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Today, September 25, is my birthday. Happy birthday, me! To celebrate, I'm gonna talk Gravity Falls for a minute here.

Last Wednesday, Alex Hirsch teased the possibility of Gravity Falls comics. Most people asked for typical pie-in-the-sky stuff (Ford's adventures in the Portal! Stan O'War II adventures! Dipper and Mabel's next summer at Gravity Falls!). Me, I tried to temper my expectations; I figure we're not getting anything with Ford solo so soon after the Journal, and sequel stuff is probably best left to, like, an actual new cartoon. The most likely scenario is old storylines from the show they considered but never actually did, like the one where Stan and Wendy rob the museum. Not that that's such a bad deal, mind! Just so long as we get more of Stan.

But I've also been considering a different tack they could take with this. Consider, if you will, a Gravity Falls anthology series. Each issue, we'd get a couple stories about various characters from Gravity Falls. Maybe Wendy's mom would be the focus of one, perhaps we'd get Gideon's full origin story in another. It'd be a good chance to look at some underused characters, too, like the Manotaurs, or Wendy's teen friends. Best of all, this approach wouldn't preclude the occasional foray into any of the above-mentioned approaches.

But of course, we all know the truly best way for this to all go down: 12 issue Quentin Trembley maxi-series.

Trick or Treat Exchange 2016 Letter

Hello, visitor to this letter! I'm HealyG (or Healy on AO3 and practically everywhere but here), and if you're here it's likely because you plan on writing me something, whether you're my assigned writer or plan to treat me or whatever. Let's get things started with some general likes/dislikes!

General Likes and DislikesCollapse )

Fandoms: Gravity Falls (Mabel, Stan, Ford, Dipper, Bill); Spirit Phone - Lemon Demon (Album) (Lifetime Achievement Award, Ancient Aliens, Touch-Tone Telephone); Hansel and Gretel (Fairy Tale) (The Witch); Homestar Runner (Any).

More to come soon, hopefully!
Hey there. Sorry for the delay. I'm not sure what happened there. I've been around, just... distracted.

So! Currently I've been reading a whole bunch of things: some of the earlier Hellboy volumes, Astro City: Family Album and Local Heroes, a few volumes of Batman: Black and White... I've even tried reading an actual, no-pictures type novel, like Moby Dick! It's... slow going, so far. I could do without all the digressions about whales, to be perfectly frank.

But the book I really want to talk about today is Gravity Falls: Journal 3, by Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti (diegetically written by [Golly gee, Gravity Falls spoilers!]Stanford Pines and company). Most of what I have to say about it has already been said before: it's a good book, full of secrets and new info about all your favorite characters, with a touching send-off that emphasizes how far the character of the Author has come by the end of the series. But earlier this week, Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti released an interview about the Journal, in which Hirsch had this to say:

The internet never ceases to impress me. For all the talk about how the upcoming generation has a short attention span, the moment you give these kids a riddle they drop everything and suddenly work together in perfect harmony like a military-level SWAT team to crack the code. It’s incredible. That being said, sometimes fans are often so focused on code-cracking they miss what’s in plain sight—the actual text of the journal! There are connections in there that even the savviest fans still have yet to notice.

The fandom's general response to this has been, "Well, clearly he hasn't been paying much attention to us." I mean, we've already figured out [oh gosh, more spoilers!]that the party Stan throws in Double Dipper was likely in celebration of his own birthday; that when the Oracle tells Ford that he's got the face of the man who'll defeat Bill, she's actually talking about Stan; that the splotches on the two "Dream Hipster" pages suggest that Ford was more scared of his dreams than he'd like to admit; plus more theories about the true nature of the Oracle from Dimension 52 than I care to go into right now. But not me! For, you see, I have made several theories and observations about the Journal that I have kept to myself. Could these be the connections Alex Hirsch is talking about in his interview? Probably not, but eh, it's worth a shot, writing them down here.

