Categories
Television

Infinity Train and My Journey as Non-Binary

You know how it is to feel completely lost? When for whatever reason, you have no idea where you are, or where you are going with your life? Everyone’s bound to feel like that at some point in their lives, I think. But what would happen if, suddenly, a train appeared? Not just any train, but an infinite train, with each car being its own bizarre pocket universe, from which once you enter, you cannot get out until you solve the problem that made it appear for you?

That’s basically the synopsis for Infinity Train, an anthology series that tells the stories of different passengers aboard said train. In my opinion, it sounds like the perfect pitch on paper; the plot literally revolves around the character development, in a limitless setting. And not only is it good on paper, because the final result is even better than it sounds. But just because something is good, according to some subjective and personal criteria, it doesn’t mean that you will necessarily connect with it. I have encountered more works than I can count, that based on my experience, I should’ve liked, but sadly realized there was nothing for me in them.

That’s fortunately not the case with Infinity Train. It continues to amaze me how with only 100 minutes per season, I connect more with those characters, than I do with most things I watch (Or with any piece of art from any medium, if I’m being honest). Even in a setting so whimsical and ungrounded, I connect with ease, because the characters and their problems are so human. Tulip’s struggle with the divorce of her parents during the first season, Ryan and Min-Gi in the fourth season, dealing with the pressure of what they want to do with their lives, and what others want for them; the show is never afraid to make you feel. In fact, it wants you and succeeds to, as much as it does making you laugh, and enjoy all the worlds and random characters that exist in it. But I think that the character which I connect the most with, is the protagonist of the second season, Lake.

Lake is not a passenger of the train. She’s a denizen, created by it, as many others were, in order to help the passengers, so that the number they now have on their hands goes down to 0 when they solve their problems, and they can leave. Even worse, she’s supposed to be a reflection; meant to do nothing more than imitate what her prime (That would be the people they reflect, us) did. But she escapes, and while being chased by the Mirror Police, who want to kill her for that, her journey begins.

After 13 years of living in just one car, and existing to fulfil another person, she starts by exploring the train. Never staying too long in the same car, partly because she’s being persecuted, but also because she’s trying to find a place to be. That’s her life, wandering endlessly without a clear direction. At least, until she meets with two individuals; Jessie, a boy with a golden heart that can sadly be easily influenced, thanks to his people pleaser nature; and Alan Dracula, another denizen that appears to them as a normal deer, but is later revealed to be much more than that.

Even though she is adamant to engage in any type of communication with Jessie, and only wants to be with Alan Dracula, they agree to travel together, so that Lake can help him get off the train as soon as possible, and she can stay with Alan. But after some episodes, their relationship develops, they get closer and become more open with each other. And this is when everything changes, with a throwaway line that comes out of Jessie; what if Lake leaves too? Something that she never even considered for the sheer impossibility that it represents. What if she did everything that a denizen is not even supposed to be able to do? Denizens don’t have numbers; their main purpose is to help the passengers. But Lake doesn’t feel like a part of the train, she doesn’t belong there, with them. So she will leave.

Her story is intrinsically a search for identity. That story resonated and felt especially true, for a lot of non-binary people, like myself. From realizing that you don’t really fit within the boundaries that you were led to believe you should fit in, to not even knowing what name you want to be addressed with.

In fact, the first time I watched Infinity Train, sometime around 2020, when there were still only two seasons, I didn’t know why it clicked so much with me. I wasn’t yet aware that I was non-binary. Of course, now I’m able to see that there were signs ever since I was a kid, and even though by that time I had already started questioning my identity, there was still some time left until I was fully sure and in acceptance of it. If anything, that first time I watched it pushed me further in my journey. I didn’t know who to talk to about it, and I tended to brush it aside, because in the face of a lot of existing problems, I didn’t want to deal with even more. But I saw someone that felt like me, that was confused and struggled with a lot of the same things that I did. And same as Lake, instead of brushing it aside, I kept thinking and working about it.

Eventually, Jessie’s number reached 0, and a door appeared for him to come back to his normal life. He crosses it, but when Lake tries to, the train doesn’t let her go, because she doesn’t have a number. She can never get out, and is then trapped by one of the Mirror Police. The police are accordingly depicted as a fascists force, with the only purpose of reinforcing the pre-established norms, even against the harmless wishes of the people that they themselves belong to, and thus, they represent everything that Lake is fighting to not be a part of. She is repeatedly told by him that even if she could get out of the train, she can’t be a part of the world the way she wants to be. Everything she ever did and will ever do, will just be part of what the train designed her for, and nothing else. Fortunately, she’s able to get rid of him, and decides that if she doesn’t have a number, then she’ll get one.

