FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Zen Cho on Gargoyles
Zen Cho brings magic to life in the delightful and hilarious SORCERER TO THE CROWN, her fantastic debut out in paperback next Thursday. Zen's stopped by the blog to tell us about her very first pop culture love - the magnificent yet overlooked Disney TV gem Gargoyles.
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To be a Gargoyles fan is like loving the Moomins or Diana Wynne Jones: you are one of the anointed. It's like you share a secret code with other fans. When you meet someone else who gets it you clasp hands and say, "It's so good!"
Gargoyles was an animated TV series that screened in the '90s for two seasons. (There was a third season, but it doesn't really count.) It followed a clan of gargoyles – a magic race with a strong guardian instinct, who come to life at night but turn to stone during the day. They're living in medieval Scotland when their castle gets attacked, leaving only a few survivors, who are frozen in stone by magic for a thousand years.
A thousand years later, in 20th century New York, a megalomaniac billionaire called Xanatos has the castle transported brick by brick to the top of his skyscraper, which breaks the curse and awakens the clan. They don't like Xanatos very much (see: megalomaniac billionaire) but gargoyles have to protect something, so they befriend a NYPD detective called Elisa Maza and decide to protect New York City.
And that's just the premise.
Gargoyles had everything: time travel, magic, battles, killer robots, old loves turned new enemies, fish out of water culture shock comedy, classical, mythological and Shakespearean references, and a voice acting cast bizarrely overloaded with talent from the Star Trek franchise. (Xanatos was voiced by Will Riker, and Uhura played Elisa Maza's mom.)
I was eight years old when I started watching it, and it was probably my first exposure to the possibilities of long-form fantastical storytelling. Anything could happen in an episode of Gargoyles. Often it did, and it involved that guest character you'd nearly forgotten from twenty episodes ago, in a way that made perfect sense.
It was a series that rewarded obsessiveness, and it was my introduction into fan culture and fan community – something that has hugely enriched my life and given my writing a supportive space to develop. It was also unself-consciously diverse: Elisa was mixed race, with an African American mom and Native American dad, and while the head gargoyle was admittedly purple, in that one episode where the gargoyles were turned human by a magic spell (I told you anything could happen in this show), he was black. This startled me as a child. I think I'd assumed he was white under the purple.
It would be nice to think Gargoyles shaped me as a writer. It was the sort of story I'd like to write some day: a story that subverted expectations while delivering heaps of drama and entertainment.