Sources of Inspiration: Jim Sterling


There are more online pundits and reviewers than we need.  It is rare however to find a reviewer or pundit who actually has something to say.  And even rarer to find one to whom I’d donate money in support.

I started watching videos put up by online magazine The Escapist because of Zero Punctuation aka Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.  His show is a pithy, quick, and hilarious take on specific video games and their quirks.  But I admit I stayed to watch Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition shows.


Jim’s commentary on video games, video game companies, and their trends is marvelous and, even if you don’t always agree, is always thought provoking.

Jim has had an interesting and transitional career.  From Destructoid to Escapist he has made numerous comments that have “enraged” (I put that in quotes because this is video games we’re talking about here…) game fans.  From being hated for the ultimate sin of “not liking” a Final Fantasy game (I agree though…Final Fantasy is an empty shell compared to the days when it’s games’ technological advancement could be categorized in terms of “bits”) to having the gall to say that female game critics, writers, and producers shouldn’t be threatened with violence and rape.

I’m actually not really interested in his controversy…  Mostly because I don’t find him to be that controversial.  He says what he believes.  One can agree or disagree (I don’t always agree but I find I agree the vast majority of the time) but he never says anything purely out of hate or shock value.  If a game is shit he says it’s shit and faces the backlash like a champ.  See The Slaughtering Grounds incident for an example of that.  If a practice of the industry or its fans is tasteless or predatory he says he thinks it is just that.  In fact I started watching his videos because he voiced exactly my problems with the way games are conceived and produced now.  And why I rarely play a “so-called AAA game,” to use his phrasing, nowadays.

I truly appreciate is his writing, production, and character construction.  The narratives in his videos are often fast, full of information, and loaded with complex ideas, but his presentations are always not only clear (you know EXACTLY his points from the outset) but often very clever, very witty, and biting in their arguments.   It’s that kind of methodology that is inspiring to other creative people, or at least to me as a creative person.  You can always count on Jim, not only to give you his opinion on all kinds of practices but to do so in a way that is so memorable you’ll go back to them repeatedly (I know I’ve queued his vids up to hear why Ubisoft is idiotic, free-to-play is a misnomer, and pre-order culture is poison).

His series with Yahtzee were also fun.  Last year’s rhymedown spectacular and the Uncivil Wars series which Jim won earlier this year provided another look at both his and Yahtzee’s personas outside of the review realm.

His newer material, since he’s gone rogue and become fan-funded through Patreon is even better.  Freed from even the loose shackles of another company he has been able to write more reviews and even start an absolutely terrific podcast series that is one of the best since The Ricky Gervais Show.


The fact that he owns a chainsword gives him extra points…

If you are a video game fan, specifically a fan who feels the industry has gone the way of film production in its heartless and cold monetization of all aspects of gaming and its focus on useless tech over art design and storytelling, put on a Jimquisition playlist and you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement or raising your finger and saying “but…”  Either way he’s provoking a response and maybe cranking your brain out of idle for 6-12 minutes.  It’s worth it.  Because he’s Jim F’n Sterling Son.  And thank god for him.

Jim Sterling Cartoon
The Author’s Rendition of Jim on a rant.


Jimquisition website

Sources of Inspiration: The Majesty of Marvel

Marvel Movies – How to do a Comic Universe Right

I’d like to drag the world kicking and screaming from Batman worship for a bit and snap everyone into reality. He’s kind of a bore and to quote Ben Yahtzee Kroshaw, he’s always the dullest character in everything he’s in. That expands to most of his movies (not his 90s animated series though which was GREAT) and DC in general seems to make movies that are so severe and so serious with themselves they are difficult to really enjoy.

Marvel on the other hand somehow gets it exactly right…and I find their expanded universe on film to be an extreme source of inspiration.

I haven’t really been in to reading comics since I was about 20. I think it’s a valid creative art form but many of the stories at the time were so hashed and re-hashed I felt I’d seen a lot of the best there was to offer. I’ve seen a few here and there since and even read some newer Judge Dredd material but nothing captured me like the Fatal Attractions and Age of Apocalypse stories in the 90s.

But Marvel MOVIES have been doing just about everything right recently. From the great X-Men franchise which, despite a single rocky entry, has had its ship righted and full sail since the excellent First Class to the absolutely stunning achievement of the Infinity Wars story they’ve been building up to for years now.

