It all started as a joke. Then it turned into a series. Then it consumed his life. Ben "Gryphon" Hutchins is one of the founding members of Eyrie Productions and one of its fierce defenders. He's the one who managed to rope other people into writing for him. He's also the one who ended up with Kei.
First of all, how did you get into anime?
It's funny, but my anime fandom came in two phases. The first was
when I was small and didn't know that what I was watching was (usually
badly-) translated anime - "Star Blazers" (nee "Space Battleship
Yamato"), "Battle of the Planets" (nee "G-Force" ex "Science Ninja
Team Gatchaman"), and "Voltron: Defender of the Universe" (nee
whatever). I really dug the hell out of "Star Blazers" when I was a
kid, because it had something that no other animated show I watched
had - continuity. Things would change in one episode, and STILL BE
THAT WAY the next episode! It was revolutionary. I'd never seen
anything like it.
Still, I had no awareness of where things came from back then - it was
just on TV, you know? I didn't become aware of anime as a genre until
a friend of mine went to college in 1989 (I was a junior in [high school]) and
brought back stories. I didn't actually see it for myself until two
years later, when I went to the same college and met the guy who'd
supplied my friend - none other than MegaZone. He maintained the
anime archive on WPI's ftp server at the time - tiny by modern
standards, but what a find for somebody from the wilds of Maine...
What was life like in your Maine homeland?
My hometown, Millinocket, is pretty much a one-industry town - it's
the home of the Great Northern Paper Company - and the paper industry
has been in a steady decline since about 1980, so the town's not
exactly booming. The movie theater in town closed when I was just a
kid, so when I was in high school it was common to drive an hour down
to Bangor to see a movie, do some shopping, or whatever. It's worse
today - in the last few years most of the good pizza places and the
bookstore have closed. I always get really depressed when I go back.
On the other hand, my grandparents live a couple hours further into
the woods, up not far from the New Brunswick border, in a tiny village
called Oxbow (population somewhere around 62, no fooling), and that
hasn't changed much at all. I love Oxbow. You can't get anything,
see anything or do anything "civilized" there, but that's not why I
go - I go because my grandparents are there, and the air is clean, and
I can shoot my pistol collection off the back porch if it's raining
too hard to go out by the garage and do it. <grin>
Second, how did you get into fanfic?
I had actually done other fanfic-like work in junior high and high
school - some "Star Wars" material of which, mercifully, I remember
little, some "Transformers" stuff I'd actually like to have back, and
some stories covering various adventures that the role-playing group I
was involved in had played out, mostly in the worlds of "MechWarrior"
(this was back when MW was a tabletop game, not a computer sim) and
"Marvel Super Heroes". I never shared any of that with anybody,
though, outside my gaming group.
As far as anime fanfic goes, on that FTP site that Zoner maintained
were the very first pieces of English-language, Internet-published
anime fanfiction: Ryan Mathews's Dirty Pair stories, "Big Bang" and
"The Ballad of Lord Robin". That's it - that's all that existed at
the time. It was because Ryan had dared to go first that I actually
had the nerve to post the original UF for anybody to see.
[UF] actually started out as a pilot project. (The full story of
this is on the Eyrie Productions webpage, by the way:
in case anybody wants the Long Version... )
I was actually gearing up to do a more conventional Dirty Pair fic,
but I wasn't sure I had the characterizations down, so I decided to
try something a bit easier first and write a comedy piece where those
two characters were transplanted into the familiar surroundings of
WPI, fall 1991. That way all I'd have to really work on was their
reactions to things - I wouldn't have to worry about the "proper"
Dirty Pair setting, the universe that they ought to be in, the
background technology and so on. I didn't take it at all seriously.
But it did so well that I never got around to doing the conventional
Do you remember what that "conventional fic" was supposed to be about?
No, I'm afraid I've long, long since forgotten.
Are there any ideas for UF that you never wrote but wanted to?
Oh, hundreds. A lot of them are in development and just aren't ready
to be released yet, and some others had to be abandoned because the
universe passed them by. There's a side story that takes place during
UF itself, before the Wedge Rats leave Earth, that I've been meaning
to do for, what, nine years now. It's so much more serious than the
rest of UF1 that it wouldn't have fit in at all...
What's it about?
The period from October 18, 1991 to October 26, 1991 - A/B Term Break
at WPI that year. It's completely skipped in the original UF. Kei
and Gryphon's first (and, as far as the recorded history shows, only)
visit to my old stamping grounds in north-central Maine. It's really
where their relationship began, the "Get Up" scene notwithstanding,
and it's kind of a shame that I've never found the time to explore
it. Maybe someday...
Was there really that intense a rivalry between the Wedge Rats and
John Coyle? Why was he cast as the bad guy?
