On the Value of Fictional Bonds

I know, I know… I’m a bit late for National Siblings Day but here I am. But I’ve got a sibling, a sister I love dearly, so I dare say I qualify to poke my head out fashionably late on a day like today.

What I want to reflect on now is how much my sister means to me and how much fandom and story has connected us even more than we were already.

We’d always been close, my sister and me. We’d always loved stories, our literature class was one of our favorites in school. But the bright splendor of discovering a film and seeing not just you, but you and the person that means the most to you, in it just blew our minds and in many ways transformed us.

Falling in love with our fictional counterparts (in this case, Hiccup and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon) and seeing in that relationship a solid trueness forged in us a deeper bond than simply sharing a similar interest. The love we saw on screen elevated the love we felt for one another and in so many ways we grew into the love we saw as so utterly beautiful.

Then I got into fandom (in this case, through tumblr) and realized these on-screen relationships were the major reason so many people attached themselves to these stories.

Many times I saw people wishing they had a loyal, selfless friend like John Watson is to Sherlock Holmes. Or a dogged true love like Peeta is to Katniss. Or share a bond like the Winchester brothers on Supernatural. So many times I see lonely people on the web who look up to these stories because they want those kinds of people in their lives.

I am, for one, lucky to have that dream fulfilled in my sister. But I am also grateful that these stories exist for the people, the kids, the lonely outcasts, the shy dreamers, who are still alone and who still have hope. These are the kinds of stories that tell them love is real, friendship is possible, and show them that despite the odds, despite what kind of person you are, there is always someone who can and will love you and accept you for who you are.

Stories might be fictional, but the love and hope they express is very much real. And I have seen first hand how important the relationships portrayed can be.

my sister and me
Jedi siblings: the joy of sharing fandom with my sister

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An HTTYD Illustrated Web Novel — Coming August 13!

Presenting, an illustrated web novel, based on the DreamWorks movie How to Train Your Dragon, coming this August….

It’s been two years since the events of the first film, and Hiccup is about to join Stoick’s War Council — after an Induction Ceremony he is most definitely not looking forward to. But Stoick’s past catches up with him, peace is broken, and Hiccup is forced to face death and shame to save his friend, his father, and his love.

This novel by my sister and me has been, actually, a short time in the making, but so much has happened since its inception in early June 2012. I hope you join us in this journey. We are so thrilled!

The serial will be hosted on howtotrainyourdragon2.thecomicseries.com, though we also will be cross-posting to
inhonoredglory.tumblr.com (or track the HTTYD2 WebNovel tag).
This story is rated PG-13 and T. See you August 13!

Solar Eclipse Dapples – May 20, 2012

A solar eclipse doesn’t come around every year, so when my sister and I went outside and noticed the world looked a little like an alien planet, we weren’t too surprised to hear the belated news that a solar eclipse was taking place right under our noses. Somewhere millions of professional and amateur astronomers were awing at the skies, filled with gratitude that they were alive to see one of nature’s rarest phenomenon.

My father has been following astronomy since childhood, and noticed that this particular view (below) was unique among the photos of solar eclipses that he has seen over the years. Notice crescent-shaped dapples on the metal shed. This is the pinhole technique on a larger scale! Which means that every splotch of light on a dappled surface is really an image of the sun; most of the time, the sun’s round shape blends together with itself.

Dapples of light on a metal shed, taken during the solar eclipse of May 20, 2012. Notice the beauty of it!
More dapples on May 20, 2012. The eclipse’s “epicenter” was just north of us; hence, the crescent shapes of our climax of the phenomenon.

The lighting gradually returned to normal and the brightness resumed. I remember when I came out (not knowing there was an eclipse going on), how I thought I could “see” the shape of the sun, just not really “look” at it. Turns out, that was because there was a black shape in front of it — the moon in this case.