I can’t remember any other franchise in history that has crossed so many stories, so many characters, and so many genres to tell what will end up being one, super, super-hero story. Furthermore, Marvel has the wherewithal to know NOT to make every movie a super hero story. DC hasn’t gotten the hang of that… Even at their best with films like The Watchmen DC’s tone is such a drag it’s hard to say the movies are “fun” to experience.

They can be space stories, science fiction stories, fantasy stories, social justice stories. Marvel turned the entire “comic book” genre on its head with these movies. Even critics who often excoriated films based on this so-called ”childish” material, now have found how broad and operatic these narratives can be.

For me, I see how even minor stories, LIKE Guardians can be utterly re-invented and turned into something we’ve never seen before, and even better than expected. How a universe can be moulded to fit a medium, and how vast a universe can be…even when only experienced in 120 to 180 minute blocks. I’ll list a few of my current personal favorites below:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: It’s better than the Avengers. That’s right Joss Whedon lovers… It’s better. More fun. More action. Clever without being snarky, funny without being brash. It’s heart but doesn’t wear it on its sleeve. It’ll even bring a tear to your eye. It’s everything we LOVED about Star Wars minus everything we hated about it. No melodrama. No choppy writing. Everything fits, and everything works. I watch it more than any of the others.
  • X-Men: First Class/Days of Future Past: I can’t decide which of these two films I like better. First Class was a stunning study in the dichotomy of opinion. Militants versus peaceful protests. Marvelous acting. Amazing story telling and perfect casting. Days of Future Past brings everything we loved about the first Bryan Singer ­X-Men movies and combines it with everything that made First Class such a revitalizing shot to the franchise. Patrick Stewart/Ian McKellan and James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender Xavier/Magneto relationships and actor choices are phenomenal. Oh and Quicksilver. Terrific…
  • Captain America: First Avenger/Winter Soldier: I thought I’d HATE the first Captain movie. A hero known as a goody-goody just couldn’t be appealing could he? Yes he can. You cheer for him because though he becomes a hero he does it for the right reasons and uses his abilities in the right way. WWII sci-fi story WITH Hugo Weaving as Red Skull?! Oh and Hayley Atwell. Yeah. Worth it. Winter Soldier is the Bourne story. Good guys may be bad…old villains may be able to help… Action packed and one of the tightest stories I’ve seen on screen in a while.

Yes that’s not all of them but those are the ones that find their way onto my Bravia the most. I’m not telling the entertainment world anything it doesn’t already know…but those seeking inspiration don’t have to look far with this material out there.

Sources of Inspiration: I Know that Voice!

Why would a writer/illustrator find inspiration in a documentary about animation voice actors? All forms of creativity can help other creative people. Nothing is more empowering than hearing a whole slew of creative people discuss why they love being creative and their own creative process. That’s exactly what John DiMaggio’s documentary I Know that Voice! did for me.

I’ve been a fan of animation since I was a child and I believe many kids share a love of cartoons. Brought up with Garfield and Friends and The Real Ghostbusters as personal favorites and then adding great cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even then I knew the characters were voice actors behind mics and even noticed crossovers, like Garfield and Peter Venkman had the same voice. I loved the character voices and how much they added to the characters, so much that if they changed the voice to the wrong kind of performer it could put you off the show.

Futurama is the show that truly brought the art and skill of voice acting into full light. Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Tress McNeille, and Maurice Lamarche all voiced performers in other shows I knew.  The shows’ characters were so unique I wanted to know more about them.  The more I learned the more I learned the actors behind them.  This led to listening to the audio commentaries for the entire series repeatedly (EVERY episode as commentaries check them out they’re as good as the show!). I remember hearing of DiMaggio’s documentary when it was still in development when he mentioned it during one such audio commentary and it immediately piqued my interest.  When I saw it on Netflix I was psyched.

I Know that Voice features much of the cast of Futurama and more. The voices from Rugrats, Batman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and even Looney Tunes all make an appearance.

You hear about how it is acting first. How doing a silly voice, or imitating a famous character is nothing…anyone can do it. In my favorite segment they clearly point out how it is not enough to sound like Porky Pig…can you do Shakespeare as Porky Pig? Followed by clips of your favorite voice actors reading a famous monologue from As You Like It.

You get to know not only the process of the actors, but of voice directors. Casting agents. How the show is assembled. How they all interact. Even the history of the art in animation (the voice recording started out with radio talent and is indeed still pays homage to its radio roots during the record.)

