Cancellation was the best thing to happen to #Firefly

Been a minute since I rewatched this classic, which is now old enough to vote in the US. Yes kids, 18 years since Firefly aired, and 18 since it got booted from Fox.

That shouldn’t shock anyone. Ask The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. just how well Fox supports good westerns.

Anyway, I’m partway through the pilot and still loving it. The characters, the dialogue, the speed of the story, it’s no wonder the show continues to find new fans even after all this time.

One thing that aids that? Its cancellation.

The brevity that was heaped upon it when Fox pulled the plug has helped to keep the overall story tight and tidy, especially with the conclusion that the movie Serenity provides.

It’s the same principle that makes 8-episode streaming series so successful. There is a such thing as too much.

Just ask The Hobbit trilogy.

Plus the perception of injustice–“How could you cancel something so great?!”–gives it the oh-so-coveted victim status that the new century thrives on.

There are comics that continue the story, and some of them have been good, but they run into the Hobbit problem after a few issues.

Too much of a good thing isn’t still a good thing. Too much is just too much.

Something to keep in mind with my own work. It’s why I’ve taken a liking to shorter pieces. Satiate the appetite and move on.

Get back to work.

Bradley’s Eleven: The Disney Job

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Me and the homies broke into the Disney Vault over the weekend to liberate a copy of Song of the South. Here’s what you need to know:

Song of the south review | Disney Amino

 

This movie is one of those mixes of animating and live action. If you’ve ever heard stories about Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch, then you’re familiar with the cartoon characters that make up half the movie. The stories of Brer Rabbit were written by Joel Chandler Harris in the late 1800s.

Joel Chandler Harris (1848 - 1908) - Genealogy

Harris was born in Georgia and was only 13 when the Civil War broke out, so his formative years were steeped in the conflict of ending slavery in this country. Small wonder then that he would go on to write stories about how happy people were in the post-war South, especially considering the improved conditions for black people.

Yes, yes, there was still a lot of headway to be made on that front, calm yourselves. They weren’t exactly living in the same mansions as white folks. They were no longer property though, and their quality of life was improving every year.

Naturally he wanted to reflect that in his writings, and so the character of Uncle Remus came to dominate his pages.

James Baskett-HSB Noticias / Cine

Now, I’ve gotten my hands on some of Harris’ books, and they haven’t aged well. He does that thing that writers are told not to do when it comes to dialects and accents: he writes phonetically, to the point where it tires the eyes as you try to read it. I didn’t make it to even the 5% mark on one.

Apparently that wasn’t a problem in the 1940s though, because Disney still thought there was enough value in the property for them to make a movie out of it. James Baskett (above) won an Academy award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, and the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” also won an Academy award.

This is all kind of interesting when you consider the timeline. The 1940s were only 80 years after the 1860s, so there were still people (although few in in number) who had lived through the Civil War. Plenty of the older generation in the 40s had grown up with parents who saw it all up close.

It’s kind of like 2020’s relationship with World War Two, which is fast approaching the 80-year mark in historical distance. My grandfather fought in WW2, but he was 90 when he died in 2015. In the national conscience it still seems to feel kind of recent, though. The fingerprints are still fresh on the present day.

That being the case, Song of the South was a mark of ideological progress in its day, the kind of progress that tends to jump ahead of itself, look behind at its wake, and say “I’m embarrassed of all that road behind me.”

Disney has all but been outright ashamed of it in the intervening decades. They never released it for home media in the US. They did, in the late 80s, build the Splash Mountain ride around a Brer Rabbit theme at Disneyland, because those animations had remained popular. But they adamantly refused to give Song of the South any more place in their lexicon of entertainment.

There are a lot of things I could say about this, but they’re best left in the capable hands of Disney historian Jim Korkis. He covers it in this book:

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My favorite part of this book was actually the forward, written by animator Floyd Norman, whose career has run from 1959 to to the present. He’s my grandma’s age and his career is as old as my mom. This dude is living history, and he has a lot of things to say in defense of Song of the South.

