Jingle & Moo: Benny's Blog

I thought about naming this page both "Jingle & Moo" and "Benny's Blog." The former is a Keys & Cows reference but nothing more, and the latter sounds so self-indulgent I threw up in my mouth a little bit. Both combined, though? Now that's what I'm talking about!

Regardless of the title, consider this a place to get to know your friendly neighborhood writer, from daily life stuff to what I'm currently reading to random thoughts. You won't get to know me as well as the fellas you see in this picture know me, but better than if you just read my stuff. (I'm second from the right, by the by.) If that still isn't good enough, Photoshop yourself into the photo and email it to me. Then we'll call it even, 'kay?

Benny Regalbuto and his friends

CURRENTLY READING

I first learned about Henry Every in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Why not learn more?
I dropped this book once (I read Mistborn and the Stormlight Archive first, so my expectations were high), but I'm determined to get through it this time.

9/14/21: The Amazing Spider-Man Reviews

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Collection includes all issues of The Amazing Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spidey's origin) to the end of Marvel's Civil War—and I'll be reviewing them all, issue by issue! Check it out: https://medium.com/the-amazing-spider-man-reviews

7/21/21: An Epiphany and a Move

So... I'm dumb.

Up until now, I had the annoying habit of posting articles from the place I write most frequently—Collider—every time there was a new one. Meanwhile, I've had that link up for Looper that brings you to a page with all my articles instead of having all 200+ of them crammed onto my portfolio. I don't have nearly that many for Collider, yet, but since I write for the site pretty frequently, why not do something similar?

And so I did. Both links are now on the top of the My Work and Articles pages, with all non-Looper and non-Collider content below. Hopefully that keeps things cleaner and simpler for everyone.

In other news, we've finally got our closing date and will be officially moving at the end of July! An exclamation point may not be warranted there, as moving is one of the least fun things to do on Earth, but hey, it'll be sort of exciting to get used to a new place. Plus, I'll have my own room for the first time in seven years—which hopefully means I'll be more productive than ever. Time will tell.

Signing off for now. See ya, Dear Reader.

6/9/21: Updates, Updates

Well, well, well, it's been a while, hasn't it? I apologize for not keeping up with these posts, and I have no excuse for it. From here on out, though, I don't think there'll be a strict timeline to these things—no excuse for that, either; I'm just being realistic.

Regardless, a lot's happened in the past few months...

  • I got vaccinated (on my birthday, no less)
  • I left one job (Looper) and got two new ones (Proofed and Collider)
  • My family's moving soon (to another house in the same town)
  • I saw my best friend for the first time in a year and a half (took a plane down to Florida once I was vaccinated)
  • I reconnected with an old friend I haven't seen or spoken to in three years (and it went well!)
  • The book I'm working on continues going through various shifts (we'll see how many more it goes through—or I will, at least)
  • My dreams finally came true: Invincible got its own TV show (and it rocks!)

Uh... yeah. That's all I can think of at the moment. Might be a thing or two I'm forgetting, but that's alright. Just wanted to give you a quick update to catch you up to speed, Dear Reader. Fingers crossed I have another full post for you soon, but I make no promises. Adios until then.

1/27/21: Video Games!

There's a certain satisfaction you can only get from playing a video game. Books and comics engage my imagination like nothing else, but video games... well, now that I'm thinking of a way to explain it properly, I find I'm coming up short without resorting to some sort of generic description. I think the best way to talk about the medium would be to talk about specific games.

So, just like I did for my favorite comics (see 12/30/20!), I put together a 5x5 for my favorite video games. To reiterate how the grid is organized: the closer a square is to the middle, the more I like it. So, Tier 4 makes up the outer perimeter; Tier 3 is made up of the four squares in an "X" formation around the center; Tier 2 is made up of the four squares in a "+" formation around the center; and finally, Tier 1 is the center itself. (Yes, I just copied and pasted the description from my own blog post. What are you gonna do, report my plagiarism to... me?)

Like last time, we'll start with Tier 4, and I'll attach links (some of which are to Wikipedia because I unfortunately couldn't find anything better, but let's be honest: we all use Wikipedia daily) for those interested in the games at hand. Enjoy!

