DAY FORTY-THREE: Reflections, Part 4

The one part of my personal ROBOTECH journey I failed to mention thus far -- besides this blog itself, and its byproducts like my YouTube channel -- is EMISSARIES, the fanzine I inherited from my dear pal and ex-roommate Evan. I contributed histories of the ROBOTECH comics and ROBOTECH THE MOVIE (riddled with inaccuracies I'd picked up over the years from forum discussions and on-line articles), an ongoing column discussing the state of the franchise at various points, and ultimately when I was given run of the 'zine itself, I tried to offer a broad view of the franchise, keeping tabs on what creators who were associated with ROBOTECH were doing, talking up stuff going on with MACROSS and MOSPEADA in Japan, and the like. I promised subscribers four issues but only got three out the door, which in my mind remains a blight on my record. The problem is, as I'm sure you guys can tell, I'm a perfectionist, and getting the 'zine put together was a terribly intense effort on my part. On top of that, I know Evan always had trouble getting his subscriber base to offer their own material for it, but I didn't even have a wide base of friends to beg material out of. It always came down to the usual suspects, and their lives got increasingly busy as the months and years rolled on.

Indeed, if all goes according to plan, my life should be getting increasingly busy as the year rolls on, which is how I'm planning on segueing into how the blog's going to roll for the rest of the 365-day project ...

A piece of art I drew of Roy Fokker that appeared on the last page of my first issue of
EMISSARIES: A ROBOTECH FANZINE VOL. 2, signed by Dan Woren at the bar one
night during AnimeExpo 2006. Yes, I was having a drink with Roy Fokker. Don't ask me
how that happened, I'm still not sure.

Right now I still have to finish my write-up of "The Robotech Masters," the second episode of the reconstruction era of The Macross Saga. Once I get settled back into some sort of normalcy, probably around Wednesday, I'll be trying to crank out a couple of posts a day to play catch-up. In order to spread out the episodes to keep things sane, I'll be continuing to sprinkle in bits of artwork I've got around the apartment -- not like the signed stuff I've been posting these four days I've been out of town, but cool commissions and pieces of original artwork, animation cels, that sort of thing. The unique pieces from my collection, basically. There are only eighty-five episodes of ROBOTECH, and I've got 365 days to fill; even spreading out SENTINELS and SHADOW CHRONICLES to three days apiece, that's still only ninety-one. (I wish I still had copies of the terrible Matchbox figure set "Robotech Wars" episodes, those would be good for a laugh. I could summarize those without any commentary whatsoever, and they'd STILL be entertaining reads!) Naturally, then, you'll be seeing more comics, and I think if I have the time and extend the backlog out long enough to give me time to reread them, I'll even throw a few of the novels up here. After all, I just replaced my water damaged copies of THE ZENTRAEDI REBELLION and the three ROBOTECH MASTERS novels -- I really need to break these new copies in.

If you have any suggestions for subjects for future installments, to sprinkle in among the TV series episodes or for when the TV episodes are up, leave 'em here. It'll give me something to do while I'm sitting at the computer with a glazed-over expression on Tuesday night -- or, if one of the airports has free wifi, it'll give me something to do today while I enjoy my epic-length layovers.

Thanks for indulging me these past few days. I hope I didn't come off as TOO self-centered ... ^_-

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DAY FORTY-TWO: Reflections, Part 3

If you visit ROBOTECH.COM's episode guide, you'll notice there are some entries that are monumentally epic-length, entries that go on, and on, and on, and you just wonder why in the hell someone would write an episode summary that takes longer to read than the episode takes to watch. Well, that would be because someone back in the first half of the decade past thought all those little details were important. That someone was a damn fool college student named ... well, it was me. They wouldn't be so bad if not for that skinny column layout the site has going on. I did a lot of odd jobs for Harmony Gold early on in ROBOTECH.COM's life -- I did a fistful of those overlong episode summaries, I did a bunch of screen grabs of characters on the phone so they could use them to promote their customer service line for the ROBOTECH.COM store, I eventually did a lot of work on the bibliography when they rolled that out, and, in one of the dumbest moves I've ever made, I spent three days straight watching and rewatching ROBOTECH THE MOVIE: THE UNTOLD STORY so that I could transcribe the whole damn movie, because for some reason they didn't have a script for it anywhere in the office.

