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Chicken Scratches
Created worlds, comparisons to the Qur'an, and we're saying that he doesn't have a God complex?

Babel Revisited
or Why Human Beings are Too Smart for Their Own Good.

Anime: It's not just for breakfast any more!
Dan sets out to prove that one can both be a grown up and enjoy watching cartoons. Sometimes even in the same day.

The Electric Slide
Sure, the web can be used to sell books and movies, but what's it really good for? Tons of crappy amateur movies! No, not those amateur movies.

What I Really Want To Do Is Direct
The Oscars approach, and Dan revisits Cast Away to examine how likely Tom Hanks is to pick up his third little gold statuette.

Check the archives for more columns.

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Chicken Scratches  

I admire someone like George Lucas. As we all know, though The Phantom Menace did enormously well at the box office, it was not so well-received by the critics, or, as the novelty wore off, the fans, die-hard as they were. Yet Lucas presses on with his endeavor, working on the next installment of the Star Wars series without any pause. While there will certainly always be those who believe that the only reason that he continues to churn them out is to make money, I like to think better of him. The man is already independently wealthy, so he isn't forced ahead by a need to make more money. No, what drives a man like George Lucas is the need to tell the story. You see, the story already exists. Lucas doesn't know all the details yet, but they're out there. And as he continues down the road of making the next two movies, the missing pieces will slide into the puzzle and fit as perfectly as if they were made for it. Which they were. How do I know this? Because I've experienced the same thing in my own work.

For the last two years I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and considerably less time writing an epic fantasy story that, when completed, will (hopefully) stretch across at least three novels. Something with that kind of span requires a slew of people, places, factions, histories, cultures, and languages to give the essence of reality to something that is, at the most elementary level, not real. And what is really fascinating is that after a certain point, elements of this fictional world are no longer created but discovered. I begin to feel less like God creating an entire world, and more like an archaeologist unearthing an ancient civilization. The substance of the place is no longer contrived, it evolves out of necessity, just like a living organism. I find myself wondering about why a particular group in this fictional world believes what it believes or acts as it does. And without even actively thinking about it, the answer naturally slides into place, and it's obvious. It makes sense. It fits the puzzle. I am reminded in some ways of the prophet Muhammad to whom God revealed the Qur'an. The Qur'an, according to Islamic belief, was never created, but has existed since the creation of the universe in parallel with God. Muhammad transcribed it as God passed it on to him, but he did not create it. It was always there. In the same way, it's almost as if the story has existed all along, and the writer is just the person to whom it is revealed.

Now Lucas is, by all admissions, not a wonderful writer. The script for The Phantom Menace was criticized by many, including recently even Ewan McGregor, as lackluster and puerile. But that's because Lucas isn't a writer. It's quite clear he simply doesn't have a way with words. But take away his dialog, watch The Phantom Menace with just its beautifully orchestrated John Williams score and the visuals, and something extraordinary happens: the story emerges. Lucas's genius isn't with words, but with feelings and meanings. Without the trite dialog interfering, attention is diverted from the annoying existence of midi-chlorians and the slapstick antics of Jar Jar to the destiny of a young boy, the determination of a young woman, and the ultimate interplay between good and evil.

I have long styled myself a writer. This dates far back to the first grade when I first started putting to paper the elaborate creations of my imagination. Both my writing and my self-identity as a writer have gone through serious changes since that time. I still work primarily with words, but I don't believe that I stand out in that specific medium. I have the need inside me that a person like George Lucas does: the need to tell a story. The trouble is that the story occurs in my head not as words, phrases, and sentences but as images. And I'm stuck endlessly translating from the pictures in my head to the words on the page. Like a photograph of the Grand Canyon, I feel that I'm hardly doing justice to the original.

This presents a problem with considering myself a writer. I mean, a writer needs to write, and that really means words; there's no way around it. Even in writing in the visual mediums of film or stage one can't escape the fact that words needs to be strung together in such a way as to evoke some sort of feeling from the audience. People like George Lucas are fortunate in that he can outline his story and have someone else do the writing. This allows the creator to keep his vision intact while at the same time providing quality in that most necessary of elements. Granted, this is a tough position to get into. Lucas can do it, but that's because the original Star Wars trilogy made him a household name, and from that and his financial security, he can afford to hire the best people to implement his story. Right now, I don't have that. Someday, I might, but I'm not going to be holding my breath.

And until that day, I'm going to stick to writing. While I may not have the knack of the turns of phrase that make someone a great writer, I do pride myself on being able to write, as one of my professors commented, "fluently." Perhaps, with practice, I may even be able to whip my sentences into a shape resembling greatness. Every little bit of writing helps with that, and I've noticed that on days when I don't do any writing for my projects, or in my journal, things like my emails and news posts become especially eloquent. It's almost as if I have a day's quota for creativity, and if I don't expend it in my own projects, it begins to leak out in day to day activities (not that I like to be too vulgar, but you might almost call it a creative bladder which must be emptied).

Why am I telling you all this? Well, the major capacity in which I serve CXM is as a writer, and I want the readers to know that while some of the things that I put down are pretty mundane, I do like to think of myself as a creative individual. In that sense, I think that my creativity is less evident than in the case of the other guys, because their contributions are graphical and immediately eye-catching. News posts tend to be fairly straight forward, and while I don't think I've reached the level of some of the great posts of Tycho over at Penny Arcade or Piro and Largo over at MegaTokyo, I do like to think that I take you guys a bit further than just little site updates. Writing is, at the most fundamental level, a tool. If you have a good mastery over the basic elements, you can bend it and shape it to do the things that you want. I don't know if I'm a master, but I hope that you enjoy reading the news posts and columns as much as I enjoy writing them.

All text and images 2000 by Jason, Kai, Dan, Tony, and Mecha Gaijin. He WILL kick your ass. Instant superfine!
All characters are ™ & © their respective owners. All Rights Reserved. Some Comics Ex Machina (CXM) strips are satirical in nature, and are not intended maliciously. CXM has invented all names and situations in its strips, except in cases when public figures are being satirized. Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental, or used as a fictional depiction or personality parody. CXM makes no representation as to the truth or accuracy of the preceding information.