She reaches the tape car, and finds herself in a room full of unconscious people where robots are analysing their memories, to know what number is best to give them. She tries to undergo the same process, which is through some advanced laser. She puts her hand where the laser is pointing, about to finally get what she wants, about to get the validation she needs about who she knows she is. But the laser just goes through her, as if she wasn’t even there. As if she didn’t even exist. She stands in anguish, with her eyes starting to tear up, and begins to scream, asking what she needs to do to be given a number, to be considered a person. But nobody even reacts. And in an act of pure anger, pain and frustration, she grabs one of the robots by the head, and screams ‘’I am a person. I deserve a number’’, as she breaks the robot’s head with her bare hands.

She’s stopped by the conductor, and starts basically begging him to give her a number so she can get out. In the midst of the discussion, when the conductor was trying to demonstrate that she needs to stay because she did a good job helping Jessie, they discover that he’s still on the train. They wake him up, and realize that he did indeed get off the train, but he knew he couldn’t leave Lake behind, so another door appeared for him. And then a paradox is created; in order for him to leave, he has to leave with Lake, who cannot do it. But they outsmart the conductor, and convince him that Lake does have a number, by reflecting Jessie’s onto herself. She couldn’t, and shouldn’t play by the rules of the system that negates her own identity, so she played by her own rules, and was able to get out. She was able to be where she wanted to be, and be the way she wanted to be.

I finally accepted that I was non binary in early 2021, and told no more than a select group of people. But still, I was afraid. What if I was faking it? And if I wasn’t, what would the repercussions be if I openly came out? I’d have to face the effects it’d have on every aspect of my life. Knowing the amount of changes and challenges that it would bring was terrifying. And I’m still scared of a lot of things. Sometimes, just thinking about the possibility of being perceived as anything other than how I identify myself, makes me worried. But it’s also freeing. I’m glad I realized about that part of me, and a lot of the changes are helping me to feel more like myself, and I can’t help but get happy when people address me with my correct pronouns, or when I think about my future, feeling even more comfortable with myself.

I cannot express how much it helped me to see Lake’s journey. How much it touches me when I see her scream in frustration, to a world that refuses to accept her. Or how determined she is, that even after being told again and again that she will never get what she wants, and will never be who she says she is, she still fights. Or how she cries with tears of happiness, when she realizes that she finally did it, she is where she needs to be, and feels more herself than ever before. I will always come back to Infinity Train, and especially to that second season, that means so much to me. I will be grateful to the creative team that made it. I will laugh and cry, and at the end of the last episode, I will be happy. Because Lake can finally be herself, and so can I. 

Categories
Television

The Definitive Rankings of Scooby-Doo on TV

Everyone knows Scooby-Doo. Everyone has their own special version of the show they grew up with and appreciates different things about it. Maybe you love the gothic look, or the musical chase scenes, or the slapstick comedy, or maybe Daphne because she’s literally god. In my case, I binged the franchise last year and watched all 15 shows and 46 movies. And in doing that, I discovered that I’m basically cursed. I’m physically unable to completely dislike anything about Scooby-Doo. I would even watch those shows and movies that I rarely enjoyed again, by the pure fact that they are part of the franchise. And since I can’t escape my eternal obsession with the talking dog and the geeks that solve mysteries, I thought I might as well do something with it. So this time, I’m going to rank all current 15 runs of Scooby-Doo.

15. The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show

I didn’t really have the best of times watching this show. It’s the second season since Scrappy-Doo’s first appearance, and they decided to change most everything. There was no Daphne, no Velma, nor Fred in sight, and the remaining members of the mystery gang, Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy were just out in the world doing their thing. They didn’t solve mysteries, but encountered real monsters, like a witch that turns Shaggy into a frog. At this point, Scrappy started to become a walking catch-phrase, and I don’t mean like Velma losing her glasses. In a 7 minutes’ episode, you would hear Scrappy say the same catch-phrase more than five times. So you either love it or you start to question what you’re doing with your life. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but if you like zany cartoons from the 80s with a short runtime, maybe it’s the right thing for you. 

14. The Scooby & Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour

There’s not much to say about this show, it keeps the same format as the one mentioned above. But it does bring some change. It introduces Yabba-Doo, Scooby’s brother, and the companion of a deputy in a town that seems out of the old west. He appears only exclusively with Scrappy in episodes where Shaggy and Scooby are left out. As I said, there’s not that many changes, but the little there is makes for a nice change of pace when watching it. 

13. Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!

This is the second show after the hiatus that ended with What’s New, Scooby-Doo? and since that one was a pretty by-the-books modernization of the classic formula, they wanted to do something different with Get a Clue. This time, Shaggy and Scooby are alone again. Shaggy inherits a mansion from one of his various uncles, a scientist millionaire, who disappeared mysteriously. That sounds like a nice, normal setup for Scooby-Doo, right? Well, in the first episode they discover that Shaggy’s uncle is hiding somewhere because a secret, evil organization that wants to destroy the world is looking for him. So the hippie and the talking dog go on quests with the most random gadgets you could think of, and Scooby snacks that give Scooby powers, trying to defeat the evil organization. So yeah, pretty different. If for some reason you ever wanted a campy spy story mixed with Scooby-Doo, this should be the holy grail for you. 

