8 June, 2003

Well, I have now seen The Matrix Reloaded twice, and I must say that I had vastly different reactions to the movie each time that I saw it. First time I saw the movie, I was disappointed. I saw it again last week and thought it was okay. I mean it isn't a great movie, but it was entertaining. I had suspected this would be my reaction because of The Two Towers. First time I saw that movie, I was really disappointed. I went back like a month later and really enjoyed the hell out of it.

All I can say to explain this is that the first time I saw these movies I didn't get what I was expecting. When I went back, I knew what I was in for and was able to enjoy the movies for what they were. I'm going to call this the Chrysalis Effect in honor of the last episode of the first season of Babylon-5. Anyone familiar with that? They held-up the last episode of the first season of that show for months, and all I ever heard were rumors. People saying that the episode was done and that the network wouldn't let them show it. Oh, and, of course, it was a totally kick-ass episode, which is exactly what you want to hear for months on end. The last episode will rock your world. Everybody who has seen it has been totally blown away. You'll never be the same. So, Chrysalis finally rolls around, and it sucks. It sucks bad. After all that build-up, I figure the only way Chrysalis could have lived up to the hype would have been if everybody had gone at it with nuclear weapons or something. The whole cast wiped-out. I don't know. Something. But, that isn't what happened so the episode fell far short of the hype and expectations. Now, I have seen that episode again relatively recently, and it isn't bad.

The Matrix Reloaded suffers from the Chrysalis Effect, what can I say? It took them four years to make, and all I ever heard about was how impressively expensive the special effects were going to be. I was disappointed, and I really don't know what they could have done to live up to the hype. The effects suck, what can I say? Some of the scenes look poorly computer generated. No, really, they do. So, I went back to the movie, knowing all of this, and realized that the movie isn't bad. It's entertaining. It's got funny bits. Especially the beginning where what's-her-name goes flying out the window and just starts firing away at the guy who jumps out the window after her. I mean that is how the movie started, and I just burst-out laughing. It was so damn funny.

Oh, and, how is this for a really funny story? So, I was sitting in the theatre waiting for The Matrix Reloaded to start, and there is this man and woman sitting next to me. The woman asks him what he did the night before, and he says that he saw X2 and that it was a big disappointment. She says that she is really surprised since he had previously told her that he wasn't interested in seeing it. He replies that he hadn't been planning on seeing it except he had heard there was this really impressive freeway chase scene that makes the whole movie worthwhile, and she just bursts-out laughing, saying the car chase is in the movie they are about to watch. Yeah, he says, he knows that now. So, she is laughing, and it is all I can do to keep from laughing. And, he says that he spent the entire movie wondering when they were going to get to the big freeway chase. Well, she says, you're going to get to watch it now.

Anyway, I just finished drawing comic number 143 of String Finger Theatre. This means that episode two is almost as long as episode one, and it will be much longer before it is done. I don't know if this is cool or bad news. I mean I've got to worry about the story being so long that people loose interest. Everybody sitting there, looking at my website, thinking damn, isn't he ever going to get to the point? Anyway, episode two is going to carry on for a while longer. The Soul-Repossesser has a much bigger part than I was expecting. I mean I thought he was going to have a walk-on, and I was starting to worry that it almost wasn't going to be worth having him show-up. Now? He won't leave.

The real question, of course, is what am I going to do next. I want to do an episode three, and it would be nice if there is no break between episode two and three. I just a little undecided as to what I want to do next. This may simply be because I haven't finished episode two and want to concentrate my attention on it. The one thing I am starting to think is that Zed is going to be written out of the story. I mean he is hardly in it at all right now, and Cat and Mike have been doing great as a comedy duo. I don't know if I need the third character. I like the idea of having three main cast members. There is more room for them to riff off of each other, but then Zed's personality is so extreme I'm having trouble thinking of stuff for him to do. So, I think he may because a supporting player, and things will focus more around Cat and Mike.

It's almost a shame that Zed is falling to the back burner because he has the most complex personality of the three. I mean we've got a washed-up hero who has to deal with the fact that he has lost his super powers twice. Not once. Twice. Anyway, I'll find a way to keep him from disappearing altogether.

22 June, 2003

I know I'm not the biggest Harry Potter fan, but I found the most interesting article about fan fiction. How did I get from Harry Potter to fan fiction? Well, that's simply enough. I found an article about a New York newspaper getting sued because it published excerpts or a review of the new Harry Potter book days before the official unveiling. The article mentioned while the publisher is doing all kinds of wild stuff to keep the book secret until the end and cracking down on fake Potter books that they are doing nothing about fan fiction. There was a link to another article specifically about fan inspired fiction and how the gross majority of it is currently related to the Harry Potter books. This article mentioned some stuff about the murky and barely legal existence of fan fiction and how J. K. Rowling has sort-of indorsed Harry Potter fan fiction by the simply fact that her representatives have not come down on it like a ton of bricks.

