Every Dad Has His Day: Fiction’s Father Figures

016Here in the U.S., we celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday. (Happy Father’s Day again, Dad! And I hope all of you other dads had a good one too.) Though the day has passed, in honor of Father’s Day, here’s a list of cool dads or surrogate dads in fiction. This list is by no means exhaustive. I don’t have enough room to list every great dad in the history of fiction books, shows, or movies. Most of these are characters of recent vintage. So please do not yell at me for leaving out an era. I wanted to include dads from various media and eras. While they aren’t perfect by any means, they are beloved. To avoid too many spoilers, I listed their names, rather than elaborate on why most of them made this list. Got a favorite? Who would you add to the list?

Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (played by Gary Oldman in the movies)
Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, Ginny, Fred, George, Percy, Bill, and Charlie in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Mark Williams in the movies)
Atticus Finch, father of Jem (not seen below) and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (played by Gregory Peck in the film)

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Hans Hubermann, surrogate father of Liesel, in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (played by Geoffrey Rush in the film)
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes in Despicable Me (2010) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). Even a supervillain can grow to love a child.
Eduardo Perez (El Macho) (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), father of Antonio in Despicable Me 2 (2013). He may be a villain, but he loves his son. And have you seen this dude dance? Me gusta mucho.
Tenzin (voiced by J. K. Simmons), father of Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, and Rohan (not seen below) in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014).

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King Théoden, father of Théodred; uncle and surrogate father of Éomer and Éowyn in The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (played by Bernard Hill in the 2002 and 2003 films)
Lawrence Fletcher (voiced by Richard O’Brien), father of Ferb, stepfather of in Candace and Phineas in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015).
Tonraq (voiced by James Remar), father of Korra in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014). He certainly wins a prize for being a hot dad. 🙂

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Korra with her parents, Tonraq and Senna

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire), father of Vanessa in Phineas and Ferb (2007—2015). Though a villain, he too is a caring dad.
Elrond, father of Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien
The Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by Fred Shields), surrogate dad of Bambi in Bambi (1942)

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The Abhorsen, father of Sabriel in Sabriel by Garth Nix
Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong), adoptive father of Po in Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Philip Banks (played by James Avery), father of Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley; uncle to Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990—1996)

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George Banks (played by Steve Martin), father of Annie in the Father of the Bride (1991)
Iroh (voiced by Mako Iwamatsu and Greg Baldwin), father of Prince Lu Ten, uncle to Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)
The Samurai Lord (voiced by Keone Young and Sab Shimono), father of Samurai Jack in Samurai Jack (2001—2004)
Ward Cleaver (played by Hugh Beaumont) father of Theodore/the Beaver and Wally in Leave It to Beaver (1957—1963)
Dr. Eli Vance (voiced by Robert Guillaume), father of Alyx, in the Half-Life games (Valve)
George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), father of Zuzu, Tommy, Pete, and Janie in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Honorable mention goes to Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), father of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, and Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), father of Rod and Todd, in the long-running animated series, The Simpsons (1989— ).

Dads Who Seriously Need Parenting Lessons from the Dads Above
Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke and Leia in the Star Wars movies. An otter can teach this dude a thing or two.
Firelord Ozai, father of Prince Zuko and Princess Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2005—2008)

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See that burn mark on Zuko (left)? Guess who gave it to him.

King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Leck, father of Bitterblue in Kristin Cashore’s Seven Kingdoms series. As creepy a dad as ever breathed.
Denethor, father of Boromir (not shown below) and Faramir in The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (books and movies; in the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, Denethor was played by John Noble)

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Someone is not getting a Father’s Day card. . . .

Mac Dara, father of Cathal, in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series
Unalaq (voiced by Adrian LaTourelle), father of Desna and Eska in The Legend of Korra series (2012—2014)
Lucius Malfoy, father of Draco in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (played by Jason Isaacs in the films). Though he was a decent enough father to Draco, his unpleasantness and Death Eater status earned him a spot on this list.

If you have a minute, please enjoy this video of an otter who was voted Best Dad.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch found at searchingformymrdarcy.blogspot. Tenzin found on pinterest.com. The Great Prince of the Forest and Bambi found at fanpop.com. Denethor (John Noble) with Faramir (David Wenham) found at councilofelrond.com. Firelord Ozai and Zuko found at avatar.wikia.com. Gru and his daughters from bonclass.blogspot.com. Korra and her parents from w3rkshop.com. James Avery and Will Smith from tuneblaze.co.uk.

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.

The Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk

Just to give you a head’s up: I’m postponing my third giveaway until next week. (Sorry. I won’t tell you ahead of time what this giveaway involves. Mwwwhahaha!) Since this post is already long, I’ll post again this weekend to let you know who won the gift card and a preorder of Kate Sparkes’s book, Torn. Now, on with our regularly scheduled broadcast. . . .

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The other day, my friend Sharon told me about a TED Talk by writer/director Andrew Stanton. Since I was familiar with his Pixar movies (Toy Story 1, 2, 3; A Bug’s Life; Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and others), I was eager to hear what tips he had for telling great stories. (I didn’t see John Carter, the sci-fi film he co-wrote and directed [2012], though I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.)

The TED Talk in question is below. There is, however, a small amount of graphic language early on. Just want to warn anyone who might be offended.

Because of its rich tapestry of information, this is one of my favorite talks. Here are some of the storytelling tips Stanton mentioned that really resonated with me:

• Make me care.
• Give a promise that your story will take the reader somewhere worthwhile.
• Invoke wonder.
• Capture a truth from your experience.

There were many other points. Because of that inspiring talk, I have decided to host a series of guest posts on the points Stanton discussed. I’m calling this series the Stanton Effect: Inspiration from a TED Talk. I’m excited to have such a stellar line up of bloggers and authors coming to the blog in the next few weeks to share their thoughts. From time to time, however, I will break away from the series with a post or two about a giveaway. But don’t worry. I’ll get right back to the series.

Today, I’m leading off with Stanton’s first point—make me care. It captured my attention, because it is the number one reason why I usually stop reading a book or watching a film—I simply didn’t care enough.

Make me care. In grad school, my advisors told me the same thing over and over and over again: “You have to make me care about this story.” Yet forging a heart connection with a reader is tricky to do. Tricky, but not impossible. Think of the last story you really connected with. We connect when we can relate to a character’s struggles or hopes.

If you watched Stanton’s TED Talk, you saw a scene from Finding Nemo that absolutely tugs at the heartstrings. The scene below is the beginning of that scene.

We connect as we think about the losses in our own lives. Though Stanton made a different point when showing the scene, I can’t help thinking of how the filmmakers caused me to care without making me feel manipulated.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverI also think of a book I’ve read twice now: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. In the opener, Black describes a glass coffin that is pivotal to the main character’s story. (You learn that fact on the book jacket.)

It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up. (1)

Black made me care, because the unusual image of a boy in a glass coffin stirred my curiosity and reminded me of fairy tales I love. But most of all, I cared because Black showed me what Hazel was interested in right off the bat. I cared, because Hazel cared.

Another way Black made me care is through her obvious concern for her characters—good, bad, or in between. She cared enough to show them at their strongest or most vulnerable without making a judgment call either way. I can’t help contrasting her efforts to the number of times I’ve heard an author admit to disliking a certain character in his/her own book—usually the antagonist. An author’s dislike of his/her character is always a red flag for me. I need to care even about the most morally repugnant individual in a story. If I don’t, I’ll head for the exit quickly.

If you saw the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon, you’re familiar with this dude:

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Prince Zuko

Avatar-Episodes-Book-1-Water-300x300Slight spoilers in this paragraph to follow. (Be warned.) Throughout the first book of the series—Water—Zuko is clearly working against the heroes. Though he has his own agenda, I couldn’t help caring about him, because the writers (including series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) made him a well-rounded character. They showed the physical and emotional wounds motivating his actions. They also gave him an antagonist. I cared, because they cared.

If we want to make readers care about our work, we need to love our characters. We don’t have to approve of their actions, particularly the bone-headed ones. But we definitely need to understand why they do what they do. Caring about them is what makes a story great.

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print.

Andrew Stanton from zimbio. Zuko from earnthis.net. Avatar book 1 DVD cover from avatarthelastairbenderonline.com.

Two Years, One Post, and One Ring to Rule Them All

67524Today is my two-year blogoversary. If only print could convey my amazement. Two years. When I began posting exactly two years to the day, I wasn’t sure I’d last two months, let alone two years. But here I am!

Home Alone

My amazement is sorta like this.

I won’t take up too much of your time today, however. Anniversaries are all about celebrating and giving presents. So this post is to announce a blogoversary giveaway: a $25 Amazon card (or some equivalent at Amazon.uk) to one reader. Woot! A winner will be announced sometime next week. (I have another giveaway to coordinate first.)