1. [In which some time anomalies are explained, sort of]So hey! How come none of the dates given on the show and in the book seem to match up? Well, in that big text dump of a coded letter Blendin sends the Pines, he mentions that his time-travel device got left out on a railroad track and was hit by a train. My theory is that this messed up the time stream around Gravity Falls real bad, so everything there lives in a kind of hypertime-esque haze. (Aside: Man, Hypertime really needs to make a comeback.)
2. [In which a name for a dream demon is suggested]So Dipper's real name is Mason. What I am proposing here is, what if that's Bill's real name, too? I mean, guy did admit that "Bill Cipher" is a nickname (in response to a question about Dipper's real name, no less!); maybe it's something they have in common? (And yes, I know, Bill says his real name's an unspeakable horror that would spell death to any who heard it, but frankly I don't trust him on this; he's a liar, right?)
3. [In which a character flaw of The Author is examined]Did you know that Ford's a hypocrite? Okay, so everybody knows that. But did you know about this specific example of his hypocrisy? Early on in the Journal, before he fell in the portal, he mentions using a giant's thumb as a coffee table. Later, after he comes back, he whines about Stan using the T-Rex skull as a coffee table. It's like, dude, he's hardly the first guy to use weird artifacts as furniture, step off. (Aside: Note the "Stan burning" imagery on the same page. Ominous! But not really, since we know he makes it out okay.)
4. [In which a new theory for A Better World is discussed]The alternate dimension Ford labels a Better World has had people scratching their heads ever since the book came out. Why would Better World-Stan just take the first journal and go? How did Ford manage to work with Fiddleford again after their falling out? But re-reading this section again, I don't think we're supposed to buy Ford's account that the turning point of this timeline is Stanley taking the book and getting out of dodge; it's far more likely that Ford took Fiddleford's offer to stop the portal test, as detailed earlier in the book. As for why Ford didn't realize this, I dunno. Thirty years is a long time, and it's likely that the pages about it were ripped out or ruined, so maybe he just forgot it ever happened.
5. [In which I get tired of thinking up these spoiler titles]Speaking of Fidds, I just realized that the reason Ford recognized him so quickly in the finale is because he saw Dipper's drawing of him in the Journal. He must've been like, "Eeewsh!" at that part. Also, the reason why Ford's glasses are always cracked is because he keeps breaking 'em! That's why he kept a spare in the first place.
6. [Okay this is too much]Mabel's beloved Dream Boy High series is a sham! It's clearly a foreign production, like from Japan or Eastern Europe maybe, if Mabel's comment about the lipsynching being off is anything to go by.

It's getting really late over here, so that's about all I feel like writing for now, but I will continue to scour the Journal for whatever secrets it may continue to hold. This is M Healy G., signing off.
Sorry for the missed column last week; I hadn't had a chance to go to the local library last week, so it took a while to gather up enough reading material for a full column. I really stocked up this week, so hopefully it won't happen again.

Currently I'm reading The Boy Detectives: Essays on the Hardy Boys and Others, edited by Michael G. Cornelius. I've... never actually read the Hardy Boys, but I was a big Encyclopedia Brown fan (I remember having a crush on him and everything), so I was hoping this book would have something that touched on him. Unfortunately, it doesn't, but there's still a lot I enjoyed. There's an essay on Hardy Boys adaptations, some of which I've never heard of; an essay on Christopher Cool, TEEN Agent, a little-known book series from the late 60s about a boy spy, and why it failed; essays on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Boy Detective Fails; and even a retrospective on the Three Investigators, which I never read, but made it sound like a really great series.

Unfortunately, even some of my favorite essays are marred by an... amateurishness, I guess I'd call it? For example, the essay about the Three Investigators opens with a three page (ha!) digression about the nature of trios in psychology and art, and it's like, okay man, I got your point the first couple of paragraphs in, no need to take it any further. It just felt so self-aggrandizing, and it's hard to imagine how it got past the editor for this collection. It's not a bad read, but it could use some tightening up.
(Technically none of these books are about Hellboy per se, but they take place in the same universe.)

Currently I'm reading a bunch of Mignola-verse books. First off is Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland, written by Kim Newman and Maura McHugh with art by Tyler Cook and Dave Stewart. It's about special agent Sir Edward Grey, paranormal investigator to Queen Victoria, and his misadventures in a newly industrial town that holds a lot of secrets. The art is beautiful, and the story brings that special Hellboy weirdness that I love so much. I don't think it's as good as the previous Witchfinder book (the one set in the Wild West), but I still enjoyed it bunches.