Also he’s a black dude. I’d love to sit in a room with this gent and listen to his stories. Fortunately it looks like he’s written a lot of books, and I want to get to them.

Floyd Norman's 9 Wild Stories From the Making of The Jungle Book ...

Back on track though: the movie itself takes place in the Reconstruction Era, which is important to understand because a common criticism is that it depicts “happy slaves.” While the demeanor displayed by the white characters toward the black characters wouldn’t fly today, it was a far cry from the master-slave relationship that blacks were forced into for so long before that.

I’m not going to sit here and pick apart every criticism of it though, because that would be tiresome and a waste of time. The most frequent attack leveled against Song of the South, the attack that has kept it locked in the vault for decades, is that it is racist (a term that loses a little more of its meaning every day based out how people throw it around.)

No, the main problems with Song of the South have more to do with the fact that it is 1) poorly constructed, and 2) boring.

Johnny, the main character, has to stay at his grandma’s plantation with his mom. His dad has to go back to Atlanta for undisclosed reasons. All we know is that he’s writing things in the newspaper and people are pissed off about it. His departure makes Johnny sad.

Johnny finds new friends on the farm though, including a white girl named Ginny and a black boy named Toby. They hang out with Uncle Remus and listen to his stories. That’s…pretty much it, for a while. Eventually Johnny sneaking off to chill with Uncle Remus makes his controlling mother sad, and she tells Johnny not to see Remus anymore.

Blah blah blah, Remus goes to leave the plantation, Johnny takes a shortcut through a bull pen to stop him, a bull tramples him, he almost dies, but Remus comes back to tell Johnny another story and he survives. Johnny’s controlling mother lightens up, and his dad comes back from Atlanta, the end. Remus walks into an animated sunset with all manner of cartoon critters hanging around him.

If that sounds kind of flat, the on-screen execution is a little flatter. Don’t get me wrong, the set pieces are beautiful, the animation is fine, and Uncle Remus has a warm and friendly demeanor. The in-between scenes are just kind of devoid of life and make it a chore to watch. Set this movie in any time period with any cast and you’d have the same problem.

Which is a shame, because there’s a lot you could do with the source material. Too bad Disney will never reboot this and do it better. They’re trying to make more hay out of their “cash cow” animated flicks. They’re even replacing the Brer Rabbit stuff at Splash Mountain with a Princess and the Frog theme.

At the end of the day…eh. I know where to get a copy of the movie, I’m not a hundred percent sure it was worth the excursion into the vault, but if Disney ultimately doesn’t want me to own it, that’s enough reason to get my hands on one.

Get back to work.

 

July 2020: State of the Dread

It’s July!

The Podcast

This week episode 9 of “Welcome to the Faro” went live. It’s the 2nd of a 3-episode arc that covers my time in Tarragona, the hardest stretch of my mission.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts here, or look it up on your preferred podcast app. As of right now almost 20 episodes are recorded, and it will have 25 in all.

The Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast comes back this month as well, airing weekly on Wednesdays.

The Writing

I have two semi-finished drafts of different books, HOMEWORLD and FOOL’S SILVER. Right now I’m reading the former to my wife, and her feedback is helping to tighten it up. She’s been really supportive of my storytelling, going all the way back to our dating days 10 years ago.

When I can, I pick at WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE too. I’m not in as much of a rush with that one, but I don’t want to dawdle either, as it needs work.

The Artwork

Still drawing every day over on Instagram, and I finished the rough inkwork for the WAC cover (above). Digital art is similar to traditional, different in a few ways, and really crisp overall. I quite like it.

The Reading (and the Watching…)

I’ve been getting more DVDs from the library for background noise, Turn is a really interesting show, if historically inaccurate in spots. Par for the course with the genre, I’m liking it for the most part, it’s just too horny sometimes.