12. The New Scooby-Doo Movies

This is the second Scooby-Doo show, and keeping things on brand, they already changed a lot from the original. The gimmick of this one is that while they solve mysteries, they have guest stars. Those guests can be actors or even fictional characters. And to be honest, I think how much you’re going to like each episode depends on who’s in it. I loved the Batman episodes, but a lot of actors just didn’t do it for me. In part because of their type of comedy that just didn’t click with me, and in part because of the generational gap that made me not know most of them. Also, instead of 20 minutes, the runtime is 40 minutes, and for me, it dragged on several occasions. But it does give the sense that Scooby-Doo is just another Hollywood TV show that you could even watch the behind-the-scenes of, and that’s really cool. 

11. The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show

After the success of the Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo format started to decrease to a point where The Scooby & Scrappy-Doo Puppy Hour was canceled after only one season, the production team decided to bring a couple of things back from the original format. The runtime was now 11 minutes, Scrappy was toned down, they were back to solving mysteries (although still facing real monsters sometimes), and more importantly, Daphne was back in the gang. Her presence changes the group dynamic for the better, serving as a contrast for Shaggy and Scooby’s cowardice but also for the hot-headed nature of Scrappy. And besides, Daphne is the best character from the mystery gang, so if someone had to be back, I’m glad it was her. 

10. The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries

This keeps the format from The New Scooby & Scrappy-Doo Show, but it has one of the weirdest 80s intros that you can encounter, sung by Shaggy, so it’s instantaneously better. It also has double-part episodes where Velma and Fred are allowed to appear again, and it’s revealed that Velma has discovered water on Mars and Fred has been writing mystery books. It really feels like a reunion after so much time since they left, especially since in those shows, time has passed and the gang members are no longer teenagers in high school. If I ever want to watch Scooby-Doo in short bits, this is definitely what I’ll choose. 

9. The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show

The first appearance of one of the most infamous characters in TV history; Scrappy-Doo. His behind-the-scenes creation was basically hell on earth for the creative team, and until this day he’s so hated that the current shows and movies avoid mentioning his existence, and if they do, it’s for a joke where he’s the punchline. But If I’m being honest, Scrappy’s great. He’s cute and the admiration he has for his uncle is too wholesome for me to not like him. He plays well with the rest of the personalities in the gang and it’s a welcomed change of pace after the same formula for 3 shows. 

8. Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?

The most recent Scooby show that just ended its run with three seasons. As What’s New was a modernization of Where Are You, Scooby-Doo, Guess Who serves as a modern approach to The New Scooby-Doo Movies. And I think it does a great job. Some of the celebrities still don’t work for me at all, and there’s some I still have no idea who they are, but it normally has great guests that work incredibly well with the Mystery Gang. The runtime is the run-of-the-mill 20 minutes that I think it’s perfect for the show so it never drags, and it has what is probably the most perfect art style for a modern view of the classic designs.

7. What’s New, Scooby-Doo?

Released in 2002, What’s New was the first Scooby-Doo show since 1991, the longest hiatus in the franchise’s run. While it was made because of the success of the Zombie Island tetralogy, it decided to go in a completely different direction. Just from the presentation, it’s a big departure from the previous incarnations, changing the art style, some of the designs, and especially the shift of going from traditional to digital animation. The formula is exactly like the original, especially the second season of Where Are You, musical chase scenes and all. The technology and mysteries are a bit more out there, and the horror elements that could be found, especially in the backgrounds, were toned down a lot. If the original series was a product of the 60s, this is very evidently a product of the 00s. It even has Simple Plan and Smash Mouth in it!

6. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo

This run marks the first time the hometown of the gang is established as Coolsville, and it takes place when they’re around ten years old. They hang around in their treehouse, waiting for mysteries to solve exclusively in the city. This series can be thanked for a lot of characterization that has stayed with the characters to this day, like the dumbness of Fred. It also came back to the original formula after so many runs without mysteries or with real monsters (Although it features one single friendly ghost in one episode). The art style sets itself apart from previous shows not only in the character designs but in the background art, which is a lot more whimsical and less gothic-inspired. This is definitely the gang at their cutest, with a tiny Velma that loves to hug Scooby, and with very cartoony dances during the chase scenes. 

5. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? 

Is there a more classic show than the first iteration of Scooby-Doo? I think the perfect word to describe it is “charming”. From the very first episode, the elements of the show would click perfectly with viewers even half a century later. Shaggy and Scooby running from the monsters, the recollection of clues, the costumed villains that go from a wax monster to just a person with a sheet over their head, the intrinsically gothic and especially atmospheric backgrounds, everything combines to make a really weird pitch that wouldn’t be expected to work as well as it does, and not only was a success, but a cultural phenomenon that would spawn one of the most successful and recognizable franchises of all time. 

