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Persephone’s Waltz – Commentary & Deleted Scenes December 23, 2018

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By request in the December talking meme: director’s commentary on Persephone’s Waltz!

AKA my 70K-word Madoka Magica longfic, in which Homura is…much closer to the edge than in canon. Close enough that “kidnap Madoka and lock her in a basement for the next month” starts to sound like a good idea.

Spoilers through the end of the fic (and through the PMMM series) follow!

Origin story

There’s a whole subgenre of “one character keeps another locked in a room indefinitely” psychological horror stories. Emma Donoghue’s Room is a recent-ish standout. We read John Fowles’ The Collector in one of my high school English classes.

So for a long time I had the vague desire to write some darkfic in that vein. Even came up with about a thousand words of it for Jon/”Stephen” — but the full-length fic never clicked. (Pretty sure I never decided what kind of end it would be moving toward.)

Then I fell hard for Madoka Magica, and eventually figured out that the premise would work perfectly for a MadoHomu story.

Because of the way canon works, there’s even a built-in endgame. Homura doesn’t want to keep Madoka captive forever, just long enough to make it past Walpurgisnacht without contracting.

(All this was waaaay before the release of Rebellion Story. Nobody had any idea that canon was going to pull a magically-fueled, open-ended, still-a-cliffhanger-five-years-later version of the premise.)


Research & resources

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.

—Louise Glück, “The Myth of Innocence

If you’re writing a non-silly fic, and you want a cool evocative title, the thing to do is go read a bunch of poetry. Search for relevant keywords and themes, see what turns up.

(That’s how I got “You Cannot Shut The Windows Of The Sky” [His Dark Materials], “Night Kept Chain’d Below” [Colbert Report], “Into The Empty Sky” [also Colbert], and “All Her Original Brightness” [Colbert, daemon AU].)

For this one I got on a real Louise Glück kick. Go read “October” for the perfect evocation of how haunted and disoriented Homura must’ve felt after one too many rewinds.

Didn’t use a direct quote for the title, but between “Persephone the Wanderer” (source of the fic’s opening quote) and “The Myth of Innocence” (above), I figured I wanted something Persephone-related.

It was just plain “Persephone” for a while, which wouldn’t be very memorable or searchable, but I didn’t have any better ideas…until “various disconnected references to dancing” started turning into a recurring motif. Added it to the title, then played it up a little more in the narrative from then on, culminating in the big reconciliatory waltz scene at the end.

On a more down-to-earth level, the Puella Magi Wiki was a godsend. A few links I kept on hand the whole time:

100 Questions for Madoka, providing lots of useful mundane everyday-life trivia (e.g. she’s not picky about food, but she likes hot chocolate, sakura-mochi, shaved ice, sweet potatoes, and apple pie). Also, her thoughts about getting married one day: “Would be nice if I can find a cool husband that resembles my Mama.” Hmmmm.

Which characters call each other by what name/suffix, more useful details.

The sequence of events in one month’s timeline. Supplemented by this handy lil’ text-only chart in my notes file:

Deleted scenes

If I’m writing a chapter and end up with a chunk of text that doesn’t really fit, but that I do like in general, it gets relocated to the notes file. Maybe it’s a whole scene, maybe it’s just a good line or two that could turn out to be useful later.

(On shows directed by Mike Schur, it turns out the writers’ room has the same file, and they call it “the candy bag.”)

Some things never get worked back in, but I don’t actually delete the file after the fic is posted…which is why I’ve kept all this around, without ever touching it, since February 2013.

Tipping over the whole candy bag, here and now!

Stray bit of musing from a Sayaka-POV section:

She could outdo Madoka for conversation speed or energy any day, but she was so much less competent at putting her beliefs into the right words.

On the run with Mami’s notebooks, Madoka shares some exposition with Sayaka. Probably cut because there’s nothing here that the readers wouldn’t already know.

For one, Mami almost never worked with other puella magi. There would be brief mentions, references to the effectiveness of unfamiliar weapons or powers, but except for Sakura Kyoko, none of the names appeared more than once or twice.

For another, she couldn’t find any information attributed to “Kyuubei” that was (technically, as far as she understood it) untrue. Just incomplete.