All of which got me thinking, and you can probably already tell some of my opinions on the subject from that last sentence.

I am really rather of two minds on the subject of fan inspired fiction. On the one hand, it is great to think that people are going out and being creative and even going so far as to write this stuff down. The world needs more writers, and people being creative. And, the free flowing exchange of ideas is a good thing. On the other hand, it is all really rather creepy and shows an impressive lack of imagination on the part of the fan fiction author. Also, publishing fan inspired fiction is naughty and illegal and really rather a disservice to the original author, who more than likely poured their blood, sweat and tears into the now plagiarized work.

I just realized that I am making one huge assumption, which is that all fan fiction is based in small or large part on preexisting material such as Harry Potter. I do not know if this is true. I would have to do some digging into the popular definition of fan fiction, which is something I have no intention of doing at this time. So, for the purposes of this discussion, fan fiction is defined as work that has some basis in preexisting material. This could mean using characters or settings. For example, I once saw a fan fiction story set in the Quantum Leap universe and staring the Scott Bakula character. For another example, it would be very easy to write a story in the Star Trek universe, mention things like the Federation and the Prime Directive, but never actually use the Enterprise or any of the cast and crew.

Okay, the good news about fan fiction is that it gets people thinking and writing and even being creative. You may not be being very creative, but you have to start somewhere. And, I will sheepishly admit that in my youth I did my share of fan inspired musings. Most of this involved inserting myself as a character into whatever story, movie, comic, or novel happened to have caught my fancy at the time. Embarrassing as hell to admit to now, I know, but it is true. In fact, if you go back to the very first stick figure stuff I drew when I was a very little kid, you will find it was based on Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, Battle of the Planets, Spectraman, and Ultraman. There was also some Godzilla and Battlestar Galactica inspired stuff, and I recall trying to do some Star Wars take-offs, which never went anywhere.

All well and good. Nice to know that plagiarizing other people's stuff was all very inspiring and got those good-old creative juices flowing. Now, two things to consider. I never published a piece of it. Sure, maybe, some friends and family saw those idiotic stick figure drawings, but I never published a one of them. I never tried to get any money, and I never posted anything on the internet. Of course, there was no internet at the time, but that is hardly the point. And, the other thing? I got over it. I realized that basing stuff on other people's ideas was sappy and showed a total lack of creativity on my part. Sure, basing shit on Flash Gordon was fun, but there just reaches a point where you have to give-up the crutch. Jump out of the nest and flap those wings.

So, there is the good news about fan fiction. It is really helpful in getting the old creativity flowing. In fact, this is really embarrassing to admit, but I still find myself day dreaming myself as a character into stories, movies, comics, and books that have struck my fancy. But, it stays there in the daydream.

So, write your fan fiction if you must but get over it. Throw-off your crutch and realize that there is a whole wide world out there, and you don't need to relay on other people's ideas. It's not so hard as you might think. In fact, as a stepping stone, just change the names. No, really, take whatever piece of fan inspired fiction you have got lying around and change a detail or two. Change the characters' names. Change the locale ever so slightly, and you will soon discover that you don't even need any of the old fan inspired trappings any more.

An example from my youth, my Spectraman and Ultraman stick figure stories never actually used the names Spectraman or Ultraman. Sure, I followed the basic idea of giant robots fighting monsters of one description or another, but it slowly evolved. I stopped using the guy in the monkey mask as the super villain from Spectraman. The mothership disappeared. In fact, the only thing it had in common with that old Japanese TV show was the fact that the giant robot was a good guy.

Like I said, there simply reached the point where I didn't need the trappings and crutch of someone else's stuff any more, and I could think of plenty of things on my own.

Besides, there is just something really creepy about fan fiction. A friend once asked if she could rewrite one of my short stories. Now, I was still a teenager at the time so it sounded like a great idea to me, and I was really curious what she was going to do. What happened next came much to my surprise. When she was done, she gave a copy to me. I took one look at it and almost threw-up. No, I'm serious. It's really hard to explain. I felt utterly betrayed and violated, and that was only after the first paragraph at which point nothing had actually happened that was different from my original. I'm not even sure I can explain, and I can only try to say that writing takes a lot out of me. It is very trying. It is very disturbing and exhausting, and it is very personal. So, for somebody to mess with that, I feel like someone has reached into my heart and pissed on my soul. Strange, but true. I really don't know how I would react if I found fan fiction based on something I had done, but I think I would be profoundly sick.

