Make ’Em Feel Something

A book I’ve been slowly going through these days is a writer’s craft book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you know anything about Donald Maass, you know that he’s a literary agent who has read thousands of manuscripts. He’s also written other craft books.

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Over the years I also have reviewed for publishers and other venues more manuscripts than I can count. But sometimes I found myself puzzling over why a manuscript didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Maass’s book gave me insight with this quote:

When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. (Maass 4)

Many times, I did not feel anything while reading a manuscript. Even stellar writing, Maass mentions, can be a turnoff if a reader does not feel anything while reading a story. So the point of Maass’s book is to help writers create the kind of stories that cause readers to experience the journey—not just read about it. In other words, the kind of stories that make readers feel something.

Part of that experience is fostered through helping to immerse a reader in a character’s emotional journey. Have you ever had a hard time writing an emotional scene? I have. Usually while drafting, I only scratch the surface, especially if a character feels a complex array of emotions. Consider how you felt on an extremely emotional day.

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So, writing emotional content does not come naturally to me. But Maass cautioned

While it’s fine to fill pages with what is natural and easy for you, it’s also critical to get comfortable writing what isn’t natural and easy. (74)

I want to get better at writing emotional scenes. This means I might have to rewrite a scene over and over until I break through the wall of resistance within myself.

Something else that inspired me to get better at writing emotional content is a quote from another book I’m reading. In one of the forewords to The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie, written by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, director Chris McKay and producers Dan Lin, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller wrote

When assembling these [LEGO] movies from the beginning, we always start with an emotional question to explore over the course of the story.

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They actually asked more than one question to shape their main character’s emotional arc. One of these questions was a what-if question. (I won’t share those questions, since doing so would involve a spoiler.) Sure, the filmmakers want to entertain people with their production. But also they want people to feel what the character feels along the way. This inspires me to carefully consider the what-if questions that are the basis for my character’s emotional journey.

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How do you feel when you have to write scenes with high emotional content? Is it easy for you? Hard? If the latter, what do you do to press onward?

If you don’t write stories, consider the last book you read that really moved you. Why do you think it did?

Maass, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Miller-Zarneke, Tracey. The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie. New York: DK/Penguin-Random House, 2017.

The LEGO® Batman Movie poster from xemeston.ir. Emotions image from taringa.net.

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Why This Works

Hello, and welcome to an occasional series in which I guess, using nonscientific means, why something works. By occasional, I mean a series that I might forget about until six months down the road. And then I’ll go, “Oh yeah, I started that series. I should do another installment.”

And yes, I’ll reveal the winner of Playing for the Devil’s Fire by Phillippe Diederich also. **CoughJillWeatherholtcough.** See what I did there? 🙂 (Congrats, Jill!)

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In a previous post, I mentioned Miraculous: Tales of LadyBug & Cat Noir, a French animated series released internationally. Okay, I didn’t mention the international release in that previous post. I’m telling you that stuff now. The concept came from Thomas Astruc, an animator aided by Jeremy Zag, the cofounder of Zagtoon, and later by Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, and SK Broadband, to introduce a series starring a female superhero who saves the citizens of Paris. Thomas Astruc also is the writer and director of the show. Thanks also to other financial partners like Bandai, Curlstone, and Disney, people around the world can see this show. In the States, we can see the English dubbed version on Nickelodeon.

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Ladybug is a French teen (Marinette Dupain-Cheng) with a crime fighting partner—Cat Noir (Adrien Agreste), who goes to her school in Paris. Neither knows the alter ego of the other. You’d think identification would be obvious, since Ladybug has the same hairstyle and easily identifiable eyes the color of bluebells as Marinette. And Adrien’s artfully styled blond hair is the same, though his eyes are somewhat changed due to his mask. Sigh. It’s the same principle as superheroes like Superman, where a pair of glasses is all that stands between someone identifying him as Clark Kent. You have to suspend disbelief so hard, you almost get whiplash.

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I’ve seen about fifteen episodes of the show. And I can tell you that in every episode, the same scenario plays out. Someone gets his or her feelings hurt. A villain named Hawk Moth (below) releases an evil butterfly (yep—an evil butterfly) called an akuma to “evilize” the hurt individual. This action completely subjugates that person’s will to Hawk Moth’s control and turns him or her into a villain. What does Hawk Moth want? The tiny creatures called kwami who live in the Miraculous jewelry that empower Marinette and Adrien for a limited amount of time. He also wants total power. So he uses innocent people to wreak havoc. But Ladybug has a special ability to “de-evilize” the person under Hawk Moth’s control. (Next time you do something wrong, you might use the akuma as an excuse. I plan to.)