John Coyle's brush with the Wedge community was actually a bit before
my time - it happened in 1990, while I was still in high school. He
was proposed as a villain by ReRob, I think. Basically, he was a
right-wing, stuffed-shirt, would-be-student-leader-type who thought the
Wedge Rats were all drug-addled homosexual Satanists and spent a good
bit of time that year trying to convince them of the "error of their
ways" on the local newsgroups. He kept preaching about the
righteousness of "the STRAIGHT and narrow path" and at one point made
the rather hilarious statement, "It takes true strength to conform,"
both of which are referred to in the original UF.
By the time I got to WPI he'd apparently given up and moved on, but
using him as a villain amused a lot of the upperclassmen, so I went
How many people in the Wedge knew about UF who were not into anime?
Most of them, actually. Zoner was the only major anime fan at WPI at
the time - remember, it was a lot harder to come by back then - and
though he had exposed a few of our friends to various bits and pieces,
there wasn't anybody else who was really "into" it at the time.
Well, no, that's not really quite true - Vaughn Gross was, and
Chadwick Ngan is from Hong Kong, so he'd been into it longer than
Zoner. They're the only major exceptions I can think of, though.
And most importantly, how did you decide who Kei and Yuri hooked up with?
Well, we didn't, really. It's hard to explain, but when things are
really cooking along, oftentimes the characters just take over and do
whatever they damn well please. "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael
Straczynski, for whom I have great admiration by the way, wrote the
description of the phenomenon I've seen in some of his USENET and
GENIE posts about episode 315 of B5, "Interludes and Examinations".
Anyway, in that particular case, that situation just sort of...
developed. If I had been setting out deliberately to pair off the
characters, it might not have come out the same, but the characters
went their own way, and I could either try to force a change or just
go with it. When something like that happens, forcing it is almost
always the wrong decision. I've sabotaged several pieces by resisting
the flow in that fashion, so I don't let myself do it anymore unless
it's something I feel REALLY strongly about. (It's led to some
interesting unplanned variations in "Neon Exodus Evangelion", for
Like most of episode 204 (Exodus 2:4 - The Day the Universe Changed).
Since they met in episode 106 I'd been setting DJ and Asuka up as
rivals-cum-buddies a la Bean Bandit and Rally from "Gunsmith Cats",
and then they turned around and fell in love on me! Made me want to
put my head through a window. Characters can really screw up your
plans sometimes. Had that not occurred, the rest of season 2 and the
beginning of season 3 would have been markedly different. Still, they
knew better than I did - now that I look back on it, episode 211
(Exodus 2:7) would have been a lot less powerful the way I originally
had it plotted.
What was it like when the first UF stories came out?
Weird. I was a relative newcomer to the online scene at the time, and
it boggled my mind that people in other parts of the world would want
to read my ramblings, especially in the early days when everything was
very, very heavy on the WPI-community in-jokes. The core UF stories
had to have glossaries just so off-site readers wouldn't get lost! It
was wild. I was AMAZED at the response. We never really planned for
UF to go anywhere, though we left the ending of the first story
open-ended just for laughs... but the demand was so huge, and the
ideas kept coming...
Once UF was over, what made you decide to continue writing together?
Well, like I said above - the ideas kept coming. They still come
today, although it takes longer to flesh them out than it did back in
the days when I could just cut CS1012 and do the Big Battle Scene
Plus, it's a social thing. We actually do more hanging out on our
online conference room than real work most of the time. (I'm sure
everybody who's waiting for something or other to get finished are
sharpening their axes now that they've heard that... <grin>
What, in your opinion, is a "gweep"?
In the particular sense, to me, it's a member of GweepCo, the WPI
Gweepers' Corporation (People Who Know What They're Doing), which is a
social organization(?) that has its roots at WPI going back to a few
years before I got there in 1991. In general it's something like the
old benevolent definition for "hacker", before the popular press got
hold of it and turned it into a nickname for computer vandals - people
who tinker with computer systems for the hell of it, or the joy of it,
What's a typical Eyrie plotting session like?
Y'know those rent-a-car ads where the people sit around the table
thinking of promotional things to go along with offering better rates
on their rental cars? ("Can we get people from the checkin counter to
their rental cars faster?" "We could if we gave everybody personal
jetpacks.") It's a lot like that. We hang around, kick out ideas,
six times or so out of ten somebody else says, "Nah, that blows," and
we'll go back and forth for a while until either one side or the other
is convinced, or, more often, we're all distracted by a shiny object.
When and why did you decide to close Eyrie to new creators?