DiMaggio himself is present, but not overpowering, which shows his dedication to the project, as he seems to have a personality that is naturally a showman. Here he pays homage to his friends and colleagues and takes a background role. Which is another element of the voice acting population: they all seem to have reduced or lack of star ego. That camaraderie is impressive, especially in show business!

John DiMaggio “the voice of Bender and others” as he says often in the Futurama audio commentary.

This entire process was profoundly inspiring to the creative process. My own writing and creative brain is deeply moved by the processes of others, and you won’t find a better example of a process in action than I Know That Voice! AND the extra bonus is it’s damn entertaining!

The official site!

Sources of Creativity: Buffy and The Zeppo

Like most dorks I’m a fan of Joss Whedon’s 90s moderns fantasy horror show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s not to like? Great characters, good acting, clever stories, creative story-telling, some nice eye candy, and tongue-in-cheek campiness.

Whenever one Buffy fan talks the show with another the topic of “favorite episodes” comes up (along with least favorite episodes but let’s keep it positive!) There are a few that are on everyone’s favorite list and I have two favorite episodes: One, Season 4’s Hush is almost universally in everyone’s favorite episode list. My other favorite, Season 3’s The Zeppo, has been catching on, though many fans seem to decray it’s goofy tone.
The plot is simple, with Buffy’s “Scooby Gang” all filling specific roles (Willow and her witchcraft, Giles and his knowledge, Buffy’s slayer-ness, etc) perennial mean girl Cordelia tells regular Joe, Xander, that he is useless. He takes up space. He’s the eponymous “Zeppo” referring the Marx Brother straight man. Xander then goes on an independent, relatively low-supernatural adventure on his own, whilst the rest of the gang saves the world off screen. So why has this episode, that not only follows a non-story arc event but also lampoons the series’ more series elements, achieved such popularity? Here’s why:

Xander’s World-Saving duty: Get the Donuts

1.) Creativity: It’s hard to tell a new story. Most stories have been told. One way to add new life to your stories is to tell them in a new way. Buffy and crew had “saved the world” several times by this episode. While it was always done with high drama and often with personal impact to characters, we had seen it before. We hadn’t seen a story telling the tale of what one member of the crew not involved with saving the world spends his time when he’s not “on camera” during a more traditional episode. So Xander goes on his little journey, sometimes crossing paths with the rest of the team, always catching them halfway through something important, and interrupting their melodramatic events. It’s great to see Xander ask for help from Buffy and Angel as she tearfully tells Angel she can’t lose him, while Xander blunders in…then says he can come back if it’s a bad time, to their awkward silence.
2.) Perspective: After the intro sequences you see events only through Xander’s eyes. The hellmouth opens, we see it only as he scampers by in terror. Demons are battled, we see these events only when he crosses paths with more “important” characters in their world-saving quest. Perspective is a very important creative element often overlooked (too many stories are given ubiquitous third person omniscient) in favor of being informative or simplicity. First person, or even semi-first person can give a known world a whole new feel and make events, even small events, all the more personal.

Xander’s Undead Adventure Companions: All good and interesting characters on their own.

3.) Playin’ it Straight: As I said in my Lampreys review, satire is funnier when those participating don’t act like they’re making fun of anything. The rest of the cast plays the episode as though it IS one of the most poignant and emotional of episodes. Buffy and Angel’s encounter mentioned above is as powerful as ever, only given a new feel due to Xander’s oddly timed interruption. A run down at the end of the episode where the characters refer to all the exciting world-saving events we didn’t see is similarly effective. Even Xander’s antics aren’t comedic or goofy, he stays true to his character as the in-over-his-head friend of heroes, his exciting odyssey being marginalized only by the fact that it is occurring while demons are being unleashed on the world just out of frame…
4.) Character Growth: Shows like Buffy go through “season arcs” that tell one long story over the course of a season with a few non sequiturs here and there. Many of these are one offs that might be referred to in passing later but don’t have a lasting impact. This episode does. Xander’s feelings of never being useful come up in the season finale with definite poignancy. His encounter with Faith is brought up again, with similar important story elements coming out of it.
So why spend time talking about a show that’s almost a decade old? As a writer I can attest it can be painfully difficult to write a story that feels fresh. Even worse is writing a piece and going over it and feeling it is entirely derivative… Seeing creative work really does give you hope and, even better, ideas. Much like the Sliding Doors format a lot of shows would later take (many not terribly effectively) it provides a format of experimentation. Follow a lesser known character. Write it from their perspective. Tell a story backwards (see Seinfeld’s “The Betrayal” for that one!) Do whatever you can to gain inspiration. I know I need whatever I can get to gain inspiration, especially for stories I’ve lived with for years, but knowing it CAN be done goes a long way!

