions is that each room has chairs for everyone to sit in, and you don't actually have to stand in a line until your row is called up. So it's a very comfortable experience, and I bet even moreso for people in cosplay with funky shoes. Also, because it was the first day of the con, there wasn't a huge amount of people in the room, so Greg got to talk a little more with the fans. 

I've heard mixed stuff about voice actors that has kept me wary of meeting them (and they're always extremes--either they're super nice or super assholey) but to be honest, every VA I've ever met has been completely awesome. While I was waiting I listened to Greg's interactions with his fans and he was really down-to-earth, personable, and very, very funny. He signed awesome stuff on people's things like "There's cool stuff inside!" on someone's backpack or "Please thank your friend. He waited in line a long time for this." 

And then it came my turn to meet him, providing further evidence that I was a brainless zombie. Greg thought he met me before because I looked familiar, and I kind of froze, then mumbled, "Oh, I'm a newbie." He shook my hand and asked if it was my first Ohayocon and I said "second."

Me and Greg Ayres. And I
continue to dwarf  VAs in every
picture. Image (cc) KEB.
I whipped out my Ouran DVD and said, "I've only seen like three shows so I'm familiar with you in this one. Another voice actor told me to watch it. I ended up liking this way more I expected to; it was a nice surprise." And we chatted a little about how funny the show is and then he asked, "Which voice actor did you talk to?" And I mumbled, "Vic Mignogna."

He and his buddy gave each other smiling a look and Greg laughed, "Of course he would tell you to watch it, he's the lead!"  Because I didn't want to physically facepalm myself my brain did it for me. I went blank. I meant to lead into my "What anime of yours should I watch next" but it didn't happen. Instead I asked for a picture, and told him it was a pleasure to meet him, which it was. He's cool. I just wish I wasn't ditsy every time I wait in an autograph line for people. 
Why do I keep saying stupid things
to famous people?

Image from tumblr

Forgot to add, when I waited in line I got to see Jamie McGonnigal and Darrel Guilbeau set up their tables and get ready for their autograph lines, too. I hadn't seen what anime they were in so I wasn't familiar with them, but they were nice to us and chatted as we waited. Jamie was selling professional photos, some of them of characters he's voiced from Pokemon, which he was selling to help fund his "big gay wedding." I told him I hadn't seen a lot of anime so I wasn't familiar with his work, so I asked if I could donate without having to purchase the photos. I was happy I could help him out, even if it was just a little bit. He and fellow actor Darrel seem like good people, based on my limited interaction with them...and randomly, I just saw that Jamie's a contributor to Huffington Post. He keeps leveling up! As far as other voice actors go, I ran into Kyle Hebert five times in the hallway, I kid you not. I didn't say anything to him, though. I figured the best time to talk to guests is at their panels or in line, you know? 

Cosplay of Stein from Soul Eater.
Image (cc) KEB.
Anyway, after the autograph session I tried to find one of the panels I remembered I wanted to go to, and of course ended up misreading my info and waited in the wrong line to get to it. But a really nice person in the line showed me that Ohayocon created a Guidebook app for your smartphone with the schedule, maps, panels organized by the type of panel and topic, where it was located, who was hosting it, what it was rated, and more. It was seriously the coolest, most convenient thing Ohayocon has done for guests. Guests who had a smartphone, that is. At that point, I didn't need to use a paper map EVER AGAIN, so I don't know how guests who relied on printouts were faring, but once I downloaded the Guidebook app the con became 500% better for me. I loved it. I could customize my own convention schedule, set reminders thirty minutes ahead of the panel times, and the app auto-updated room changes and schedule changes. This was so awesome and I wish I had it last year. 

All was honky and dory when I headed to my first actual panel, which I abandoned after ten minutes. I won't name which one it is to protect the people who participated, but if there's anything that pisses me off, it's a panel where the moderator goes, "Let's talk about X with the audience. What do you want to talk about?" No preparation, no schedule or structure, just a conversation free-for-all. I'm pretty sure the panel guidelines discouraged round-tables and free-form discussions. 