“If there are only a few magical girls in any area, how can there be so many witches?” she asked, snuggled up next to Sayaka in bed with both of them sitting against the headboard. “There would have to be a lot of puella magi making contracts and then running out of magic fast. But if that was happening all over the place, some of the veterans would have noticed, right? Wouldn’t more people know what was going on?”

“They probably aren’t all the original witches,” said Sayaka, without looking up from her reading detailing Mami’s muskets’ capacity and versatility (and the fancy attack names she’d come up with for all the different variations). “I bet that’s why.”

“Not all the original…? What does that mean?”

Sayaka blinked at her. “Akemi never mentioned that one? Witches keep familiars around in their barriers. But the familiars can sneak away, and if they run around on their own long enough and feed on people’s despair for a while, they can grow up to be a copy of the original witch.”

“Oh,” said Madoka sheepishly. “She didn’t…or rather…there was nothing like that in Kaguya Super Contract Z.”

When they get back in contact with their parents, here’s a whole tangent I didn’t go down.

“Hey, what day is it?”

“Tuesday,” replied Madoka, without even having to think about it. Weeks of meticulous calendar-tracking without being able to use any natural rhythms for guidance had apparently left their mark on her too.

“Hitomi goes straight from school to piano lessons to tea ceremony on Tuesdays,” said Sayaka. “But after school on Wednesday she doesn’t have to do anything…except catch up on her Tuesday studying, of course. And, um, Kyousuke has physical therapy Wednesday early afternoons. On a good day he’s back in his room by four.”

“Do you think we should try to call them too?”

Sayaka jostled her with a quiet shrug. “Dunno. Not if it’s risky for them. But if anyone besides our parents deserves to hear from us, it’s those two.”

“I don’t know Hitomi’s number,” admitted Madoka. It was in her phone’s contacts, for all the good that did. She didn’t need to point out that she didn’t know Kyousuke’s; she had known him as a friend of Sayaka’s but never been personally close.

“She emailed it to me when I got my new phone last summer,” said Sayaka. “I could look it up.”

***

She produced Mami’s phone, in its normal form, and unlocked the screen. Up popped the contacts list, with a dozen impersonal entries (doctor, dentist, bakery, landlord…), and Hitomi’s name now sitting neatly in the middle.

Little tangent from when they’re on the run and hiding under storefronts. It wasn’t going anywhere, but it sure is very Madoka.

“This is the store where Mama got my colored pencils,” remarked Madoka. “Not this exact one, but this chain.”

“Mmm,” said Sayaka.

“They’re amazing quality. The kind that should be used in a real sketchbook…by a real artist.” Madoka sighed. “Even if all I have is a school notebook, and I’m not very good yet, they make me want to try my hardest, you know?”

Snipped from a Homura-POV section:

just let me protect you this time please let it work


Post-series alternate ending

Und kann ich dir was zu Gefallen thun;
So darfst du mir’s nur auf Walpurgis sagen.

Thy wish be on Walpurgis Night expressed;
What boon I have, shall then be given unto thee.

—Goethe’s Faust (tr. Bayard Taylor)

Some readers asked how the story would’ve gone if Homura’s plan had actually worked…and I put down enough notes to write a little AU-spinoff bonus fic, but then never got around to writing it.

So here’s that!

I don’t believe Sayaka would have given up, or been deterred from wishing to find Madoka…unless she died before she was able to. Alternately, Homura could’ve killed her right afterward.

In that case, I think Madoka would have started clinging to Homura, but more out of desperation than healthy trust (even if she came to believe Homura’s explanation of magic 100%). In her time alone she would get increasingly frayed around the edges — more incidents like the one where she snapped and started throwing things — so she’d grow even more dependent on her “social time” with Homura.

Eventually there would be cuddling, with Madoka curled up in Homura’s lap and quietly freaking out while Homura hugs her and feels distant and guilty. (“But it’s for your own good.”)

Assuming she survived past Walpurgisnacht, Madoka would come out severely agoraphobic, unable to deal with large groups of people, and with bonus trauma from learning about Sayaka’s death. Homura meanwhile would be bluescreening on the whole “and now it’s over, how do I cope with dates after May 1, fatal error, cannot cope” dilemma.