There’s an old flick from the 50s on Disney+ that I started to watch and it mentions the novel JOHNNY TREMAIN by Esther Forbes, which I never read. Grabbed an audio copy of it from the library, and I will read it this month along with BUNKER HILL.

The Fitness

My wife has a subscription to some online workouts that I like so far. Intense stuff but the results are really great. My back is popping a lot more, haha.

I also did over 2,000 pushups in June. So that feels pretty good.

The Rest

I have to keep reminding myself not to surrender to malaise, there’s just a lot of it going around. Everything is a matter of perspective though. Maybe I haven’t been tried hard enough or in the right ways. God knows what He’s doing.

Chin up kiddos, the best month of the summer is now upon us. Get back to work.

June 2020: State of the Dread

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Summer is upon us! Wherever and however we may, let us roll the top back and put the hammer down, for beyond us lies ADVENTURE!!!

 

The Podcast

Welcome to the Faro has been a great project so far, and it’s now on Apple Podcasts! I’m recording these several times a week but they only go live on Mondays, so I’ve got a bit of a buffer in case things go crazy.

The Brother Trucker Book Club is still scheduled to resume in July, but there will be a special bonus episode for THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES by Suzanne Collins. Schaara and I finished reading it and we’ll team up for a discussion about it. (We both loved the book.)

Scholastic on Twitter: "RETURN TO THE HUNGER GAMES! THE BALLAD OF ...

The Artwork

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I’m up to #9 on a list of presidential puns that I came up with a year ago. (I tweeted them all out with GIFs in an epic thread starting here.) The ones I’ve drawn are mostly the same as the ones I tweeted, but I’ve changed a few because they worked better visually.

This particular theme will run its course right around the 4th of July, maybe a little sooner, we’ll see. As we head into Month 6 of 2020, I feel the need to structure my sketchbooks a little better, and work on particular weaknesses of mine. When I’m done with the presidential puns I think I will grab one of my old artbooks and go through the exercises to sharpen my skills. That or I’ll work on Figurosity poses. I don’t know, the options are limitless.

The Writing

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Oh MAN this is picking up! Once the Faro podcast starts to wind down, I have a new podcast on deck tentatively called the DreadPennies Adventure Hour. My writing at the moment is focused on generating content for that new show. I finished the cover art for the first short story I will feature, called HOMEWORLD. Add it to your Goodreads list!

This one will last about three episodes. The following short story will be called FOOL’S SILVER (completely unrelated to anything I’ve written so far). That will also be three episodes, and the third story will be WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE, my Thanksgiving epic fantasy.

Whether I will immediately have another story ready in December or not remains to be seen. More details as the year unfolds, because it’s hard to predict my schedule with certainty right now.

The Fitness

JUNE IS THE MONTH I GO ON A SUGAR FAST. I will probably spam my Insta with daily reports, we’ll see.

In addition to doing pushups almost every day in May, I did decently well on my food intake. I have no way of knowing whether I hit 205 on my body weight because my scale died and funds are, let’s say, frozen at the moment, so replacing it isn’t a priority. Nevertheless I shall improve my eating and also work out every day but Sunday, because this train never stops and I WILL weight 177.6 this year.

Doesn’t look like it will happen by July 4th, unfortunately, but it will happen. All my pants are fitting looser and my pecs only bounce when I tell them to. Things are going well.

The Rest

The country is going insane and I refuse to be a part of the problem. I’m gonna be a good neighbor, a good father, a good husband, and a good artist. Summer is upon us and we can still make it a good one for ourselves and the people we care about.

That’s it, get your butt back to work.

May 2020: State of the Dread

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The Mascot of May!

We are 1/3rd of the way through the year! Here’s what’s up:

The Podcast

The BTBC Podcast is on hold until mid-July at the earliest. I’ve wanted to take a break for a while, and I’ve been more excited about a different podcast idea, so I’m tackling that instead. The WTTF Podcast (Welcome to the Faro) is a new podcast wherein I recap my experience as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Find it on whatever platform you use for podcasts and subscribe! I’m really proud of how it’s coming together so far.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, possible text that says 'Welcome to the Faro! Missionary Training Center A Chronicle of My Mission to Barcelona, Spain'

YouTube!