When the eclipse was all over, my sister noted how much like God light was — how it reflected on objects and shone back. I noticed how much an eclipse was like the state of the earth and of God. God is like the sun — so bright, unviewable, holy, and perfect. We are nothing at all like the sun. In fact, we need the sun to do the most basic things, like grow food or keep warm. Similarly, we need God to bless us with every breath and to keep the cycle of nature going so that we can maintain life as we know it.

But! Note how in this eclipse, the sun was hidden. Think of the moon like sin. Now the analogy isn’t perfect, but you can give it a go. The moon is like sin and all the evil and badness that infiltrates the world. Sin stands between us and God. It keeps us from seeing His true glory. We could almost see Him, we could sense who He is, but the world is still kind of “alien.” There’s something missing. But when sin passes, when the Devil is once and for all defeated by the hand of God’s Justice, and all the wiles of the world pass into the fires of darkness — then we can see the bright and wonderful, unadulterated glory of the Father. What a wonderful day that will be!

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. — I Corinthians 2:9

The proof!

How to Learn from Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is more than just a movie for me. It changed my life. And not in the “my heart is so full of love” and “I’m crazy about the characters” way, though it was that, too. No, this was for real. Real life.

I had been vastly disappointed in my college and its quality. I was a graphic design major. Its introductory courses in Adobe tools (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks; Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) were not challenging at all and didn’t even make the student explore at least within 100 miles of the soaring limits of these applications. I saw a person on deviantArt who posted one of her school projects from her Adobe classes — and she had to combine several Photoshop techniques, create things from Illustrator, and do all these complex skills, all for just one image.

Like Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon, I wasn’t feeling all too peachy about the current state of affairs…

I knew something was wrong with my choice. But then I took one more class in graphic design — the first of the major courses, thinking maybe I’d give it one more chance. I’d been stunted by art from my Understanding Art class the semester before. Clearly, that politically-left, imm- and a-moral world was not my cup of tea. So, would graphic design be mine?

Since the beginning, I never really knew just what graphic design was. Pictures and ads, I thought. Hopefully some Photoshop painting or cool photo editing. Maybe Flash extravaganzas, like the That’s a Fact series from ICR. But graphic design’s history, as I learned in this class, was much more, well, textual. This was a world of fonts and typespace and posters. Now I like fonts. Very much. I collect them avidly. But there are other computer graphics I would rather explore. Biola University noted in its Cinema and Media Arts page that “at the heart of every young filmmaker is the love of story.” Well, that was my heart, and graphic design didn’t seem to share it.

(movie spoiler in paragraph below)

And then came How to Train Your Dragon. I’d known about it from deviantArt, where some folks posted fan art depicting the depth of the program. They mentioned the protagonist losing his leg at the end, and how deep and serious that was for an animated picture. They also mentioned the stunning, ground-breaking animation. Suddenly I knew I wanted to see that. It wasn’t for a year or so till we did, though. I would have never guessed how it won me over.

We saw it first at midnight on April 5, 2012, to scrub over the very unpleasant The Hours. How glad I am we saw it! At 2 AM, the thrill was still strong, as we watched special features and rollicked in the joy.

The flying scenes fill me with awe time and time again. What it would have looked like in the original 3D!!

Suddenly I realized animation wasn’t for kids anymore. It could look real, feel real, be real. With all the seriousness, depth, nuance, theme, and drama of any live-action film. All those dreams of Bible films and meaningful movies I had — my sister said I could do them animated, and I didn’t believe her. Animation was too “cute.” Dragons taught me differently. I discovered Computer Animation in all its stunning glory. I discovered the power of detail and the possibilities of sweeping motion and tenderness. Animations don’t have to look goofy like Madagascar, void of natural physics. Dragons‘ Toothless appears tangible. The way his wings move, the way he grunts and breaths, how he skids to earth under the weight of his missing tailfin, how he flies. He is real. And Hiccup, too — the incredible nuance of his expressions, so detailed and delicate. Animated people need not be comedic. Dragons taught me the soaring possibilities of the medium.

