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.

Q: First of all, how did you get into anime?
Yes, there were two of them! Gryphon: 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...
Q: What was life like in your Maine homeland?
Gryphon: 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>
Q: Second, how did you get into fanfic?
Gryphon: 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... )
Gryphon's Private Lovely Angel
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 fic...
Q: Do you remember what that "conventional fic" was supposed to be about?
Gryphon: No, I'm afraid I've long, long since forgotten.
Q: Are there any ideas for UF that you never wrote but wanted to?
Gryphon: 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...
Q: What's it about?
Gryphon: 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...
Q: Was there really that intense a rivalry between the Wedge Rats and John Coyle? Why was he cast as the bad guy?
Gryphon: 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 with it.
Q: How many people in the Wedge knew about UF who were not into anime?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: And most importantly, how did you decide who Kei and Yuri hooked up with?
Gryphon: 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 sure... <grin>
Q: Like...?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: What was it like when the first UF stories came out?
Gryphon: 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...
Q: Once UF was over, what made you decide to continue writing together?
Gryphon: 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 before lunch.
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>
Q: What, in your opinion, is a "gweep"?
Gryphon: 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, or both.
Q: What's a typical Eyrie plotting session like?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: When and why did you decide to close Eyrie to new creators?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: If you still had the time/energy to change some of the stuff you've written, what would you change and why?
Gryphon: Oh God. Don't even make me go there...
Q: I must, Ben. The inquiring public has a right to know.
Gryphon: 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.
Q: What do you read on a regular basis, both fanfiction and non-fan fiction?
Gryphon: 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>
Q: You don't like Ranma 1/2? As a Ranma fan, I have to ask why.
Gryphon: 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.
Q: You know, that puts you in with Ryan Mathews as a non-Ranma fan.
Gryphon: I can live with that. <grin>
Q: Again, in your opinion, what work of your own do you consider to be the best?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: What made you decide to explore the "In Nomine" universe?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: <suspicious look> Are you a gamer?
Gryphon: What's the suspicious look for? So what if I am? You got a problem with that?
Q: 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?
Gryphon: 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 way.
Nowadays, I don't game much. I would be playing "In Nomine" if John would ever actually launch his campaign...
Q: Who is your first avatar and where in UF and HL does he appear?
Gryphon: 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.
Q: What work of others in Eyrie do you consider to be the best?
Gryphon: Oof. This's a hard one too. I'd hate to come off like I'm playing favorites...
... 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 about that.
Q: What is in the works for either yourself or the Eyrie staff as a whole?
Gryphon: Eek!
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 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.
Q: 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?
Gryphon: 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.]
Q: If you had to give advice to someone starting out in fanfic, what would that advice be?
Gryphon: 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 and, 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 impact.
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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