[I would like to remind everyone that the opinions expressed in this interview do not reflect those of the interviewer, Jay Harvey or anyone else at the Anime Web Turnpike or its sponsors. This is definitely all Ryan, edited mainly for length.]


The audience claps, and I get up from the table at the front of the meeting room. Another Anime Expo fanfic panel has just wrapped up, and I make my way towards the back of the room where fellow panelist, Ryan Mathews is waiting with two friends.

As you may know, the Ohio native is the monthly columnist for the Anime Web Turnpike, churning out website reviews for his column, "Last Exit Before the Toll." What you may not be aware of is that Ryan is the first anime fanfic author to post his work on the internet. Since then, he's worked on many a fanfic, for several different animes, and I spoke to him after the fanfic writing panel to about his writing, the controversial columns and his intense hatred for Ranma fanfics.

Q: How did you get into anime?
Ryan: It was later than it was for most people. I was in grad school at the time. I was one of those people who was into anime before I even knew what anime was, because I liked "Robotech" when it came out, but I didn't think of that as anime; I just thought it was a cool cartoon on TV. I didn't see much of "StarBlazers" but when I saw it, I liked that. "Tranzor Z"...
Q: Basically, the old stuff?
Ryan: All the old stuff that was on television. Then, when I was in grad school in Buffalo, [New York] in 1989, I became aware that some people were fans of this Japanese animated art form and you have people sitting around watching cartoons that weren't even in their language. <smile> How queer. <laugh>
There was a comic shop there occasionally would have some of this stuff running and I just thought, "This is really cool." So, anyway, I had a friend who was really into it, and he gave me tapes of what were at the time only two dubs [dubbed tapes] available as far as movies from Japan that hadn't been processed for television. That was "Macross: The Movie" and "MegaZone 23 part 2." I saw them, and they were awesome. And I [asked him,] "Do you have anything more that's dubbed?" [and he said,] "No!" and I'm all, "Oh, crap." [He said,] "Well, they do subtitle the stuff..."
After that, I was into it gangbusters. There was a friend in Indiana, whom I've since completely lost touch with, who let me have copies of most of everything in his collection, and I still have some old stuff that still hasn't been picked up [for domestic distribution] yet.
Q: Were you writing before you started watching anime?
Ryan: Well... actually, I guess I was, now that I think about it. [Larry Mann's] nodding his head over there... I was pretty well-known for writing parodies of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." <laugh> Yeah... The problem is, I don't have any of [my parodies] stored electronically, so sometime I'm gonna have to go and actually type it in so I can go and put it on my website.
But yeah, I hadn't actually written any true fan fiction... There was only one time that I came close to considering writing a real "Star Trek" story, but I just decided that I wasn't really interested in it; it was more fun to make fun of it than it was to write serious stuff.
Q: So how did you get into fan fiction?
Ryan: Oh, it happened in December of 1990 and January of 1991. I was really into the Dirty Pair, even though at the time I hadn't actually seen it. My exposure to it was from the Adam Warren comic book. Anyone who remembers it from back then remembers that ol' Adam wasn't exactly punctual about getting those comics out on time.
The Lovely Ladies who started it all...
I think... the third issue of "A Plague of Angels" was like three months late, and I'd read the previous issue so many times, the cover was about to fall off. And I had this idea for this weird time traveling character and I was constantly playing around with the character in my head and inventing new, different scenes for him, when suddenly it just occurred to me that, you know, I have enough scenes right now that if I put them in the right order and add a few more, I've got a complete story.
So I sat down with a pad of legal paper--I didn't own a computer back then--and I just started writing the whole thing out long hand. I was about on the third page when I thought, "Maybe someone might just be interested in reading this."
It was the first post I ever made to rec.arts.anime, advertising my story: "I wrote this Dirty Pair story, here's some of the stuff that happens. Is it okay if I post it?" I just got this deluge of posts and e-mails from people saying, "Yeah, what are you waiting for?" I was later to learn (because it was the first time that I'd seriously read the group) that no one had ever done that before. I was the first guy ever to go and post fan fiction on the internet.
[When] people told me that, I went looking for stuff. At the time, if you really searched hard, you could find stuff on FTP, although the only thing I remember Dave Cotelessa had a rough draft script of a Dirty Pair episode that wasn't even really all there. But that was pretty much it as far as I could find on fan fiction.
I was lucky enough to be first, and because of that, I just got flooded with e-mail. I got like twelve e-mail messages a day from people commenting on my story, mostly asking me for extra parts, because what I was doing was the first story I wrote was eight parts long and I posted it in eight consecutive days.
It was actually kind of a bit of a letdown because once you got into archived sites and things like that, I was no longer the only game in town. The comments and criticism dropped way down to pretty much what everyone experiences today.
Q: How do you explain the response to the first fanfic? How do you explain why it took off the way it did?
Ryan: Well, it was the only thing out there; I think it would have happened to any fan fiction, and also (to toot my own horn) I think that considering that it was a first effort, it was a pretty darn good story, too. That was "Big Bang"--[it] was kinda silly, and it was rather unpolished and it had a character in it [which] was somewhat of a self-insert that I was embarassed enough about try to go and hide as much as possible. But after that, I followed up with "The Ballad of Lord Robin"... [Lord Robin is] that insane yet charismatic man who goes about blowing up planets. [He was] one of my most popular characters ever; I think one of the high points was when someone put a "Ballad of Lord Robin" poster in a comic book. It was some screwy comic from Antarctic Press... the three sort of hapless heroes are walking past a movie theater, [and it says] "Now Playing: The Ballad of Lord Robin." It was the closest I ever got to being published. Remind me to tell you about my publishing curse.... <laugh>