TIER 4

  • Persona 4 Golden -- A few years back, I never would've called myself a JRPG fan, but the Persona series almost singlehandedly changed my mind. P4G's not the first game in the series that I played (that honor goes to Persona 5), but it somehow feels like I played it a long time ago. Maybe it's the small town vibes. It just feels so... homey. Or maybe it's Nanako Dojima. God bless her soul.
  • Yoshi's Island -- This is a game that I actually did play a long time ago, and have played many times since. Outside of Pokémon games, it was the first game I played that truly got its hooks into me and never let go. That metaphor's a bit too violent for Yoshi's Island, actually. Let me put it this way instead: I touched fuzzy and have been dizzy ever since. (I played the GBA version, by the way.)
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim -- I can't even begin to imagine how much time I put into this enormous fantasy world. My first playthrough was 250 hours, but then I played it again, and again, and again, and... yeah. The graphics haven't aged well and the game's far from perfect, but many of my fondest gaming memories are in the snowy northern reaches of Tamriel, glitches and all.
  • Octopath Traveler -- I've played a lot of beautiful-looking games in my time, but I've never played a game that looks like this one. Rendered in stunning 2.5D (look it up!), the game boasts some of the most gorgeous vistas in the industry, one of the most hummable OSTs ever, and an excellent cast of characters to ground it all. Tressa's the best, though. ("For you!")
  • Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls -- Despite releasing in 2015, this entry in the seminal Danganronpa franchise is as clunky as a PS2 game (and looks like one, too). You don't play this game for the gameplay, though: you play it for the characters. More specifically, the leading ladies: Komaru Naegi and Toko Fukawa (one of my favorite characters ever). Their bond is everything.
  • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception -- Nathan Drake is my favorite video game character of all time, and one of my favorites period. His third adventure has some of the best action set pieces in the franchise -- and that's saying something. At the time, I thought it was the series closer (even though the ending was a bit open-ended); had that been the case, I would've been more than satisfied.
  • WarioWare: Smooth Moves -- There's something to be said about games that, for lack of a better phrase, embrace the fact that they're games. They can be as crazy or inventive as they want to be. That's exactly what this WarioWare entry is: a no-holds-barred, all-out video game. And talk about masterful use of the Wii's motion controls. They'll be studying the Mortar and Pestle for years to come.
  • Mass Effect 2 -- Star Wars got me into space operas, but I'd argue that the original Mass Effect trilogy is the space opera, and argue further that the middle child is the most loveable of the bunch. The first acts as a great opener, and the third has the best gameplay, but 2 has the best story hands down, and that's something I value immensely in games like this. So pumped for the remake!
  • Ghost of Tsushima -- The Sly Cooper games marked my first foray with Sucker Punch, and I loved Infamous, but Ghost and Tsushima is far and away the developer's most monumental achievement to date. While I did feel the gameplay got a little repetitive (though the palpable progression system was nice), the story, graphics, and characters (Yuna!) are all 10/10 in my book.
  • Persona 3: FES -- I hate this game's combat. Hate it with every iota of my existence. Tartarus, where the combat mainly takes place, will forever be ingrained in my memory as a place of absolute suffering and torment. What pushed me to keep going, then? You should be able to guess by now: the story and characters. What they go through... Jesus Christ. I love them dearly, dearly I do.
  • Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia -- Fire Emblem has issues, as any Fire Emblem fan will happily tell you. I wasn't privy to those issues going into Echoes, my first game in the franchise, and that turned out to be for the best. It allowed me to enjoy the experience unbiased, and I ended up truly loving the game, in spite of the issues I dug up of my own accord. I could listen to the OST all day.
  • God of War III -- "ATHENAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword -- The statue of Link that I have on my dresser is based on the silent hero's Skyward Sword appearance, and I don't regret the pricey purchase one bit. Many people regret playing the game, but I don't regret that, either; I didn't have the motion control issues everyone else claimed to. I just enjoyed a wonderful Zelda story -- my favorite to date.
  • Bloodborne -- "We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood... Fear the Old Blood." Yeah. This is probably the craziest game I've ever played -- not in the same way WarioWare is crazy, but because of how wholly it embraces its gothic and Lovecraftian influences. Of the FromSoftware games on this list, Bloodborne has the richest atmosphere.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker -- When you say "adventure," I say "Wind Waker." No matter how many times I play this game, I can all but smell the brine as Link unfurls his sail and sets forth across the Great Sea, nothing but the unknown before him. Skyward Sword may be my favorite Zelda story, but Wind Waker is without question my favorite Zelda game.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses -- If there's any one Fire Emblem game that unveils the potential behind the franchise, it's this one. This is the Fire Emblem game that I'll happily speak to the flaws of -- not because I loath it, but because I love it, and I know Intelligent Systems can do better. Still, it wouldn't be on this list if it wasn't extremely precious to me... or if Annette wasn't in it (see 12/17/20!).

TIER 3

  • Dark Souls III -- Imagine you're walking on top of a storm cloud, and somehow, there are statues of what seem to be dragons floating on top of it with you. Now imagine looking up, and seeing an actual dragon fly down; a large man with an even larger, electrically-charged spear is atop the dragon. That's Dark Souls III. Of the FromSoftware games on this list, it has the most memorable boss battles.
  • Shadow of the Colossus -- When I first tried playing SOTC on the PS2, I was bored and confused. My second attempt on the PS3 wasn't much different. The game finally struck a chord with me with the PS4 remake -- many chords, actually. The minimalistic storytelling on display here is some of the most brilliant work in video games, as is the unforgettable OST. And the boss battles -- the colossi? *wipes sweat from brow*
  • NieR:Automata -- As far as gifts I've received go, this game is among the absolute best. Whatever made my brother think this game would be perfect for me is the kind of genius you only experience once in a life time. I love the story and characters oh so much, but if I had to take one thing from this game, it'd be the OST. There's no question: it's the best OST ever. Ever. Prove me wrong.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves -- Years ago, I found this game lying on a table at my cousin's house. She told me it was really easy, which inspired me to give the franchise a shot. It wasn't that hard, but that wasn't the point: I fell in love immediately, and bought the second game soon after. For a long time, it was my favorite in the series, until a certain unexpected fourth installment arrived.