They would pass themselves off as both victims of the same kidnapper, get treatment together, but be severely co-dependent and unable to adjust for a long time. Maybe never, in Homura’s case, since she can’t lean on Madoka for support, and in fact has to handle the knowledge that she broke Madoka pretty severely in order to save her. I think she would fall to despair before recovering, which would hold back Madoka’s progress even more.

In the case where everything happens like it does in the fic up until the very end, and then the glass doesn’t fall…

They’d pull the same deception. Madoka would be reacclimated to normal life more easily, slow but steady. Homura in this scenario has even less mental togetherness, but her mood would be a lot easier to keep stable, since she would have the influence of a safe, alive, mostly-unbroken Madoka to remind her that it wasn’t all for nothing.

Madoka would eventually go back to school, while Homura would live with her family: not coherent or present enough to return to normal life, but not violent or dangerous, and mostly able to care for herself, so they wouldn’t have to commit her. I don’t know if anything sexual would develop between them — their therapists definitely wouldn’t like it — but I bet when Madoka grew up and moved into her own place, Homura would go with her.

And one last thing: a note for a bonus comic I somehow never drew.

Post-end omake: the version where Homura keeps dumping new people in the basement, and finally defeats Walpurgis by stuffing her in there as well XD

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Pretty sure my oldest fandom is The Hobbit. December 20, 2018

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Going back as far as possible for jesse_the_k’s prompt, “Something you read|watched|listened to before high school that you still think of fondly today.”

(And actually keeping it short this time, for once.)

When I was in kindergarten, my parents told me “hey, you’re going to sit down with the principal and vice principal and read them a chapter of The Hobbit.”

Many, many years later, it clicked that, hey, that was probably a test. Parents were trying to get school to recognize that kid was reading waaaay above grade level, school officials figured parents were being starry-eyed and unrealistic about their kid’s abilities, a proof-of-concept demonstration was arranged.

But they wisely didn’t tell me that, and I just figured, hey, this is a great book and anyone would enjoy having it read to them, so why not?

Bag End

I read chapter 2 — past all the character introduction, but not so far into the adventure that you can’t pick up the continuity. It’s the one where they nearly get eaten by trolls, and are saved by some last-minute Gandalf counter-trolling.

Also, probably the funniest chapter. Not sure whether that was chosen deliberately, but it worked out well — the officials could tell I understood what I was reading, because I laughed at all the right parts.

There are “series I discovered young and still appreciate” that are more kid-accessible — the Oz books, Calvin and Hobbes, the Bailey School Kids, Madeline, Narnia, Aliens Ate My Homework, and half a dozen classic Cartoon Network shows all come to mind. But I didn’t actually discover those first. Whereas Dad was an old-school D&D nerd, so a copy of The Hobbit was right within reach.

(December talking meme.)

Magical Girls Top 5: Madoka, Sailor Moon, Kaitou Jeanne, Saint Tail, Tokyo Mew Mew December 20, 2018

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For the December talking meme, lielac prompted: “Talk about your top 3-5 magical girl shows/anime/manga/things!”

(not that I’m going to be terribly precise about the rankings, here.)

Puella magi

Top Two: Sailor Moon and Madoka Magica

(more…)

I miss when “fake news” meant the fandom. December 18, 2018

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I feel like Daily/Colbert fandom was destined not to survive the move to Tumblr.

Not least because there was no easy way to cordon off your RPF (or RPF-adjacent) discussion/fanworks/squee from the (very broad) general population of People Who Watch The Daily Show.

On top of that, the changing hosts didn’t leave us much to go on.

Huge swaths of the legal online video archives were dropped, meaning new fans were locked out of access to the material.

There was no obvious replacement to fill the gap of “two young handsome men with a shamelessly homoerotic friendship.”

John Oliver has done a lot toward “rich character-based quasi-separate reality with a funny internal mythology,” but on a premium network with a smaller reach.

And I’m probably not the only one whose general ability to watch news-comedy shows has dropped off pretty hard.

Starting before the election, when some of them were making lazy jokes that reinforced sexist narratives people were buying into, and continuing afterward when even the on-the-ball ones (shoutout to Sam Bee and John Oliver) have had nonstop awful material to work with.