This giveaway is my way of saying thanks to all who welcomed me as a new blogger or to those who continue reading my posts even when I talk about books or magazines I read in the bathroom. Please comment below to be entered in the drawing. If you feel like mentioning what you’d get at Amazon, that would be lovely. Don’t feel obligated though. You could instead tell me about the weather in your neck of the woods (it’s freeeeeeeeeeezzzzzzing here), your favorite movie, or about an epiphany you had recently. Two years ago, I talked about a movie I enjoyed, so sharing your favorite movie would be very fitting. 🙂

While I wait for you to respond, I’ll continue mainlining Skinny Pop Popcorn and Reese’s. (Does one cancel out the other?)

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By the way, thanks for all of the memories we’ve shared over the years. (I can say that now. Years.) There have been many that still make me smile, especially as I think about your comments—the best part of having a blog. But reminiscing would only make me cry, and I’ve had enough of that recently, thanks to The Legend of Korra, Book Three: Change. (That’s not a spoiler by the way. I cry easily, at happy or sad moments.) So while you think of how you want to spend that gift card, I’ll go back to my popcorn and the series finale of The Legend of Korra, Book Four: Balance. (I’m bingeing on both seasons.)

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Thanks again for visiting my little space.

P. S. If you’re wondering where the “one ring to rule them all” fits in, you can stop wondering. It doesn’t. I just threw that in.

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Jordie and Kitty have put aside their differences to celebrate this blogoversary. Each, however, has decided to look for the one ring to rule the other.

Skinny Pop from the Skinny Pop website. Legend of Korra, Book Three from animationmagazine.net. Legend of Korra, Book Four from ign.com. Cupcake with candle from go4costumes.com. Macaulay Culkin from musiceyz.co.uk.

Let’s Get Gluttonous

If you have Olivia Newton-John’s song, “Physical,” going through your mind (“let’s get physical, physical”), you’re already blaming me. But neither of us can do anything about that now, so let’s move on.

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I still hear muttering from your direction, however: “Let’s get gluttonous? Come on! We already did that at Thanksgiving.” Bear with me. Now that the turkey is behind us and/or in front of us if we’ve gained a few pounds from the awesome force of our knife and fork wielding, we can get down to business. I suppose I should speak for myself, rather than for you. This Thanksgiving I ate too much and wrote too little. Can you blame me with two turkeys and two hams on the table, plus countless side dishes? And there were desserts so delectable, my thought was, Why stop at just one? So I didn’t.

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We had good times together, didn’t we, ma petite fourchette?

But now that I’ve returned home, my thoughts turn from my waistline to my wasted writing time. Unlike me, some of you conquered NaNoWriMo in November. Well done, you! Here’s your pat on the back.

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Now that December has rolled around, you’re probably ready to take it a little easier—perhaps coast till Christmas as you revise what you just wrote. But now’s the time for me to make up for lost time. You can still join my new campaign. In December, let’s get gluttonous—writing with abandon to create a feast with words.

Consider it: descriptive passages so succulent, a reader’s mouth waters for more. Those are within your reach—as close as that cranberry sauce was to your fork last week. Just wield these ingredients: a dash of sensory details and a pinch of action verbs with knife-edge precision to sharpen the camera’s eye-effect of your story. And while you’re at it, chisel characters so amazingly life-like, they’re miniature Davids carved from the marble of your imagination. Go to it, Michelangelo!

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Don’t run away screaming! This cheerleading session is mainly a reminder to myself to go big in December and expand the territory of my writing. If I give my writing as much attention as I gave to expanding my waistline at Thanksgiving, I will soon be at least 20 pages to the good. Will you join me?

Where do you go for inspiration as you buckle down to write? A multitude of sources usually provide inspiration for me. One is this:

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Fork from spell.psychology.wustl.edu. Person with a pen from wisegeek.org. Olivia Newton-John from jamesreadtan.com. David from caravaggista.com. Pat on the back gif from community.us.playstation.com.

Can You Rebuild as Well as You Tear Down?

Construction Man

There is a time for everything . . .  a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to tear down and a time to build. Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

I watch a certain show on Tuesdays (or at least I did until the season finale) where everything is in an upheaval. This show dovetails with a series of popular superhero movies. That should be enough of a hint for you to guess which show I mean. If you’re still at sea, feel free to ask me in the comments which show I mean, especially if you don’t live in this country and might not know. But I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, since the show is current. Suffice it to say that a major upset has taken place and the characters are putting the pieces back together.