TIER 2

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate -- I don't consider any of the games on this list "just games," but SSBU is the one entry on this list that's truly "more than just a game," since I've entered tournaments for it. My brothers and I live and breathe Smash as a whole, and in my humble opinion, this is the best one yet. For those wondering, I play Ike and Link... and am crossing my fingers for 2B or Solaire as DLC.
  • The Last of Us -- While there are games I've spent more actual time playing, I don't think I've played any game as many times as TLOU. The first time I played it back in 2013, I was so moved I told my English teacher about it, and she happily discussed it with me despite barely having touched an Atari. The twelfth time (yep, played it 12 times), I still found myself in awe. I imagine I always will.
  • Dark Souls -- I dabbled in Dark Souls on the PS3, dropped it, played through Dark Souls III years later, and knew I had to go back and see what I'd missed. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I can play it with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back nowadays, yet it still manages to amaze me. Of the FromSoftware games on this list, Dark Souls has the most vivid world.
  • Persona 5 Royal -- I'll never forget attempting to navigate P5's subway system with my brother at the controls, as it's the thing that convinced me to play the game myself. I'll never let go of the bonds I forged with Sojiro Sakura, Ryuji Sakamoto, and Makoto Niijima. And I'll never, ever experience something quite like this again. What a special game, man. What a special game.

TIER 1

  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End -- Sic parvis magna. It means greatness, from small beginnings. It's the motto Nathan Drake and I both live our lives by, and it's the perfect way -- the only way -- to understand what this game means to me. I'm having a hard time even thinking of anything else to say, even though there's so much it's not even funny. I guess... I guess I'll say this: Don't let life get in the way of the people you love, and don't let the people you love get in the way of life. Striking a balance is a lifelong challenge, but it's one you'll have to undertake no matter what, so commit everything you have to seeing it through.

Another super-long post down! I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I do writing them, Dear Reader. Until next time, stay safe and play some video games -- and let me know if you play any good ones!

Video games 5x5

1/12/21: The Clone Wars and the Self War

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I don’t imagine my story is much different than that of others: falling in love with the movies at a young age, toy lightsaber after toy lightsaber, seeing every new release in theaters on opening day (since Revenge of the Sith, which I saw when I was nine -- and covered my eyes during the immolation scene). That doesn’t make my experience any less special to me. I’m old enough now to realize the shortcomings, from overall aspects to more specific grievances, but I’ll be damned the day I don’t smile at the ignition of a lightsaber.

Yet for all that, I never watched The Clone Wars series. I remember seeing the film with my dad and sister back in 2008 and being sorely disappointed, but that’s not what deterred me. Nothing did, really. I recall watching an episode or two back when cable was still a thing; I even remember giving the show a good college try during its stay on Netflix, enjoying the few episodes I saw, and stopping inexplicably. It was truly a mystery: a Star Wars junkie like me all but ignoring an entire portion of the canon -- and a widely revered portion, at that. My brother and I finally decided to just go ahead and watch it once and for all recently, wanting to see what all the fuss was about.

Over the course of 130+ episodes, not every storyline is going to be a hit, especially considering the anthology-like nature of the series (which George Lucas intended). Most of the one-offs and arcs centered around droids fall short (though thankfully, R2-D2 remains an absolute legend), and not every story about newer characters works. And Jar Jar Binks? He’s as abysmal as ever. My brother and I tried our damndest to stick out even the episodes we weren’t really enjoying, but Jar Jar broke us. The Gungan was at the heart of much of the content we skipped. How Lucas included focus episodes for him is beyond comprehension -- actually, how Lucas came up with both Jar Jar and Darth Vader is beyond comprehension. But I digress.

Aside from the straight-up bad stuff, some of TCW was just okay, but the majority of it is a fascinating and unique look at the Star Wars universe. Padmé is stronger than ever, providing a focus on galactic politics that far exceeds anything the prequels have to offer. (I’m not afraid to admit I love the prequels, but that admission comes with the caveat that the love is not unconditional.) Her romance with Anakin is (mostly) better than it is in the prequels, too, as is Anakin himself. Seriously, he’s done so well here you can almost forgive his live-action faults. Paired with Obi-Wan -- my favorite Star Wars character, and one who’s in top form in TCW -- he’s entertaining, interesting, and just plain awesome. Honestly, most of the pre-established characters (bar Jar Jar) are done excellently, especially Palpatine.

I’d be remiss not to credit two TCW originals, however: Captain Rex and Ahsoka Tano. The clones are never the focus of the Jedi-centric films, but this series fills in many of the gaps, humanizing the troopers and making Order 66 all the more tragic. There are lots of great ones I could point out (Fives, Heavy, Echo -- the list goes on), but Rex is the best of the bunch. With Ahsoka, we get a deconstruction of the Jedi the likes of which none of the films manage to do as well. She is a paragon of character development, and undoubtedly my favorite Star Wars character after Obi-Wan. There’s much to say about her and Rex both, but I won’t spoil anything. Just trust me when I tell you, Dear Reader: if you love Star Wars and haven’t watched the TCW for whatever reason, don’t make the same mistake I did. Watch it. Watch it now.

As for the “Self War” I mentioned in this post’s title… I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it, but humor me for just a bit. Despite not really touching on how 2020 went for me and how I talked about it in my previous post… we all had a rough time of it. That’s no great secret. So, I want to be better as time marches ever onward -- better in every aspect. That’s one of the many things in life that’s easier said than done, so what am I actually doing about it? Well, for one thing, I bought a planner. I don’t know that I’ll use it consistently, but it helps keep me organized when I need to be. For another thing, I want to build my body back up. I lost a bit of weight over the past year, and while I don’t consider physical image to be as important as one’s mind, it still matters to me. I’d rather not waste away, y’know? I’ve already found a workout routine to get me started on the right path. Lastly and most importantly, I’m writing more.