I was only able to record the first 5 chapters of REBEL HEART last month. You can find them on my YouTube playlist here. Right now the view count is pretty low, and filming/uploading is time-consuming, so unless more people are interested I will be leaving that alone for now. Too many irons in the fire. (A frequent problem of mine.)

The Artwork

Image may contain: 2 people

I’m up into the 120s on my #draweveryday challenge. This huge commission was for my friend Lisa, who’s been having a rough go of it even without the WuFlu coming at her. Here’s a bunch of her friends (including yours truly as the Winter Soldier Brother Trucker) wearing Marvel skins.

Image may contain: drawing

This one, though…this one I’m very very pleased with. It’s only a small portion of the cover for WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE (coming November 2020!) but man alive, I LOVE digital drawing! Steelpunk Myles Standish is so much fun to write and draw, too.

As always, follow my Insta for the daily drawings and sketches.

Writing

I’ve been alternating between two short stories that will be the inaugural fare for my StoryTime podcast. The first one is HOMEWORLD, the second is TORERO, both are working titles. I won’t have interior art for them for a while, but I will have cover art before I narrate either. Each one will comprise about 3 episodes of 30 minutes or so. More on that as it develops.

By the end of May I will have a ready script for HOMEWORLD, as I think that’s the stronger of the two stories, and the closest to the greenlight.

Fitness

You may not care, but I do.

My shoulder is back to about 95%. The rest is just details. I can hammer out pushups like before–hell, even better than before, as I don’t have any pain in that shoulder. Pull-ups are another story and I can do about 2.5 before my form collapses, so I need to focus on that direction to get my strength back.

By the end of May, I will weigh under 205 pounds.

Okay now get back to work.

March 2020: State of the Dread

Hey there, DreadHeads! 2 down, 10 to go. Here’s what happened in February and what’s going down in March.

The Podcast

3 more episodes last month, and there will be another 3 this month. I’m still organizing content for the eventual DP StoryTime podcast, that one isn’t in production until I have my current book farther along. Find the podcast wherever you subscribe, and follow along!

The Artwork

Myles and Rose Standish, With Answerable Courage

29 pieces done in February, including 3 for my next big release. I’m using AutoDesk Sketchbook to do digital art for that book, and I love how it is all coming together. I am also drawing the cover for this one, it is going to be fantastic. Can’t wait to share it with you!

The Writing

Blogging is all but dead, I only keep this page going as a placeholder for an eventually larger, sexier, more powerful website.

I did finish a draft of WAC, it’s rough but very workable, and once I finish the art I will polish the text.

I also picked at a story called HOMEWORLD which will be one of the first DP StoryTime adventures once that gets underway. Having a few ideas in process helps me to keep the wheels turning in case I stall on one.

Once this thing gets moving it’s going to be a ton of fun.

The Unfattening

Yeah I lost zero weight in February. Well, maybe a pound or two, but life was just a kick in the pants. We had a baby last month so we’re still in adjustment-and-new-sleep-schedule mode at House Dread.

I’m going all-out tyrannical on it for March and I will weigh 205 pounds by the end of the month. Mark it.

Whatever Else

During my art sessions I either listen to podcasts or watch B-minus programming on Amazon, and this show has been pretty interesting so far. It’s about Prohibition in the south and the lasting impact it has had on the region.

It’s good research for a future project I have. 🙂

That’s all, folks. Get back to work. 👍

February 2020: State of the Dread

Hey Dreads, what’s kraken?

