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n. contents of a wallet; belongings

With all the bag and baggage, scrip and scrippage, it’s a wonder anyone can travel without losing something.

Goldfish Grimm’s Issue 20 is out! Includes “The Call of Gold Cat”

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Issue 20 of Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi is out! Includes my weird short story “The Call of Gold Cat”, plus an interview. This short story was heavily workshopped at Scribophile. Thank you to all the readers who provided guidance.

Issue also includes new flash fiction from Mari Ness, “Survival.”

Holy Table-of-Contents mates!

I hope you enjoy this raw fresh fiction. It’s good for you!

4 Reasons Why Cartoons Matter

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This article first appeared in Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column on July 4, 2014.

It’s a pleasure to join Luna Station Quarterly’s new content lineup. I’ll be your friendly neighborhood animation commentator and theorist. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Of all popular media, animation is the truest mirror of our culture. Hold on to your caboose, because I brought the proof.

1. Cartoons gain amplification through simplification

As described by cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud, this principle applies to every element of moving art, from character design to backgrounds to lighting to animation to the beats of the story being told. There is room for Miyazaki’s lack of baddies and Richard Williams’s compulsive detail, but generally speaking, the broader the strokes, the broader the appeal. Speaking of…

2. Their appeal is massive

As of this writing, of the top 50 highest-grossing films, nine were fully animated:

  • 5. Frozen (2013)
  • 12. Toy Story 3 (2010)
  • 19. The Lion King (1994)
  • 21. Despicable Me 2 (2013)
  • 26. Finding Nemo (2003)
  • 29. Shrek 2 (2004)
  • 32. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
  • 34. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
  • 43. Shrek the Third (2007)

In 2013, three of the top ten highest-grossing films were animatedFrozen, Despicable Me 2, and Monsters University. (Whether films like Gravity and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug qualify as “animated” is a question for another day.)

And animation is on the grow. Animated features grossed twice as much in 2011 as they did in 2001. As direct-to-DVD sales declines overall, Disney’s $335 million Tinkerbell empire pulls new young audiences and DC Animation thrives on Straight-To-VOD. The mass appeal of cartoons build franchises, and franchises have the fuel to blaze trails.

3. There are no accidents

Individual artists create the action one frame at a time, twenty-four per second. The story passes through pitch, concept, storyboard, roughs and rendering–and the ascendance of 3D animation has only put more hands on every frame, not fewer. There’s no chance of a boom in the shot or an on-set anachronism (animated quirks are way more interesting). So if every speaking role is white, it’s no accident. If the only female character is the hero’s love interest, it’s no accident. If a text’s heroine loses her agency when adapted for film, it’s because a score of people agreed it should be so, and a score of people created it by hand.

Thus market concerns, personal prejudices, and lack of solidarity can be traced directly from their consequences. For instance, it’s curious how often even the most bankable actors of color don’t play human beings in animated films, while human characters of color are racebent to cast white actors:

2013′s Top 10 Most Valuable Actors, according to, and their presence in animated feature films

Actor Role Description
1. Robert Downey Jr. None
2. Leonardo DiCaprio None
3. Jennifer Lawrence None
4. Sandra Bullock Scarlett Overkill, The Minions (2015)
Miriam, The Prince of Egypt (1998)
human, Middle Eastern
5. Brad Pitt Metro Man, Megamind (2010)
Sinbad, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
human, white
human, Middle Eastern
6. Will Smith Oscar, Shark Tale (2004) fish
7. Christian Bale Howl, Howl’s Moving Castle, English language release (2004)
Thomas, Pocahontas (1995)
human, white
human, white
8. Denzel Washington None (Seriously?)
9. Tom Hanks Woody, Toy Story franchise (1995, 1999, 2010) humanoid toy, white
10. Johnny Depp Rango (2011)The Corpse Bride (2005) lizard
human, white

These choices have disproportionately lingering effects.

4. Cartoons are immortal

The characters don’t get older. Their old work doesn’t look stilted and fakey. The hair and makeup and filmmaking don’t show their age. Thanks to Disney’s legal pioneering, Mickey Mouse remains out of the public domain and undiluted as a brand. Thus generation after generation are enraptured by the same animated works, proved by Disney’s video “vault” and lucrative re-issues.

But there’s a dark side to living forever. The Bugs Bunny of Space Jam (1996) would never find himself tormenting a racist caricature, but in the 1940s he sure did. The fact that Bugs looks and sounds the same seventy years on, with similar popular awareness and appeal, brings home the full shock of what our culture used to delight in.