I used to believe that writing every day was the only way to move forward, but I found that drained me. I then believed that writing when I felt like it was the natural outgrowth of my failure, which only led to slacking. Nowadays, I’m working on striking a balance between the two philosophies, writing what I can every night without going overboard or feeling guilty if I need to take a break. Some nights, I’ll just listen to an episode of Writing Excuses, take notes, do the given exercise, and call it a night. Other nights, I’ll work on my book -- which is moving in a much different direction after a conversation with my brother (my other brother -- not the one I watched TCW with). Still other nights, I’ll touch up an old story, start a new one, or just brainstorm. No pressure, but no giving up, either.

We all know how the Clone Wars end, but the Self War? Time will tell. I know I’m not the only one fighting it, so I wish you the best of luck, Dear Reader -- even if Obi-Wan doesn’t believe in such things.

12/30/20: Words and Pictures

2020 was a bad year. We all know that, and we all want 2021 to be better. There already is and will continue to be a lot of talk about how we can make that happen, both on individual and communal scales. The discussion is certainly interesting, but it's not what I want to talk about today. I did consider throwing my hat in the ring, but I'd rather end the year off on a good note by talking about something that kept me going as times got tough: comics.

It goes without saying that comics aren't the only thing that helped me stay sane as the world turned upside down. I spoke about music last time, but really, it was my friends and family who supported me -- and I supported them in turn. There were rough patches, yes, but that was only to be expected with tensions being so universally high, not to mention all the personal and political changes I went through this year. 2021 will see continued change, I imagine, both in myself and the world around me. Years are just numbers, however; to blame a number for all of our problems dumbs things down a bit too much for my taste. I know I myself began this entry by calling 2020 "a bad year," but... I digress. I said I wouldn't throw my hat in the ring, and I'm nothing if not a man of my word. From here on out, it's comics and only comics -- or, more specifically, graphic stories in general, which include comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, and all similar formats.

A year or two ago, my siblings and I began compiling our favorite things into neat little 5x5 grids, whether that meant favorite characters or favorite movies or what have you. Just recently, I realized, "Wait a minute... graphic storytelling is the best  thing to ever happen to mankind. Why haven't I made a 5x5 for it yet?!" And so I did. It wasn't easy, but you can see the result for yourself in the handy little image to the right there.

The way my siblings and I organize these grids, the closer a square is to the middle, the more we like it. So, Tier 4 makes up the outer perimeter; Tier 3 is made up of the four squares in an "X" formation around the center; Tier 2 is made up of the four squares in a "+" formation around the center; and finally, Tier 1 is the center itself. I could go on for days about each square on the 5x5, but I'll hold back for your sake, Dear Reader. If you wanna talk more about comics, feel free to contact me. Anyway, we'll start with Tier 4 and go down from there (or up, I suppose). I'll attach links in case you're interested in any of these stories -- though you could always search for them on Bookshop.

TIER 4

  • City in the Desert by Moro Rogers -- One of the most unique comics I've ever read, it starts stronger than it finishes, but it remains a wonderful, character-driven adventure all the way through. A masterpiece of minimalism and a creator's willingness to embrace all things weird.
  • 5 Centimeters per Second by Makoto Shinkai and Yukiko Seike -- I've never seen the movie this manga is based on, but I don't think I need to after reading. It's a beautiful exploration of relationships told through the eyes of several different people, providing a broader perspective on what's normally a one- or two-sided affair.
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson -- I've not met a single person who dislikes Calvin and Hobbes, and (assuming they exist) I never hope to. Wholly embracing the power and possibility of imagination, this series is special to me in ways I could never put into words. Oh, and Calvin has made me laugh more than maybe any other character ever. That helps.
  • Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale -- Ah, Spidey. My old friend. He's debatably my favorite character of all time, but there's no debate that this is my favorite story of him ever told. Interestingly, it's actually a retelling of some older Spidey tales from way back when, contextualized by a somber Peter reminiscing about Gwen Stacy on Valentine's Day many years after her death. *chef's kiss*
  • Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly -- Told in a series of 12 vignettes set across the States, Local touches on themes of wanderlust, the self, and what it means to be home. I remember sitting there for a long time after reading it: arms crossed, the book on my lap, thinking about everything and nothing all at once.
  • Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? by Alan Moore and Curt Swan -- I'm of the rare opinion that Moore's best work is neither Watchmen nor V for Vendetta (both of which I believe are vastly overrated), but this story about the Man of Steel. The story's self-contained nature lends itself to honoring Superman's legacy in the most emotionally intimate way possible.
  • Motor Girl by Terry Moore -- There's much to be said about Moore's work (good and bad things), but Motor Girl is undoubtedly his magnum opus in my mind. Despite the ridiculous premise of a woman and her imaginary friend taking on aliens, it's an extremely mature look at the effects PTSD can have on everyday life. At only 10 issues, it's as short and... bittersweet as Moore's work gets.
  • Deadly Class by Rick Remender and Wes Craig -- This story of teenage assassins is amazingly entertaining, but I'd be remiss not to highlight Wes Craig's panel work, which is honestly the best I've ever seen. Combined with the brilliant colorists who've worked on the series, it's the thing my mind goes to when someone says "eye candy," and it's got the substance to back it up.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto -- The anime may've come first, but the manga has merits all its own. When both versions are considered side-by-side, this story is quite simply one of the best ever told. Right from the very beginning, it establishes itself as so much more than just "giant robots fight giant monsters," but boy, the fights sure are something!
  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka, and Paul Chadwick -- Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen, so the ones that stand out really stand out. As the title implies, this tale is about the last man on Earth; what the title doesn't tell you is that his pet monkey survived, too -- as did all the world's women. Believe me, it's far from the paradise it sounds like it might be.
  • Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross -- It must be said: Ross is the most breathtaking artist working in comics today. Marvels may be his first major work, but wow does it hold up well; even without words, I could spend hours upon hours staring at this book. Luckily, the words are pretty interesting, too, chronicling important Marvel Universe events through a photographer's eyes.
  • The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard -- This zombie tale needs no introduction, and for good reason. How Kirkman managed to keep this post-apocalyptic tale engaging for 193 issues is no secret: it's all thanks to the characters. If you must know, Andrea's my favorite, and the show ruined her. The show just isn't all that good in comparison, in my humble opinion.
  • Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson -- Like every other flagship DC (and Marvel) hero, Wonder Woman's had her origin retold time and again, but this version is far and away the best in my estimation. Why? Because it makes one of the world's most likable fictional icons … unlikable! Watching her grow into the hero we know and love is far more interesting than starting out picture perfect.
  • My Hero Academia by Kōhei Horikoshi -- Even a self-proclaimed comics junkie like me can admit that superheroes get old after a while, but when they're done well, they're done well (which is how I feel about every genre, I suppose). Horikoshi loves superheroes, and that love comes through in how his story deconstructs them and challenges the very notion of what it means to be a hero.
  • Dark Souls: War of the Ancient Dragons by Qizeaqfile -- Dark Souls lore isn't always immediately digestible for how vague it can be, but that's part of the charm: you, the player, piecing together what it all means. This comic is essentially one fan's take on that lore, and it's just the coolest thing ever (next to the games themselves). 'Nuff said.
  • Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos -- I don't normally jive with private investigator stories, but when a private investigator just so happens to be a former superhero who doesn't take anyone's crap? Then you've got me. If you enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones, it's because of this nonpareil little series right here.