4. The Scooby-Doo Show

This is the definition of the phrase “If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If it wasn’t for the intro, and the slightly, almost unnoticeably better animation, it would be the same as the first run. And if you ever watched the classic episode, it’s highly possible that you confused some of these episodes and thought they belonged to Where Are You. It’s exactly the same, but in my opinion, has some villains that I prefer, like The 10,000-volt ghost, The Mad Doctor,and The Disc Demon (Who also has what is probably my favorite intro for any monster in the franchise).

3. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo

Definitely one of the most distinguishable runs of Scooby-Doo, and the last appearance of Scrappy to date. It starts when Shaggy and Scooby are tricked by two ghosts to open the Chest of Demons, releasing 13 ghosts that will destroy the world. Obligated to travel around the world trying to trap them again, the gang takes a very different shape this time around, with Shaggy, Scooby, Scrappy, Daphne, and two new members: Flim Flam, an orphan kid that tries to scam everyone and serves as a companion to Scrappy; and the one and only Vincent Van Ghoul, a wizard thousands of years old, who is voiced by, and based both in name and appearance on horror icon Vincent Price. The show can get pretty weird, with the gang entering a cursed town where the residents turn into werewolves, or being sucked into a comic book, and it tries to have as much fun as it can with each one. 

2. Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!

The most controversial Scooby-Doo show. Although, much of the controversy is created by people that didn’t watch it, sadly. Be Cool is very distinct in its design, something that put people off ever since they were first shown it. But they work perfectly on their own and especially within the context of the show, which goes for a more comedic tone than ever before (and for now, after too), being one of the funniest shows I’ve watched. It doesn’t even try to be funny, it’s just ingrained in its DNA. The timing is always perfect, also deciding to play with the classic sequences under their own rules. But it’s not like comedy is everything it has going for it. It also knows how to handle horror elements incredibly well, with an episode that makes homage to Psycho that has authentic suspense and horror in it. And the characters are certainly unique, having the foundations made by previous iterations but modeled to be something of its own, even having the most distinct, and maybe even my favorite version of Daphne, who’s totally unhinged in this.

1. Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated!

Mystery Incorporated is what happens when you combine David Lynch’s Twin Peaks with Scooby-Doo. While there are a lot of movies, shows, and games that try to be like Twin Peaks, Mystery Inc. does it notoriously well, all without feeling forced. Maybe because the resources were already there, they just needed to be put in that direction. 

The characters are taken to their maximum weirdness. The mystery, instead of being auto-conclusive with each episode, spans over the whole series, and there’s a general feeling of things not being quite right. For example, there’s an episode where the gang goes to interrogate a victim that was left in the hospital by a monster, and while he’s talking, he has a heart attack because of the trauma. But then we see the gang leave the room while his heart stops, and doctors enter with urgency, and their only reaction is Daphne thanking him and Fred saying that “It was a good question and answer session” with total calmness. Almost like there are two realities that are happening at once, and you just gotta accept it. 

But it’s not just great for resembling other existing things, I used the Twin Peaks comparison to better explain how it feels to watch the show, but it’s absolutely great on its own merit. The mystery is extremely engaging from the first episode, which creates an atmosphere of weariness, like nothing in the town is what it seems. But probably the most important thing in the series is the characters, and the main cast does not disappoint. Each one has their own character arc, even Scooby-Doo himself, that makes the writing of the show shine at its brightest. They’re not only great character arcs for Scooby-Doo, which if we’re being honest, it’s not that much of a challenge, but they’re great character arcs in general. And the supporting cast is amazing too, with every side character feeling unique and weird in the best way possible. 

Mystery Incorporated is not only the best Scooby-Doo show, but one of the best shows in general that you can find. And It’s also proof of how limitless the franchise is. I firmly believe that there is a type of Scooby-Doo for everyone, and that’s because the production team behind the show always tried to do things differently than before. And even though a lot of people complain when changes are made, like the recent outrage with the HBO Max show Velma, Scooby-Doo is always at its best when it tries to reinvent itself, believing in its potential but also appreciating what can be found at the core. 

Categories
Video Games

No Man’s Sky (Review)

Ever since Mary Shelley wrote ‘‘Frankenstein; or, the modern Prometheus‘‘ in 1818, and redefined forever what would be the science fiction genre, especially in storytelling, there has been an insurmountable amount of work made around it. There have been books, comics, music, and movies that try to capture that style and narrative to tell a new story, maybe attempting (And maybe even succeeding) at trying to redefine it how Shelley once did, or use it to talk about modern issues. 

But what is science fiction? What makes a piece of art belong to that specific genre, and not fantasy, or surrealism, for example? As understood after Frankenstein, is a type of story set in an alternative reality to ours, to explore and answer a philosophical question that cannot be answered in our current reality. That’s why a book like ‘’1984’’ is still science fiction even after decades of its (at the time of it being written) futuristic setting has passed. And same as that of Shelley, a lot of works like Blade Runner choose to explore the theme of existentialism under different lenses and objectives. 