Celebrate with me, January is finally over! One of the two most miserable months of the year, the other one being August. The first is cold and joyless, the second is hot and joyless, it is what it is. Here’s what I did last month:

Brother Trucker Book Club

THE PODCAST

Putting out 3 episodes proved to be much better than doing 13. So far I like that format. The first two episodes saw the passing of Mike Resnick and Christopher Tolkien (who I have read) and the third episode dropped right at the passing of Mary Higgins Clark (who I have not). A solemn month for legendary writers in their genres.

Right now I’m reading an old Resnick title that I never got to, and I’m already enjoying it tremendously after one chapter. The man uses dialogue like surgeons use scalpels.

Be sure to subscribe to the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you, listeners!

 

THE ARTWORK

IMG_20200123_100147_689

My #draweveryday challenge was a success! 31 new pieces of varying quality made it into my sketchbook, or into the digital archives as the case may be. Check out instagram.com/dreadpennies to follow along. 

The above image was by far my favorite. I got to sit in a safety class for three days at work, and had this idea after seeing an article that said Texas legalized the hunting of feral pigs from a hot air balloon. Story Idea! 

So I drew it as I listened to the instructor drone on about the importance of not running people over with your truck. (I had heard this information before.)

As for this challenge in February, check out the video below:

 

THE WRITING 

I admit I wish I had finished a draft of WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE this month. To be honest I’m having trouble finding a balance between the new job at Krakengard and my responsibilities at home, but I think things are finally clicking. Just gotta grab life by the face and slap it around a little bit.

That said, I’m three chapters away from having a draft down, and then I’ll switch gears to the illustrations. Still looking at a post-Halloween release date.

I’m also–and this is very tentative, I don’t have details for you–beginning the preliminary stages of developing an audiobook for SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. Cannot wait to have that one out there in my favorite format.

 

THE UNFATTENING

Last year I lost 20 pounds and then found them again in about 5 months, so believe me I’m pretty mad about that. I blame the new job, which is exceptionally less physical than the old one. I’ve finally figured out what to do about that, and if you care to follow along my fitness journey, check out @batteringraham on Insta.

 

WHATEVER ELSE

Really we’re just gearing up for the baby to come, which feels like it’s taken forever, and I’m not even the one who has to carry her all the time. Ugh you guys, my poor wife…almost there. Home stretch.

In the meantime, GUYS check out this great YouTube Channel I found and totally love: it’s called Ambient Worlds, and the guy puts together these hours-long videos of movie soundtracks with nice sound effects in the background. For example, he’s got mood music for each of the Hogwarts House common rooms, with fires crackling and whatnot. He also has videos for Gondor, Rohan, the Shire in Middle-Earth, or stuff for the Hunger Games, I mean…everything. It’s just beautiful. I’ve been writing to it and I love it.

Okay time to get back to work. If you’ve read any good books lately, comment below! I’m always on the hunt for a recommendation. I’m trucking full-time, last month I read 15 books, I can probably get to yours 😀

SLEEPLESS HOLLOW Free Chapters

Front Cover

Hi gang,

If you haven’t been following on Twitter or Insta, I’ve recorded the first 3 chapters of SLEEPLESS HOLLOW, which launches next week! They’re on the Brother Trucker Book Club Podcast. Individual episode links below:

Chapter 1: A Distant Relation

Chapter 2: Endless Watch

Chapter 3: The Book in the Box 

And for some icing on the cake, check out my page on Inktale! You can buy all kinds of sweet merch with the Headless Horseman on it! Everything from throw pillows to towels, mugs, shirts, hoodies, and more.

Thanks for tuning in!

States of Dread: Production Update

Hey there, DreadHeads. Here’s an update on my various projects, and when you can expect various things over the next year.

SLEEPLESS HOLLOW:

I’m 95% done with the cover. Illustrator Greg Newbold (check out his wonderful work here) has graciously weighed in on my in-progress shots on Facebook, and his feedback has really helped to clean it up. Here’s what it looks like right now, cover not final.

I still don’t feel comfortable announcing a release date for it. I have a few more things to write into the manuscript, which came in at 60k words. Right now my editor has it and her initial opinion is highly encouraging. I’m sooooo excited to share this book with you guys.