The texture of the rocks, the detail of the moss, the shadows, even the shield — if it weren’t for Hiccup, this would be live-action film… (and with the detail of his expression and appearance, I could still maintain that impossibility!)

Then I started reading the classic The Illusion of Life by Disney animators, and although they talked about classic, hand-drawn animation, I was still fascinated and thrilled to be in that world. This was where I belonged, with debates on expression and emotion, tricks of movement and story, drawing and creating characters.

Should I change from graphic design to animation? I had a scholarship attached to my old college, but they didn’t have animation — nor quality, in my opinion. I prayed about it heavily, and when one day I just announced it to the world (my family, incidentally), I suddenly felt free, totally free — and happy. This was my path.

Just like Hogan’s Heroes and Band of Brothers changed my life by making me more patriotic and fascinated by World War II, and The Killer Angels delved me into the Civil War and honest historical fiction, so How to Train Your Dragon will live in my heart as the inspiration of a sudden change in my life. I thank the Lord that I have maybe found what I can really do and truly enjoy.

Hiccup and Toothless — possibly the most tender and precious friendship on film…

A Personal Quest

I am not one who usually finds “favorite artists,” whether that be in entertainment, books, or art. I have perhaps only one or two identifiable favorite authors, a handful of actors, and as yet, no artists. So the idea of finding an artist who captured my interest challenged me to find a consistent style that I identified with or found intriguing.

The modern era is filled with artists. A short chapter introducing them in Mark Getlein’s popular Living with Art (2010) barely scratches the surface of its varied landscape. Yet I have found a few talented individuals whose art I particularly enjoy observing, or whose work I may indeed love to hang on my wall.

Sarah Sze: Second Means of Egress (Orange) (2004)

Sarah Sze presents oddly enchanting sculptural works created from ordinary objects in extraordinary arrangements. Her works are airy, unique, and often breathtaking in scope and detail. Her theme is one of exploration and fantasy: The incidental becomes great, the everyday becomes new and different. She creates dream worlds of dizzying depth and proportion. Her Hidden Relief (2001) caught my attention right away, its surrealism making it hard for me to believe this was indeed something physically real. The peeled walls, perspectival lines, and descending details enchanted me. The revelation of its content – plastic bottle caps, Styrofoam cups, measuring tapes – took nothing away from the intended otherworldly feel infused in the piece. Her other pieces, like Second Means of Egress (Orange) (2004) capture a bold, clean, refreshing simplicity. Her The Art of Losing (2004) is quietly thematic, beautifully textured, and dramatically alive in motion. Her work is indeed fascinating.

Sarah Sze: Hidden Relief (2001) and The Art of Losing (2004)
Sarah Sze: Hidden Relief (2001) and The Art of Losing (2004)

You won’t find her work in a gallery, but I consider her still a great artist: Tracy J. Butler is a cartoonist who is not well-known, but whose hobby work on the comic Lackadaisy sparked a flurry of fans and popularity. Her work is an immersive experience, to say the least, with the way the images move into each other, how perspective and lighting play in each panel, how character expression is expertly rendered, and how I would follow it and forget that hers are anthropomorphic characters. Artwork related to her comic holds the same engaging sense of color, mood, contrast, and character. Digitally-painted work like Clockwise (2010) and Reverie (2010) show balance, richness, and a beautiful sense of interpretation in recasting her anthropomorphic characters into human form. Through her illustration work, she aspires to make her viewers think, affect them, and “immerse them with images beyond what words can do.” Through her comic, she explores the Prohibition era and its many and varied characters. She provides humor, joy, and the occasional pathos to her dedicated viewers. Perhaps it is her sepia tones that attract me so much. Nevertheless, I enjoy her work immensely and find it an inspiration in the art and skill of comic drawing, an endeavor I would love to one day pursue.