How did we originate, and how do we matter in an infinitely vast and ever-expanding universe in which we are no more than invisible dots? In movies or graphic novels, you can even see how the unimaginable size of the universe is purposefully the center of attention in a lot of panels to emphasize that exact theme. Since we are commonly scared of the randomness of our existence, given the unknown possibilities that come with that, choosing to create something using existentialist themes usually comes with a depressing tone, and that’s what sets No Man’s Sky apart.

Source: No Man’s Sky

I’m not a day one player. In fact, I played for the first time in 2019, already three years after its launch, and after HelloGames had added various patches and updates. Even though the game gives almost total freedom to do anything you want, the start is almost the same for everyone. Every player starts at a random star, with nearly all of them being dangerous for some reason. You may start at a frozen, heat, or radioactive planet. I’ve heard of very few people that begin on a paradise planet. 

In my case, I appeared on a temperature planet, which means daily heat storms and generally a desert biome. So you wake up completely lost and disoriented, without knowing where you are, how did you get there, or even who you are. At this point, you are nobody; a newborn, if you want to put it that way. You want to find answers, and notice that the equipment of your exosuit, the spacesuit that keeps you alive in outer space and gives you tools for better survival, is broken. So you start searching for the necessary materials to repair it. You walk this barren planet that seems focused on getting rid of you, experiencing storms that kill you in a matter of minutes, while there’s not a single sign of life forms like you that can help you, or even fight against you, in order to at least make the place feel less isolated. But you also realize that you can do anything you want with what is presented; you can go to whatever you prefer on this planet, transform the land at your will, and the more you find, the more options you have. It’s a similar feeling to that of playing Minecraft for the first time.

So you find the materials and repair the most important piece of technology for this; your analysis visor. When it’s turned on, you get a signal, coming from a starship. And then you go, fighting the deathly weather by trying to go as fast as possible or maybe using caves as a refuge, whatever way you can. And when you reach the ship, you discover it needs fuel and the thrusters repaired. After you’re done with the heavy work, you can finally take off from this planet. The motors of the starship start running, and it jumps brusquely out of the ground, almost as a magnet liberating itself from the force of another magnetic body. And when you start flying, this gigantic planet, that seemed infinite when you were exploring it, becomes almost as small as you. 

And the next task is reaching a space station. Until that point, I thought I was gonna be alone all of the time. There were only going to be empty planets, some nicer and more visually pleasing than others, but empty planets after all, where I could only explore, discover animals and build things. But all that changed when I reached the station. I encountered myself at the front door of this massive, spherical, otherworldly satellite, and I was absorbed inside. As my spaceship was going through the interior of this unknown building, I was in awe. It wasn’t something I could build at all, it had to be the work of something far more organized and capable than a single, wandering being like myself; what was that entity in question, I don’t know. But even more striking, were the people that I saw. Aliens of all kinds of races going through what seemed like just a normal day; some worked there, some were just stopping by, like me. This is when I knew that the planet I woke up in, was nothing. I wasn’t alone, I was in an extremely alive and breathing universe with millions of things that were just waiting for me to find them. 

Source: No Man’s Sky

And I kept playing. As the months passed, I dropped out of the game to do other things or play other games, but I always came back. There was always something else to discover, especially with all the new updates that are constantly being added to the game. I’ve always looked for that game that people tend to have for themselves, that serves almost like a second world to live in. For some, that’s a game like World of Warcraft, for others something more relaxing like Stardew Valley; for me, it’s No Man’s Sky. 

At first, I settled on a nice planet that I found, built my base that I planned to keep expanding until it was the most imposing, technologically advanced mansion, with every possible gadget that I could make. But I had a really evident money problem. There are three types of money in the game; units, nanites, and quicksilver. All of them are accessible without paying anything in real life, but I had near to nothing of all three. And that’s really important, if you lack a mineral to create something, you could just buy it at a space station. Or maybe you are offered a freighter that costs ten million units, and you have barely six thousand. I wasn’t very aware of the best way to get money. I saw that some people built their own industries that mined minerals to then sell them, and I considered doing that, but it just didn’t feel right for me. 

That’s when I started doing the Nexus missions. The Nexus is basically a lobby where you can trade, meet other players, claim rewards and take on missions. The mission objectives can go from rescuing a stranded life-form, or fighting space pirates in your ship, to destroying sentinel bases. I started earning a fair amount of money with them, and while I was exploring, I realized that I didn’t want to settle on a planet. I was going to travel through the universe, living inside my freighter, a mothership given to me by an ex-captain after saving them from pirates, because they weren’t prepared for the responsibilities. Not only that, but I was going to save the money I’m getting as a bounty hunter to upgrade both my freighter and starship to become a space pirate myself, living my life by robbing other freighters. 