At the same time, through Bugs and his kin we have a chance to confront our past. In 2005 Warner Brothers began using a disclaimer in its collections of animated shorts, reading in part “[t]hese cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

The Looney Tunes disclaimer offers our culture an example of how to deal with discrimination, past and present–recognize, criticize, grieve the harm, and seek amends–so that whatever good remains can be enjoyed. (Disney might consider taking a leaf out of Warner Brothers’ book–the studio scrubbed The Song of the South from its consciousness, though Splash Mountain still warrants a FASTPASS.) May audiences seventy years hence be as mortified by today’s ubiquity of whiteness, able-bodiedness, gender binary and Bechdel Test failure as we are today by media injustices seventy years ago.


For all these reasons, the themes of animated stories–past and present, good and bad, just and unjust–resonate. They capture our imaginations even as they reveal painful truths about our culture. Cartoons reach us. If we choose, we can reach back.

Watch this space for more animation theorization, sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Right now there’s an animated blockbuster summer happening on the big screen and an animated storytelling revolution happening on the small screen. Let’s watch together.

Parting thoughts

  • Has it really been ten years since Corpse Bride came out? Sheesh.
  • Brenda Chapman worked on a lot of stuff. Like, a lot. I don’t know if I imagined directors of animated films sprang from eggs or what.
  • Man, I am all irritated about Coraline again.
Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

5 Beefs with How to Train Your Dragon 2

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What oh my God what.

Hiccup Toothless How To Train Your Dragon 2

There will be beefs

Let’s be clear. The original How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is excellent, structurally and emotionally. Both it and its sequel are gorgeous, imaginative, and animated by some of the greatest hands in the business. Each individual frame of How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserves nothing but high-fives down every cubicle row in Glendale.

But the story is a head-scratching mess.

Since 2010, the franchise has kept in fighting form with holiday specials and Riders of Berk on Cartoon Network. Though I’m not familiar with this series, I wonder if some of the best sequel ideas got spent there (a local studies dragon-training for his own nefarious purposes!), or whether an episodic story approach infected this script, because this story doesn’t have just a woman problem. This story has all kinds of problems.

Spoilers abounding.

1) No surprises. No secondary conflict.

A Big Bad is introduced. He is who everyone says he is. He’s bad the whole time.

Astrid’s primary purpose is to cheer up Hiccup. Good thing that affianced twentysomethings find nothing to disagree on.

Hiccup and his dad have some disagreement brewing that we only hear about, never see. Instead there are two sequences of Hiccup trying to tell Stoick something, and Stoick ignoring him, which calls into question whether either of them learned anything from the last movie, and also why Stoick wants Hiccup to be chief if Stoick can’t even be bothered to stop and listen to him.

Hiccup’s long-lost mother resurfaces. The reason for her absence makes no sense (she “thought it would be safer for [Hiccup]” because she… likes dragons kind of?) Everyone gets along great and there are no hard feelings. This is despite the fact that her unstated worldview–no people, no problems–would be the PERFECT antithesis for the thesis posed by Hiccup’s dad: “We take care of our own.” Of course dragons are simpler than people. Of course everybody’s got a little loner weirdo in them who wants to run off and live among the animals a while.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Valda

Sometimes the little loner weirdo is family

But there’s a downside to the comfort zone, and you can’t build a life with a pet, and it’s the challenge of human interaction that makes it so rewarding, and so on. Alas this movie doesn’t go there. A song and a hug and a few bouts of feminine tears and Hiccup’s family unit is perfectly repaired. (Until other stuff, utterly unrelated to Valda’s return, happens.)

2) Of the three new characters are introduced, two are discarded by the third act.

Hiccup’s long-lost mother, Valda (Cate Blanchett), arrives on the scene in one of the baddest-ass, highest-flying character introductions of all time, dumps a truck of exposition, and then TAKES NO ACTION for the rest of the movie. None. Doesn’t use her physical skills or encyclopedic dragon knowledge to fight the baddie. Doesn’t even express a contrary thought or feeling that might rev up a little conflict. Nothing. Twenty minutes after she’s introduced, she becomes furniture. It’s very annoying.