(Still mad about Colbert’s sarcastic “yeah, sure, it’s totally normal for a grandmother to want access to the nuclear codes.” Whenever it’s been a grandFATHER running for that position, literally nobody brought it up. Huh. Gee. How ’bout that.)

So it might be for the best that the fandom decline happened at just the right time to leave it mostly-unsullied by this era of politics.

And you all know I’m delighted that Jon and “Stephen” canonically went off to live in a cabin in the woods together.

(Cap from the Christmas special, but we can all assume it’s probably the same cabin.)

Doesn’t stop me from missing it anyway, that’s all.

(Prompted by muccamukk December talking meme.)

“Show and tell! Tell the story of an interesting object you have in your possession.” December 17, 2018

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Still catching up on the December talking meme, going off a prompt from melannen.

At some point when I was in school my family went on a trip — I think it was either Toronto (out of the country) or San Diego (opposite coast) — and we passed by this shop that was visibly full of anime merch. This was obviously not on Mom’s list of Improving Tourist Stops, but I took one look at that window and by golly we were going in.

Sure enough, the place was packed with obscure stuff. Floor to ceiling. I only had eyes for the Sailor Moon merch (this must’ve been pre-Hellsing, even), and it did not disappoint. Lots of imports in the original Japanese packaging, including dolls that were actually on-model, and notebooks/stickers going all the way up to the Starlights, and all kinds of stuff.

Most of it I held onto from then all the way up until six months ago, when I did that big pre-move giveaway.

Here’s the one thing I kept:

Lil’ Sailor Moon coin bank! With the pose from the end of her SMR transformation — and the DiC logo, so, not an import? Actual North-America-licensed merchandise that you’d think I would’ve been able to purchase anywhere in the US?

But I never saw anything like it in the various local nerd stores back home, before or since. So I’m glad I snagged it when I did.

Maybe one of these days I’ll even actually use it for coins.

Integra Hellsing Appreciation Post December 16, 2018

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Okay, I’m officially a day behind in the December talking meme. I’ll double up on Sunday. For now: hokuton_punch wanted me to talk about Integra Hellsing!

…which felt weirdly hard to do, because I feel like everything I have to say about her, I’ve already said. At length. And none of it has changed — she’s still amazing and wonderful and one of my favorite characters ever.

But once I started, things got rolling just like old times.

Integra was cool from the first episode — which is mostly an introductory showcase of how terrifying and badass Alucard is, but when you get to see her, dealing with this powerful monstrosity so calmly, you know she’s got something special.

(more…)

“What’s your favorite thing (or things) about webcomics as a medium?” December 7, 2018

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…is what umadoshi wanted to know about, so I’m gonna come at it from both sides.

As a reader: my favorite thing is that there’s such a low barrier to entry. I get to read comics by people who would never be accepted by publishers because the content is too niche (which used to include “too gay”, although fortunately that’s changing). Or because the creator doesn’t know the right people, and networking takes stamina/skills, which don’t automatically come with being a good artist.

Or even because the comic is genuinely Not That Great. Sometimes those are fun anyway! And having them online gives the artist the motivation to keep working, and then you can watch them get great in realtime.

The main tradeoff is that the flake-out rate is high, but you’re not immune from that in any medium. (“George R.R. Martin, please write and write faster…”)

And on balance it doesn’t get me down. Definitely not enough to stop me from checking out new strips. I’m just impressed at how many people are dedicated enough to keep them up at all for no money, or for “some money, but it sure doesn’t pay the rent.” (*cough*here is a Patreon*cough*)

As a creator: going back to this line I loved from the ComicLab podcast, “Cartooning has this wonderful ability to let you be a super-performative public isolationist.”

So, listen, sometimes I have your standard “being a famous public performer” daydreams. Like, a song will come up on shuffle and I’ll flash to the idea of me singing it on stage, got the perfect dance routine to go with, the crowd is Swept Up with Amazement and Awe and so on.

But the idea of doing anything like that in reality is horrifying. Crashes up against the problems that I’m not a good singer and don’t have any dance training and hate addressing crowds and get generally nervous about doing things live.

So I make comics — and people still follow along, get engaged, post theories and compliments and so on — but I get to sit behind it, so the art is what people are interacting with, and I never have to get directly involved unless I want to.

