Category Nerd Writing

Remembering Author Aaron Allston

Wraith Squadron lost their commander today. He’s gone over the horizon beyond where we can follow.

Author Aaron Allston passed away on February 27th. Allston, 53, was a prolific author, game designer, and speaker; frequently a guest and high point of any con related to science fiction, gaming, or Star Wars. And though it seems rude to merely harp on a single piece of his career; the galaxy far far away is where I met and knew him.

I never had the pleasure of actually meeting Allston, however, in my time working as an intern in the Star Wars books offices, and in meeting other authors, I heard enough to know the greatness of the man. And that whatever skill and aptitude he had as an author, it was far outweighed by who he was as a person. The tributes that have flooded the Internet since his passing only further confirm and enhance those anecdotes.

But, as an author, Allston was known to millions of people, and Star Wars fans in particular, through the books that he wrote. He authored thirteen books in the Star Wars universe, though judging by the comments of his fellow Expanded Universe (EU) authors, his reach and influence on Star Wars went well beyond simply the words that he penned.

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New York Comic Con 2013: Einhorn’s Epic Cookies: Unicorns, Comics and Bacon

Cookies are great. Comics, also pretty fantastic. After encountering Einhorn’s Epic Cookies, a new New York based cookie company that includes a comic with every package, I wonder why no one else thought to combine them before. Luckily, Einhorn’s Epic Cookies has rectified that oversight and we no longer live in a world where cookies and comics must be purchased separately.  As Heather Einhorn explained to us, the origin story for this epic pairing can be found in the snacks and treats of yesteryear, while the cookies themselves are decidedly a family affair.

Each pack of cookies comes with a comic about  the Royal Einhorn Force. A group of unicorns made up of Houston, Broxburn, Cadiz and Romsey. Each unicorn corresponds to a different cookie:

  • Chocolate, raisin and oatmeal for Broxburn
  • Marshmallow, crisped rice and rainbow sprinkles for Cadiz
  • Chocolate chips and potato chips for Houston
  • Peanut butter, maple syrup and bacon for Romsey. (Yes, BACON!)

While the story for each pack of cookies is the same, the ending differs slightly and is customized for each horse as they battle the evil Lord Farragut. The story continues on the Einhorn Epic Cookies website, and the company promises weekly updates.

As the company was in the process of completely selling out at Comic Con, Heather sat down to explain the origins of the cookies, plans for expansion, which cookie tastes the best raw, the perfect flavor for an arch villain, and why the company decided to make a bacon cookie, with fake bacon (Don’t worry, it still tastes delicious).

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New York Comic Con 2013: Cooking Comically with Tyler Capps

When you’re able to rise above the glut of cat photos, crazy stories about Nicholas Cage, and every meme possible to reach the top of Reddit, you’ve accomplished something. Such is the honor bestowed upon Tyler Capps, perhaps better known to the Internet as “the 2am chili guy.” From that humble Reddit beginning Tyler moved on to creating a website that he updates frequently with more comic strip recipes.

Most recently he was able to parlay this amazing recipe style into a book deal and the result is Cooking Comically: Recipes so Easy You’ll Actually Make Them, the cookbook. I met Tyler at NYCC, where he was selling his book along with a bunch of other stuff all branded with the now infamous Angus Cook, the stick figure who provides the excellent commentary on all of the recipes. This was Tyler’s first time at the show and we talked everything from what it was like to “win” Reddit, where this crazy awesome idea came from, and of course, Tyler’s desired superpower.

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New York Comic Con 2013: Interview with Relish Author Lucy Knisley

I was so pleasantly surprised and hooked by Lucy Knisley’s food memoir graphic novel Relish: My Life in Food, that I jumped at the chance to sit down and chat with her at New York Comic Con. There was so much to talk about and Lucy did not disappoint.

Sitting in the back of the First Second Books booth on the floor of NYCC, Lucy and I discussed everything from how she draws food so well, great NY food establishments, why her mom is a wizard and what super power she’d love to have (it’s freakin’ awesome). As it turns out, Lucy might actually have a super power already, at least when it comes to her favorite cupcakes.

Castles & Cooks: Did you ever consider a culinary career?

Lucy Knisley: I love working in the food industry and I did my whole time growing up, but there’s a sort of temperament that you need for that and I always made art as well and I think that something I always think of when people ask me that question like why I didn’t follow in my mom’s footsteps and be a chef, which I did think about, is that I grew up watching that, you know?

Sitting there watching that and digesting that, drawing pictures while I watched it. And I think that made an artist out of me more than a chef because it gave me this perspective where I could watch people and process that and turn it into art. And I love food and I love the food industry and I worked in it for years, but making art was always what I really wanted to do.

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New York Comic Con 2013: Winners and Losers

New York Comic Con 2013 has come and gone. The show overwhelms New York City (which is pretty impressive) for four days, then vanishes in the blink of an eye. Having been around for the breakdown after the show ends Sunday, I can tell you that vendors and exhibitors move fast. We’ve got plenty of coverage, interviews and fun stuff to recap the weekend that was, but for now here are our big winners and losers from NYCC 2013.

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Revisiting the Dungeons and Dragons Animated Series at 30

This week, the Dungeons & Dragons animated series turns 30 years old. Thirty years since the kids first set off on that magical roller coaster ride that brought them to “The Dungeon Master”. To say that this show wasn’t exactly beholden to the world of D&D is an understatement, but rather it used the game like you would a spice, sprinkled throughout the show to provide flavor to the fantasy setting.

