NETTG: The Terra Evolutions
Life's a funny thing, y'know that? Why, just
seven years or so, I was puzzling over what in the world this
"Ranma" thing was, got introduced to fan fiction, read
the FFML like crazy, and started coming up with my own junk. Egads,
seven years! I could have painted most of the Sistine Chapel by
now if I actually had any artistic ability. But since I don't,
I've been obsessing about writing for quite some time. Even when
I was little, I wrote things. I have this example of a book I
wrote when I was in kindergarten, six years old. It was a children's
book, only a dozen pages long, plus poor illustrations, but it
was my children's book. I also wrote this choose-your-one-adventure
thing based off of a video game called Altered Beast…
Okay, so I have been writing for quite some time—for
much longer than since I discovered anime. And a good thing, too.
I was cutting my teeth on fan fiction before I knew what fan fiction
was, like an ancient Jurassic Park thing… which is best
forgotten, and a pair of SIs which are also best not spoken of
as well. There was this Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers parody thing,
too. It was funny, but looking back upon it now is, for me, like
looking at embarrassing baby pictures.
It all comes back to NETTG for me, when I feel I
actually started becoming a decent writer. As such, I have a very
special feeling for the story, the first one that I shared with
a lot of people and for which I got a good response. I've worked
with the story for so long—it's been a part of my life for
so long that oftentimes I feel I know my characters better than
I know myself. In preparation for writing, I've spent my spare
moments imaging them in different situations, supposing if one
thing or another happened to them, and what would be the niftiest
course to pursue…
If I digress now, it's to make a bigger point later
on. I recall something entitled "How
to Tell a True War Story."
This account tells about a great variety of things
that may or may not have happened during the Vietnam War. The
story told keeps on changing, though. The author begins with some
shocking, gut-wrenching things. Then he goes on to tell about
some more things that happened, worse than the others… then
he turns around and tells us that it never happened—none
of it at all—but some other stuff did. His point is that
in order to tell a "true" war story, you have to tell
it in a way that makes your gut believe it. He says at the end:
"You can tell a true war story if you just
keep on telling it. And in the end, of course, a true war story
is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about the special
way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross
that river and march into the mountains and do things you are
afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's
about sisters who never write back and people who never listen."
After a certain manner, I've started to feel that
the only way I can keep telling the story I've grown to know and
love in NETTG is to change things about it. I've already forked
the story into its ten and a half "Classic" original
chapters and a totally rewritten "OAV" story. And then
there are the spin-offs, the stuff with Bruce and Ribbons, as
well as the stuff with Sailor Stylin' in London.
NETTG is about blowing things up, it's about strange
ideas and strange humor. It's also about me growing up while I'm
writing it, becoming more experienced, dealing with the characters
in ways that I deal with my own life. The story is at the same
time an unchanging old friend and a volatile science project.
It's all kinds of things, simple at times, full of red herrings,
but then the red herrings suddenly are part of the larger plot
of it all.
Dealing with school and other things, I sometimes
forget why I ever liked writing the story, and when I'm actually
writing it, I can never imagine why in the world I would ever
not want to work on it.
Sometimes, I wonder: Are all writers and artists
Working with Esa all the time, I'm beginning to
think the answer is yes.
The art and story changes as time goes on, becomes
more interesting, more detailed, more what I've always wanted
and never knew I wanted. One might thing we'd pick a single style
and stick with it forever. But we're not quite satisfied with
any one appearance for the characters. They can always be closer
to the dream, or vision of what the story should look like.
Of course, some of it's variation in the artist's
mood, and I'm cool with that. Esa's an impressionist artist and
not an industrial artist, which means variable moods and usually
an unreliable schedule, but it also means that even the roughest
sketches have a quality about them that makes them somehow better
than the most technically accurate drawings could ever be.
Did I ever mention to anyone that Terra's my favorite
character? ASK is my flagship character in the fanfic, and the
story always comes back to him, but ever since he encountered
Terra, I've been keeping my eye squarely on her, even as she fades
into the background in the fanfic.