I haven't been able to watch ROBOTECH THE MOVIE since then. I don't think it's any great loss. I used to think it wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either. After that long, torturous, sleep-deprived experience, I take that position back. It's really, really bad, and I never want to see it ever again.

signed by series director Noboru Ishiguro. I totally cut in line in a major way to get this autograph
on the last day of AnimeExpo 2006. I have no regrets about it.

The big stuff I've gotten to do, of course, was the work on THE ART OF ROBOTECH: THE SHADOW CHRONICLES book, the chronological notes in the back of the three-in-one ROBOTECH MASTERS and NEW GENERATION novels, and I guess the article that appeared in PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS #94. The work on the SHADOW CHRONICLES artbook was an interesting collaborative effort; I spent a lot of that process basically going, "I think that turn of phrase mischaracterizes these events from the TV series, it went more like such-and-such-a-thing." The only passage I can name off the top of my head that I absolutely know I wrote is the short write-up of the Sentinels themselves. The one thing I know was omitted from that paragraph was the term "the Local Group," a term Daley, Luceno, Mason, Ulm, and the Waltrips all used to throw around throughout their SENTINELS work. Otherwise, that's all mine. Most of the rest of my contributions were turns of phrase and games of bad continuity whack-a-mole; if you're thumbing through the book sometimes and you think to yourself, "That sounds like something out of the Roboblog," then you probably just read five or six words out of there that are mine. They're all over the place in there.

Those little continuity notes in the back of the second & third generation ROBOTECH three-in-ones were originally going to be a wholesale rewrite of those novels. It's funny, I'd doom-and-gloomed about the possibility some months prior, and then the question was popped to me, "Say, how would you like to revise the novels to mesh with modern continuity?" I thought about it for a second and then went, "Well, if anyone's gonna do it, I'd rather it be me." So I accepted. I spent at least two weeks going from my job at the local elementary schools straight to a coffee shop a few blocks from my house, sitting down with my copies of the mid-1990s ROBOTECH MASTERS three-in-one volume and THE INVID INVASION, METAMORPHOSIS, and SYMPHONY OF LIGHT and stacks of index cards. I then went through the books and found everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- that didn't jibe with modern established ROBOTECH continuity. I'm talking stuff ranging from the bizarre misrepresentations of Logans throughout the MASTERS novels to bits like Dr. Zand killing Dr. Miles Cochrane, since Cochrane is alive and well in PRELUDE TO THE SHADOW CHRONICLES. I jotted every last little thing down, and e-mailed all the work, annotated with page numbers, back to Harmony Gold. I think I was most of the way through INVID INVASION when I got an almost panic-stricken voicemail from Tommy Yune on my cell phone, telling me to stop, that there was no room in the budget to make new plates for the new editions of the books, so they would have to go with the books as they were, and all that work would have to be boiled down to maybe a page or two in the back.

So I did that, and my name's still in the back of the books, but for two weeks I honestly thought I'd go down in history as the third "part" of Jack McKinney. That would have been cool.

Now that I think about it, the article wasn't the next major thing I did; the next major thing I did was get the ball rolling on getting THE SHADOW CHRONICLES to St. Louis. THE SHADOW CHRONICLES was making the film festival circuit, and I was frustrated that it was bouncing around the edges of the country but not hitting the midwest. I asked Kevin McKeever if there was anything that could be done about this, and he said to get a hold of some film festivals and request it. So I spent a couple of days doing research and finding film festivals that were going on for the remainder of 2006 across the midwest. I contacted five or six festivals, and St. Louis was the big one that bit. I put them in touch with Kevin, and the rest is history -- and is memorialized on the DVD case, on top of that. Take it out, look on the back, and there it is: "Official Selection, St. Louis Film Festival."

The PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS article was the first bit of ROBOTECH-related material I really took on after getting fed up with fandom politics at AnimeExpo 2007. I wasn't in a happy place and I think that colored my communications with the PROTOCULTURE ADDICTS staff, but on the other hand, it was a case where I wanted to see something done right, so I offered to do it myself. I just reread that piece a few nights ago, and despite the formatting errors and a couple of writing flubs, I'm proud of it. I think it offers a nice primer on how ROBOTECH began, where it had been, and where Harmony Gold was hoping it would go circa 2007. 

The last ROBOTECH works my name appeared in were the SHADOW CHRONICLES RPG book and the new ROBOTECH MASTERS RPG book. My only contribution to the SHADOW CHRONICLES book were a few notes I typed out after skimming most of the manuscript while I was home sick from work, while the MASTERS book I read a draft of in its entirety at the Applebee's here in Wausau over five or six cups of coffee and scrawled all kinds of notes in the margins. I have no idea if my thoughts influenced anything that was done in that book, but I don't even really care -- it's a nice little book, and my name's in it, so that's cool.