Okay, so, write your fan fiction as part of learning your craft and exploring the depths of your imagination; but, remember to give it up. And, whatever you do, please, do not publish it. By publishing your fan fiction, you will have crossed the line from fan inspired fiction into that really ugly world of plagiarizing someone else's stuff by creating a derivative work of copyrighted material without the copyright holder's permission. And, let us be very clear on this, by posting your fan fiction on a website, you have published it.


I'm not going to dig-up the exact wording, but a work is consider published when more than—I think it was—five copies are accessible to the general public. So, if you write something and show it to a couple friends, then it is not published. If you write something and show it to a whole bunch of friends, it is published. Something posted on a website makes it accessible by the whole wide world, which is a whole hell of a lot more than five people. It doesn't really matter if fewer than five people bother to read what you published on the web. The simple fact that it is accessible is enough.

Now, I have heard it argued that something is not violating copyright until money changes hands. The argument goes that posting something on a website does not mean that it is published until you have to pay money to view it. This is a really big truckload of donkey biscuits. If it is freely available to the public, then it is published. I would like to see anybody go up to the editors of the San Francisco Independent, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian, or the San Jose Metro and tell them that they don't have a publication and that they are not protected by copyright law. Oh, those exist on paper, you say? Well, let us wander on over to the editor of Newsweek and tell him that his magazine's only-available-online content isn't really published. Oh, and, you don't need to be a paid subscriber of Newsweek to read the only-available-online content, which means that it is freely available to anyone.

So, are we clear on this? Publishing on the World Wide Web is publishing. Publishing a derivative work—fan fiction in this case—without first gaining permission from the copyright holder of record is naughty and illegal.

Besides, if publishing on the web isn't really publishing and therefore not bound by such things as international copyright, then why do some pieces of fan fiction include notices indicating that the author of the fan fiction has some kind of copyright hold on the piece of fiction? I know they don't all do this. In fact, I found one piece that was Harry Potter meets Ponder Stibbons, and the attached copyright notice said something to the effect of fan fiction please don't sue. The joke is that some fan fiction authors do include notices in which they lay claim to copyright, which I find to be a rather impressive bit of chutzpah.

Okay, I had better say this one more time since I have probably pissed-off quite a few people by now. Fan fiction is really cool and useful in the development of one's creative process until it is published. Please, do not publish fan fiction without the express permission of the copyright holder. Implied consent isn't good enough. Consent should be clear and preferably given in writing.

Which just leaves one question that I really don't know how I would answer. What would I do if I stumbled across a piece of fan fiction based on something I had written? I know. I know. My stuff sucks. Nobody is going to do any fan fiction based on my shit, but just pretend for the sake of argument here that it has happened. I don't know. I would probably let it go. After all, I really do want to support people in being creative and all of that. Now, having said that, if the fan fiction was truly egregious or I was really irked or something, then I might go so far as to try and contact the author and ask them to remove the work from the website. If necessary, I would point out that they have published a derivative work in clear violation of my copyright, and I would ask them to please remove the unauthorized work from publication. And, don't tell me this makes the web unique and why something published on the web is not really published. Books and magazines and newspapers can be recalled, too, you know. You going to try and convince me that those are not really publications, either? I didn't think so.

29 June, 2003

Hey, good news! Good news! Episode two of String Finger Theatre is finished! The pencils are done, anyway. I still have to ink it, or to be more exact, I have to redo it in Adobe Illustrator, converting the works into GIF format. I don't mess with any of this scanning of the pencil sketch business since I don't have a scanner and it is much easier to do a bunch of copying and pasting of the stuff I've already got. I think there are only about ten poses that I reuse again and again and again. I actually worry about people getting really sick and tired of them. Oh, well. It's all on account of the fact that I cannot draw to save my life. Once in a very great while, I am forced to add another character pose, and every once in a much greater while, I add the pose to the rotation. Anyway, The Search of Zed's New Groove runs from String Finger Theatre seventy-seven through 165. Now, let's see if I can do the math correctly, you don't just subtract seventy-seven from 165 because that will leave you with one less than you actually think you should have. After all, if the storyline ran from number one to number ten, you wouldn't subtract one from ten because that would leave you with nine, which doesn't make sense. You've got ten comics. How can the arithmetic leave you with only nine? So, I don't know what I'm talking about. Okay, that means you have to take one less than the starting number to get it right. So, seventy-six from 165 is eighty-nine. whoa-hoa! Episode two is longer than episode one! I can't believe it.