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Some of the scenes are very repetitive. In every episode you see the same Ladybug/Cat Noir transformation scenes, hear the same dialogue (“Tikki, spots on!”/“Plagg, claws out!”), and see the same scene where Ladybug de-evilizes someone. Also, the characters do not break new ground in general. Marinette is the clumsy teen who longs for hot-guy Adrien. How many times have we seen the clumsy girl in a story? Dozens. A rich diva at school picks on everyone (except Adrien) and has a sycophant friend. Sounds like the storyline of Mean Girls.

So why are the people who watch this show (including myself) obsessed with it? The “incredible graphic design” as Aton Soumache, the CEO of Method Animation, explained in an interview on one of the Miraculous DVDs. And this is all thanks to Thomas Astruc and Nathanaël Bronn, the art director on the show. The show has a manga look with a gorgeous Parisian backdrop. Thus, the characters are attractive and winsome, and the action sequences inventive and entertaining. For example, in each episode, Ladybug gains an object to use to foil Hawk Moth’s plan. She has to figure out how to use what she has to defeat the “evilized” person. Sometimes, the method involves a MacGyver-like bit of ingenuity.

And each episode also has a touch of romance. As I mentioned, Marinette pines over Adrien, who views her as a friend. But Cat Noir pines over Ladybug, who finds him annoying. Most of all, this is a fun show where superheroes save the day while learning something about themselves.

What I love about this production, is that people around the world have banded together to produce and distribute it. They’re committed to the cause. And that is the number one reason why this show works: it has a committed group of people behind it. Wouldn’t we all like that level of commitment behind our creations?

Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop. Hawk Moth from nick.com. Author photo by Selina Roman. Book cover from Goodreads.

Revealing the Darkness or Reveling in It?

The other day, a friend and I talked about how increasingly dark many stories seem to be across the board. By the bleak end of some of them, the chill of hopelessness had seeped into our veins and colored our outlook a dull winter gray.

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I don’t need to read a book to learn that life is hard. My mother endured cancer twice. My dad had cancer. My sister-in-law had cancer the same year her father died. I can’t have children and have been unemployed a number of times. I’ve endured bouts of depression and I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. Are you getting the picture that I know how difficult life can be?

So when life is hard, I turn to stories that remind me hope exists. They don’t sugarcoat the bad things that happen to people (like concentration camps; bullying by sadistic kids at school). But the resilience of the characters and their determination to rise above the bleakness of their times spur me to do the same.

kung_fu_panda_2_2011-wideRecently, I watched Kung Fu Panda 2, a 2011 animated film by DreamWorks. In it we learn how Po, a panda, came to live with Mr. Ping, a goose. Though I’ve seen this movie many times and tell myself, I will not cry this time, I lie to myself every time. I won’t give you a play-by-play of Po’s early life. You can watch the movie to discover what happened. But here’s what a soothsayer (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) said about Po’s beginning:

Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you *choose* to be.

This statement seemed hopeful to me. It acknowledged the sorrow of his past without negating the possibility of change in the future. It spurred Po to be the hero he was meant to be.

I found the following video by the Grace Foundation at Nancy Hatch’s blog in her post, “Sustainable Eating.” While Nancy had a different take on making the world better, the video was another reminder to me of the power of stories. This cow had a sad beginning too. But the video showed more than just a bleak situation. Just watch and see. It’s only a minute and a half.

Yes, we can write stories that reveal challenging times. But if that’s all we do—hold up a mirror to the corruption, the ugliness, the violence, the lack of hope—without once providing any kind of alternative thinking, where’s the power in that? Are we revealing the darkness or reveling in it?

Go ahead. Call me Pollyanna, Ostrich—whatever makes you feel better if hopelessness is your mantra and you want to spread that gospel. But I refuse to join your crusade. When it’s dark, I usually do what I need to do: I turn to the light.

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Hopeless image from barbwire.com. Oil lamp from fireflyfuel.com. Kung Fu Panda 2 from hdwallpapers.

Ten Favorite Screen Characters

I have book winners to announce. But that will have to wait until the end of this post, since I was tagged by Celine Jeanjean at Down the Rabbit Hole to name my ten favorite screen characters. You can read her list by clicking here. Like Celine, I was supposed to tag others. But everyone I know is pretty busy. So you’re stuck with me unless you escape to Celine’s blog. Mwahahahaha!