Sir Auron and Yuna from Final Fantasy X.
Image (cc) KEB
The panel I attended was jam-packed because the topic was a popular one; we had to show them our badges to get in, and as soon as we sit down, the guy running it says, "This is a round-table where you guys are going to talk about the show." He invited an audience member up to the podium, and she was really sweet and nervous, so I felt kind of crappy for bailing right after she was done, but the panel had no clear topic or coherency; there was already a bunch of spoilers and stuff I had no idea about (and I watch this show, too!); so it all went over my head. Within the first few minutes I knew the panel would be a waste of my time, so I left with a bunch of other people, and again, I felt bad because the guy who let me in and checked my badge sort of went, "Oohhhhhhhhh!" in dismay for me leaving. 

This happened last year over and over with Ohayocon panels. When panel requirements say Panelists should be knowledgeable/experts on their topics who want to share quality info with others, make sure you know your stuff! and I sit through a panel that is clearly someone letting the audience do the work, I leave. And I get a bit miffed about it, because it's aimless fan-gushing that doesn't show me anything new or helpful, and then I wonder why certain panels get picked and others get rejected, especially when panelists are required to submit a detailed outline.  And don't get me started on the duplicate panels issue...do we really need  Five separate My Little Pony Panels? (With apologies to my Brony friends) Anyway, after being disappointed by another panel for reasons that haven't changed from the previous year, I started cutting panels I wanted to attend and decided to stick with workshops only.

Rise of the Guardians cosplayers!
Image (cc) KEB.
After killing time in the Dealer Room and Artist Alley, I attended voice actor and artist Doug Smith's Digital 101 workshop. If you've been following my website at all, I started doing digital art for the first time exactly one year ago, when I got Manga Studio and a Wacom Bamboo tablet last Christmas. I'm self-taught, and although I'm not terrible, my stuff doesn't look professional at all. It's mad cartoony, to be honest, and I want it to be something more than that, so I thought this panel would help. 

Just an example of my cartoony digital
art. Probably because it's of a cartoon.

An example of one of my many deviantArt
requests from my watchers. N from Pokemon
(c) NintendoArt (cc) KEB
Like Garth Graham's art workshop I took last year, I learned so much and took copious notes. I confirmed that pretty much that I'm doing it wrong and need to train myself to work with shapes first before jumping in and straight-up drawing. And if I can't train myself to do that, at the very least, I should practice inking better. Turns out you get cleaner lines if you move your arm via your elbow as opposed to moving your wrist to draw. Just one of many tidbits! We did warm-up exercises, studied hair and clothing technique, a quick brush-up in perspective...I was so happy I took the workshop! 

I also have to give a shout-out to the One Piece cosplayer named Heather who chatted with me while I waited in line for the workshop. We sat together for it, too. She was a sweetie who invited me to hang out with her group at the Hyatt since I was alone for the con...she gave me her info to meet up on Saturday but I forgot about it due to other things you'll read about soon. I regret I blew her off because she was so nice. Anyway, this is just one example of how convention fans can be really inclusive and friendly to other fans. As a bonus, she was shocked when I told her I was pushing 30. In return, I was shocked that she thought I was seventeen. Must've been what I was wearing at the time!
An epic-looking Homestuck troll,
Gamzee Makara.  The Grand Highblood.
Image (cc) KEB. 

After taking a bajillion notes from the workshop and feeling emotionally and creatively fulfilled, I headed back to my hotel room. I hadn't gotten much sleep from the night before and had to wake up early, so I was very exhausted. I conked out at a quarter til ten and then proceeded to be woken up several times by the worst neighbors ever. I understand that conventions bring younger attendees who want to party, believe me, I do, but this time it was crazy awful. Anyway, I was awake until 4am because of drama in and outside the hotel that I really don't want to get into on here. Suffice it to say, I started packing my things to leave.