That makes for good TV, right? It’s like when we were kids. We liked to build huge block towers only to knock them down and see what happens in the aftermath. Or, we wanted other people to build huge block towers while we had the satisfaction of knocking them down. That’s conflict. Shock, destruction, and chaos add up to a great season finale. Who didn’t reel when **SPOILER (and you’ll have to scroll past the next two pictures)** Captain Jean-Luc Picard had been assimilated into the Borg and called himself Locutus in the third season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Yes, I’m reaching way back. And maybe you were in diapers when the show aired so that reference means nothing to you. But the Borg were the enemies of the Federation. Picard belonged to the Federation.

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Jean-Luc Picard

Jean Luc as Borg

Picard as Locutus **END SPOILER**

Overturns occur quite often in books, especially in some trilogies featuring a relationship between a hero/heroine and a would-be love interest. In book 1, which I think of as The Chase, two individuals dance around each other for 90 percent of the book until finally they get a happily ever after (or HEA) of sorts. In book 2, The Separation, the HEA is overturned. In book 3, The Renewal, the plot builds toward the couple swooning over each other again.

As much as I like a good overturn with organizations crumbling and cities in chaos, my skeptical button lights up when an overturn is presented on the page or on the screen, especially if the destruction is widespread. I wonder, Can the writers/producers/trained cats reconstruct to a satisfying degree what they’ve destroyed? I’m not saying the reconstruction always has to be like Bruce Wayne’s vow to rebuild Wayne Manor “brick for brick”—exactly the way it was—at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005; script by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer)—thus ensuring that the world is exactly the same. (Okay, yeah, that’s a spoiler too.) Nothing is ever quite the same after a major upheaval. Think of the shape of our world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 or the aftermath of a disaster like a hurricane.

Authors like J. K. Rowling and TV series creators/writers like J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), Michael Dante DiMartino (Avatar/Legend of Korra), and Bryan Konietzko (Avatar/Legend of Korra) know that a good plan for a series is paramount. Crafting a satisfying and credible season or a series, with all of the twists, overturns, and reconstruction leading up to its conclusion, takes time.

I’m reminded of the explosions that occur in movies. I recently watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries for Batman Begins for the sixth or seventh time, so the subject is fresh in my mind. Nolan and the effects team discussed how painstaking the planning was for the stunts, particularly the explosions. Once something is blown up, it stays blown up. You don’t get a second chance. But you need to plan for how an explosion will work and what it will change.

Overturns are like those explosions. Upheaval is a game changer. Consider the upheaval of The Avengers movie (2012; directed by Joss Whedon). Every Marvel movie after that has shown the aftermath of that event. So, how do you rebuild after that? What do you keep? What’s gone forever?

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With that in mind, I’m issuing this plea to anyone who is in a destruction/reconstruction mode in their stories. I include myself in that plea, since I have a fair amount of destruction in my novel and am sometimes tempted to take the easy way out as I plan the sequel. Fellow authors, you wowed us with the destruction in your works. Now wow us with how you rebuild your world, or barring its destruction (i.e., Earth is blown up), how your surviving characters move on in a satisfying way. Please knock my socks off. I’ll be forever grateful.

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Earth destroyed

Construction sign from kunonet.de. Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard/Locutus from fanpop.com and arachnoid.com. Earth blowing up image from sodahead.com. Avengers image from wallpaperhd.co.

Check This Out: Boxers & Saints

17261194geneWith me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Gene Luen Yang. I’m betting you’ve heard of him. Not only does he teach at Hamline University (the MFA program) in his spare seconds, he has either written or written and illustrated some of the graphic novels you’ve seen on the New York Times bestseller lists, namely American Born Chinese (written and illustrated by Gene), Level Up (art by Thien Pham), The Eternal Smile, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise trilogy (art by Gurihiru) and Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search trilogy (art by Gurihiru), and many others. And yes, the image at the right is one of his. 😀

Gene is represented by Judith Hansen. He’s here today to talk about the latest graphic novels he wrote and illustrated: Boxers & Saints, published by First Second Books. I’m giving away two boxed sets! More on that later. But first, let’s talk to Gene!

El Space: Welcome, Gene! Wish I could offer you a beverage, but we’re separated by cyberspace. Please share four quick facts about yourself.
Gene: 1. I write and draw comic books and graphic novels.
2. I taught high school computer science for years and years.
3. I’ve spent my entire life within this one-hour radius in the San Francisco Bay Area.
4. My Chinese name means “cautious.” When I was first born, my parents gave me a Chinese name that meant “splendid.” When I started walking, I kept bumping my head on stuff, so they changed it to “cautious.”