And while I’m doing that, I’m still finding out things. I recently broke an egg that I thought would just give me minerals, and a mix of a pseudo-xenomorph and a scorpion came out of it and attacked me. I also discovered a giant, one-eyed worm at the bottom of the sea that almost ate me. And probably the most random encounter I had, was a metallic substance in an ancient underwater building that talked to me about some sort of prophecy. And there are still things that I know about that I never encountered, like giant-sand worms (I tend to avoid deserted planets), flying pets, and abandoned, almost haunted freighters in the middle of space. All of it serves as proof of how No Man’s Sky treats existentialism. Some people decide to view it as a hopeless concept; we are not important, we are just dust in space and nothing we’ll do will ever matter. But No Man’s Sky wants you to embrace the fact that you are an invisible dot in an ever-growing universe, so that you can do everything you want with it, and have as much fun as you want because, in the end, that’s all that matters.

Categories
Comics Uncategorized

Scales and Scoundrels: A Chat with Girner and Galaad

GateCrashers had the pleasure to talk to writer Sebastian Girner and artist Galaad of TKO’s comic series ‘’Scales and Scoundrels’’, in celebration of the Definitive Edition of the book. 

TKO’s ‘Scales and Scoundrels’, co-created by writer Sebastian Girner and artist Galaad, depicts the colorful journey of Luvander, an adventurous and fierce girl, wandering through a medieval fantasy setting, trying to make sense of who she is and her place in the world as she meets with all kinds of unforgettable characters that would impact her life forever.

Written and edited by Girner, drawn and colored by Galaad and designed and lettered by Jeff Powell, Scales and Scoundrels tells a story that feels fresh in its tone and storytelling, that doesn’t limit itself by common boundaries of the genre, while enjoying everything it does, creating a lovely journey to those who decide to wander in its world. In this interview with GateCrashers, they examine the creative process used for the creation of the book and the possible ideas for the future.

What’s your favorite sandwich?

SG: This is clearly an impossible interview question designed to rattle me, but I’d have to say either a good turkey sandwich or a grilled cheese. 

G: Tuna, of course, as any fan of Calvin & Hobbes would tell you.

Which culture was the most visually exciting for you to bring to life? And did you have a particular process for it, like researching real-life cultures? 

G: I researched old European fashion, Mediterranean cultures, and African fashion. I love the sense of color. It’s bold, beautiful, and full of life. So much of our modern fantasy was inspired by Northern European myths and cultures. Sebastian and I wanted this fantasy series to be a big splash of joy and colors in a genre that has become quite monochromatic over the years.

Which side character would you do a one-shot for?

SG: I’d love to check in on the Mermaid at some point and see what she’s been up to. But really the Houndmaster is the character I’d love to dig into deeper. He’s always been on the periphery of the story so far but clearly, there’s more to him than meets the eye.

G: I agree with Sebastian. We need to do the Houndmaster’s origin story at some point. Readers might be surprised.

Do you feel more comfortable drawing an action sequence or landscapes for a splash page? 

G: I love drawing action, due to my background in animation, and I wanted to draw adventure comics to draw those big action scenes. Drawing backgrounds in comics can be frustrating because the background is rarely the focal point. More often than not it’s filling up space in a panel and ends up covered in speech bubbles. So, for a big splash, I think a big, lush landscape is my favorite thing to draw. You finally have the time and space to make the world come alive.

Which character felt the most rewarding and fun after creating them?

SG: I feel like all things Scales revolve around Lu. She was the first design Galaad did, and her look and personality are what drove the whole creation of the world. But I’m also quite pleased with our core cast of characters, Aki, Koro, and Dorma. All of whom came together mainly to help define Lu by contrasting her at first, but all of whom went on to have stories of their own, and could now easily star in their own adventures (and maybe they will!)

What type of character would you be if you were inside the world of S&S?

SG: Maybe a shopkeeper who sells items and gear scavenged from a nearby cave to eager Level 1 heroes, and then explain my strict no-refund policy when they complain that the healing potions they bought from me just gave them an allergic reaction. 

G: I would probably be a wandering bard or an artist of some sort. I will sing you a ballad if you buy me a pint.

With which character of the presented cast would you have a tavern fight?

SG: Maybe Aki’s twin brothers Tanto and Tonta because they seem like it’d be all in good fun, and we’d have a beer afterwards and laugh it off. 

G: My mom told me never to get into a tavern fight.

Which character felt more complicated to write in terms of their arcs, layers, etc?

SG: Without spoiling anything, I think Koro’s journey from when we first meet her to where we leave her at the end of Book 2 really surprised me. With Lu, I always kind of knew where she’d be going and how she’d get there, but Koro came into her own in front of our eyes, and her struggles and hardships and how she had to change both inside and out to meet them surprised even me. It was definitely one of the most challenging characters for me to write. I think she’s come the furthest in many ways of all our characters.

With S&S being a blend of comedy, drama and adventure, which other genre would you like to experiment with inside this world?