Dragon-trapper Eret (Kit Harington) does enjoy a character arc (he’s anti-dragon until a dragon saves his life), but the biggest thing he accomplishes is stealing a heroic moment that should have been Astrid’s: when Astrid, Eret, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Snotlout and Fishlegs are captured by trappers and forced to walk the plank, it’s up to the most alert and cunning of the bunch to save them… a-a-and it’s Eret. Then he vanishes from the movie.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Eret

For my next trick, I’ll disappear for forty minutes

The story’s Big Bad, Drago Bloodfist (Djimon Hounsou), does stick around until the third act. But he’s introduced in another exposition dumptruck, given one performance note (be bad), and assigned unclear motives (he wants to build a dragon army to… protect people from wild dragons? Conquer people? Get revenge for his lost arm?) Why is he, more than any other person who’s been fighting dragons for hundreds of years, able to subjugate dragons with violence? Why does he even bother trapping individual dragons when all he has to do is subjugate the most dominant dragon, which apparently will give him complete control over every dragon in its orbit? Most crazy-makingly, why does he literally sit back during the final fight to let Hiccup and Toothless hug it out?

But that’s not even half of the problem with Drago…

3) The Big Bad is the only brown person.

Drago Bloodfist

Drago Bloodfist is swarthy, dreadlocked, and facially scarred. When he was introduced–backlit, face obscured–I assumed this character was using a disguise. Nope. Then I hoped that Hiccup would be right that even the biggest baddest Other-est enemy can be reasoned with. Nope. Then I hoped this character wasn’t voiced by the only Black person in the cast. Nope–Djimon Hounsou.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Above the Line

Guess who played the villain

Also, in case the subtext is too sub, the baddie alpha dragon is a soot-blackened version of the noble goodie white dragon.

Drago Bloodfist alpha

4) Emotion is unearned.

I could really take a pass on montages of characters crying. If the funeral takes longer than the death, it means the death pulled a punch. (Exception that proves the rule: Dobby.)

5) Cool things about the first movie get retconned.

First movie: your actions make you what you are. Second movie: your mom’s hobbies make you what you are.

First movie: you can’t choose your family. Second movie: your parents will reconcile if you’re good.

First movie: disability and disfigurement is a part of life. Second movie: yeah, sometimes, but moreso it’s a sign of internal corruption.

First movie: there is no evil, only fear and misunderstanding. Second movie: some people and animals just have to be blown up.

First movie: if you love a thing, set it free. Second movie: if you love a thing, subjugate it to your will so it will be safe.

Other assorted:

  • Toothless can’t fly without Hiccup riding him–except when he can.
  • I hope How to Train Your Dragon 3 comes back with a vengeance in 2017
Apex Magazine Issue 61 cover Bleef

“Muscle Memory” available at Seizure Online, “Bleef” appears on June cover of Apex

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“Muscle Memory” is available to read at Seizure Online. In it, a hard-working man’s body walks out on him, one piece at a time. David Henley provided the illustration, which is most excellent.

Working with editor Portia Lindsay was a treat and an education. Many thanks to Seizure for inviting me aboard.

Apex Magazine Issue 61 cover Bleef

Also my color illustration “Bleef” appears on the cover of Issue 61 of Apex Magazine.

Sincere thanks to Editor-in-Chief Sigrid Ellis for the invitation, and to Loraine Sammy for the interview that was so much fun it made me arm-flail a little.

meddling auntie fashion

Meddling Auntie Recants: Fashion

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meddling auntie fashion

meddling auntie fashion

A couple of years ago, I made a Meddling Auntie comic about Fashion to help parents explain to daughters why they might not want them wearing tight or revealing clothing. I hoped to provide a progressive alternative to the usual “you’ll send the wrong message” and “you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

Upon reviewing this comic, I see that I failed. The comic included the following problems:

- Using the word “sexy” to describe children’s clothing choices. From a healthy adult POV, a child cannot be sexy. I should not have endorsed this language.

- Making the child responsible for what goes on in other people’s heads. I tried to tiptoe around this idea and soften the blow, but in the end I reinforced this old, bad, destructive idea. No person is responsible for another person’s thoughts or feelings–just as no person is responsible for another person’s actions.

- Dismissing the child’s motives for choosing a particular form of dress. Whatever is motivating the child is non-trivial and should be heard. The parent does not have to agree in order to hear and understand. Opening the door to discussion opens the door to resolution.

There must be rational, progressive reasons for a parent to intervene in a daughter’s clothing choices, but the ideas in this comic ain’t them.

For that reason I’ve taken the comic down. I’m sorry for meddling in an area where I had no business meddling. It was self-centered of me. If there’s any other way I can make amends, please let me know.

Take care, and carry on.