Q: Were you the one who wrote "Star of Jurai"? I love that one.
Ryan: Well, thank you for saying so. I don't get a lot of feedback on that. "Star of Jurai"... was written as a radio play. It was my hope that some one would actually come forward and perform it. All it would take [would be] for someone to be willing to play the voices and someone who was good at mixing in some sound effects. We had not one, but two people come in and say they were gonna do it and then were not able to get it together. Now, a friend of mine in Maryland, she's got a little troupe together and they've actually sent me dialogue examples... parts cast. I'm hoping that's gonna come off.
Q: Which do you prefer to write? Serious stuff, or comedy?
Ryan: Boy, I don't know... I like to do both. I like to mix it up. I mean, I just finished "Mother's Day" which had most of the [angst] filled scenes... It was a Tenchi story dealing with Ryoko becoming enslaved... dealing with other characters' deaths, and all kinds of tear-jerking stuff like that.
Now, I'm going to move back to "Ah! My Goddess!" and pick up on writing Dorllier again, who was a character I created with Larry Mann. She's pure comedy. Dorllier is a little demon who is the demonic equivalant of Skuld. I'm gonna go write a story right now which is going to be [about] a duel between Dorllier and Skuld [and] it's going to be absolutely nothing but slapstick.
If there's one thing I'd like to do [it would be] to come up with another love story, because I haven't done that since "Reunions" really. I mean, there were some romantic scenes in Tenchi, but it wasn't anything that wasn't in the plot there already, and it wasn't resolved....
I personally do not believe in writing stories which resolve things which the author left unresolved--unless the author did not finish the story because [he] just didn't do it. For example: in Ranma 1/2, [the story] was left unresolved, but that's Takahashi; she did that by choice. Great, big ending story like that, and intentionally left that stuff up in the air. So as far as I'm concerned, who am I to argue with that? But that's really "Ranma"... I don't really care for it...
Q: Why not?
How can he not like us? Ryan: I find the characters to be about as deep as a small puddle on concrete after a rainstorm. <laugh> There really isn't a character in Ranma who can't be described with just one sentence. I guess I could see [me] writing a silly, fun, slapstick comedy story... like I did with "Lum's Deadline". It was silly, and it was funny, and there was a time way back when I first saw "Ranma 1/2" when I would have considered doing [so] but right now, there's such a flood of Ranma fanfiction that I can guarantee that there's nothing possible I could come up in Ranma that hasn't already been done before.
Q: When you're writing your fanfics, do you try to be a slave to the establishd characerization, or do you try and establish something else?
Ryan: What do you mean by that?
Q: Well, for example, in "Tenchi Muyo", Ryoko's is a space pirate, she is very uninhibited, she gets easily angered... But then again, [in "Mother's Day"] you have her being enslaved... Character-wise, that's bound to make a change or impact on her. As a result, would you make a change in her characterization?
Ryan: Keep in mind that when I began writing fanfiction there was really no fanfiction around for me to read. I did not use other pieces of fanfiction as a model. What I used as a model [were] licensed ficitons: Star Trek, Star Trek novels, some other things based on TV series' I liked. These things have the rule: You can explore the character, you can delve into them, you can go and add a new twist and tweak, BUT when it's over, you shouldn't have done anything so drastic that now the character that you see on TV doesn't seem to match your character anymore.
Hmmm... more women.  Do you sense a trend?
As far as what I did in "Mother's Day", the enslavement thing was simply me projecting as [far as] what we saw in "Tenchi Muyo" when Kagato turned on the juice and [Ryoko's] eyes turned green, [she] turned into this monster. So I figured, if this device still existed and someone else got a hold of it....
The problem that Ryoko has is that although she has very great strength of character, she's not much for planning. So, when suddenly she finds herself in this situation, she really doesn't have a clue what the hell to do. The thing she keeps trying to do over and over again is to attack Lhim-Zen and of course it doesn't work. Towards the end, she finally decides...to try to get down on the surface [so she] can get in touch with Washuu.
Q: By extension, what do you think about fanfic authors who take established characters and change them dramatically?
Ryan: I don't have any problem with that, as long (and this is a very big important "but") as that author never goes and writes another story in that continuity because I am not simply going to be interested in an alternate universe. If a person wants to go and create a "What If?" type of story which is going to end with the characters being different, that's interesting because it has a point to it. The only example I have to that where I did major changes to a universe was [my Dirty Pair story], "Lovely Angels Forever" in which I wanted to make the point that I considered Adam Warren's universe... one of the most frightening nightmarish universes I ever saw.
If you've ever read the Adam Warren comics, everyone's having fun, they're laughing, as they're shooting their guns, it's always filled with people making quips and joking... explosions and silly humor... So I wrote "Lovely Angels Forever" to explain why [it is nightmarish].
What happens if you actually live in a universe where people who you love can simply be recreated after they die? Are they literally the same person or not? Coincidentally, I actually wrote that before "Fatal But Not Serious" came out, which really knocked me for a loop (it dealt with Kei and Yuri becoming clones).
It had the effect I wanted; most people were like, "God that's horrible," but there were a few people who wrote, "Wow! That was really cool! So when are we gonna see more?" I was like, facefault. You're not going to see any more. That's the whole point.