You don’t even need to talk to anyone to get started! Sure, there are collaborations and anthologies and application-based collectives, there are specific levels that you need to make connections to enter. But in general? Free webcomic-centric hosting platforms have existed for my entire Internet life. Fill out the automated signup form and you can just go.

(December talking meme.)

The Good Place, the Boy George principle, and the fallacy of the Doctor Problem December 2, 2018

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So I’m rewatching The Good Place s2 with my aunt. Simultaneously enjoying The Good Place: The Podcast (which is great but spoileriffic, so don’t pair it with your first watch).

I’ve watched s1 about four times by now, because it’s the kind of show where it’s really good to vicariously enjoy someone else’s first watch. This is my first revisit of s2, though.

And I’ve gotta vent about the Trolley Problem.

Quick summary for anyone who’s missed it: the Trolley Problem is a classic thought experiment. You’re driving a trolley, and the brakes fail. As it’s speeding down the track, you see five people on the track ahead of you. (They’re stuck. Maybe they’re tied down, Snidely Whiplash style?) There’s a switch coming up, so if you act quick, you can steer the trolley onto an alternate track — but there’s one person stuck on that track.

Is it morally better to let five people die through inaction, or to save the five by actively killing one person?

There’s a great episode of Mind Field on YouTube that makes people think they’re really in this situation (using an “experimental remote train-driving system” and non-live footage of people on tracks) and tests their results. With bonus meta-layer of how the experimenters avoided inflicting unethical levels of trauma on their unwitting subjects.

Everything is fine / Everyone is safe

(Parallels!)

So in the show, moral philosophy professor Chidi explains all of this. His students and fellow-torturees conclude that you gotta hit the switch. Chidi says, good, but there are other versions of this — like “Let’s say you’re a doctor, and you can save five patients. But you have to kill one healthy person and use his organs to do it.”

It’s not the same thing, and the others say so, but when Chidi asks why, they can’t articulate a reason. Later, when Chidi himself gets confronted with the Doctor Problem, he says “I won’t do it, because of the Hippocratic Oath.” But he, too, can’t articulate the moral foundation for why that works out.

Which is very in-character for Chidi. Any time something is declared an unshakeable moral absolute, he gets stuck on it. And none of the others have thought about the topic enough to go there.

So I’m gonna.

What makes the Trolley Problem work is, it’s so stripped-down. Short timeframe, very few variables, no room for complicating factors or alternate options.

There’s another alternate version which goes “you’re standing on the sidelines watching, and you can stop the train from running over 5 people down the line by pushing 1 person in front of it now.” Small change, but it still destroys the setup. Even if we accept the dicey premise (“this will definitely stop the train, it won’t just result in the train running over 6 people”), why can’t you push literally anything else in front of the train? “But the only thing in reach is this other person–” –yeah, and you.

There’s no third option in Trolley Problem Original Flavor. Much less a self-sacrifice option — which introduces a level of self-interest that unbalances the whole thing.

So when you get to the Doctor Problem, there’s not just a third option, there are billions of options. There’s none of the immediacy of “people who are stuck on the tracks in front of you right now.” Lots of people need organs. Even more people have organs. (Including you, the person considering the problem.) How do you fill the slots of the 5 and the 1?

There’s a few immutable conditions that narrow it down a little. Blood types have to be compatible, for instance. But that just means you’re down to 3 billion instead of 7 billion. Not real helpful.

About the 5 recipients: “Hit by a train in the next 30 seconds” versus “not hit by a train in the next 30 seconds” is extremely binary. Surgery…is not. Say you have a bad heart. Maybe you don’t get a new one, but you live another 30 years with medication and a strict diet and a careful lifestyle. Maybe you do get a new one, but the transplant itself is what kills you, through a bad rejection or an opportunistic infection or the basic risk of anesthesia.

…can you tell I’ve been watching a lot of medical dramas recently?

So you’d have to do a ton of evaluation, aimed at coming up with 5 people who have the best chance of getting the most substantial benefit out of this surgery.

About the 1 unwilling donor: you have to do a ton of evaluation there, too. Gotta be someone whose organs are all in good condition. Gotta be someone who’s healthy in other ways, so the recipients don’t just die of pneumonia the week after. And there are other practical concerns. What if the best candidate is someone who has to be flown in from another continent? Is it even worth testing people on other continents? If you test just your local city and find someone workable, is there a substantial benefit to testing for someone slightly-better in the next city over?