It also can’t be understated how 80s this show is – something which anyone will notice upon popping in the first episode. For those of you who aren’t familiar – here’s some quick highlights:

  • A group of kids at an amusement park go on a roller coaster that takes them into “The Realm of Dungeons and Dragons” where they meet “The Dungeon Master”.
  • The kids are each given a weapon (and thus a class) to defend themselves and work to find their way home, while also performing side quests along the way to help people. Come to think of it, the overall plot is like a less techy Digimon.
  • Throughout the series the party battles Venger (an evil wizard) and Tiamat a five headed dragon.

If you aren’t sold yet on the show you should know that Peter Cullen and Frank Welker provide the voices for Venger and Tiamat respectively. That’s right – Optimus Prime and Megatron are involved.

To celebrate this magnificent and ridiculous show; I’m going to do a re-watch of the entire series, with recaps and commentary. Crazy right? But I might as well do something productive with all this free time I have.

The recaps won’t start till next week, so if you’d like to be involved – you have time to grab the DVD set and follow along. The show is available on DVD on Amazon at a ridiculously cheap price, which seems to be your only option. So grab a copy, and get ready – because next week we’re hitching a ride into the realm of D&D, with all the awesome 80s synth music we can handle.

This is either going to be awesome…or terrible.

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Of Dice and Men Levels Up from Play to Movie

Of Dice and Men (ODaM), the play about what it’s really like to play D&D, by Cameron McNary, is becoming a film. We’ve been talking about this play since Castles and Cooks began, and have tracked it from a humble stage reading at the first PAX East, to the first staged production at PAX Prime 2010, all the way through its various performances around the country, including at the Brick theatre in New York City in July of 2012.

Based on a screenplay by the man himself, McNary and a team of talented thespians will be bringing the hilarious, heart warming, and occasionally gut wrenching adventures of one middle aged D&D group to the big screen. The story is a “blisteringly funny and deeply affecting comedy feature film about six tabletop roleplaying gamers and what happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq.”

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Crafting a Compelling D&D Delve

I can’t think of many better ways to ring in the New Year than DMing a dungeon delve. Especially when Jesse is one of the players that I can terrorize entertain and the party decided to venture to Athas and the frankly underutilized world of Dark Sun. (Editor’s Note: LEGOs make FANTASTIC minis for use in live games.)

I crafted my delve by adapting a full campaign that I had been developing, but never had the chance to execute. In doing so it led me to consider some of the essential principles of creating an engaging and fun delve that fits into a set play time. In this case, we were going to be delving for about 4 to 5 hours.

Some of the elements of a traditional campaign just don’t fit into a delve. Have you ever had a poor delve experience? If I had to guess, the reasons may have included poor time management and the game feeling less like D&D and more like miniatures combat.So, here are some tips for successfully crafting an engaging and fun dungeon delve.

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The Hobbit Gift Guide

It’s been almost a decade since we’ve had the wonderful combination of a cinematic journey to Middle Earth and holiday season!  Also, if you’re in my age group, this time around you have a real job and real money to spend on stuff!  I mean, other people.  Because it’s the season of giving.

Here’s my top ten list of some of the best and most unique Hobbit gifts out there!  You don’t even have to fight a dragon for this wonderful hoard, just your credit card bills and weird internet connections.

Limited Edition Hobbit Moleskine Notebooks

Limited Edition Hobbit Moleskine Notebooks | $17

These gorgeous notebooks are perfect for recording your own travels, or your hobbit-sized grocery lists.

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Revisiting the Hobbit Graphic Novel and Animated Movie

In a hole in the ground lived a Hobbit…

So begins the journey into the epic fantasy world of Middle Earth. The line was written as a fleeting thought by author JRR Tolkien as he graded papers, proving that a) even professors doodle and b) that doodles do have value. As part of our Hobbit week we decided to look back at two of the more well-known adaptations of The Hobbit, the graphic novel (recently re-released) and the animated film for television from the 1970s.

The Hobbit Graphic Novel

This was my visual introduction to Middle Earth. I found the graphic novel in a used bookstore shortly after I finished reading The Hobbit for the first time. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this was the first graphic novel that I ever read.

If you have a young or reluctant reader who isn’t eager to pick up Tolkien’s full novel and delve into passage after passage of names and intricate descriptions of scenery I might suggest this as a wonderful alternative entry point into the world of Middle Earth.

Originally published in 1989 as a three issue comic series, the book was eventually put together as a trade paperback and released as a full graphic novel. In September of 2012 the book was re-released with some updated changes to the layout, a new cover, and a few new pages of artwork as part of the run-up to the Hobbit film.

The watercolor-esque art style by David T. Wenzel gave Middle Earth a vibrant look that in some ways mirrored the animated film, though with smoother lines and a little more age to each of the characters. Many of the panels literally bleed off the pages and swords, staves and other artifacts often push outside the boundaries of the individual panels to great effect.

The original version had some layout issues with panels appearing a bit distorted or important characters being cutoff, apparently from a desire to have consistent margins on every page. The newly released version solved this issue by allowing for adaptive margins that are based on each individual page of panels.

The graphic novel is a fairly faithful adaptation with all the major characters and events retained from the book, including the visit with Beorn and an elongated retelling of the events in Mirkwood forest leading to the dwarves’ capture by the wood elves. The “Riddles in the Dark” chapter as well as Bilbo’s interactions with Smaug look particularly gorgeous. I can’t think of a better book to have with me at the theater to help pass the time while I wait for the movie to start.

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