Like it says on the UF webpage:
"The Undocumented Features universe is very large and complex, and
growing more so with each addition to the canon. Because of this, and
the large number of creators already contributing to its growth, I
don't have the editorial bandwidth available to screen new submissions
to the UF universe, make sure that they fit within the existing and
planned continuity, bring new creators up to speed on the plans for
the universe, and so forth. For that reason, the UF universe is closed
to new creators."
Eyrie Productions itself isn't technically a closed shop, but UF was
the only "audience participation" universe, so to speak, that we ran,
so it's the only universe I've felt the need to explicitly seal off.
None of the other projects has ever really been open to outside
submissions in the first place.
If you still had the time/energy to change some of the stuff you've
written, what would you change and why?
Oh God. Don't even make me go there...
I must, Ben. The inquiring public has a right to know.
Nope, can't do it. There's a LOT I would like to have done
differently, and if I start naming names and thinking about the
changes I would like to make, I'll get so mired in it that I'll never
get any new work done. Best to leave archived dogs lie and get on
with the new material.
What do you read on a regular basis, both fanfiction and non-fan
As a general rule I don't read fanfic. For one thing, I barely have
the time and energy to work on my own projects most of the time; for
another, I don't like to expose myself to the possibility of
inadvertently ripping off something I read in somebody else's fic. I
do enough deliberate borrowing from other works. Plus, I don't like
"Ranma 1/2", so there goes 90% of the non-Eyrie fanfic in the Five
Galaxies right there. <grin>
As far as non-fic goes, I cross genres a lot. I'm into history,
especially of the Second World War. The second time I went to college
it was with the intention of becoming a WWII historian, but then
somebody offered me a steady job in computers and I was off. (That
was dumb of me, but it's too late to go back now... ) I also enjoy
detective stories a lot - Raymond Chandler, Hammett... especially Rex
Stout, who is pretty much my literary hero. I'm a huge fan of
European mystery writers too, like Simenon and Baantjer, and Janwillem
van de Wetering.
I don't read as much sci-fi as a lot of people seem to think. A
friend of mine recently got me into David Brin's Uplift books, which
are quite a ride. After being bored to death by "Mona Lisa
Overdrive" I've finally gotten around to reading William Gibson's most
recent trilogy, "Virtual Light", "Idoru" and "All Tomorrow's Parties",
and I liked them a lot, especially the middle one. (Besides, any
author who names a book after a Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground song
has to get my approval. <grin>
You don't like Ranma 1/2? As a Ranma fan, I have to ask why.
Um... because I don't enjoy it. How complicated do you want me to
make it? It's based around a premise that I don't think is funny.
You know, that puts you in with Ryan Mathews as a non-Ranma fan.
I can live with that. <grin>
Again, in your opinion, what work of your own do you consider to
be the best?
Eeeek. This is a really hard one. There are bits and pieces of
almost everything that I'm terribly fond of - a turned phrase here, a
particularly "on" piece of dialogue there - but an entire piece that
I'd call better than all the rest? Hmm...
I'm actually going to go, after much deliberation, with my only
public non-anime-fanfic piece today - my "In Nomine" story, ".45
Caliber Angel". For something that started out as as one-shot IN
gimmick piece inspired almost entirely by something a critic said
about Raymond Chandler ("Chandler writes like a slumming angel"), it's
developed nicely, even if I have been stuck on the damned Marches
scene for almost two years.
What made you decide to explore the "In Nomine" universe?
My housemate John had the game manual and some of the supplementary
materials, and I was bored one day and read them. I thought the
concept was a nifty take on the Judeo-Christian mythos, the idea of
setting a detective story in that framework struck me as amusing, so I
went with it.
<suspicious look> Are you a gamer?
What's the suspicious look for? So what if I am? You got a problem
Not at all. I don't have a problem with gamers. I've just noticed that
very many fic authors I know are also gamers who have written stories
about the games they've been involed with. Why do you think that's so?
Probably because gaming is somewhat like collaborative writing, at
least one style of it - everybody is contributing the actions and
reactions of one character (well, except for the [game master], who is providing
the setting). Good, well-played gaming sessions lend themselves to
being retold as stories, and the settings they're played in are often
deep enough to make it pretty easy to get started. Heck, one of my
college-era pieces, "Got the Time", is misfiled on the raac archive as
a Dirty Pair story because it happens to have Cory Emerson (the only
character from Adam Warren's, er, interpretation of the DP that I
liked) in it - it's actually a story from the Cyberpunk 2020 campaign
ReRob ran during my year at WPI.