This was a tough but fun assignment. There are many characters beyond those below who are favorites. I chose the following, because they inspire me in different ways. Since this list is in no particular order, I decided not to number it. Ha ha!!!

Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto)
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters in Tolkien’s trilogy and the film adaptations directed and co-written by Peter Jackson (2002—2003). I can relate to her sadness and frustration. Eowyn wanted a man she could not have. She also longed to do heroic deeds, though others tried to dissuade her. I love the fact that she refused to let the naysayers have the last word, thus proving a woman could be brave in battle.

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Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell)
He’s a supervillain with a big heart in the 2010 film written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons and directed by Tom McGrath. This film is a delightful twist on the superhero genre. I love the wonderful banter, the character design—basically, I love everything about Megamind’s journey in this film. He taught me that even supervillains can be heroic.

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The Incredibles/Parrs (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Spencer Fox)
I can’t pick one character. This family works as a team, and an awesome one at that. The Incredibles, a 2004 Disney/Pixar film written and directed by Brad Bird, was the “Fantastic Four” movie we really wanted. It’s one of my favorite movies period. I love the dialogue (which deftly showcased character), the action, and the pacing. It deserved the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Elizabeth Bennet (played by Keira Knightley)
Lizzie is my favorite in the book, so of course she is my favorite in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright). She’s a young woman who speaks her mind, even when she’s totally wrong. Keira, who was the same age as the character when she played her, was an inspired choice.

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The Doctor (played by too many actors to name here)
Turning to the small screen here. I’ve been a Whovian for many years—no matter who plays the time-traveling Doctor in the BBC show, Doctor Who. (There are films also.) The Doctor usually takes it upon himself to save the world. He travels with a companion, who is usually an Earth dweller (though not always). I simply love this show, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2013. By the way, I loved it when it was still just a cult favorite. Lately, famed author Neil Gaiman has penned episodes of this show.

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Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto [Japanese version] and Alison Lohman [English language version])
Princess Nausicaä is a creation of Hayao Miyazaki who wrote a manga series about her and made an environmentally conscious animated movie on her exploits: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). I’ve probably seen this film 20 times. Nausicaä is the kind of character who makes me want to be a better person. She’s selfless in her defense of creatures others despise. And when she needs to wield a weapon, she’s good at that too.

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Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
Every character Samuel L. Jackson plays is vivid and memorable. My favorite is Nick Fury, the beleaguered leader of SHIELD—a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—because I love his leadership in the Marvel movies, especially the first Avengers (2012), written and directed by Joss Whedon. His question to Thor, “I’m asking, what are you prepared to do?” sears me every time I watch this movie.

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The cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series; voiced by too many people to name here)
Again, I can’t choose just one person, though Prince Zuko (below right) is dreamy. 🙂 This cast, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made the Nickelodeon series (2005—2008) one of my all-time favorites. Go Team Avatar!

Avatar-Cast-Collage-avatar-the-last-airbender-20397292-1024-683 Prince Zuko

Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen)
Whenever I think of a wizard, I first think of Gandalf. Though I love you, Harry Potter, Gandalf first claimed my heart. Consequently, I’ve read The Hobbit and LOTR dozens of times and watched all of the film adaptations. Gandalf is old, wise, and wonderful. And Ian will always be Gandalf to me.

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Samurai Jack (voiced by Phil LaMarr)
Okay. I can admit to having a major crush on a cartoon character. I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart beats for Samurai Jack, a brave, selfless Shaolin monk who hopes to defeat the ultimate evil—Aku. This creation of Genndy Tartakovsky (2001—2004 on Cartoon Network) has inspired many, many artists, including Tomm Moore, the director of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.

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Who are your favorite film or TV characters? While you think about that, I’m giving away a book by Charles E. Yallowitz featuring a character I hope will become a favorite of yours—Ichabod Brooks and the City of Beasts.

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There are two winners. And they are . . .

Phillip McCollum

and

Laura Bruno Lilly!!!

Congratulations, Phillip and Laura! If you’ll confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll have this eBook sent to you. I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon.