Next, we have the first two books in the Abe Sapien series, The Drowning, by Mike Mignola and Jason Shawn Alexander; and The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Patric Reynolds, Peter Snejbjerg, James Harren, and Dave Stewart. The first book, Drowning, was pretty okay, but it left me feeling lost at times; part of it may because I'm not too well-read on my Hellboy volumes (hey, I gotta work with whatever my library has in stock at the moment, alright?), but I think Mike Mignola has a tendency to just throw the reader in deep waters without warning when he's writing on his own. With a co-writer, like Arcudi in The Devil Does Not Jest, he seems able to rein things in much easier. The Devil Does Not Jest also has the benefit of being a short story showcase, which I think is where the Hellboy universe really shines. The epic stuff is alright, but it's pretty overwhelming, especially for a newcomer; the short stories deliver the weirdness in these great, bite-sized packages without the bloat. I liked both, but The Devil Does Not Jest is better.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh, yeah, I reread Darwyn Cooke's Parker: The Hunter this week, too. Verdict: still a great crime read, still not as good as Parker: The Outfit, Parker's surprisingly cute in this one, RIP Cooke mourn ya 'til I join ya. See ya next week!
So! It's been a while since I've done this.

I actually finished this book a while ago (in fact, I first checked it out in February), but... currently I'm rereading Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks (edited by David Lavery), a book of essays on Twin Peaks, published a few years after its first run in the 90s. I first got it because I was making a Twin Peaks-inspired game for the Veeder Expo, and reading some books on the show would have been faster than actually watching all 30-something episodes of it. It's sort of a dry book; most of it is made up of essays on psycho-analytical and post-modern readings of the series. But there is one article that I keep coming back to: "'Do You Enjoy Making the Rest of Us Feel Stupid?': alt.tv.twinpeaks, the Trickster Author, and Viewer Mastery" by Henry Jenkins, a rough overview of the Twin Peaks fandom on Usenet. Theories of literary criticism, it seems, may come and go, but fandom ethnography is forever.

Click here to see me blab about Gravity FallsCollapse )

I'm also reading The Simon and Kirby Library: Horror! (By Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, natch.) It's a bunch of horror stories written before the Comics Code kicked the industry in the keister. They're all weird and nightmarish in a way that kinda bridges the gap between the Golden and Silver Ages. It makes for an interesting contrast between the stories in The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume One: Starring Green Arrow, which were all written post-Code. The stories in the former get to be gritty and rough in a way the latter never attempts to match. I think my favorite of the collection is a story called "The Head of the Family", which is... well, I'll try not to spoil it for you, but let's just say it's about one of those Kirby-esque weird families that really deserves their own ongoing series. Highly recommended.

XYZZY Catch-Up: Oppositely Opal

For the past couple weeks, I've been going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I hadn't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing the last game in this series, Oppositely Opal, by Buster Hudson.

In Oppositely Opal, you play as a witch who is trapped by a rival in a cursed cabin. You have to get out in time to compete against her in a potions contest, but all of your spells keep going wrong. Can you work around it until you make the potion you need for your getaway?

Oppositely Opal was nominated for both Best Puzzles and Best Individual Puzzle (catching the pixie), so let's talk about that for a bit. The basic structure, of casting spells to change the game world, is reminiscent of Suveh Nux, one of my favorite games of yesteryear that doesn't get talked about often these days. There's a real delight in figuring out which form your tampered spells will take. Unfortunately, I got caught on a few parts and had to resort to the walkthrough to make progress; the nominated puzzle was one of them, so I'm afraid I can't judge how good it is on its own merits. I think some more cluing when you're on the wrong track would help here. For example, there was a bit in the pixie puzzle where I couldn't tell which spell would turn an object into a trap, and the responses I got when I had taken a wrong guess weren't helping me choose the right spell. In this case, I think including even a short phrase personalized to each spell used would be helpful in visualizing the solution the author wants.