Mega Byte me shirt design

Top Website Pick:

It’s birthday season 2013. From May to August, I have eight close friends and family to buys gifts for or think of something awesome to do. It’s like Christmas on a smaller scale.

A few years ago, my husband came across a site with some really creative T-shirts in all sorts of styles and colors. He geeked out, and I found a goldmine where I could buy cool gifts for my closest peeps.

What is Redbubble? is not just an ordinary site. It’s an online community of artists who create their designs and sell them on a number of items including calendars, kids’ clothes, iPhone cases, stickers and posters. New designs are created daily, and you never know what you’ll find. It’s also free to join, and there are no membership fees.

My favorite thing about Redbubble is that it’s all about the artists. As a member, there is a profit split between the site and the artist. For example, if you sell a shirt, Redbubble may get 30 percent, but the artist receives 70. This is more than fair considering Redbubble makes the product and ships it to the customer. And it’s a great product. I have ordered several things and am always more than happy with the quality.

The only complaint I’ve heard is the prices are too high. Well, think about this: you’re not paying a large corporation or big-wigs, you’re paying a company and an artist who worked to design something you may not find elsewhere. Creative work is some of the most challenging kind. Members can set the price mark-up, which is flexible, and I’ve noticed most do 25-30 percent. That’s probably a little below or average for regular retail.

Here are some favorites of mine – some I’ve ordered, some I want. I hope you will take time to browse the site and find that perfect gift for someone.




Treat Yourself: Take a Mini Vacation

Little fact: In 2011, CNNMoney reported Americans forfeit around $34 billion in vacation days per year. That is the total amount of money from unused vacation days. Ouch.

This statistic and recent planning inspired me to write about the importance of taking a break. This weekend I took my son to Kentucky for our annual mini mom/son vacation. Yes, work will be a little crazy when I return. Yes, it cost a little money. And yes, it was totally worth it.

The sunset and beach in Panama City, FLWhy Should You Take a Mini Vacation?

We all need a break, especially if you have a physically demanding job or sit at a desk all day. Our bodies get stiff, and our minds run 100 mph to keep up with our schedules. I am not suggesting a vacation with crammed schedules full of things to do. I’m talking about a vacation with fun activities and relaxation – think hot tub, beach, a hike or run, ziplining, or a quite dinner and drinks. And I strongly urge you to turn off your phone. Gasp!

Relax and Recharge: There are a number of sources that argue the mental and physical benefits of vacationing. Getting away allows us to have fun and relax, and we tend to sleep better. When we pack up and drive off, we break the monotony of everyday life and free ourselves – even if only for a couple of days. These trips are especially important for kids because they sit in class all day and deal with being kids. If you remember being one, it kind of sucked.

Make Memories: It’s a dismal thought, but do we begin dying the moment we’re born? It’s an interesting argument, and if so, we don’t have a lot of time to make memories and do everything we want. My son loves our mini vacations and will always remember his parents taking him to nearby attractions and cities, good restaurants, and spending quality time with him. I hope he will do the same with his family and friends.

Reflection and Connectivity: In our family, our mini vacations are times when one parent travels with our son. Last year, my husband and son went to their first NBA game in Memphis. This year, I took our son to one of the scariest places on Earth. Our little vacations are a time to grow closer, talk about anything, and try new things and foods. It’s all about spending time together or even traveling on your own. Taking a break can also jump-start creativity and inspire you to work harder.

We stay distracted and busy all the time, so it’s time we shut down like we do our computers and cellphones. Money and time are often factors, so here are some resources that may help:

51 Mini Family Vacations from

Inexpensive Mini Vacations from Easy Money Tips

The Mini Vacation from Travel+Leisure

It’s also a cool idea to vacation in your own city or take a day trip. We often overlook nice hotels and popular attractions that are in our own backyard.

If you’ve taken a cool mini vacation, feel free to tell us about it in the comments below!