El Space: Oh man, that’s awesome! What inspired you to produce Boxers & Saints? How long was the process from conception to completion?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel all about the Boxer Rebellion. I first became interested in the Boxer Rebellion in the year 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized a group of Chinese Catholic saints. I grew up in a Chinese Catholic community. My home church was really excited about the Vatican’s announcement. This was the first time the Roman Catholic Church had ever recognized Chinese citizens in this way. When I looked into the lives of the newly canonized saints, I discovered that many of them were martyred during the Boxer Rebellion, a war on Chinese soil in 1900. And, in fact, they were killed because they were seen as traitors to Chinese culture. The more I read about the Boxer Rebellion, the more fascinated I became. I feel that this war from over a hundred years ago embodies this struggle between East and West that many Asian Americans have felt from time to time in our lives.

The entire project took me six years from beginning to end.

      boxerssaints 

El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading Boxers & Saints?
Gene: Boxers & Saints is based on history, but it’s historical fiction. The two main characters are fictional, and the story takes a turn towards magical realism pretty early on. I hope that Boxers & Saints will inspire readers to look into the actual historical event. Although the Boxer Rebellion doesn’t get much attention in American classrooms, it’s still a big deal in China. It’s part of a time period that the Chinese refer to as their Century of Humiliation. It still very much affects China’s policies toward the West. As China grows economically, the relationship between China and the West will change. I hope American readers will learn more about events like the Boxer Rebellion to better understand how to move forward.

abcEl Space: You’re a National Book Award finalist for Boxers & Saints. Congratulations! And you won the Michael L. Printz award for American Born Chinese, which also was a National Book Award finalist—the first graphic novel to win that recognition. You’ve also won Eisners for American Born Chinese and The Eternal Smile, a collaboration with Derek Kirk Kim. How have the awards been a game changer for you?
Gene: Thank you! The awards have made my life nutty —nutty in an amazing, amazing way. It’s an honor. It’s every storyteller’s dream to be recognized by prestigious organizations like the National Book Foundation, the American Library Association, and the Eisner Awards. Practically speaking, the awards brought enough attention to my book that I was able to go part-time at my day job, giving me more time to work on comics.

El Space: You’ve written several books for the Avatar series as well. How did that come about? What draws you to a project where you’re strictly the writer versus those for which you are writer and illustrator?
Gene: I was a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender before I was ever connected to the franchise. It is, in my opinion, the best American animated series ever. A few years after the original show ended, Nickelodeon decided to continue the adventures of Aang and his friends in the graphic novel format. They asked Dark Horse Comics to produce them, and a Dark Horse editor asked me to write them. I jumped at the chance.

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The experience has been wonderful. I’ve gotten to work closely with Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the original series. I’ve learned so much about storytelling from them. I only handle the writing. The art is done by this tremendous Japanese art studio called Gurihiru.

The Avatar books have been a collaboration in every sense of the word. I’m part of a team, and I’m working with characters who were born in someone else’s head. It’s very different from working on my own stuff. My primary goal is to stay faithful to the source material, rather than stay faithful to my own vision.

472331El Space: Graphic novels have an increased presence in the marketplace. Yet some naysayers pigeonhole them as “comic books for kids.” Obviously, they’ve never read Watchmen. 😀 How would you address this viewpoint?
Gene: Well, comic books are for kids, but they’re not just for kids. There are three major comic book cultures in the world—one based in Japan, another in France, and one here in America. In Japan and France, comics are read by both genders and every age demographic. Every genre is represented. In America, for a variety of historical reasons, the general public has commonly associated comics with superheroes and adolescence.

9516With the support of progressive librarians, academics, and other members of the literary community, we are finally breaking out of that. To anyone who still thinks comics are just for kids, I wouldn’t say a word. I would simply hand them Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons. The work speaks for itself.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Gene: My next graphic novel is a collaboration with a fabulously talented Singaporean artist named Sonny Liew. Sonny writes and draws his own stuff. Image Comics recently put out his graphic novel Malinky Robot. For our project, though, he’s handling the art and I’m handling the writing.

It’s a graphic novel called The Shadow Hero. We’re telling the story of the first Asian American superhero, a character from the 1940’s called The Green Turtle, created by a Chinese American cartoonist named Chu Hing. I’m really excited about it. It’ll be out from First Second Books in 2014.

Thank you for being my guest, Gene! I’m looking forward to The Shadow Hero!

Thanks to all who stopped by. You can find Gene at his website, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m excited to offer two boxed sets of Boxers & Saints. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winners will be announced next Tuesday, December 10.

Boxers & Saints can be found here:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Green Apple Books
Powell’s Books

Gene graphic image from Gene’s website. Book covers from his website and Goodreads.