SG: So many! We already have plans for a heist story and some romance, and I’ve had some ideas for a bit of a spooky ghost story as well. There’s really no limit to what is possible in this world and these characters, and I think part of the fun we’re having with the book is melding fantasy with other genres. But comedy, drama, and adventure will always be the core ingredients of every Scales & Scoundrels story, those are the three suns that light up our comic’s sky. 

G: I love heist stories and romance, and this is something we already have plans for, so I have to say ghost story too. I know that’s what Sebastian just said, but that’s one of the reasons we make such a good team. We always agree on the destination!

Categories
Film

Inside And The Avant-Garde

I wasn’t planning on watching the new special Inside from Bo Burnham, to be honest. I never got into stand-up and the only thing I knew about the guy was his name. And I especially wasn’t planning on watching it, even after I saw all the praise it got, because it has become progressively harder to do anything that doesn’t feel remotely productive, so I am careful with anything I watch or do in order to not waste even half an hour.

But a friend, a long-time fan of Bo, talked to me about the special. He’s now seen it three times, and when he first described it to me, it sounded interesting, with themes that would normally persuade me to at least check it out. So I asked him to tell me more just out of curiosity, without any intention of really watching it. Until he answered me, and went deeper into the structure of the special and how it was made, and that’s when I first thought that I may have to see it for myself. 

So the next day, I did. I left my phone charging at my side, put on my headphones, and started the special. And in the hour and a half that it takes to watch, I never once pressed pause or grabbed my phone. I was completely hooked. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be, only more. Inside is a journey that everyone will relate to, and for that, it takes what I believe to be the best approach possible; the avant-garde. Intentionally or unintentionally, Burnham made a movie (Or however you prefer to call it) that is, at its very core, reminiscent of works of the likes of Jonas Mekas and Nanni Moretti. A type of work that has become increasingly harder to find, at a time when blockbusters have become the centre of attention and movies made with 10 million dollars are considered small. 

This special, his fifth one to date, and the first one in five years, achieves a symmetry with the way it’s told and the way we all feel. It starts like any other movie and like any other day could start; with a normal room, and a person entering it. A bright flash of light comes from the outside, until the door closes, and then everything changes. Here’s when you realize that it’s not like any other movie, and when the avant-garde and the connections to the aforementioned artists start to show. It becomes an audio-visual diary, made up of fragments that he filmed throughout a whole year since the beginning of 2020, that go from random shots of him in his room, to monologues, sketches, and songs that could’ve been made by different people. But it was made all by himself, in the single room we see throughout the film. 

With a much more stylistic aesthetic and approach, it feels more accessible than the banners of the genre, but still using the resources it has to discuss similar general topics, like politics, in a way that avoids feeling like something entirely different. Any type of independent movie, be it traditional or experimental, is a political statement by its very existence. And just as other avant-garde artists before him, Bo Burnham is not afraid at all to get explicitly political concerning a lot of different topics, going from the involvement of his profession in the current socio-political landscape while putting its usefulness in question, to how the system of our world is built to be controlled by a few that are able to commit atrocities in order to maintain that hierarchy with the help of fascist groups like the police.

But while those are problems that have been talked about for decades, there are others that feel inherently modern. For example, making a sketch parodying the disingenuous attempt of brands to make the public believe that they care about anything more than profit, by trying to appeal to marginalized groups (Or, to be more exact, to those in the majority that support marginalized groups to some extent). 

And from there he also talks about regular, not so larger than life problems that happen every day to a lot of people. There’s a big focus on how prepared we were for the sudden connectivity with the whole world, and how it just makes more accessible and obvious the obscure and disgusting parts of people, as well as the toll social media, or any influential platform, can take for those who make their lives off of it. And it’s in those everyday problems that I think the connection with the avant-garde genre is more evident than in any other part of the special. Because as similar as the structure and execution is to other works, with the ever-changing rhythm, and style, and a sense of narrative incoherence being the only narrative coherence, I think what really sets apart this very special genre from others, is its sense of mundanity, the sense that we are seeing life just how it is, just how it happens to everyone. It creates something that couldn’t have been done any other way. 

Bo jumps around messily during the whole special, without the three-act rule or even any apparent structure, and while it may seem just what it sounds like; a bunch of things put together randomly lacking any thought or care at all, the truth is that it ends up being beneficial and giving it more meaning. Every song, sketch and random shot of his room feels like a representation of his thoughts, going around in his head, disordered and sometimes even contradictory, but real. All of it takes another meaning when it stops being seen as individual absolutes but as different parts of a single engine that just exist the way it does.