Tracy J Butler: "Backalley" (2010)
Tracy J Butler: detail from "Backalley" (2010)
Tracy J Butler: Clockwise and Reverie
Tracy J Butler: Clockwise and Reverie

The last of my choices is self-described “narrative artist” Mort Künstler. My interest in his work first stemmed from his popular subject matter, the American Civil War.

Mort Kunstler: Janie Corbin and "Old Jack"
Mort Kunstler: Janie Corbin and "Old Jack"

Then I discovered his working style and artistic theme. Künstler does not follow the tradition of modern war artists by dwelling on “blood and guts” (Ted Sutphen, qtd in Musleah). He reveals a terrible war’s more tender side: The legendary soldier “Stonewall” Jackson clutches the hand of a young child whom he has grown to love (Janie Corbin and “Old Jack” [2002]), the same man tends an umbrella over his wife and newborn before his cheering men (Julia [1998]), the legends Robert E. Lee and Jackson pause at a moving church service that symbolizes the faith that upheld each man (The Generals Were Brought to Tears [1992]).

Mort Kunstler: The Last Council (1990) and Julia (1998)
Mort Kunstler: The Last Council (1990) and Julia (1998). In the latter painting, notice the square pattern and diagonal construction reminiscent of the Confederate flag.

Nor does Künstler content himself with cursory historical investigation for his work. He does his research – thoroughly, patiently, and honestly. He travels to the historic location of his subject to observe the lighting patterns for his painting. He keeps dozens of Civil War artifacts in his studio to copy them firsthand in his work. He reads the latest developments in historical study so that he can portray new perspectives on the war: On learning that J.E.B Stuart had actually accompanied General Lee and Jackson at the famous meeting in May 1863 before the battle of Chancellorsville, he created The Last Council (1990), capturing a moment in history that indeed may never have been revealed before.

I admire Künstler for his faithfulness to history and his choice of theme. He captures history beautifully, realistically, and with a tenderness that defines humankind. I would honestly love to own one of his famed works.

Mort Kunstler: The Generals Were Brought to Tears (1992)
Mort Kunstler: The Generals Were Brought to Tears (1992)

I had started this project quite unsure of its outcome. But now I can name a few artists whose style I can identify, admire, and enjoy. There are many pieces that pique my interest – Don Eddy’s New Shoes for H. (1973-74) and the delirious reality he emphasizes in ordinary life, Anselm Kiefer’s Interior (1981) and the hope for renewal from Hitler’s legacy in his native Germany, Kara Walker’s Darkytown Rebellion (2001) and the social message inherent in the irony of using 18th-century-style paper cutouts to express the sad state of slaveholders.

Don Eddy’s New Shoes for H. (1973-74), Anselm Kiefer’s Interior (1981), Kara Walker’s Darkytown Rebellion (2001)
Don Eddy’s New Shoes for H. (1973-74), Anselm Kiefer’s Interior (1981), Kara Walker’s Darkytown Rebellion (2001)

There are many less-known artists whose work I find breathtaking as well – the post-apocalyptic dream scenes of Daniel Conway’s Her Silent Silhouette (2003) and Broken Dawn (2005), and the themed, light-filled beauty of Wenqing Yan’s 1000 Words (2009). Further dedicated investigation would certainly reveal more fascinating artwork and admirable artists.

For now, though, I am pleased at having pinpointed three artists whose style and work I find personally fulfilling.

Daniel Conway: Her Silent Silhouette (2003) and Broken Dawn (2005)
Daniel Conway: Her Silent Silhouette (2003) and Broken Dawn (2005)


Musleah, Rahel. “Applying Brushstrokes to the Civil War.” The New York Times. January 4, 1998. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/04/nyregion/applying-brushstrokes-to-the-civil-war.html

