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Looking Back at ‘Contact’: An Unsung Hero of the Nintendo DS

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ContactDS

The Nintendo DS was a powerhouse of innovation. The dual-screen technology opened up a multitude of unique possibilities that hadn’t been seen on a portable system, ever. With the library of hundreds upon hundreds of games, some are bound to fail to gain the recognition that they rightfully deserve- and one of these games was Contact: an action-RPG that utilizes both the DS’ hardware and the platform of gaming itself in truly fantastic ways. Developed by art-game architects Grasshopper Manufacture, this title offers a great experience that should not go unnoticed. We will be looking at the various unique aspects of this game, including its thought-provoking ending. With that being said, there will be spoilers from here on out, so if you haven’t experienced Contact and would like to do so with untainted eyes, please stop reading now and play it. You won’t regret it.

Contact tells the story of a young boy named Terry who awakens on an island. Terry is silent, and not much is said about him. He is contacted by an old man called “The Professor”, but instead of talking to Terry, this old man addresses the player directly. And herein lies one of the game’s main unique qualities: the direct involvement of the player in the game’s storyline. The Professor is communicating to you, the player in the real world, to control Terry. The player then guides Terry around by tapping the screen and issuing him commands, but technically, the player is simply playing as their real-world selves. On the top screen, you can see the Professor and his dog-that-thinks-it’s-a-cat, Mochi. The bottom screen displays the world of Terry. Each screen encompasses a unique world and has a unique art style to it, with the world of the professor taking on a pixelated look, and the world of Terry taking on a beautiful, realistic painting style. The Nintendo DS acts as a communication device through which the Professor can contact the player, and then the player can then contact Terry on the bottom screen, following the commands of the Professor. Contact indeed.

contactIf that last description sounded rather meta, that’s okay, because that is the very nature of the experience. This fourth-wall breaking mechanic that the entire game is based around leads to a number of truly memorable moments, including an ending that turns the entire adventure on its head. Once you have collected all of the power cells, the main collectible of the game used to power a crashed ship, the Professor flies away, leaving Terry behind. Terry then has an angry outburst at the player, stating how he knew that the player was controlling him the entire time and that he regrets agreeing to help out the Professor in the first place because he ultimately ended up being used. This sudden self-awareness is jarring and is the first instance in which Terry ever speaks throughout the game- and when he decides to, it’s to directly lecture the player. He then takes his anger one step further by punching the player, by smashing the screen of the DS. Yes, little cracks start to form on the bottom screen as Terry has his angry outburst at you. The player must tap on Terry, knocking him out, before he completely destroys your DS screen.

The credits then roll, and the game is thought to be over- that is until a letter from the Professor pops up on the screen. In this, he details his reasoning for wanting to collect the power cells and admits that he selfishly used the player as well as Terry in his pursuits. He admits his moral failure and asks for the player’s forgiveness. He also admits that he is merely data, and is being forced to write this letter because the developers programmed him to. The Professor states that though the game may be over, he will continue on living, even as you turn off the game system…and much more. This ending sequence brings a level of humanity to the character that is not often seen in fiction. This makes the player a part of the story in a way that transcends the usual level of involvement that one usually has with a game. 

contact

The Professor leaves the player with a hauntingly beautiful sentiment: “I’m going to search for something only I can find.”

As one might see, Contact is not a game that is interested in the status quo of RPGs (or gaming in general) in the slightest. It is a game that asks as many questions as it provides answers for. It is an example of a game fully utilizing the medium to create a completely unique experience. True, the game may have some repetitive combat, and the game’s story may end right when things begin to get really interesting, but the game is certainly still worth experiencing despite these flaws. Fans of RPGs bursting with personality, like Earthboundmay find a lot to enjoy out of this title in particular. If you missed out on Contact upon its release in 2006, picking it up over a decade later still provides an enjoyable, idiosyncratic RPG experience. The ending sequence detailed here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this game memorable. Combine what was stated here with its hilarious, quirky sense of humor, a surprisingly deep character stat system, and a great soundtrack, what we have here is a game that does not deserve to go unnoticed. By broadening the scope of exactly what it means to be a “video game”, Contact really is something special.

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Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred

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Wayward Kindred is raising funds with Kickstarter.

If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.

After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.

GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?

Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.

Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)

I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!

How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?

When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel. 

Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?

I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel. 

Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?

Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!

You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.

Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?

We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!

What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?

It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.

TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?

We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter. 

What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?

I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling! 

Wayward Kindred is a spiritual successor to Wayward Sisters.
“Forked” by Seungwoo Baek, Grayson Lee, Cam Lopez and Nikki Powers

Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?

Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too. 

You’re also editing AFTERLIFT for comiXology. What is it like editing for a company like comiXology versus a publisher like TO Comix Press?

Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons. 

Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics? 

If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together. 

If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?

I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!

Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.

TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.

Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.

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Artist Boya Sun Talks Teamwork in ‘5 Worlds’ and ‘Chasma Knights’

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Five Worlds

This year’s DesignerCon serves as another reminder of how much it’s grown. Originally called Vinyl Toy Network, it now includes a wide variety of art and design, with exhibiting booths for various kinds of 3D and 2D art like sculpture, plush toys, prints, clothing, and books. Among them was Boya Sun, one of the artists behind the 5 Worlds graphic novel series. Sun’s booth featured his work in the form of small sculptures, riso prints, enamel pins, stickers, zines, and copies of 5 Worlds, as well as a slim concept book for the graphic novel series.

While at his art-filled booth, Sun took the time to chat with Goomba Stomp about his work in comics and collaborating with others.

5-Way Collaboration in 5 Worlds

Starting 5 Worlds after graduation, Sun feels that working on the series has made him better at comics.

Described as a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars, 5 Worlds follows a star athlete, a boy from the slums, and a clumsy Sand Dancer Academy student while their worlds are plunged into peril.

“They have three books out right now,” Sun says. He adds that the series will contain five books in total.

With five impending volumes in a series called 5 Worlds, it’s fitting that the main creative team behind it is a 5-person band: Sun, his fellow artists (and former classmates) Xanthe Bouma and Matt Rockefeller, and writers Alexis and Mark Siegel.

Excerpt from 5 Worlds Book 3: The Red Maze.

Sun shares that 5 Worlds started with the Siegel siblings, recounting how they were looking for illustrators. They ultimately found Bouma, Rockefeller, and Sun, and then sent them the story bible. 

Describing their working relationship as a “5-way collaboration” of artists and writers, Sun is grateful for the partnership.

“It takes the stress away,” Sun says. He explains that if he’s weaker in an area, his teammates can come and help.

Unifying the Art

Sun further explains the art process behind 5 Worlds. Since the series is rooted in fantasy and worldbuilding, he and the other artists start with a few months devoted to concept art and sketches that cover aspects like different planets and new costumes. 

When designs are finalized, the art team splits the script evenly, and each of them gets a section to pencil.

“Our styles work pretty well with each other,” Sun says.

Excerpt from 5 Worlds Concept Book 3, which features development art for Book 3: The Red Maze. It’s available for purchase on Boya Sun’s website.

Sun also praises Rockefeller for inking all the pencil drawings, making them look “seamless” and more unified. Bouma and Sun handle coloring together.

While the concept art for 5 Worlds is often a mix of traditional and digital work, Sun says it’s different for pencilling, inking, and coloring. 

“The final production’s all digital,” he says. Sun adds that making a 5 Worlds book can take about 9-10 months. The team tries to create one book per year.  

5 Worlds poster by Sun. 

Refining Ideas on Chasma Knights

Sun worked on another graphic novel with a smaller team: just him and writer Kate Reed Petty. Together they made Chasma Knights, a tale about living toys that can fuse with people and grant them new powers.

For Chasma Knights, it started with Sun. He had the original idea, and tried to develop it for a TV show or a book. But at the time, Sun was busy with other projects, and he felt less experienced with writing.

Mark Siegel, also founding editorial and creative director of First Second Books, helped Sun with early development on Chasma Knights. Sun says that since they already had a working relationship through their collaboration on 5 Worlds, Mark Siegel was interested in more of his projects. (Sun remarks that while working on 5 Worlds can be time-consuming, it isn’t a full-time assignment, and he can do other projects too.) Mark Siegel ended up connecting Sun with Petty for help on writing Chasma Knights, and later First Second published it. (5 Worlds is published by Penguin Random House.)

“She was very receptive of my ideas in the collaboration,” says Sun when recalling his partnership with Petty. He adds that Chasma Knights had topics that interested both of them.