These experiences have been some of the most bizarre of my life; I'm not an intensely clever guy, I'm not an engineer or mathematician, or a crazy-brilliant artist, or a published sci-fi author. I'm just a guy who likes ROBOTECH a lot -- probably too much. I've spent my entire life living somewhere in the midwest, working low-paying hourly jobs to get by. And yet, somehow I've made a few marks on this B-level 80's animation franchise I love. I've made myself into a bit player in its twenty-five year history. How about that, ladies and gentlemen? How about that ...

TOMORROW: I'm spending the whole day in airports. It's gonna suck. I'm glad I brought a few books with me. Oh, and I'm telling you what the blogging schedule's gonna be for the foreseeable future.

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DAY FORTY-ONE: Reflections, Part 2

I was clearing out my suitcase for the trip on Thursday night, and I came across the program for my pal Ian's wedding. I flew halfway across the country for that particular trip, too, about seven years and a month ago. How, you might ask, does that relate to the subject at hand?

Well, if not for ROBOTECH, and specifically the old Robotech Message Board, I wouldn't know Ian. Sometime in 1997, I think, he posted up that he was looking to sell off some ROBOTECH comics, and I, looking to acquire a lot more ROBOTECH comics, bit. We then started e-mailing back and forth every day. Today, even though we don't talk as often as we used to, I'd still consider him one of my three closest friends in all the world -- and even beyond that, all three of those people I wouldn't know if not for this obsession, this fixation -- I'd almost call it this PROBLEM. I wouldn't live in Wisconsin if not for ROBOTECH; it was because I wanted to move somewhere, ANYWHERE else that I moved up here to be roommates with my pal Evan, who I met through ROBOTECH fandom on-line around '99 or 2000. You could say every person I've met here, every coworker, every person I now call a friend here is a consequence of my ROBOTECH fandom.

My life is weird.

The late, great Carl Macek's autograph from the inside front cover of the
keep on my bookshelf. I keep hoping he's right.

From the moment I returned to ROBOTECH in the early 1990s, I've had a voracious appetite for more ROBOTECH. As quickly as allowances and begging would allow, I got all the novels, and had most of them read by the end of the eighth grade. I got episodes of the TV series on video tape and LaserDisc when I could find them, or when my parents would order them, but never amassed the full series until the DVD release in 2001; thankfully, I managed up to episode 60 courtesy of the Cartoon Network run in 1998, but that was still several years of relying on the novelizations and synopses for my ROBOTECH knowledge.

And that's what it was all about -- a thirst for knowledge. A thirst for understanding. A desire to see how this complex universe, crafted almost haphazardly from three once separate anime programs, actually worked. I dearly love the characters, most of the mains and a lot of the more offbeat or bold members of the supporting cast, and the mecha were both an obvious draw from the get-go and still keep me interested and entertained in toy and video game form, but it's the depth of the universe, and the depths still untapped that keep me fixated on ROBOTECH. It's why I became Mr. Robotech Comics; because that's where creators were really putting the toys through their paces. That's where the possibilities were truly being tapped. Sure, the execution was often lacking, and especially in the waning days of Academy the art was crap, but there were kernels of good ideas being popped out on a monthly basis for years. The RPG books also offered a lot of ideas that a lot of people seemed to dismiss as silly, but about which I say, bring 'em on. That's the only place you can go to find the motorcycle that transforms into the chariot for the Expeditionary Force pegasus mecha. Give me the Expeditionary Force pegasus and its chariot that splits off and transforms into a motorcycle! It's ridiculous, but I don't care. A little bit of madness is good every once in a while. You toss out the offbeat and the occasionally ridiculous and you turn into -- well, you turn into a modern ROBOTECH comic, all sober, straightforward, mechanical and obvious. Competent, crafted with care, but bereft of life. Thank goodness, really, for the Waltrips and their absurd Edwards-Invid hybrid monster. Over the top, a little silly, but horrifically realized and a real kick in the pants.

Even today, as I write these write-ups of the TV series episodes, you'll notice all these rhetorical questions, questioning the occasionally inexplicable and trying to sort out why things happened the way they did, why lines don't make sense, and what the intention was with certain parts of the mythology that were never quite fleshed out in a way that makes sense based on the information given -- that's just me continuing, all these years later, to search for that level of understanding. I want to know how this works, if it works -- and if it doesn't, how I could hit it repeatedly to MAKE it work.