THANKSGIVING EPIC FANTASY:

A few years ago I jokingly drew a picture of some Pilgrims and Indians riding giant turkeys into battle together, and I lamented the lack of fun Thanksgiving books. We have tons for Halloween and Christmas, why not round out the trifecta?

So I’m working on a book that will come out next year in November, which coincidentally is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arriving in North America. Right now I’m in the research phase, and I just finished reading this great book by Caleb Johnson.

I want to use as many real historical figures as possible, and in order to do it well, I needed to know more about everyone on the boat. In November I’ll read another book for research, written by William Bradford himself:

Of Plymouth Plantation by [Bradford, William]

I’m not revealing the title of my book yet, but you can bet it will be fully illustrated. This continues the streak of my best story ideas starting out as sarcasm.

BRIMSTONE, or “Blast Crew Goes to Mordor”:

This book needs a lot of work. Major thanks to my friend Madeline for an extremely thorough reading of it, she gave me a lot of feedback that will make the story tons better if I apply it right. Unfortunately there is nothing about that process that I can rush, and when I do get around to this book it will have a TON of artwork in it, so I wouldn’t expect it out before 2021 at the absolute earliest. Trust me that it will be quite the ride when it is there. In the meantime I’ll work on smaller projects for annual releases, and pick at this one slowly so I don’t rush it.

THE PODCAST:

I’m so happy about how well the podcast is doing! Big thanks to everyone who’s tuning in. Look up the BROTHER TRUCKER BOOK CLUB wherever you listen to podcasts. I do three episodes a week–two for book reviews, one for trucking stories, usually around 15 minutes.

READING:

At the time of this posting I have read 98 books in 2019, 35 in print and 63 on audio. This doesn’t include 12 books that I elected not to finish after getting about a quarter of the way through. 2019 has been a great year for discovering new good books. And the best time of year hasn’t even landed yet!

THE FUTURE:

This is hard to predict, and is mostly guided by things that I would like to do. I just have to be selective with my time. I want to release at least one book per year. Sometimes that will mean a short book, but I’ll always have something in the queue.

This fall I’m going to practice more with digital drawing, because I’ve got a major itch to get into cartooning. We’ll see how it works with my writing, because novels are my first true love. It just might be time to start having some little art kidlets, if I can swing it.

The important thing is to not spread myself too thin and burn out, as I often do. My real kids are getting older and I really want to dedicate more time to adventures with them. I just have to balance my craft with the more important things.

That’s all. Stay tuned to my Twitter and Instagram (@DreadPennies) for other updates. Thanks everyone.

Pardon My Poetry: Dies the Summer

It shouldn’t have been what it was in the end

In summers now passed, such adventures, such friends

One tries to find magic where shadows reside

But life will determine, life will decide

Whether this year you’ll feel eighteen once more

Or wonder if you will know joy like before

The gut punches came each after the other

Said farewell to a sister, I and my brothers

Farewell to a boss, farewell to my money

Farewell to my time with my kids and my honey

Farewell to Luck, the Stanford Sensation

Will football still be fun to watch in this nation?

Shackled to work, to sleep and pay bills

Redundancy dwells where once lived many thrills

When half it was over I found myself thinking

The Good Ship Summer’s not sailing, it’s sinking

So we waited it out and endured each invasion

That Misery Monster would hear no persuasion

Come August I found myself longing for fall

This son of July has cold blood after all

Now I sit in my office, feeling my feelings

Adding the totals, half-drowning, half-reeling

Counting my blessings, striving for calm

Praying and borrowing Gilead’s balm

For the seasons yet turn and turn as they will

August gives way to September, yes, still

In spring I awaited the summer’s prompt coming

And now I await fall’s arrival, heart thrumming

There’s a chance that it’s better than summer this year

I choose to lock step with my hope, not my fear

If nothing else I can take this away:

No wicked season forever will stay.