Working with a writer like Petty had been enjoyable for Sun. He says that he presented his ideas to her, and she “took them, digested them.” When he had been on his own, he found it hard to narrow down ideas. In contrast, Sun found it helpful to talk things through with a writer.

Although they finalized the plot together, Sun says much of the world of Chasma Knights was invented after the scripting stage, when it was time for him to illustrate it.

Excerpt from Chasma Knights by Boya Sun and Kate Reed Petty.

While Petty hinted on her website that she has a new project with First Second, Sun shares that he’s developing a pitch for a graphic novel that he intends to write and illustrate by himself. Of course, this is going on while he continues to work on 5 Worlds. Sun says that the fourth book of the series will launch in May 2020

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A Lost Comic?: Remembering Emily Carroll’s ‘Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter’

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Emily Carroll’s Anu-Anulan and Yir's Daughter

The internet has the potential to be an archive for a phenomenal amount of information and creativity from countless people who share their work. But it’s not an automatically foolproof archive. Take for instance the poignant short webcomic Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter by Eisner-winning author-illustrator Emily Carroll, now missing from her website without comment. 

(Image source: The Comics Journal)

It’s unfortunate, and raises questions. One possibility is that it no longer fit the tone of Carroll’s growing portfolio. She has always been renowned for her horror comics. Her chillingly imaginative His Face All Red put her on the digital map in 2010, grabbing the internet’s attention. She entered traditional publishing with her horror anthology Through the Woods and When I Arrived at the Castle. In contrast, Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter doesn’t terrify; it doesn’t even creep you out a little. It sticks out of Carroll’s horror portfolio as an innocuous anomaly. Without it, her body of work becomes more apparent in its bloodcurdling intent. 

But part of the unique appeal of Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter stemmed from the fact that it was so different from the rest of Carroll’s work. It was fascinating to see her art in a softer context. Her line work soothed instead of horrified. This short webcomic was ultimately a charming love story with fairy tale overtones. 

It starts with the goddess Anu-Anulan in love with the silver hair of a mortal woman, Yir’s daughter. Anu-Anulan shapeshifts into three different disguises — a crow, a child, and a warrior — to trick Yir’s daughter into giving up each braid of her hair. But when the goddess has them all, she realizes it wasn’t the hair she loved. Without a disguise and finally as herself, Anu-Anulan meets Yir’s daughter, whose name is Yorenn. The goddess shows Yorenn that she has made the moon out of her silver hair. In the end, the mortal woman reciprocates Anu-Anulan’s love, and they live a full life together. 

(Image source: WordPress blog)

Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter had the rhythm, philosophy, logic, and language of a fairy tale. It even had repeating lines that were thematically reversed toward the end. But it was also a fairy tale that told a new story with nuance and deeper characterization. How the goddess realized her true feelings for Yorenn was approached with thoughtful and subtle execution, deftly moving from playful whimsy to a dawning self-awareness of a more down-to-earth love. There was a tender montage of the couple living a normal life, celebrating the small moments that build and maintain a relationship.

 “I wanted to show that they ended up in love, but that love needed to include moments that were both mundane as well as passionate—and simply showing a panel of them old together at the end wasn’t enough,” Carroll told The Comics Journal in a 2011 interview when discussing Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter. “And I also wanted to show that it’s not just a single sweeping romantic gesture that makes a love story, it’s also the everyday moments (like having a meal, or taking a walk, or just having a laugh together) that can mean just as much.” 

Besides Carroll’s interesting discussion of Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter in The Comics Journal, other snippets of it fortunately still exist. There are screenshots of some scenes on old blog posts that recommend it. It’s part of a TV Tropes page about Carroll, and it’s included in a scholarly article from the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics. There’s even a YouTube video that almost preserves the comic in its entirety, only lacking the very last part. These traces are also a sign of the impact that Carroll’s fairy tale romance left behind, ranging from suggestions for a good story to academic study. 

Although Carroll is a master at crafting horror in comics, she also produced one of the best love stories with Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter. She packed so much meaningful storytelling and heartfelt emotion in a succinct and elegantly drawn tale. The whole thing felt like a snapshot of fairy tale logic meeting raw emotion, which then forged a new balance between each other. This short comic held the mythic quality of a goddess and a mortal falling in love, and then contrasted it with the domestic flow of their relationship in practice. Whether or not it will ever resurface in its original form, Anu-Anulan and Yir’s Daughter persists as a fond memory.

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