It's funny, unlike other properties I enjoy, I can't bring myself to throw any part of ROBOTECH out. It's like I was saying about the pegasus above, or any of the much-derided elements of Sentinels -- Karbarrans, cowled villain T.R. Edwards, Breetai's stupid hat, Rick Hunter learning psychic powers, busty Amazons, any of that stuff -- I couldn't bear to see it all tossed into the dustbin of history, because a voice in the back of my head keeps shouting, "It could work! Here, just hit it like this, spin it like that, smooth that out, provide some clear motivation here, and it's all good!" We long-time ROBOTECH fans all carry in our own heads our own ideal version of the series; we've all read so many different takes, read different parts at different times, prioritize different versions of the series -- and, in my case, I even spent a few years fanficcing away with friends, spinning out our own half-silly, half-serious generation of godawful author avatars and characters imported from other fanfics flying around in an SDF design I cooked up for a series proposal for Antarctic Press, fighting a splinter sect of Zentraedi in the 2040's. Some of those characters are still running around in the ROBOTECH in my head, fighting the good fight, turning traitor, and discovering that what works in MACROSS 7 as regards the power of song doesn't necessarily work in the ROBOTECH universe ...

Maybe that take on things, that the core of every idea can be useful and that the ROBOTECH universe has room for everything that's been tossed into it, in one form or another, is naive, stupid, wrongheaded, and may even be why the chronology is in a minor state of disrepair at the moment -- because it's still taking all this SENTINELS stuff into account when none of it's been properly grounded or established. But don't even bother trying to convince me of it. I've spent too many years digging these things out of back issue bins, buying them up from used bookstores, tracking down copies of production materials on eBay, and connecting dots from interviews and revision errors to make sense of the glorious jumbled mess. Back to my pal Ian, I remember hanging out with him in a toy store in Japan, and I found a toy that I've long desired but just never gotten around to buying, this toy from a Takara toy line and animation series called WEBDIVER. It's a dragon-headed galleon, a sailing ship, that transforms into a dragon man with a big crazy sword and a shield made out of the bottom part of the ship. Bear in mind, he's a fellow TRANSFORMERS fan, too. I showed this thing to him, and he looked at me like I'd dropped a sack of dog crap on his shoe. He just flat-out told me it looked stupid. When I'm standing here defending random fifteen year-old comic books, sifting through them, finding the salvageable parts, dreaming up ways to spin them in with stuff I've been reasoning out from my latest viewing of the TV series, I wonder if people are staring at this blog with the same sort of bafflement tinged with sadness? Disgust? Or maybe just curiosity -- "Why would someone still be beating his head against a wall trying to make something of a badly drawn licensed comic that nobody else seems to care about anymore?"

It's like I said, it's an obsession. I just can't help it anymore. What is it we always say? "It just gets in your blood or something, I don't know ..."

Tomorrow: Oh the places I've been, the things I've done.

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DAY FORTY: Reflections, Part 1

If you're up at six a.m. reading this as it posts, then in a little over three hours I'm going to be getting on an airplane here in Northcentral Wisconsin in order to attend RT 25: THE CELEBRATION out in Van Nuys, California. That's the big fancy dinner ceremony thing going on this weekend where we'll all be raising a glass to the folks who helped create the ROBOTECH television series a quarter century ago. I've had to spend a few paychecks to get all my ducks in a row to go, including buying a new suit, since my old sport jacket makes me look like a ten year old wearing his dad's clothes. But I promised someone I'd be there for sure, and a promise is a promise, and on top of that I'd regret it for the rest of my life if I DIDN'T go. Bonus points: I get out of Wisconsin for the better part of four days. With the exception of a brief sojourn to Minneapolis-St. Paul to try and push some SCWONKEY DOG comics on an unsuspecting public almost a year ago, it'll be the first time I've left the state since I moved here in the summer of '08.

Consequently, I'm not going to be sitting in front of my computer for hours on end, staying up until the wee a.m. hours attacking the nasty backlog of posts I let build up over the course of the month of August and the first half of September. However, I thought I'd memorialize this occasion with a four-part series posts discussing what ROBOTECH means to me, my memories of the series -- y'know, bits and pieces of my personal ROBOTECH journey.

A page from the ROBOTECH STYLE GUIDE, the licensing guide
Harmony Gold issued to companies making ROBOTECH products
in the 1980s, signed to me by Tony "Rick Hunter" Oliver at the
Harmony Gold ROBOTECH booth at AnimeExpo 2005.