Eowyn from revolutionmyspace.com. The cast of Avatar from fanpop.com. Nick Fury from atlantablackstar.com. The Incredibles from thewallpapers.org. Nausicaä from nausicaa.net. Gandalf from nerdreactor.com and blockscreeningreviews.blogspot.com. Elizabeth Bennet from bookriot.com. The Doctor from cinemablend. Samurai Jack image from samuraijack.wikia.com.com. Megamind from worldsoforos.com.

Unconventional Love

Hope you had a pleasant Valentine’s Day. Now, don’t groan at me for mentioning the day. I spent part of it not in the conventional, eating-in-a-restaurant-while-gazing-into-my-date’s-eyes way, but eating chocolate and watching Justice League Unlimited episodes from 2004–2005. (It’s okay if you run away in horror. There will be slight spoilers soon, so go if you must.)

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Since it was Valentine’s Day, an episode called “Double Date” (written by Gail Simone) seemed very appropriate and helped me realize something else later. The episode involved these members of the Justice League:

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Huntress and the Question

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Black Canary and Green Arrow

It’s okay. You don’t have to care who they are. (Click here if you want to find out more about the members of the Justice League.) The episode wasn’t a conventional double date, since Huntress and the Question weren’t a couple (at least not right away) and all four were on a stakeout for various reasons. Black Canary and Green Arrow, however, were a couple. I grew up reading comic books in which their relationship was mentioned. Though they’re superheroes, they’re more conventional. I mean look at them. Both are pretty. And we like looking at pretty people, don’t we? Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Better still, I’ll let these images speak for me.

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Prince Zuko from Avatar and Stephen Bishop from Being Mary Jane

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Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers and Chris Evans as Captain America

Getting back to the Justice League, I have to admit that the Huntress and the Question were more interesting to me than Black Canary and Green Arrow, because H and Q were labeled as “unstable” by their colleagues. Toward the end of the episode, Huntress asked the Question why he agreed to help her in her vendetta against the man who killed her father. When he finally gave his reason—“I like you” (as in “I like like you”)—I melted faster than chocolate in a microwave. And though the action in the picture below (top right) caused Black Canary to say, “I’m sorry, but ewww,” I was totally down for it. They were broken people who found a connection.

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So, what did I learn? (See the first paragraph, where I mentioned that I learned something.) I learned that I love characters with baggage. Not the psychotic serial killer baggage, but emotional scars nonetheless. I can relate to them because of my own issues. A character can be as pretty as a picture. But to really get my attention, that character has to have a wound of some kind.

28da5770f2c53556e75b4356fde68ebaThat’s why I still love Moonstruck, a 1987 movie written by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri (photo at right). Everyone in the movie has baggage. One of my favorite quotes related to baggage was spoken by Ronny. I’m sure I’ve used it before in a post. Here it is again:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

“Love the wrong people”? Been there, done that! “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!” Truer words were never spoken.

Which character(s), if any, really resonated with you recently? Why?

Huntress and the Question from pinterest.com. Black Canary and Green Arrow from caballerodecastilla.blogs. Prince Zuko from twitter. Stephen Bishop from cocoafab.com. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from movie.anonforge.com. Takeshi Kaneshiro in House of Flying Daggers from pinterest.com. Cher as Loretta Castorini and Nicholas Cage as Ronny Cammareri from pinterest.com. Valentine from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com.

Color Show

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While researching sight in horses, I learned that horses can’t distinguish as many colors as humans can. The human retina has three cone photoreceptors while the equine retina has two (dichromatic vision).

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One of the articles I read is “Vision in horses: More than meets the eye” by Neil Clarkson for Horsetalk.co.nz. The following line from the article made me sit up and take notice:

The research showed that horses, with their dichromatic vision, cannot distinguish red.

love-red-colorHumans with protanomalous (red-weak) vision have the same issue. And since red is my favorite color, well, you can see why I took notice, especially since the color red led me to research the topic in the first place. While writing a story with shape-shifters, I wanted to know which colors a teen in his animal form (horse) could distinguish. Could he distinguish the color of blood on snow?

I guess it’s up to me whether or not he retains his trichromatic color vision or switches over to dichromatic while a horse. (This is a fantasy book after all.) Since I wound up dumping the snow in the scene, the color aspect became moot anyway. But it caused me to think of how enriched my own world is due to having trichromatic color vision. Since I love bright colors (note the nail polish in the first photo), I have to fight the temptation to make every person, place, or thing I write about brightly colored. But I love using colors as symbols to show the emotional landscape of a character or to show mood in general.