Okay, actually, I can believe it, but it is rather spooky. I don't know how these things happen. I started out with the intention of doing this nice little romp. Nothing serious. Nothing fancy. A dozen strips. Maybe, a score. That sounds good. Only, what do I get? Seventy-three the first time around and eighty-nine the second time. I mean, whoa, what-the-hell? Can't I do things on a small scale anymore? Okay, I know I can. Just check out the vignettes. I can do small. In fact, I really should do more of those vignettes. They are fun. Anyway, the same thing happened with The Faire Folk of Gideon. It wasn't supposed to get away from me like it did. I mean it turned all serious and long

Anyway, episode two is done. It even comes to a rather satisfying conclusion if I must say so myself. Unlike episode one, which was rushed and rewritten at the very last moment. And, I was trying desperately to keep ahead of the posting deadline. No, not fun at all. Which is one of the secrets of episode two. I built-up a huge reserve of strips before I started posting. It left me with all this time to work. The ending even drags out longer than I expected. I figured that once they were done with the major action that everything would just stop like it did in episode one. But, no, things get dragged out by an epilogue that I swear would not stop. The end of episode two has some of the longest strips I have done for the comic.

Of course, the downside to all of this is that the prequel to The Magic Flute has stalled out. Pisses me off. It just goes to show that I can't really work on two projects at the same time. At least, not while I am also holding down a day job. I mean it isn't entirely true that I cannot do both. There was a time in January and February where it was all going like gangbusters. Okay, maybe, it was March. I forget, but my point is that it is actually possible to fit it all in. Just not easy when there is also a day job. It goes in fits and spurts. Also, I think there was a lot of excitement in the beginning. I really had been scared that I wouldn't be able to continue the comic, but it was working. Hell, even my girl-friend was laughing at some of them.

Anyway, things have been going slow and stop on The Etymology of Fire, and that has just been really pissing me off to no end. It was causing all kinds of problems. Well, for one thing, I was becoming more and more irritable and just generally being in a pissy mood. Taking work even less serious than I normally do. That kind of thing. Very self-destructive. And, that kind of thing worries me. After all, Drake could still be in my future. I had better watch it. So, I had been pissing and fuming and running around in circles and generally not getting anything done. Even worse, I would get so pissed that I would stay up really late not accomplishing anything while refusing to go to bed because I might manage something but being too tired to actually do anything which would leave me even more pissed and I would stay-up even later and get even more tired and could focus even less on trying to accomplish anything and on and on and on in this one great long run-on sentence that had way overused itself as a metaphor for a vicious cycle that had to be crushed.

So, I finally realized something. I was upset because I didn't feel like I was getting anything useful done. The Etymology of Fire was stalled-out because I didn't have the strength or energy to work on it. I mean it's getting to the end, and some really cool stuff was happening. It wasn't lack of interest. It was lack of energy. I remember sitting at the computer with pages in hand and thinking about how cool it all was and how ready I was to write the next bit if only I could keep my eyes open. Which isn't what I realized. What I finally realized was that I wasn't taking String Finger Theatre seriously as if it was some kind of worthless Mickey-Mouse project. And, I realized that this was stupid. String Finger Theatre isn't serious? It isn't worthwhile? It doesn't mean anything? Why? Because it is a comic? Really? Is that it? You got some kind of psychological bullshit about the superiority of prose over crummy stick figure drawings?

And, I realized, shit! That was a lousy attitude. So, I realized that it was okay to let The Etymology of Fire rest and concentrate on finishing episode two of String Finger Theatre. I mean, sure, I had essentially been working on The Etymology of Fire for almost twenty years. Sure, that is too long. Sure, it's over written. Sure, it's long past time to finish. Sure, I have to let it be done. Sure, I wasn't going to start on book two of The Faire Folk of Gideon until The Etymology of Fire was finished. Sure, everything. Let it go. Work on what I can work on, meaning String Finger Theatre.

So, I did.

Now, episode two of String Finger Theatre is done, and I've got some ideas as to what is going to happen next. I want to shoot for something a little shorter than episode one or two, but we shall see what happens. And, what with the big reservoir of comics, I think I can take some time before I start work on episode three, which means I've got time for The Etymology of Fire. Hey, finishing up episode two was even fun. Now, the big debate was whether I should let a little time laps before trying to dive back into The Etymology of Fire. Of course, that question was sort-of taken out of my hands on account of the fucking heat. It was so damn hot in San Francisco last week. I mean hot as Hades for San Francisco. We are talking about the city that doesn't have air conditioning here. Damn, it was hot. And, no air conditioning. There were offices around me that had to be ninety degrees. They were sending people home. Anyway, last week took on a very dreamy quality. No way I was going to fight myself to try and accomplish anything last week.

High hopes for next week, which just so happens to be a four-day workweek. Of course, the trick will be not kicking myself if I don't get anything accomplished. We shall see. We shall see.

copyright © 2003 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
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