Q: When were you approached to do the "Last Exit Before the Toll" column? And why did you decide to do it?
Ryan: Well, it wasn't a case of me being approached as much as it was me constantly begging Jay [Harvey] for a column <laugh>. I had wanted to do web reviews for quite some time. I thought it was something that I could do. The first thing I did is I went to EX Magazine because at the time I knew somebody who was on the staff there. They were like, "It's a cool idea, but kinda outside the scope for a magazine; we're not really interested in that." I knew someone who freelanced at Animerica; I thought about that until I thought, "Well, what if you got the job? Would you really want it?" <laugh> That's besides the point, it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway.
Anyway, what happened was that Jay came up with this idea where he was going to do something similar to what Animerica does with anime... He had myself and three friends of mine and we were all going to team up and do these reviews. Everybody had to go and choose a site each month and then you go and write an in-depth review of [the site you chose] and then you do quick blurb, rapid-fire reviews of the sites that the other people picked.
The problem was that... most of us didn't really have much in the way of commitment. It never appeared because Jay wanted to get a few of these in the drawer before he started posting them, probably for fear of what actually did happen [no one was able to commit to the project].
Jay was adding more content to the Anipike and he finally came up [to me and asked,] "Do you want to do it by yourself?" I said, "Sure." May 1997 was the first one.
The funny thing is the longer I write it, the more the editorial section grows. It seems to be becoming the [better] attraction of the column... I guess it's something about being an online asshole.
Get your fix on Anime Route 66!
The entire room breaks up in laughter
The first time I wrote it, I had no intention of doing that every month. I just kept doing it and after I did it for four or five months in a row, I felt as if it were expected of me. Sometimes [when it comes time to write a column], I'll say, "I can't think of anything to get angry about." <chuckle>
It's a lot of work. First off, I have to do it on a weekend... I work a 9 to 5 job as a software engineer, and there are people out there who stare at a CRT [screen] and hammer out code for eight hours a day, then come home and spend three hours on the internet. I can't do that... It takes me three out of every four weekends to do it. I need to spend one weekend just to explore the options for the topics. It takes me the next weekend to do the lion's share of the browsing, and I need to have it done by the next [weekend]. That's the way it's supposed to work; the way it often works is that I end up choosing the topic and doing the browsing and trying to squeeze every thing in on the week right before it's due. Usually it would be coming out this Monday... well, that ain't gonna happen. It's going to be a bit of a rush job... do you have any ideas for a topic?
Q: If there's one topic in your editorial rants that's probably gotten the most response, the most negative response, what would it be? Is it the JavaScript one?
Ryan: Uh.... No, that actually inspired good debate. There's only been one guy who's vehemently argued against me [saying] that I'm absolutely wrong. I don't want to sound like I'm making fun of him or putting him down, but if you go to his site [it] is a JavaScript terror. He uses JavaScripts to do the most amazing insane things You open up the page and you actually browse his site by a Windows 98 start bar that opens up inside your browser... and it works! But why...? I can't see why anyone would want to do that except [to say], "Wow, look at the really cool thing I did."
To be honest, there hasn't been really anything that's gotten a negative response that's really gotten me flamed off the face of the earth from multiple places. There have been single instances of people [getting angry]...
I did online 'zines and I did Animecca, which has improved greatly since then, but at the time, I considered it to be an ugly, hard to navigate site with a lot of crap content on it. So generally, it's always been my policy that if I don't like the site, I don't review it at all. It's not my job at the "Last Exit" to go and bash sites; it's my job to point you [to the] good ones. The thing was, I go to take a look at it and said [to myself], "I may hate the site, I may think it stinks, the problem was at the time, it was one of the most name visible sites." I just knew that I was going to get in my mailbox flooded with people saying, "Why didn't you review Animecca? Are you out of your mind?"
So I went and I posted [link to column] and I had to say, "I'm sorry, I don't like this site, I think this has got one of the most idiotic navigation schemes I've ever seen." Of course, as you might imagine, I got flames [from the people at Animecca] and I pointed [out], "Look, I included the link. How many hits do you think you got because I went and bashed your site? And if you thought your site was really good, then I'm sure that these people [clicked] on your shitty site and they said, 'Wow! It's not shitty; that Ryan, he was such a liar.'"
What I think is funny is that it wasn't maybe more than two months after that column was posted that the editor-in-chief finally quit Animecca and her best friend took over and the first thing she did was chuck the navigation! And made it exactly like I said it should be!
Other than that... the letters column seems to cause the most problems.... [We had] the wonderful incident where some guy owned some shop and I blasted SM CDs... I have a policy where I go in the dealer's room and [when] I'm shopping for CDs, and if I see they're selling SMs, they don't get a penny from me. I will not go and buy something from someone who's selling bootlegs.
Q: What are SM CDs? Sailor Moon CDs?
Ryan: SM stands for "Son Mei". What they are is they are [is] a professional gigantic large scale bootlegging operation in Taiwan. They can get away with this because Taiwan has not signed the Berne Convention which means that international copyrights don't count for squat over there. Their product is absolutely legal in Taiwan; actually, they say it's somewhat encouraged because the government is kind of pissy about the fact that the rest of the world doesn't consider them to be a country, so they're not allowed to sign the Berne Convention even if they wanted to.