Color choice can be very important when you’re using an objective correlative. If you’re wondering what an objective correlative is, here’s a handy definition from Merriam-Webster.com:

Something (as a situation or chain of events) that symbolizes or objectifies a particular emotion and that may be used in creative writing to evoke a desired emotional response in the reader.

A great post on objective correlatives with a helpful (and color-filled) example can be found here at Ingrid’s Notes. I can wait while you jet over there. I’ve got coffee to drink anyway.

You’re back? Good. Moving on, I also love to use color in an ironic way; for example, a depressed character who has the most colorful hair or wears the most colorful clothing (or both).

Color is one of the reasons why I love superhero ensemble shows or movies—all of those colorful costumes. Yet some of the most interesting heroes are the ones in basic black (or “very, very dark gray”; if you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you probably recognize that line). Here are some of those heroes:

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Black Panther (in front) and Lego Batman

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Black Widow and Hawkeye

(Still wondering about the “dark gray” line? Watch this video.)

How do you use color in your stories? What, if anything, have you admired about another author’s use of color?

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Hello Kitty and Jordie wanted to be part of the color photo shoot, since they’re colorful as well. However, if this post were a magazine, this photo would be one of the alternate covers.

By the way, I mentioned in another post that I was going to make myself a puppy hat. Mission accomplished. And yes, I wear it proudly.

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Horse eye from commons.wikimedia.org. Color wheels trotusa.com (which had the same photos from the Horsetalk article). Red wallpaper from love-wallpapers.com. Batman from jeffajohnson.com. Jeremy Renner from Hawkeye from fanpop.com. Black Widow from hdresimler.com. Black Panther from fanpop.

Suitable for Adults?

What items would you deem suitable for adults? Why do I ask? Let me elaborate in case your mind is going in a totally different direction than mine. If I go to a store and purchase a DVD or blu-ray for an animated show or movie, most of the time the cashier will ask if I want a gift receipt under the assumption that I’m making a purchase for a child. The question is never posed to me if I buy a live action movie.

The same question occurs if I enter a bookstore and purchase a middle grade book. I once told a cashier, “No, I’m going to read that.” She offered a “You’re kidding me” look. Never mind the fact that people who write books for kids can learn a lot by reading books other people have written for kids.

Several years ago, before miniseries like Galavant were even a gleam in the eye of ABC executives, a friend gave me this as a gift.

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(Um, not the books. The knight and horse.) Makes you think of this image, doesn’t it?

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She knew I loved stories about knights and was researching them for a book. Yet this knight and horse have drawn some disbelieving glances from others of the “Why would you want that?” variety.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my parents if I had to dress a certain way and like certain things when I became an adult. Would I have to give up Chuck Taylors? If so, being an adult would totally suck.

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Well, I’m an adult, and my love of the above has yet to dissipate. But I guess I sometimes make other adults uncomfortable, because I still love

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• Puddles (though I don’t jump into them these days)
• Animated series
• Bubblegum
• Graphic novels
• Fairy tales

You’re probably ready to sing “My Favorite Things” now, aren’t you? Part of being an adult is admitting to being childlike without being childish. For example, sticking my tongue out and going, “Nyeah!” when someone looks askance at a purchase I’ve made (though I really want to do so), would be childish. But I have to wonder why being an adult means you have to give up something you love just because you cross a certain threshold age-wise.

The apostle Paul stated

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.
1 Corinthians 13:11

But did Paul mean that being an adult means dictating how all other adults should behave? I can’t help thinking back to third grade when we used to say to each other, “Ewwww! You like that?” So are we suddenly more grown up if we utter the same statement about something harmless another adult happens to like?

Don’t get me wrong. I love books like this

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which is an award-winning adult fiction book. And I love these Prada boots

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though I can’t afford them. And in the winter, I love this:

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(In case you can’t read the label, this is Windshield De-Icer. For those of you who live in warmer climates and don’t see products like this, it makes scraping ice off windshields a lot easier.) And I love this brand of lipstick no matter what season:

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So, I need to take joy in the things I love and not worry if I get “the look” from someone. Instead of scowling, I can say, “Okay, sure” when someone asks me if I need a gift receipt, simply because it’s not worth the time to justify a purchase I have every right to make for myself. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Justice League: War. And I might chew some bubblegum while I’m at it.

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Chuck Taylors from shoebizsf.com. Galavant poster from melty.fr. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League: War image from mundobignada.com. Bubblegum from whoguides.com.