Much more successful in my eyes is the character of Opal, who was nominated for Best Individual PC. She's a real riot, and her (somewhat try-hard) witchiness is what makes the game for me. A couple choice quotes:

Your black and gray striped familiar was found as a kitten in a trash heap somewhere. You decided to name him Lord Doomclaw, Prince of Darkness, and raise him to hate everything as much as you do. Unfortunately, he never grew any less adorable, and he only attacks people with soft meows, playful antics, and unremitting cuteness. You renamed him Killjoy.


A stuffed puffin—not stuffed like a cuddly toy, but stuffed as in a once-live puffin that was killed then stuffed. What a terrible fate.

UGH, no, that's not right. You meant to think it was a wonderfully evil thing to do cackle cackle cackle. You scold yourself for the slip in proper witchiness.

But there's also a sadness tinged around her edges, which we see mostly in flashback. I think what makes Opal so great is that she can work so well as both a comic and tragic character; all three of the endings I got in my playthrough were fairly sad, and this worked for me because the game had built up enough of that element in Opal that it didn't seem out of place. A good game to end on.

And that's a wrap for now! I do intend to review Spy Intrigue, which I tried on Wednesday but didn't finish, but that'll have to wait until after the award ceremony. See you then!

XYZZY Catch-Up: Arcane Intern (Unpaid)

For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Arcane Intern (Unpaid), by Astrid Dalmady.

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is about a young intern who gets a job at a magical publishing company. The game is slighter than the other Best Story nominees I've played so far; it's a fairly short work, only taking about 15-30 minutes to play through, and I felt the themes of feeling rejected by this magical world could be more fully developed with a longer playtime, perhaps. But it is incredibly charming, and the middle section, where you explore a labyrinth-like warehouse to get some supplies, gives a great sense of character and setting and really brings the work together. Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is the kind of game you play on a rainy afternoon to cheer yourself up, and though I wish it were weightier, it makes good use of it short playtime.

XYZZY Catch-Up: Cape

For the next week, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Cape, by Bruno Dias.

Cape is a near-future superhero story about someone who gains mysterious superpowers after stealing a talisman from a townhouse. It's fairly linear, with a few optional sidepaths (I hear talk of a hidden sex scene from the author, but I'm not sure if that's just a joke or not ETA: This has been confirmed to, indeed, be a joke. Thanks, Bruno!). It was nominated for an XYZZY in Best Story.

I gotta say, I really loved Cape. I'm a big superhero fan, and it hit a lot of the story beats that I enjoy about the genre. It's very thoughtful about the role of violence in a way that most superhero stories aren't, and while the story is fairly "gritty", it's not gratuitously so, like in Long Halloween. Parts of it remind me of Astro City: Tarnished Angel, one of my favorite graphic novels. If I have one complaint, it's that the ending is a little anti-climatic, and didn't answer as many questions as I would like it to. (Perhaps they were left unanswered to save room for a sequel?) Despite this, Cape is still one of the best superhero games I've ever played, and could stand beside the best comic in the genre.

XYZZY Catch-Up: Map

For the next week or so, I'll be going over games nominated for the 2015 XYZZY Awards that I haven't played yet. Today, we'll be reviewing Map, by Ade McT.

Map is a game that is very much concerned the choices we make in life, whether it's to let that person stay with us, or to dance with that guy in the bar. It's about a middle-aged woman whose house begins changing very strangely one week before she and her family moves out; rooms start showing up that allow her to change key moments from her past. It's a conceit you might find in a modern "literary" novel, and a little reminiscent of Photograph, a somewhat similar game from the 2002 IF Comp.

The story (which is what Map was nominated for) is doled out in bits and pieces as you explore the rooms each day, trying to figure out which choice to make in each scene. It's actually pretty interesting to see the results of your different choices play out as the game progresses; the details of the protagonist's life can be very different from where she was at the start of the game. And the ending scene, for me, was very emotionally satisfying and well-done. But I had trouble getting into the game at first, partly because of the protagonist's dreary approach to life at the start of the game, and partly because I ran into a few bugs and SPAG errors; Map has one of the sketchiest implementations I've ever seen from a game that did very well in the IF Comp (it came in second last year). Still, Map does a lot of interesting in regards to tying physical space with more metaphorical matters, so if you're looking for a game that does that, you should give Map a try.

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