The Secret Origin of Gryphon and Eyrie Productions
Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Internet and all the ships at sea - this is Ben Hutchins, also known as Gryphon, broadcasting live and direct from the Eyrie Productions home office in historic Waltham, Massachusetts. (Actually, there isn't all that much about Waltham that's "historic", other than the fact that it's right next to Lexington.) Some time back, the Anime Web Turnpike's proprietors asked me to share with their readers the story of how I became involved in anime fandom and fanfiction. I was so pleased with the piece as it eventually came out that, once its headline run at the Pike was over, I re-used the bulk of the narrative here.
The "fanfiction" part of my Secret Origin actually comes well before the "anime" part. I've been a copious reader and writer since I got the concepts sorted out, and a movie buff almost as long. It wasn't long before I found myself either unsatisfied with the way things I was reading were being handled, or thinking of offshoots and secondary plots I wished would be explored, and one day it occurred to me, well, there's an old typewriter in the closet - why don't I dig it out and do something about that? I already knew I wanted to be a writer someday - I had dabbled in original works already.
My first work was self-published at the age of 6 with the help of my mother. She was a teacher and scored me some time on the mimeograph machine - remember mimeographs? - to make duplicates. The work, which I now generously call a novella, was entitled The Dog Is Running (I thought it was dynamic), and saw very limited distribution. To the best of my knowledge, though, a copy can still be found in the library of the Granite Street Elementary School back in my old hometown (beautiful Millinocket, Maine, the Magic City of Maine's Wilderness - no kidding). Along with a gripping mystery plot, engaging characters (the star of the book was Rusty, a thinly veiled alter ego for Randy, my Golden Retriever) and sparkling 6-year-old grammar, this book is also the only one of my works to feature artwork by the author.
Many years of happy, and entirely private, messing around in other people's universes followed. I'm terrible at keeping track of stuff, and I've moved about 10 times since leaving high school, so I've lost pretty much everything from my pre-college era. That's probably just as well, although I remember being particularly proud of some of my Transformers stories - I wrote a sequel to the episode where some of the Autobots go back in time and witness the creation of Optimus Prime that I was very pleased with at the time. Most of my stuff pre-high school was either Transformers or Star Wars stories.
When I hit late junior high (around 1986), I got heavily into The Uncanny X-Men. (If you're firing up your mailer to flame me for that, keep in mind that this was before Claremont left the book.) Throughout high school, my friends and I played a campaign in the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing system; the stories I wrote dramatizing various adventures we had were my first real excursions into author-insertion fic, since we, in a collective fit of pique, ended up playing heroic versions of ourselves. (We were an X-Men offshoot super-team called - I kid you not - the Guardians of Vacationland, after the nickname for Maine that's on the license plates. In our Marvel Universe, the Pine State got a lot of super-villain action.) By now I had graduated to working on computer, but even that didn't save me from losing track of most of the files over the years. Unlike my earlier typewritten work, I really rather wish I could have back the Marvel stories and a few stories I wrote that were set in the universe of our Battletech campaign. I doubt I'd dare show them to anybody, but it'd be nice to have them back.
Anyway, this is where the anime part comes in, because in the fall of 1991, I went to college. Not being a complete primitive, I had heard of anime: one of my high school friends had spent a year at WPI, the same school I was attending, two years before me and had returned with tales of a strange man with the improbable name "MegaZone" who had a collection of wondrous animated films from foreign parts. Curious, I put out some feelers to see if this MegaZone fellow was still at WPI.
He was, but he was such an imposing type - large, dark, not-to-be-bothered - that I steered clear of him for a few weeks, until he appeared one day in the Wedge and said, "I heard you've been asking about me." He pointed me at the online archive of anime images and fanfiction he maintained on WPI's ftp server (remember, this was before the World Wide Web) and said, "If you have any questions, come see me."
I poked around the archive. It was tiny by modern standards. The Web hadn't been invented yet, anime fandom in the United States was still small and mostly underground, and all the anime fanfic in the world, as far as I could tell, had been written by a guy named Ryan Mathews and was about a couple of characters called the Dirty Pair.
I dug deeper, into the part of the archive that held the images, and the first picture I found, although I didn't know it at the time, set the tone for the next two years of my life. Here it is.
One look in the redhead's big brown eyes and I was doomed. The rest followed on itself. I sought out Zoner, became a fixture in his campus apartment, watched all his anime, and, as so often happens after I'm exposed to something new and neat, the gears inside my head started to turn.
