Fantasy Fandom: Steven Universe

Confession time: I still watch cartoons.

I’m a writer who believes he can learn good writing habits from absolutely anywhere, so I have no qualms about trying out new cartoons that friends recommend.

Or just . . . trying them out when they look awesome.

Adventure Time.

Rick and Morty.

And, especially–said with a heavy, nostalgic heart–Avatar: The Last Airbender, and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra.

The thing is, my ability to watch those shows turned out to be surprisingly rare when I suggested them to fellow writers.

Me: “Avatar–not the James Cameron one, the good one–is one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever exper–”

Other Writer: “I’m not watching a cartoon show.”

Me: “–ienced . . .”

Another time:

Me: “You haven’t seen Rick and Morty?”

Another Writer: “No. People keep telling me watch it, but, ha, I just never get around to it.”

Me: ” . . . ”

Yet another time:

Yet Another Writer: “Oh, our [mutual friend] got [whatever article of clothing] because it’s supposed to look like the one character from some cartoon?”

Me: <looks at said article of clothing> “Oh! Lumpy Space Princess? Adventure Time?” <inhales to shout, “I love Adventure Time!”>

Yet Another Writer: “Right–that’s it. Sorry. Didn’t know because I’m an adult and I don’t watch cartoons.” <actually rolls her eyes>

Me: “. . .” <sigh>

So, look, everyone has their reasons, so I don’t want to judge.

But, man what a shitty, boring life.

Cartoons are amazing. They have the ability to convey incredible love and support very real diversity.

And, when it comes to the range of cartoons I watch, no show does love and diversity better . . . than Steven Universe.


For a short summary, a group of aliens called Crystal Gems live in a town called Beach City. There, they defend the world from attacks from their own people–homeworld gems who want to turn earth into a colony for a giant space empire, or corrupted gems, made animalistic and insane after a war with humanity ages ago. Among the Crystal Gems, there’s Steven, the half-human son of the Gems’ former leader, Rose Quartz.

Why I Love It

The show is as much about the Gems and their adventures as it is about Steven, and his growth as a kid. Not simply a rapid loss of innocence, but a sapping of faith that Steven counters with a determination to love and accept everyone.

To not fight, which is, in and of itself, beautiful. It’s a concept that I’ve been working with and one that I think the world needs more of.

But the show’s passive, loving male protagonist is only the beginning of its press for diversity and acceptance.

For starters, Steven is also, obviously, a fat kid. The show embraces that immediately, unabashedly focusing its first episode on Steven’s love for Cookie Cat Ice Cream Sandwiches (which he begins to believe are the source of his budding gem powers). Rather than doing the usual song and dance of fat-kid-loves-food-and-that’s-all-he/she-loves, the episode eventually pushes Cookie Cat aside in favor of showing our overweight protagonist . . .

. . . helping save the day.

Wow. Whodathunk it, right? An overweight kid being some kind of hero? Also, please apply the appropriate amount of bitter sarcasm from a guy who’s struggled with his weight for his entire life. I would’ve loved to have this show when I was 10. Especially because it never slims Steven down to convey character growth; there’s no shitty diet and work-out montage that makes “thinner” synonymous with “better” or “stronger.”

Seasons later, Steven is still fat, and still a hero.

That initiative is followed up with the rest of the 95% female cast. Because, you see, all Crystal Gems are women.

So, our young protagonist is surrounded by incredibly strong, loving, women with a ton of depth.

There’s Amethyst, who’s short, heavy, and loves fighting as much as a good gag.

There’s Garnet, who’s strong and stoic (the old go-to for strong female characters), but she’s also . . . a spoiler I refuse to give away.

Last, there’s Pearl, a comical take on typical thin-equals-best character design–a gangly ballerina who obsesses about perfection. And also hates Steven’s father, because she was in love with Steven’s mother.

Because, of course, all Crystal Gems are lesbians, a concept that the show completely embraces.

But that’s still only scratching the surface of this wildly progressive cartoon for kids. There are episodes where you find out male characters are gay–without gasps or ostracization. There’s Connie Maheswaran, Steven’s best friend, who’s Indian-American.

And there are episodes where side characters are made extremely human and flawed by their conflicts. There are episodes where main characters struggle with the consequences of war and toxic relationships. And, to all of these problems, the solution isn’t just the usual, comic book-ish “Punch it real hard!” Sometimes, it is, because it needs to be.

But just as often, the answer is love. The answer is taking pain in and dealing with it constructively, instead of just dishing it back out.

There’s just . . . so much that Steven Universe does that I genuinely can’t explain here.

So, rather than continuing to rant, I’m going to finish up with . . .

What I’ve Learned from It

Here are the three major things the series has taught me so far:

  1. Do not be afraid of diversity. We’re clearly living in an America that still fears it, but it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is beautiful. Write for everyone, without holding back. If you feel you don’t know enough about a marginalized group, do research and write them anyway.
    On that note, yes, write heavy characters. Ones who are smart, ones who are beautiful. Because, as a heavy man, I know for a fact that there’s more to us than how much we enjoy eating. We aren’t a bunch of maladjusted, bumbling jackasses, but the majority of media will always portray us that way–unless we provide a different dialogue. That dialogue being that not every hero is a 20-something-year-old model.
  2. Punching isn’t always the solution. Despite what fight-heavy America wants you to think, fighting often just makes a bad situation worse. Stories that embrace combat as a problem, rather than a solution, are just as engrossing–and often richer in real emotion.
  3. It is always possible to explore a range of side characters. They’re a wealth of stories just waiting to happen. All you need to do is allow those characters to have their stories that exist completely (and realistically) outside of the protagonist’s world. Have a protagonist who’s a hero? The Asian woman who works in the cafe down the block has an awesome story to tell–because she’s a real person–but that story might not have anything to do with your hero.