TIER 3

  • Death by Neil Gaiman and various -- When most people think of death, they think of a ghostly grim reaper with a scythe and a skeleton's face. When think of death, I think of the capital D, Neil Gaiman and Mike Dringenberg version. This book collects the majority of Death's comics appearances, all delightfully introspective and well-thought out stories that stick with you like nothing else.
  • Solanin by Inio Asano -- I don't always need relatability to enjoy a story or like a character, but in Solanin protagonist Meiko Inoue's case, I relate hard. It's difficult to describe exactly why without delving into spoiler territory, but trust me when I tell you all the emotions I feel for her are intimately tied to how I see myself. And anyway, Solanin is an incredible slice-of-life story in its own right.
  • Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley -- Charmingly written and even more charmingly drawn, this comics classic is every bit as good as it's toted to be and better. In Scott's own words, "I don't think I'm ready to be a grown-up." Yeah. Me neither, buddy. On a completely unrelated note, Kim Pine is the best character; every other opinion is flat-out incorrect. I'll die on that hill, I swear.
  • The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon -- This book came as a complete surprise to me. I learned about it through Good Ok Bad and decided to pick it up, and... well. It is quite possibly the best depiction of mental illness I've seen in any medium, and may ever see. I never wanted it to end, but when it inevitably did, I made sure to display it prominently on my bookshelf. Few books deserve that honor more.

TIER 2

  • Bone by Jeff Smith -- Aptly described as The Lord of the Rings for kids, Bone is epic storytelling at its finest. Don't let the "for kids" dissuade you, though: when I said "Bone is epic storytelling at its finest" a sentence ago, I really, really meant it. The memorable characters, the interwoven story arcs, the gorgeous landscapes -- it's all there, all depicted by one of comics' most stand-out artists.
  • The Flowers of Evil by Shūzō Oshimi -- Sawa Nakamura. That is all.
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson -- One winter's night, years ago, I opened this gigantic graphic novel for the first time. By the time I closed it hours later, I wasn't sure I'd be able to process reality ever again. I've seen lots of beautiful things and met lots of beautiful people in my life, but none even come close to Thompson's art. To this day, I can recall entire pages of this story, and can't help but smile when I do.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa -- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is my favorite show of all time, and it aligns nearly one-to-one with this manga. There aren't enough words in this lifetime to explain how much this story means to me, but if I were to say only one thing and leave it at that, it would be this: Don't let go of the people you love -- truly love. Not now, not ever.

TIER 1

  • Invincible by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley -- When people ask me who my favorite superhero is, I'm inclined to say Spider-Man. But as time passes and Spidey is retconned and rehashed again and again, my mind instead turns to Invincible. I picked up the series after falling in love with Kirkman's other work (namely, The Walking Dead), and... let's just say it may've been the single best decision I ever made. I'm barely even exaggerating. Man... just thinking about it is making me smile. It's the cream of the comics crop.

Whew! That was a long one. If you stuck with me all the way, you can be called nothing less than a trooper, Dear Reader. Stay warm, stay safe, and throw together some 5x5s of your own if you have the time. It's fun! I use paint.net, but I'd hardly call myself tech-savvy, so you do you.