Keep in mind that at the time - late 1991 - watching anime if you didn't know Japanese (which I didn't and don't) was a different experience than it is today. I spent countless hours sprawled on the couch in Zoner's apartment with a wide-carriage fanfold printout of a translated script (gleaned from a lot of scrounging on ftp sites) in my lap, fitfully flicking from page to screen and back again, trying to keep up and figure out what the hell was going on. This is the way I watched most of the Dirty Pair TV series, Project EDEN, The Flight 005 Conspiracy, and the first six episodes of Bubblegum Crisis, among many others. (In the case of BGC, I think this early experience has permanently warped my understanding of the plot. :) Others, like Record of Lodoss War, were accompanied not by a script but by a running commentary from a Japanese-speaking friend I met through Zoner. (That was a lot of fun. Sometimes, when I'm on my comfortable sofa watching a well-translated professional tape, I miss the old days. Are you out there, Chadwick Ngan?)
Not long after I saw Flight 005, I began to seriously consider the idea of a Dirty Pair fanfic, but I wasn't satisfied with any of the ideas I came up with for showing them in their element - I didn't know enough about their universe to feel comfortable in it. Then it occurred to me that, if nothing else, it might be good for a laugh if I brought them to WPI. ReRob Mandeville, one of Zoner's apartmentmates, had written a story the year before entitled The Wizard of WACCC, which would provide me the mechanism for doing so - the HoloDECstation - if he would let me use it. When I ran the idea by Rob, he was excited about it and not only gave me the green light, but offered to help me out with the story.
This is how the original Undocumented Features started. It was intended to be a pilot project. It was not for public consumption. I'll do this as a joke, throw in a bunch of in-jokes that will amuse my college pals, and in the process I'll get a handle on writing the Dirty Pair as characters so that I can move on to doing a proper DP fic. That was the intent. Before long, we were cramming in so many anime and mecha references for in-joke purposes that we decided we needed a technical advisor who was more anime-savvy, so we asked Zoner for help. Not very long afterward, Undocumented Features was complete. We thought it was funny, that it had a lot of great WPI, anime and sci-fi in-jokes, and that we'd done a pretty good job presenting the characters. By and large, our friends (most of whom are in it) thought it was hilarious. And they all had the same suggestions:
Now, at this point, I was stunned. I'd never considered the possibility of distributing UF beyond the circle of college friends who are mostly -in- it, and the idea of a sequel was so outside the plan it hadn't crossed my mind either. Although I'd left the ending open, I'd done it in the style of old Westerns, where the heroes ride off into the sunset and other adventures are implied.
Zoner and ReRob and I talked about both suggestions, and finally decided (somewhat timidly on my part) that we'd try suggestion 1. I frankly don't think I'd have dared, except that somebody already had, Ryan Mathews, and nobody had hired anybody to go pummel him. I thought he'd be an awfully tough act to follow, but Zoner and ReRob were juiced, so we went for it, figuring maybe, just maybe, we could interest enough people that a sequel might be warranted.
When we put the story on r.a.a. (no hierarchy yet!), everybody wanted to know what happened next. The response to the story that came to our mailboxes from the readers of rec.arts.anime was astonishing. We thought we'd told a pretty good joke - most of the people who wrote to us (and they numbered in their hundreds!) thought we had begun a pretty good story.
Faced with that kind of supportive response, I shelved the "proper DP fic". I didn't have a choice - the gears in my head were mapping the rest of what became the core UF arc whenever I didn't actively force them to pay attention to something else. College became of secondary importance, then tertiary behind the -other- fanfic project as an offhanded comment by Zoner spawned Hopelessly Lost, and then it wasn't an issue any more - I'd flunked out.
But I was on the path. I had ideas, and with the positive response that had come in from UF and its first sequel, I had the confidence to share them. I spent a couple of years in exile in Maine (which I'm certain are mirrored by the Exile in UF, though I didn't do it consciously), getting back to Worcester whenever I could. I kept in touch with Zoner and the others. And I kept writing. The finale of the Undocumented Features Core was plotted during one of my visits to Worcester, and Volume 4: Crossroads was finished during a visit by Zoner to my home in Maine later that year - but though UF was "finished", we weren't. There were too many stories left to tell, in that universe and others.
When the job offer from a company near Worcester came in the spring of 1994, I was ready for it. I moved into Zoner's apartment - somewhere in the process of swapping tapes and creating universes we'd become best friends - and prepared for an unprecedented output cycle.
I was an idiot. Having a job eats so much time compared to college, especially when you never paid attention to college in the first place, that there was no way my output could go up at that point. Real Life is harder than college was, and I don't have the energy to pull allnighters and then work the next day like I used to.
The rest of the story is pretty straightforward - I've standardized on the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited name slowly over the years (a lot of the early pieces don't mention it at all), and today, between working on my own projects, coordinating the continuity of the UF universe among the half-dozen or so active UF authors, maintaining the EPU web site, and paying the occasional bit of attention to my actual job, I keep myself pretty busy. The 'Net has changed, I've changed, anime has changed and fandom has changed, but one thing hasn't:
The gears in my head are still turning.
Until they stop, chances are, I'll keep writing, editing, and universe-building. If you like my work, you've got a lot to look forward to yet. If you don't, grit your teeth, 'cause you're going to be stuck with me for a long time. :)