Well, I did it again. Another 1000+er.

Thank you for reading this one. And, if I’ve piqued your interest in any way, I’d suggest giving Steven Universe a chance. And, for that matter, if you have the adult friend who recommends cartoons . . . maybe check them out on occasion. Because, even though it might not seem like it, there’s a ton a cartoon can still teach a grown adult.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Fantasy Fandom: The Legend of Zelda

I’m writing this on the morning of March 3rd, 2017. Blessed with the day off, I woke up early to wait for my local Best Buy to open. Because then, and only then, can I go pick up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Sitting here, waiting, I decided to at least start a series that I’ve been thinking of for a while. Fantasy Fandom will be a place where I talk briefly about some of the franchises that shaped my writing. How I found them, why I love them, and what I’ve learned from them.

The first installment was always going to be about The Legend of Zelda. But this morning, as I basically sit and stare at a wall, hands on my knees, waiting for 10AM, I decided, “Today’s the perfect day for this.”

My First Experience with The Legend of Zelda

I don’t remember the year, because I was in single digits–at an age where I wasn’t yet concerned what year it was.

But a friend of the family lived across the street, and one day, my mother brought us over to hang out. The parents quickly ushered us into their son’s room–a guy who greeted us, but then immediately turned back to a TV.

Back to a duel to the death with Dark Link in Zelda II.

At the time, I had no idea he was fighting the most difficult boss in the entire series–that he was at the end of the second game.

All I knew was, “Whoooaaa . . . He’s controlling the guy on screen. And fighting a shadow version of himself.” And, I’m absolutely giving voice to a thought I didn’t understand at the time, but I remember thinking something like, “What kind of meta, psychological struggle is this shit!? With this elf dude! And there are curtains! What is this!?”

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the first time I’d ever experienced video games–I’d owned an Atari 2600 and played Super Mario Bros., Pitfall, and Duck Hunt at other friends’ places–but this was a turning point for me in gaming. When my family finally got an NES, I proceeded to annoy my mom by asking her to call a bunch of Funcolands and Toys ‘R’ Us’s, asking if they had Zelda.

Again, I don’t know how old I was, but the day when I came home with used copies of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid for the NES were good days. Even though that’s when I discovered that LoZ and Adventures of Link were extremely different.

Since then, The Legend of Zelda has been a staple of my life. I’ve bought and played nearly every one of them to completion. When I write a bio for myself, I always add that The Legend of Zelda was a huge influence for me.

Because it always has been and still is.

Why I Love It

What really grabbed me about that Dark Link fight was the strange pageantry of the whole thing. The fact that the world fell into silhouettes against a purple sky when you fought him. The fact that he was just a doppleganger of Link (this being my first experience with the concept of evil doubles).

That beautiful strangeness endures in all of Zelda, and that’s what I love about it.

Although the series uses some fantasy tropes, it gives them a unique, weird polish that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

For example, Hylians have long, pointed ears. But they are not elves–most certainly not Tolkien elves. Hylians are bizarre. They’re ugly–often comically so. They have strange body shapes that are exaggerated to illustrate their characters. They talk, but always with simple, guttural sounds. In a lot of cases, they’re blatantly, flat out terrifying in their words and actions, although it never seems like they’re being scary on purpose; in most cases, you’re just a kid who happens to hear them say the weirdest things.

Even the hero is strange. Link, we came to learn, is not a single, destined hero who goes on many adventures. He’s a . . . lineage? All of the Links are descendants of the first (and good luck figuring out which Link came first [I think Skyward Sword’s?]), which, on its own, is a bizarre turn for a fantasy hero. I can’t think of another franchise that spans thousands of years, following one bloodline of legendary heroes. Legendary heroes who always come to power . . . with a Princess named Zelda, sometimes a weirdo named Tingle, and always a cast of other staple characters, similar in appearance, but actually different. Zelda runs on a concept of history repeating itself, which allows it to go to strange new places.

All of this means that the only recurring character–who is always the same man as far as I can tell–is the series’ villain, Ganon. How strange for a fantasy series to have a new hero kill the one villain every time, instead of the one hero killing a new villain every time.

Whatever. The point is that Zelda is bizarre in many, many ways, and that’s why I love it.

What I’ve Learned from It

Because of its strangeness, I think Zelda taught me how to be independent with my fantasy. It taught me to write without bowing to established fantasy expectations. There are elves, but they’re not the famous kind of elves. There’s a hero, but, even though he looks similar, he’s a new person every time.

To be sure, Zelda is still pretty typical; it’s still the story of a young boy who inherits a legendary power and leaves his home to slay a great evil.

But Zelda’s strange take on that story made it possible for me to think beyond it altogether.

And, for that, I thank you, Legend of Zelda. I would not be the same writer without you.


Thanks for reading.

If you’re a regular, thank you for hanging out with me for another week. I forgot to ask last post because I got . . . super touchy feely, but if you liked this post, please drop a Like so I can keep track of how many people enjoyed it. If you didn’t like it, absolutely pass; I’m trying to sift through my series and focus on the ones people like the most, so negative votes also really help.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have an awesome weekend. I know I will; halfway through this post, I a) scheduled an interview for a new job and b) went and picked up Breath of the Wild, cause 10AM came and I couldn’t contain myself.

I’ll see you next week, and, as always, write well!