When I visited one of the handful of AnimeExpo conventions that Harmony Gold had a somewhat major presence at -- 2006, if I remember right, the year they were promoting THE SHADOW CHRONICLES without yet having a distributor -- I remember my fellow fans from across the country tossing back and forth the names of the stations they watched ROBOTECH on back in '85 or '86. Irritatingly for me, I couldn't play along; I don't remember what station I watched it on. I'm a few-to-a-handful of years younger than most of my fan-contemporaries, fellow folks who watched ROBOTECH in its initial syndicated run. I remember the time it aired, six in the morning, and in fact I vividly remember the first time I'd even heard of it. My mom was flipping through the Saturday listings in the TV Guide, looking for shows I might be interested in. She'd circle them -- or maybe highlight them, I forget. I remember sitting on the floor of the trailer we lived in at the time, and she was sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages, and she handed it down to me to look at, and there it was: ROBOTECH. 6:00 a.m. Sure, I could get up for that. That sounded cool.

And it was. I have very few concrete memories of watching the show; ingrained in my memory for the next several years were the opening filmstrip, the cool-for-the-time video effects over the opening sequence, the iconic pose of the VF-1J against the SDF-1 bridge, the question in my mind of "Where's Rick?" when the episodes with the blonde chick with the big hair started running, the transforming motorcycles, and the climactic scene from "Reflex Point" where Marlene/Ariel looks down at her arm and sees the green blood dripping from it. Did I ever ask for any ROBOTECH toys? I know I looked at them, specifically -- as I mentioned in the write-up for "Force of Arms" -- while trying to hunt down a Minmei, which as we all know now was never produced for whatever reason. What I did wind up with, at the age of six, was a copy of the first of the Jack McKinney novels, GENESIS, which I read and understood maybe the first chapter or so of -- the prologue, with all the business between Zor and Dolza during the seeding mission -- and then kept reading without really processing for several weeks thereafter. Since I was six years old and not really "getting" the show to begin with, since it was on too early and I think I was missing episodes anyway, I clearly recall picturing Zor as a half-remembered Breetai. (The faceplate clearly made a strong impression even back then.)

The following year, even though I had a hard time with the first one and never got the rest of the original series, my mom got me the first of the SENTINELS novels, THE DEVIL'S HAND. I remember spending a lot of time staring at that cover, thinking it was awfully weird, and reading and rereading the back cover copy. My clearest memory of actually reading that book, though, comes from maybe eight to ten years later -- specifically, reading about T.R. Edwards managing to seize the Invid Brain while I'm sitting in the back of my dad's car on a family trip up to see my Grandma Anita up in the vast green sea of nothing that is northern Kansas.

Hazy recollections were all I had for a few years. But those hazy recollections festered in my mind. I remembered that ROBOTECH looked different from most everything else I'd seen at that time; the colors were different, the art style was different, the art seemed to have a lot more care and attention lavished on it. I always came back to that oft repeated shot of the VF-1J; you compare that shot, seen over and over again, to anything from any of the other cartoons I'd have been watching in 1985 or 1986, and you'll see why that stood out as amazing to me.

Jump ahead to 1992. My folks take my sister and I on a shopping trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We visit the mall there, which has in it the first Suncoast Motion Picture Co. store I'd ever seen. By the end of the decade a much closer Suncoast store would be a weekly mainstay in my life, but at that point it was something new and shocking, a place with the best selection of VHS tapes I'd ever seen -- stuff you'd only see in catalogs, stuff in foreign languages, stuff that looked like it was produced in someone's basement. And, of course, tapes upon tapes of ROBOTECH -- namely, the six FHE "100 minute edit" Macross Saga tapes and, if I'm remembering this right, all of the Palladium Books Southern Cross and New Generation tapes.

I was agog. I was stunned. There it was, the whole lot of it. Knowing full well we might never be back this way again, I asked for all of it. Or maybe three tapes? Two? C'mon, two? No? But you'll get me one, right? Okay, one. Hmm. Well, let's start at the start. Six episodes? 100 minutes? That math sounds wrong, but it's still the most bang for my buck. So I walked out of there with this.

Before I put this tape in, I was certainly fascinated. After I sat through the whole thing, finally making sense of some of these half-memories and impressions, I was officially obsessed -- and as I'm sure you can tell, it hasn't let up but for a few months at a time for the past eighteen years.

Tomorrow: Madness takes root.

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