Artists Information

Susan Sze

Tracy J. Butler
Interview with Tracy J. Butler, 3 May 2010

Mort Künstler

Profiles of Artwork by Mort Künstler

The General Were Brought to Tears, 1992

Janie Corbin and “Old Jack” 2002

Julia, 1998

The Last Council, 1990

Other Artwork Profiles

Her Silent Silhouette, Daniel Conway, 2003

Broken Dawn, Daniel Conway, 2005

1000 Words, Wenqing Yan, 2009

So Excited! My Band of Brothers Collection Complete

I can’t believe I now have the book, soundtrack, and beautiful tin set of Band of Brothers! I remember getting the book in July 23, 2011 — at the closing of the Borders bookstore. I roamed the World War II section, looking for interesting war books, and noticed the large number of “beyond Band of Brothers” and “the untold stories from Band of Brothers” type of books. Must be something famous, I thought. But I’d already singled out My Father’s Country to buy, and I was hesitant to get another book. My sister, three books in her cart, and my father, with two already stashed away, protested my stringiness. But I left to return Band of Brothers anyway. Then when I slipped it back, I saw another copy of the book, much cleaner and shiny. I debated and snatched it, returning to smiling faces. Little did I know what I was getting into.

Starting to read the book on September 5 of the same year, I found myself bogged by military ranks and terminology, names and places. I was frustrated. Then I saw the accompanying miniseries in the library and snatched it, deciding to watch it on my own on the side. Maybe the film version would help to just get an overview picture of the story. “I’ll just watch it by my lonesome at night,” I wrote on September 21. It would be my very first show I’d watch just by myself.

So I did, and finally realized what I really was getting into. I fell in love with Winters and Malarkey and the whole quality of the thing.

Stupidly, I tried to read ahead and then watch the corresponding episode. I see now it should have been the reverse. It worked out in the end, though, because I was able to relive the episodes anew through my sister, whose innocent wonder brings out new emotions in me. Her participation in watching marked a breakthrough in our fun times together: This time, I was sharing my interest with her. Before, she had shared hers: personality, apologetics. Now she was hooked with me, her thrill infectious.

We got so involved that I wanted to have a piece of the show to keep forever. On November 5 I ordered the soundtrack, my first fun thing I purchased from my own debit card. A week later, I had the book and the soundtrack.

My father had noticed our midnight escapes into this world of “gunfire,” and as a battle kind of movie viewer, he naturally was curious. He wanted to sit in on one of the episodes, but he was tired that night. Besides, as we told him, “We want you to start at the beginning so you can get the full impact.” He laughed. He’s also a shoot-em-up-Harry, genre type of movie viewer. Emotional impact does not immediately appeal to him. But I’m sure the literature won’t be lost to him.

Besides, it was a perfect excuse to buy the shiny tin box and complete my collection. The library’s copy was sure to be borrowed quickly and often, I couldn’t rip the last of the special features to my computer, and we had to return soon what was fast becoming “my” copy. And to see that glorious cinematography on the big screen? I just had to buy it, and I decided to trump nostalgia and sell my latest textbook to appease my stinginess. A refund on another textbook rounded out the monetary balance. But my mother was still surprised when we told her for the second time that I had bought it. Somehow she missed our announcement earlier.

So I ordered it on November 20 and returned my library copy — on the due date, after a little over two months of it in my possession, having renewed it time and time again on the final days of its lease to me. I had even printed a brand new cover for the thing; a nice one that wasn’t water-stained like the library photocopy. I felt like I was giving away a little piece of me.

But today, I can put that all aside. My shiny tin box set has arrived, and my little circle is complete. I am truly a fan.

My Band of Brothers Set

To all our nation’s heroes…

So many lives have been risked for the benefit of our freedom – precious benefits like the freedom of worship and speech. So many young lives throughout history have decided that safety and comfort of oneself were not more important than the safety and comfort of their fellow Americans. Selflessness is the rule among this band of brothers. May we honor today their duty, commitment, and service.

Below is something I put together for this day. May we never forget the many veterans of all our nation’s wars, from those who merely aided generals to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America” for an amount of “up to and including my life.” –unknown

Have a happy and most solemn Veterans Day.