    Comic book 5x5

    12/17/20: An Unexpected Opportunity and a Stupid Epiphany

    About a month or so ago, I applied to a fanzine -- a magazine made by fans, for fans -- about Annette Fantine Dominic from Fire Emblem: Three Houses just for the hell of it. (The art of her you see here, by the way, is a commission I received from the inimitable @feliahanakata. You'd better believe it's on my wall right by my desk.) She's one of my favorite characters of all time, and I thought it might be interesting to write for a pre-established character and universe. I didn't think anything would come of it.

    Well... I got the position!

    I don't know how much I'm allowed to say at the moment, so I'll leave out the details, but regardless, I couldn't believe I actually landed the spot. A hoard of other talented writers applied, and I'm so used to rejection at this point that I think my brain just defaulted to it even before I sent the application. Yet here I am, an official member of the team. Weird, but I'm proud of myself. Now all I need to do is follow through with a story worthy of the character and her legacy. No big deal. I'll have more to say further along in the process, so stay tuned.

    Now, as for that "stupid epiphany" I mentioned, it's not that the epiphany itself is stupid, it's that I feel stupid for having the epiphany at the age of 24. Let me explain.

    I make no secret of my love for books, comics, games, movies, and TV. It's in the things I say and write, the things I do every day, and the relationships I have with family and friends. Today, however, I... realized something. I realized that for as much as I love all the aforementioned forms of media, I don't think or talk about music too much -- and not because I neglect it. Quite the opposite, in fact: Unless I require intense concentration, I am always in the mood for music, which isn't something I can say about any other form of media.

    It's more a feeling I know I have -- something deeply ingrained in my subconscious -- than a fully-formed thought, so it's a bit hard to explain beyond that. I learned to love other forms of media, but it's almost like I left the womb with music already in my bones.

    Y'know what? Why don't I just rattle off a few favorite artists, albums, OSTs, and songs of mine? The music that helps me get through the day. I'll do five each to keep it short and sweet, and cut down on overlap.

    ARTISTS
    The Beatles
    Magenta (Christina Booth, the lead singer, is my favorite vocalist ever)
    Spock's Beard
    Bill Wurtz
    Shoji Meguro

    ALBUMS
    Stupid Dream (Porcupine Tree)
    Boston (Boston)
    The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)
    Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
    Bridge Across Forever (Transatlantic)

    OSTs
    NieR:Automata (Keiichi Okabe)
    The Star Wars films (John Williams)

    Shadow of the Colossus (Kow Otani)
    Cowboy Bebop (Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts)
    Octopath Traveler
     
    (Yasunori Nishiki)

    Songs
    "Rain" (SID)
    "Beautiful Ruin" (Masafumi Takada)
    "Komm, süsser Tod"
    (ARIANNE)
    "A Horse with No Name" (America)
    "Snake Eater" (Cynthia Harrell)

    Whew! That was not easy, especially limiting myself to five a pop and eliminating overlap. Either way, I think the music itself can do a better job of explaining than I can. Give it a listen if you have a minute, and send me a few favorites of your own.

    Signing off for now. Until next time, Dear Reader.

      12/1/20: Writing Excuses! (It's not what it sounds like!)

      It's unbelievably easy to come up with excuses to procrastinate from just about anything.

      Don't wanna attend that party because you'd rather cuddle up with a book? "Sorry this is last minute, but I'm not feeling great. Don't have too much fun without me!"

      Late for work? "Sorry, the trains were running late today. Lots of, uh, big rats on the tracks."

      Need to break up with someone who likes you more than you like them? "It was really nice meeting you, but I don't think I can keep seeing you with all the work I have piling up. We can still be friends!"

      (I realize these are mostly non-COVID activities, but bear with me, okay?)

      Even our deepest passions are no exception to this rule. Writing has long been my passion, but it can be hard to butt-in-chair write for even an hour sometimes. My excuses over the years have been many and varied, the most common one being a lie we've all told ourselves: "I'll do it tomorrow."

      Yes indeed, those four words alone have pushed back many a project, and prevented stories from turning out the way I wanted them to -- or turning out at all, for that matter. It makes days when I get lots of writing done feel *chef's kiss* satisfying, but shouldn't writing always feel satisfying for a writer? Well, not exactly; we all have our good days and bad days. Still, consistency is a writer's best friend, because -- get this! -- the best way to improve is to keep going. It doesn't matter if you're a writer or an artist or a professional hedge clipper (do those guys have a name?) or whatever. Natural talent is a discussion for another day, but to use the oldest cliché in the book (not my book, since I've been so busy procrastinating), practice really does make perfect. Or, rather, it can make perfect if you keep on practicing.

      But all this... this stuff. It's so much easier said than done it's not even funny. It's also easy to compare your progress to that of others, feel bad for yourself, and end up not doing anything about it. That's the worst thing that could possibly happen, because it's an unending downward spiral. What can we do about it then?

      If you think I'm here to tell you I have all the answers, then you've come to the wrong blog, kid. I'm just here to tell you that I recently found a wonderful resource for writers like me who could use a boot in the ass once in a while: Writing Excuses, a podcast run by writers, for writers.

      I've only started tuning in just recently, but I can already tell these guys have it going. And I'd be remiss not to mention that they're not just "these guys": they're well-known authors -- including Brandon Sanderson, my favorite author ever! They know what they're talking about, and they know what writers like me are going through. Their approach is informative, entertaining, and -- best of all -- free. (If only my English degree from Fordham University was as free or as useful. Ha!)