Seriously, I used to be [a gamer] - in high school I ran with a group that
played a lot of games. First edition AD&D, the original (and
mechanically lame) Marvel Super Heroes game, some of the Palladium
system's ridiculously complicated martial-arts games... our big thing
was BattleTech/MechWarrior, though. My first fanfic avatar was my
Marvel character, who is mentioned in UF and HL a few times but
doesn't appear. Someday I'll have to fix that - he's historic, in a
Nowadays, I don't game much. I would be playing "In Nomine" if John
would ever actually launch his campaign...
Who is your first avatar and where in UF and HL does he appear?
His name is Don Griffin. His origin story is long and tangled, as
befits a Marvel Super Heroes character, but the important thing for
our purposes is that he's the inventor of the Griffin power armor,
versions of which my UF character has used off and on since the
beginning, and which HL-me has adopted as of episode 4 ("Calm
Before"). As for appearances, well, he's never actually appeared in
person. His designs for the GRF battlesuit appear in UF1, and it's
mentioned in HL1 that the local Gryphon has met him courtesy of Edison
Bell; he's mentioned again in HL4. One of these days (see above), he
may actually appear in a current Eyrie work. At least I'm trying to
arrange it... it'd be fun.
What work of others in Eyrie do you consider to be the best?
Oof. This's a hard one too. I'd hate to come off like I'm playing
... but after a lot of agonizing I'm going to have to point the finger
at Martin Rose's inaugural effort, "Hammer Time". It bridges between
the college-prank atmosphere of UF and the space-opera hugeness of the
later UF universe almost seamlessly, which is all the more impressive
if you consider that he wrote it before the UF Core was finished. As
barging into somebody else's universe goes, it's very deft, and I love
Marty's sense of humor. He made himself so completely at home in the
UF universe right from the get-go - there's something very special
What is in the works for either yourself or the Eyrie staff as a whole?
Goodness. Well, let's see. I hate to make promises because I change
my mind a lot, so here's where to put the standard disclaimer that
nothing is definite until it appears on raac...
NXE: Exodus 3:9, the last episode of the series, is the A-number-1
priority right now, since its release deadline is, gulp, Saturday.
[Editor's Note: As of press time, this has been since released.]
UF: The Future Imperfect/Twilight arc needs to be finished before any
of my plans for the main Future Imperfect arc can go forward. I
can't say much of anything about a timeframe for this, since critical
elements of it are outside my direct control.
.45-Cal. Angel, GW, HL, WL: New episodes pending in all three, as
these are continuing series. HL5 is mostly Zoner's bag; much of HL6
is already in the can.
New projects: are legion and ever-changing. BGC2040 begs for its
equivalent to "Hopelessly Lost". Our recent web poll showed a
startling amount of demand for both "Neon Genesis Evangelion FLASH!"
and "Batman: Neon Genesis", though I'm getting kind of burned out on
Evangelion. I'm toying with the idea of reviving my old Marvel Super
Heroes campaign universe for a one-shot that reintroduces the original
fanfic 'me', Don Griffin, and does something amusing with him and some
of his friends. For years I've thought "Crisis on Infinite Eyrie
Fanfics" would be good for a laugh, but that's probably better left as
an entertaining thought than an actual project. And there's that
"GweepCo in the Animated Superman/Batman Universe" thing with which I
once threatened alt.fan.bgcrisis to consider...
I'm also turfing around with a couple of non-fanfic projects, but
since those probably won't see online release (without copyright
issues to concern me, I'd probably try to sell them first), best not
to get anybody's hopes up.
As you probably already know, DJ Croft, from your "Neon Exodus
Evengelion" was voted Worst New Character in the 1999 Chicken
Ball Awards. What is your personal reply to that?
I've said all I intend to say on the subject in my most recent post to
rec.arts.anime.creative and the subsequent thread on
rec.arts.anime.fandom. I'm not inclined to discuss the subject
further. [Editor's Note: To see Gryphon's response, click here.]
If you had to give advice to someone starting out in
fanfic, what would that advice be?
Yow. You have no idea how hard it will be not to give a smartass
answer to this question. Hmm... I guess I'll have to go with the general advice I'd offer to anybody looking to write anything, fanfic or not:
Learn to spell and to use proper grammar. No, really. I'm not trying
to be facetious or nasty here. Learn the difference between "your"
and "you're". Explore the manifold mysteries of the homonyms for
"there". Go get a good dictionary and thesaurus set (or bookmark
dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, I suppose), buy a copy of Strunk and
White's "Elements of Style", and get busy. I'm not saying you, the
prospective writer, need to lock yourself into a straitjacket of
proper English, but it's important to know the fundamentals before you
can start to break the rules deliberately in search of style or
Personally, I think this is more important than anything else, even
more important than a solid grounding in the series you're using as a
springboard. A piece written with an incomplete grasp of its source
material can, at least, be an entertaining foray into an alternate
universe. A piece written poorly is just bad.
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