Arby's hilarious and very useful for patching up
the story's odds and ends… but Terra is still my favorite.
back in 1998, my best online friend, Jason Hanks, responded to
my requests to have some pictures of the characters to toss around.
He asked for some descriptions to hand off to an artist friend
he had. I was enchanted by the idea of getting art, but I didn't
know that you ought not to force an artist to draw characters
they don't know and care nothing about. The results, I felt, were
less than spectacular.
I credit and thank Liz Imp for drawing for a humble
up-and-coming fanfic writer. I didn't quite have the large, mostly
quiet following back then that I do now. I couldn't exactly make
like a celebrity and demand more and better, now, could I? ^_^;;;
The drawings weren't… bad, but they weren't quite
right, either. Somehow, the artist wasn't telepathic and couldn't
read my mind to find out exactly what I wanted, and I'd been given
exactly what I'd asked for in my character description. Basically,
I'd asked for what amounted to a girl-type Ranma that had been
raised by Kasumi. Oh yeah, and a looser outfit than the previous
one that she'd sent along. Nevertheless, despite my incompetence,
I did get another drawing.
one was closer—a lot closer to what I wanted. I believe
Chad Yang was reasonably familiar with NETTG when he drew this
one. Still, I never communicated with him. I kind of want to thank
him and ask for more, but I don't know what's become of him. He's
done fan art for some other people, I found out on a quick Google
search, but no specific homepage where I can accost him and say,
"Thank you! Thank you, Chad,
for drawing me that picture all those years ago!"
Then along came the Ashikaider, who later wanted
to be called Evan Lindsey. Ash was an impromanga artist, and a
fanfic writer as well. He usually worked with a pair of people
known as Face and Nied on drawn material. He knew my stuff, I
got to reading some of his stuff… and he drew me a couple
of ideas for Terra and ASK.
We had some big plans. We wanted to start up an
NETTG impromanga, with contributors handling filler sections of
the comic and Ash handling most of the core storyline. It was
to be a glorious retelling of the original fanfic in modern times,
with all kinds of nifty eye candy. And we could have done
it, too, if it weren't for those darn kids…
Erm… I mean, I had a mission to complete,
starting in June, 1999. Just after I finished NETTG Chapter 10,
it was time to head off to Utah for training, and then Mexico.
Ash and I agreed to correspond while he worked on the comic, so
I could drop hints when needed. I wrote to him, his address was
wrong, I wrote to the new address, and never got a response.
He moved or something to that effect. The dream
I went for, like, three years without any NETTG
art. When I came back from Mexico,
I met back up with Jason Hanks and slowly picked up on making
the next part of the fanfic. I'd earlier sent a trailer to the
FFML, promising more NETTG before a certain deadline. I made the
deadline by only a few scant hours. The old-school fans were cheering,
and so were the ones I'd picked up without knowing it over the
years. A fanfic author had actually returned, and returned with
a significant quantity of material as well.
I loved the comments, but what I really wanted was
art. And you don't find too many willing artists among FFML lurkers
and occasional fanfic commenters. I took an art class and appreciated
art all the more for it.
And then, mystically, a new champion appeared…
An image suddenly got sent to me. It was a quickie,
but the artist obviously knew how to draw quite well. It may have
been rough in some spots, but it was art drawn for me,
gosh darn it! XD
To a man dying of thirst in the desert, a glass
of lukewarm water is worth a million times its weight in gold.
I thanked this artist profusely for his efforts. I was overjoyed
to have it, and I was soon offered more.
For as long as I could come up with agreeable ideas,
more art came along.
Terra was most often the subject matter. She seemed
to be the most fun one to do anyway.
This time, the art was more right than it had ever
been before. Esa Karjalainen was the name of this new Paladin
of Painting. Since the name, from a USA
perspective, sounds kind of like a girl's name, I had the impression
for a few weeks that I had some cute groupie drawing things for
Anyway, I asked another Finnish friend, Jussi Nikander
(whom I also thought was a girl for a time when he started proofreading
for me), and he cleared it all up.