      I won't say too much else about it since it'd be better for writers to check it out themselves, but I will say it's been extremely effective in getting me motivated and focused, which is all I really wanted. Everything else is a welcome bonus, of course, but it feels good to be back on track writing-wise.

      On an unrelated note, I don't know how many people actually read this blog, but I apologize that my posting schedule has been so erratically spaced out. From now on, I'll do my best to post once every two weeks or so. No excuses! Unless I forget. Or I'm asleep. Or I can't think of anything. Or I don't wanna. Or --

      Just kidding. See you in two weeks, Dear Reader!

      6/26/20: Invincible Reviews Update

      So... got some news for you folks. Ain't the good kind, either.

      As some of you may know, I reviewed the first three volumes of Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley's Invincible (I started up a publication on Medium dedicated to it, too). The impetus: what better way for a writer-nerd to spend quarantine than using his skills to review a series he holds near and dear to his heart? A perfect opportunity to make money and revisit a beloved story.

      While I released the first two reviews within a week of one another, I didn't have the third review ready for nearly a month afterwards. And the fourth review... well, it never happened. I read the corresponding volume, took notes, even began drafting the review -- and yet another month passed, give or take, the volume sitting on my desk. I refused to keep reading until the review was set to publish.

      *sigh*

      This morning, I came to terms with the fact that if I can't find the drive to write the reviews on a consistent basis, then something's off. It wasn't Invincible that was off; I've enjoyed all that I reread so far. So what else could it be but me? I love reviewing what I read and putting my thoughts out there for all interested parties to take a gander at, but for some reason... not this time.

      That all being said, I'm sure you can assume what I'm going to say next: I will be discontinuing Invincible Reviews as of today. The reviews I've already posted will remain posted (all not-so-subtly linked in the first paragraph), but from here on out I'll be rereading Invincible on my own time, for my own enjoyment.

      Never fear, though: I will continue reviewing other material. It's one of my main sources of income, so, ah, I kinda have to. But I also want to; as I said, I truly do enjoy writing reviews.

      That's all for now, folks. Thanks for reading.

      6/23/20: Tears

      No one who knows me would say I'm a particularly expressive person. Hell, a complete stranger could probably tell that much from being with me for five minutes or less. The difference is that the former group knows that, deep down, I'm roiling with emotions -- I just tend to pour them into my writing rather than my everyday life.

      Age has changed a few things, though. Similar to what voice actor and YouTuber SungWon Cho (better known as ProZD) said in a recent Tweet, I've found that emotions come more easily than they once did whenever I'm watching, reading, or playing something. What triggered the change is beyond me, but it seems like it's here to stay.

      A great example stems directly from my rewatch of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's been a wholly satisfying experience for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the show is even better than I remember. My parents are seeing it for the first time, and they're loving every second of it (minus "The Great Divide" and "Avatar Day," but we don't talk about those episodes).

      [SPOILERS FOR AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER SEASON 2 COMING UP]

      In "The Library," Appa is captured by Sandbenders outside of Wan Shi Tong's Spirit Library. The show does an excellent, excellent job of hitting you hard with Appa's loss, mostly through how the characters react -- Aang more than anyone, as he has the deepest connection with the sky bison. It's not forced or contrived; the audience already cares as much about Appa by this point as Team Avatar does.

      In the scenes when Appa is kidnapped, when Aang confronts the Sandbenders, and when Appa reunites with everyone, I found myself on the verge of sobbing. In the past, I would've done everything in my power to hold back, especially since my family was sitting there with me, but I just couldn't help it anymore. More importantly, I didn't want to help it. I cried, even knowing how the show plays out.

      [SPOILERS OVER]

      There are a plethora of other examples I could provide from ATLA alone, but the fact is that media this powerful merits this kind of untamed response. As an author-in-progress, I can only hope my work achieves this level of raw emotion with readers one day. Regardless, it feels good to let it out without worrying what others think.

      Honestly, I couldn't tell you what inner mechanism locked out such emotional responses to media in the past. I don't believe that it's just "I was young"; I know plenty of people who are as outwardly affected by media as they ever were. The mystery is compounded by my lifelong belief that it's important to cry with those you love, even if I originally applied that philosophy to real-life situations only (e.g. getting messed up over a girl breaking up with me). I guess it doesn't matter, though, because the mechanism didn't just unlock: it disappeared entirely.

      None of this means that I cry every three seconds when I'm watching a movie now, or that I've suddenly become a fast-talking partygoer. I suppose embracing my emotions rather than hiding them is a sign of... maturity, in a way. At a fundamental level, I will always be less expressive than those around me -- it's a long-ingrained personality trait -- but emotions happen, and I intend to let them.

      5/15/20: Ten Feet Makes a World of Difference

      Being a freelance writer means I've been working from home since before quarantine started -- since October of last year, to be exact. I was able to go out when and where I wanted nonetheless, whether that meant to Florida to visit my best friend or to NYC to just be in NYC. (God, I miss my city.) Forced to stay inside, now even that much has been taken away, which... well, sucks. Not that I need to tell anyone how it feels; it's a relatively widespread sentiment, I'm sure.