Okay, that's fine and dandy. But what happens is the line is crossed [when] all these anime retailers in the United States and Canada who then go and import these discs for next to nothing. They can go and offer you imported anime soundtracks for prices comparable to what you'd pay if you went to Best Buy and bought a domestic CD. So people go and say, "Well, I could go and buy the honest version where the money actually went to the creators for $30, or I can buy this SM bootleg for $16." For them it's a no-brainer and they go buy the cheaper one.
Well, I don't appreciate that and I went and I roasted it in my column and this guy who owned some shop and he went and posted [and said], <imitating shop owner in whiny voice> "What you don't understand is I know SMs are wrong, but we have to go and sell them. We don't have a choice. If we don't go and sell them, we'll be undercut. Our competitors will blah, blah, blah...! We'll go out of business!"
In my reply that I posted in the letters column, I said, "Look, nobody's making you choose this line of work. If you can't go and make it selling your stuff the honest way, then go and do something else." Jay and I both have friends back in Ohio who have no problem with collecting SMs because in their mind, they don't consider it to be wrong. Okay, that's fine, we agree to disagree. But this idiot [said that] he agreed with me that they were wrong, they were bootlegs, if they were not directly illegal, they were in the gray area, but he had to go and sell them anyway, because [it was the only way he could stay in business.] One quote that finally got to me was, "You shouldn't be picking on the little guy who go and sell these discs, you should go and be picking on the big people who make the discs."
[So I drew an analogy and said,] "Look, let me get this straight. I shouldn't be mad at the drug pusher on the side of the street. He just has to do this to make a living. I should only be mad at the people making the drugs."
Well, this guy went ballistic, said that I had said that he was in league with drug dealers and I was going to go and kill him, blah, blah, blah, I was gonna kill his business, and sue him... After going back and forth and trying to explain to him that he had no case I was actually forced pretty much just to put Jay's mind at ease because we didn't know if this guy was going to sue us... We were at the point where it was just not worth it to go to court because the way the stupid legal system is in Ohio... this sonuvabitch could have filed a lawsuit in the state of California where he had his business even though the Turnpike is stationed in Ohio. I had to go and post a disclaimer [on all the "Last Exit" columns]. So that means if another guy like this asshole comes along, the only person he can sue is me.
Q: Refresh my memory. You said at the panel that you read a lot of fanfic or not?
Ryan: No, I read almost no fanfic at all. The only thing I read now and then is I sometimes read lemons, because I'm a hopeless hentai. Which is really funny, because I've never actually written a lemon myself; I don't have the nerve to write a sex scene. Which is very funny, because one of the fanfics I want to do, and I might actualy do it, but leave out the sex scenes...
Larry: I'll write them...
Ryan: Well maybe you could help me out there...
Larry: Oh, god, what did I just say?
Ryan: In Ohio, we just finished this cycle of what are called "17-year cicadas". They are these things that... live underground for seventeen years, and at the end of the seventeen years they come up, crawl up onto a tree, hatch out into these gigantic, ugly looking bugs, they fly around, screw the living daylights out of everything... and then die. And they make so much noise. So I just imagine doing a "Bondage Fairies" fanfic...
The room breaks up into laughter.
Q: What are some things that you don't like about fanfics?
Ryan: Too damn much Ranma. Too damn much Ranma and people who don't seem to put as much care in their stories as I felt I always have. There's one thing I noticed... the few times that I have gone out and explored fanfiction, I found that there really aren't a lot of fanfics that have action in them. There are if you look hard enough, I found some "Bubblegum Crisis" [fanfics] that have some good action scenes. But it seems that there are an awful lot of fanfiction writers, even when it's a fanfic that involves characters that are generally in action sequences, always tend to be more introspective stories, slow romantic stuff... I find it easier to write action scenes than I do [the other kinds].
The toughest thing that I find to write is when I have to go and write a part of a story where two people are just talking in a room and there's really nothing going on. It has to do with pacing [because] it will go like this; the first guy makes a statement, but I don't want to go onto the next line of dialogue, I want the reader as he's reading it to have to contemplate that line for a couple of little bits.
Now, if it was animation, it would just be a slight pause, the character looks out the window, a little bit of music plays. You can't do that when you're writing text.... So you have to find some way to fill the time; sometimes that can be difficult to do.
Q: If you had to pick a single work, or multiple works, of your own that you really liked, which ones would they be?
Ryan: Oh, "Reunions" is still at the top of the list that I did with Larry. It took three years to complete. It's hard to pick just one. I'd have to say that would still be at the top, but trailing very, very close behind [is] "Galaxy Police Mihoshi: Academy Days." I used it to put forth my idea [of] Mihoshi as bumbling, but competent.
Mihoshi has had the misfortune to become stupider and stupider in each recurring incarnation... If you go into the OAV series, yeah, she screws up, yeah, she trips, yeah she says dumb things, but... she never misses when she pulls out her gun.
Q: Like that one part where she's reading the two snakes their rights...?
Ryan: Right! She hits with every shot... When she pulls out the gun on Kagato, every shot is going right for his head... And there [in the scene with the snakes] that great acrobatic back flip that she does....
There are other things I liked for different reasons. "Lum's Deadline", even though it was so risque in some ways, I thought for once in my life I actually had a series down cold.
Q: I think that wraps it up. Thank you very much.
Ryan: You're welcome.