"Esa is a man's name," he explained.
"Ahhh," I said, nodding with understanding.
Oh my. Another neurotic disappointment? Yes. ^_^;;
While the cute, creative, infatuated blonde Swedish
girl of my dreams would have to wait, I still had a very qualified,
loyal artist to work with. No harm, no foul.
Like a bad escalating addiction, I started getting
into web comics when fanfics failed to fully satisfy, and I eventually
asked Esa if he would like to work with me to do an NETTG web
comic. He thought about it, agreed, and got some ideas worked
out after reading the proposed script.
I believe "Evil Plot" was the subject
line of many of our emails after that first script got written.
It wasn't in the contemporary setting of the fanfic.
It was, rather, in the realm of the past, where much of the story
remained to be told. The sweet, Kasumi-like Terra wouldn't even
show up. No, we would be dealing with the secretive, homicidal
maniac Princess Terrifying!
strikes again! I knew quite a few people preferred the Kasumi-like
Terra over the evil Terra, but still, it was the only character
derivative that could have made a fun, interesting storyline without
having to resort to the same Sailor Moon filler episode calling-out-attacks
and fawning-over-the-guy-in-the-tux antics. It'd end up being
more Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow than Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow ever
Terra, in this one, had sort of straight hair. Hair's
probably one of the biggest distinguishing characteristic of anime
characters. It's the distinctive helmet for finding the characters
one wishes to cheer for.
Present-day Terra had her hair in a ponytail, Kasumi-style.
In fact, before she had her brain-enhancing encounter with ASK,
I kind of wanted her hair in cheesy dual ponytails.
Princess Terrifying needed something a bit more
menacing than straight hair or a ponytail. As it turned out, her
hair in Esa's designs started getting gradually spikier, much
like her Galactic Destroyer appearance.
This was quite all right, and I insisted on Esa
doing more of it. It was one of those things that I'd always wanted,
only I never knew I wanted it. Her hair spiking served as a reminder
of who and what she really was.
Before, I'd asked for both teen and child Terra
images, and a few of them had the spikes, and others didn't.
But that wasn't the end to experimenting with her.
No, I just couldn't be content working with a highly recognized
fanfic, a great artist, and a comic, could I? I wanted also to
make a Princess Maker parody starring Terra and including an original
cast of supporting characters, just in case we felt like going
commercial with it. So, we got to know Terra a bit better at various
points in her life, from younger to older.
This is getting to the pretty recent stuff. The
most "Modern" models of Terra show a wide degree of
variation as well. They're done in different styles and I can't
decide which one is best—I love 'em all!
And, I think, that's the only way we're ever going
to get Terra to be where we really want her. As time goes by,
we'll get to know her better, and know how she's supposed to look
in any given circumstance. Like how to tell a "true"
war story, how to get to Terra's "true" appearance is
to just keep drawing her, in recognizable yet very distinct ways.
Throughout all my experiences with art and writing,
working on this with all the people I've come across has been
quite gratifying. It all takes time to put together, it takes
time to write, and it takes time to be on standby for just in
case an artist needs advice or cheerleading, but I wouldn't have
it any other way. It makes me appreciate the art I have even more
when I don't get any for a good long while. There were times I
thought Esa would be gone forever. Perhaps someday it still might
happen, though I hope not. ^_^;;
But if so, I may need to be prepared to move onto
new artistic pastures, finding someone else and watching the characters
develop as they will under the ever-changing hand of those I work
with to bring these characters to "life". If the characters
are to survive, they have to change and adapt to the story. Or
the story has to adapt to them. Or whatever in the world all this
In the meantime, in this crazy, mixed-up universe
of ours, it's still comforting to know that somewhere, there's
still a character that survives and goes on to bigger and better
things. One day, the character now known as Terra may be called
something else and look considerably different… but by how
the story is told, you and I will know that it's her.
Ahh, memories! ^_^