      Cold weather kept me indoors, too, but I tended to stay inside regardless of the weather. Weeks passed with my only time outside consisting of taking out the garbage, running a quick errand, or picking up groceries ordered online that were dropped off at the door. I'd become a shut-in's shut-in without even realizing it.

      That's the kind of thing that can change your mood right under your nose, which definitely happened to me. It was subtle, slow, and subconscious, but I began feeling more and more comfortable with the lack of vitamin D. My mom must've noticed, because she suggested that I either get outside more often or start taking a supplement. I brushed off both ideas.

      Earlier this week, though, the weather finally seemed to settle on consistently warm, breezy days. (Anyone living in the NYC area knows just how erratic the temperatures have been lately, so this is more than a welcome reprieve.) Irresistible days, the kind that make people want to disregard quarantine entirely and drive down to the beach. I don't intend to break quarantine anytime soon, but when I opened the window one day and felt a rush of wind on my skin...

      I just had to go outside.

      My room is adjacent to the back porch. So while in reality I've only moved about 10 feet from my desk, I feel as revitalized as I did the night of my first kiss nearly six years ago. An extension cord makes it easy to keep my laptop charged, the wire snaking through the window, and the bright blue sky just beyond the screen keeps me charged. It's a truly wonderful feeling.

      It feels a little silly, to be honest, to have an epiphany so simple as this. It's not even like I was the kind of kid who stayed inside all the time, which only compounds that feeling of silliness. I grew up playing sports, going to the park with friends, loving the sights and smells of nature, camping with my family -- the whole nine yards. Yes, I've definitely spent more time in than out, but both worlds were always essential to who I am as a person.

      Silly or not, though, I'm just glad to be here. The table we have on the porch may not be as sturdy as my custom-built desk, the fold-out chair not as kind to my butt as my office roller, but nothing can quite replace a whiff of fresh, outdoor air. I won't be working out here every day, of course, especially when the temperature turns from cozy to cooking; bugs are also a detriment, many finding their way inside through my open window (laptop charger, remember?). Still...

      The end of quarantine can't come soon enough, but a change of pace like this helps stave off the monotony, if only a tiny bit.

      5/4/20: Belated Birthday

      I'm writing this two days later than I meant to because, uh, reasons, but anyway... 5/2/20 was my 24th birthday! Yessiree, that's one year closer to my quarter-life crisis -- which I totally won't be having, since everything is just peachy. *cough*

      Being in quarantine meant keeping celebrations to a minimum, and I pushed that minimum as far down as it could possibly go; I've never been one for big, gaudy celebrations, anyway. When I was a kid, I was more than happy to spend my b-day in the local McDonald's PlayPlace with a few friends, and that mentality essentially hasn't changed. Except I'd rather not risk my life crawling around in the germs of countless other kids for hours on end, or, y'know, eat McDonald's if I can avoid it.

      All I asked for this year: Monster Curry from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the main course,Estus from Dark Souls to imbibe (which I can only say because there's whisky in it), and Chu Jelly from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword to top things off for dessert. And that's exactly what I got, as you can see in the picture (except for the Chu Jelly, which I forgot to snap a photo of). The curry was just the right mix of sweet and spicy; the Estus went down a little too easily; the Chu Jelly, unfortunately, was universally agreed to be too bitter thanks to the use of tonic water.

      The indubitable highlight of the day, though, was the Smash tournament I set up between my parents. My siblings and I have been playing Smash since we were in diapers, so we all know what we're doing; except for my sister, we've all attended competitive events for the two most recent entries in the series. My parents, on the other hand... well, they're aware that Smash exists and acutely aware of our love for it. Put a controller in their hands, though, and they'd be no better than a 4-year-old -- probably worse.

      With that in mind, I declared they would fight to entertain me on my b-day, gladiators for a new day and age. I also offered my coaching services -- free, mind you -- for half an hour each, if they so desired, in the hopes that I could reduce the amount of flailing and button mashing by a fraction of a percent. They both took me up on it, my mom picking Mewtwo and my stepdad picking Donkey Kong.

      I immediately learned two things: (1) I did not inherit the teaching gene from my mom, and (2) my siblings and I take a lot of basic video game functions for granted. The concept of moving in the air while jumping -- to say nothing of jumping itself -- took them both several minutes to grasp. And, hey, fair enough; video game physics usually don't translate to real life, especially when it comes to Smash (e.g. swords sending you flying instead of slicing skin and bone).

      With the scent of battle on the wind, we video-called my stepbrothers (who live in Connecticut, and thus who we haven't seen since quarantine began) to view the bloodshed. And by bloodshed I mean the equivalent of two toddlers hitting each other with stuffed animals. Everything I'd taught them went down the drain in a picosecond -- which is exactly what I expected, but... *sigh*

      A total of three scuffles took place, all of which my stepdad won by two devious methods: (1) spamming the same move as my mom ran into it, or (2) spamming the same move as my mom ran away from it, straight off the stage and to her demise. Just how a scrap between Donkey Kong and Mewtwo would really go. Either way, my mom slapped my stepdad's leg every time she lost a life in game.

      The rest of the day consisted of playing Persona 5 Royal, rewatching a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and reading. An extremely nerdy, low-cost b-day. That's the way I like it.

      Oh, and for anyone wondering, I play Ike and Link in Smash. They've been my mains for three iterations of the series now: Brawl, 4 (along with Roy), and Ultimate. They are pillars in my life as much as writing is, except they don't make me any money. There's the rub, folks.

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