At the start he talks about climate change and how we have only seven years left before the damage that corporations have done to the planet is irreversible, but later, in the last song, he basically says that it doesn’t matter. We can’t do much of anything, so why bother? So you have two opposite statements present in one single vision. The thing is, neither is false, technically. I’m a very optimistic person about the world’s future, even though I’m able to see everything wrong with it. But since the pandemic started I became more hopeless without even noticing, not only because of the emotional implications that isolation has, but also because of all the problems that became more obvious than ever, like the economic system or the social injustice. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was worth it to try to change the world for the better, or if it was even possible at all. At the moment, both of those ways of thinking were true for me because that’s how we work. There’s not even one person that’s 100% mentally stable all the time, and since last year, that just worsened for most of us. So what better way to represent that instability than with random pieces of thought sewed together, each with their own meaning or lack thereof? What better way to represent us?

In my own opinion, I don’t think there is. I find that disarray familiar because I was also a mess in many different ways before and after the pandemic started, as I know so many people are. And I can also relate in some way with his failed attempt to come back to live comedy, since, at the start of 2020, same as Bo, I was planning a project, a really personal one that I wanted to do for a long time; my first short-film. And let me tell you, in retrospect, it was gonna be really bad. But I never even got the chance to do it, because everything just stopped, and now not only do I have to wait who knows how much time to do that, but I also have to deal with a lot of other things that have also been affected by the current state of the world and the problems that I already had.

So when I see this person that I know nothing about, saying that he isn’t well and starting to cry, in between lots of other things that have little to no correlation, I want to cry too. Because if I recall memories, or even if I think about the present, it will feel exactly like that. And it doesn’t matter how different the experiences are, if life is presented in such a raw and real way, everyone will see themselves in it somehow.

But because of the mere fact that it represents life in a very raw form, it means that it isn’t always all bad. When he talks with his mother, there are still some bad aspects about it, like his relationship with his dad, or more little details such as how his mother covers the camera with her thumb, but that time is still essential for him, and it’s a little bit of light when things are dark. It matters even if it’s something very small. Near the end, after one of the most euphoric songs I’ve ever listened to, that makes me feel chills even after I listened to it 20 times, Bo sits and watches what he just created, and a little smile comes across his face. And that’s the best thing about this genre, you get to see everything. You get to feel everything. Even when things are at their worst, you can catch those small moments that really matter. And when things are at their best, you get to see those moments that hurt. 

Maybe that’s why I not only felt sad after watching the special, but why I also felt a little bit hopeful. Maybe that’s why I suddenly had the urge to create and do things that can contrast all the bad there is, or some part of it, at least. And it’s something that we need, because as incredible as intrinsically wholesome or intrinsically sad movies can be, we also need this kind of work that tries to reflect all the spectrum of life. Sometimes, we need art to feel as real as it can be.

Categories
Comics

Scales and Scoundrels Review

The first book of Scales and Scoundrels invites you to experience it with a beautifully designed cover that describes perfectly the content that can be found inside; a fun, colourful, and imaginative adventure that also allows itself to be introspective when it needs to. It achieves the feeling of one of the most enjoyable and lovable Dungeons and Dragons campaigns you can find. It presents and paces itself with a unique and entertaining cleverness, by putting the reader into a familiar situation of the genre, like opening the book with a tavern fight, but slowly unfolding everything into a lore and style of its own. 

From the first panel in which we see our protagonist, Luvander, we get a glimpse of her personality by a small and confident laugh while gambling. And the more she wanders through the world, meeting exciting new people, discovering all kinds of places, and living extraordinary stories, the more we learn about this character that is at both times mysterious and open-hearted, brought to its maximum by the interactions she has with the rest of the cast, that are equally interesting and human in their motivations. The writing from Girner shines bright both in its world-building, that same as the adventure, goes deeper than it could seem from the starting point, and in its characters, with protagonists that are fun and varied but permitted to be flawed and complicated, without turning them into villains, antagonists that have small moments of humanity without taking away their evilness, and brief but charming side characters like a lonely mermaid, morally ambiguous fish-people or a nice goblin fisherman. 

Source: Scale and Scoundrels Definitive Edition Vol 1

The writing of Girner is only amplified and greatly complemented by the art of Galaad, who does wonders at translating the personality of the characters through their designs; like the outfit of Luvander looking like clothing from a jester and a thief put together, combined with messy and distinctive hair. Also excelling at the design of the world, that instead of satisfying itself with limited space and characters, takes us through a lot of different cultures with their own characteristic look, unexplored places that feel full of life by the never-ending colour palette used all throughout the comic, and rich landscapes that make excellent use of splash pages that demonstrate the density and deep history of every surrounding, and most of all, the infinite possibilities that lie within them. 

Source: Scales and Scoundrels Definitive Edition Vol 1

And the art from both of them blends masterfully with Jeff Powell’s lettering and design, which achieves to never feel out of place when going through the pages, being completely versatile and functioning in every scene, making it an essential part of the adventure. 

The work done in this book is one that not only impresses by the superficial aspect of it but also by how it feels intrinsically filled with love and passion to explore everything it wants to show. It makes sure to be as emotional as possible without a single badly executed tonal shift, telling a story about the roots that bind us, and the journey through which we are able to release ourselves from them, and discover who we are and who we want to be beyond that which we thought defined us.