So, to recap...the night ended Thursday with me drowning in feelings. The night ended Friday with me drowning in feelings. So although Saturday had several workshops and guest panels I wanted to attend, I was so sick of people that I was burnt out on doing fun stuff. I didn't think I could make it another Saturday night, and Sunday had some more great art workshops that I decided to pass on for the sake of my sanity. 

And I didn't really want to end Ohayocon on such a sour note. Conventions are awesome, but I really think they're for a younger, more energetic crowd. There are such fabulous people who attend conventions, but the handful of immature attendees really made me sigh and say, "I'm too old for this shit."
Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist!
Image (cc) KEB.
I got dressed, finished packing, and thought, If I want to leave on a high note, I'm going to do the things that I love most at Ohayocon, which is:
  • Dealer Room
  • Artist Alley
  • Taking more cosplay photos
When I visited the Dealer Room and Artist Alley Friday, I zipped through them just to get a sense of what was there. For Saturday, I walked through the Dealer Room slowly and in detail. I got tee shirts, free poster art from Funimation, DVDs, plenty of postcards and business cards and some jewelry. But I made a killing in the Artist Alley. I attempted to be social with as many artists as possible, all who are awesome and really sweet people. I loaded up on prints, comics, and more jewelry.
Labyrinth Cosplayers!  Their costumes
were so detailed and awesome and I wish
I had the sense to take advantage of better
lighting! Image (cc) KEB.
I didn't even make it to the other side of the ArtistAlley--by the time I whipped through the East wing, I had to stop and think about my finances. Especially since I was going to cut out early (which in fact saved me money).  I did me some heavy shopping therapy. Did I mention that


The artists I visited with (and purchased from) include

I've been getting into reading comics again (I recently finished the first volume of Saga, which I highly recommend) so I actually bought full-volume publications from the Alley this time around: the first two volumes of The Dreamer as well as the first three volumes of Amya

I've seen ads for The Dreamer, and IDW publishes the series, so I was a bit familiar with it already...but Amya is an indie high-fantasy series, completely existing through fan-donated funding. Which means, the odds of the series being completed relies on the consistent benevolence of others. I'm mentioning this because last night I whipped through all three volumes of Amya and FELL IN LOVE WITH IT and reeeeeeaaaaaalllly want the series to continue. I know I helped the artists by purchasing their books and art, but I'd like to help them more! If I had the funds, I totally would. Maybe in the future. If you want to check out their site, go here, and please help--especially since one of the creators is having serious health issues at the moment.  If you want a more substantial tidbit, read about Amya's characters.  And take a closer look at this gorgeous character art:

Today. Today didn't happen because after I shopped at Artist Alley on Saturday, I drove right home. Unfortunately I'm still having trouble with my moods and sleeping, so whenever I can, I dive into the lovely things I got from Ohayocon to distract me--lots of pretty pictures, lots of pretty animation, lots of pretty comics, lots of pretty jewelry.  
Princess Bubblegum, The Ice King, and Gunter from Adventure Time
Image (cc) KEB.
I've been chibi-fied! Art (c) by Alicia Eades.
I don't think I'm going to try for another Ohayocon in the future. There's some really great things about this convention, but after two years in a row, I'm pretty much exhausted of it. And I think I'm a little too old for a lot of it (I'll never do the raves or masquerade, for example, but if I was still in my early twenties I probably would've). And I don't know how much of this has to do with the convention, its attendees, or the fact that I was mehhhhhh for most of my time there. Three days at Ohayocon would be fabulous for many attendees, but I personally can't justify the large cost for the small chunk of the con that interested me. If I do go back, it would be a one-day only thing, and primarily for the dealer room, artist alley, and guest events.

I think I'm going to be a one-con girl from now one. And I bet you can guess which one.

In the meantime, for all other Ohayocon attendees, I hope you had a blast! Happy Martin Luther King Day, and wish me luck with school...all three classes start tomorrow, and I still have a book to finish. And hopefully I can get this mood stuff under control by then...