Author's Picks:

Reunions with Larry Mann--Shasti, the Angels and Lord Robin, oh my! This is a follow up to Larry's "Experiment 101-E" and Ryan's "The Ballad of Lord Robin". Larry's story can be found at this site.
Academy Days--Follow the exploits of the galaxy's blondest detective in this origin story for Mihoshi.
Lum's Deadline--Goodness, some "Urusei Yatsura" stuff! Lum gets the idea that she can become Ataru's common-law wife. Now only if she can convince Ataru...?
Aikan Muyo by Happosai [LEMON] --First of all, this is a lemon, so you better be overage when you click on this site. Second of all, this isn't your ordinary lemon... it actually has characterization.

Spotlight Picks:

Star of Jurai--In script format, this radio play follows the adventures of Tenchi and Co. as they try and rescue Aeka from some kidnappers... from Jurai?
Bad Fanfic Concepts--The scary thing is, some of these sound good...

Assorted Links:

Last Exit Before the Toll --The monthly column that Ryan writes for the Anime Web Turnpike, you'll find lots of topics covered, ranging from commercial sites to individual series sites. Check out the archives for the sections on Anime 'Zines, Ranma ½ sites(!), and Company A vs. Company Z.
Ryan Mathew's Fiction Collection --All of the stories mentioned in this article that are not already linked can be found here, including the just completed "Mother's Day".
You can e-mail Ryan at mathews1@ix.netcom.com

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