I could go on. There’s a lot.

But the real point here isn’t to actually consider these questions.

The real point is: if you give people the power to make this choice, they won’t bother answering all the questions.

What they will do is: designate people from “undesirable” groups as the donors, designate people from socially-powerful groups as the recipients, and, if asked to justify it, bring up only the details that happen to align with that particular choice.

History is littered with examples of — not organ-donation specifically, but this general flavor of human failing, being put into action. Infecting prisoners with malaria at Stateville Penitentiary, infecting disabled children of financially-stressed parents with hepatitis at Willowbrook State School, withholding treatment from poor black men with syphilis in the Tuskegee Institute study, verbally abusing orphan children in the Monster Study, exposing poor prisoners to massive radiation in the Washington and Oregon Reproductive Radiation Tests, deliberately infecting Guatemalan citizens including poor women and mental patients in the Guatemala syphilis experiment, giving poor pregnant women radioactive drinks at Vanderbilt University…to say nothing of the whole horror-shows of experiments done on prisoners — mostly political opponents and/or demonized minority ethnic groups — by the Nazis, Unit 731 in Japan, the Soviet Union, North Korea….

There would’ve been no shortage of “the people behind this are definitely in the Bad Place” references on this topic, is what I’m saying.

So this whole thing is a situation where “is this concept, considered on a pure objective level, ethical?” has a prerequisite, which is “can humans, in the real world, handle this objectively?”

And the answer is, good lord no.

Which is why nobody gets to designate who’ll be an organ donor except the donor. Full stop. (With recipients, there has to be some designating — so we have transplant lists and review boards and a whole bunch of safeguards, trying to keep things as objective as possible.)

The general principle of “seriously, on a practical level, can you trust real people to handle this?” has other applications, too.

Take the death penalty. Are there people that I think the world would be objectively better without — so much that it would be ethical to kill them? Honestly, yes. Do I think human society can be trusted to accurately identify those people? Good lord no.

(The Innocence Project has exonerated at least 20 people who were on death row, dozens more have been found innocent for other reasons, sometimes it’s only come to light after the person was killed — and, listen, I don’t have to tell you that in the US the death penalty is disproportionately applied to people who are black, poor, and/or mentally disabled, right? Right.)

…if I was the first person to articulate all this, I’d call it the Boy George principle, in honor of his immortal lyric “people are stupid.”

But it’s gotta have a proper term in Moral Philosophy Academia already, right? Comment and tell me if you know one.

Anyway, [the Boy George principle] is why the Doctor Problem has a different answer than the Trolley Problem.

Vent over. As they say on TGPTP: go do something good.

(December talking meme.)

It’s that time of year again… December 1, 2018

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…time to go through my Active Webcomic Reading List and clear out (mostly) everything that hasn’t updated since 2017.

If it petered out mid-storyline and there’s a fair chance it might update again someday, it gets punted to a different tracking service, so if any of them revive I’ll find out through checking one page every few months. If it actually came to a planned end (!!), it goes on my Completed Webcomics Reclist.

The depressing takeaway for this year is how many promising sapphic comics (for lack of a better term) have fallen by the wayside. Weird Sisters, Acethexis, Sundaze, Velox, Phoenix Flair…Sylvania isn’t even loading, although I’m hoping that’s a temporary server problem.

On the bright side, congratulations to Zebra Girl for coming to an actual proper finish after 18 years! (There’s an omnibus I’m gonna have to pick up.) And it’s so nice to see 95 Gallons reuploaded in readable form.

Aaaand with that, the list is down from 126 to 106! Not counting the handful I follow on other sites because the ComicRocket listings haven’t worked in ages.

…which sounds like a lot to manage, but most of the archives are either very slow, or very readable. Last week I tore through a year’s worth of Schlock Mercenary in an afternoon. (Role model, tbh.)

(December talking meme)

December Talking Meme November 30, 2018

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Pick a day! Give me a topic! I will write at least 100 words about it.

Nabbed from muccamukk.

* * Full list of dates & prompts here! * *