Category Archives: Crossposted

Structuring Life to Support Creativity

Sandra Tayler, whom you may know as the editor, publisher, project manager, and so much more behind Schlock Mercenary, is crowdfunding a book called STRUCTURING LIFE TO SUPPORT CREATIVITY.

I can personally vouch for the principles and practices presented in this book, but that’s probably kind of obvious. Sandra has worked with many other people and organizations over the last decade, so this book is far, far more than just (!) the life experience of someone who wrangled a single cartoonist into profitability while managing her own career writing children’s books and short stories.

Follow the links above to read more about the project. It has funded, and just yesterday Sandra crossed the “we get to make an audiobook” stretch goal. The project closes in two days, though, so if you want to throw some momentum into it on the home stretch, now’s the time.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

Years ago while trying to explain that a bad remake does not ruin your childhood, I described modern remakes as attempts to make money by “strip-mining nostalgia.” And before I explain the metaphor further, let me clearly state that BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F is a much, much better movie than that.

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F – NETFLIX

Strip-mining is how you destroy the landscape to get at just one thing. The strip-mining nostalgia metaphor kind of means “ruin my affection for the franchise.” And BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F did NOT ruin things.

I watched all three Beverly Hills Cop films before watching this, and then I watched the first one again, with Sandra, who hadn’t actually seen it.

She agreed with my assessment of the first film: the original BEVERLY HILLS COP is a very good movie, and the music deserved acting credit because it was not just instrumental (hah!) to the atmosphere of the film, it helped tell the story in ways that almost-but-not-quite crossed into the line of musical theater.

BEVERLY HILLS COP II was a competent, 80’s-era sequel. The production team knew how to make a good movie, but they didn’t really understand the science of a brilliant sequel. This was the 80’s, almost nobody understood that.

BEVERLY HILLS COP III was awful, and its biggest sin lay in the orchestral variations on Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” theme. They were competent¹ arrangements, sure, but they sounded like they belonged in “Axel Foley Goes to Silverado.” Which I would watch, provided it was not made by the people who made BEVERLY HILLS COP III.

BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F was made by people who do understand the science of a good sequel. It follows the beat chart of the first movie, but it doesn’t just go through the motions. It knows what those beats are for, and why they worked, and it leans into that understanding to deliver what, for some people, can serve as a master-class in making a franchise film.

I’ve read several articles about the production of the film, and the most interesting thing I learned was that they re-recorded the Axel F theme using the original synths, which they got from a museum. This meant the theme had the same *exact* waveforms, delivering that familiar sound even after giving it the deconstruction and theme-and-variations treatment. That one song could now support multiple scenes without making us feel like they were just playing samples of the same song over and over. (Which, thanks to Crazy Frog², is a treatment we have definitely seen applied to Axel F. )

BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F follows the same basic plot as the first two films, in that the audience and the protagonist know who the bad guy is, and the detective work lies in accumulating the right evidence, and then surviving to deliver it³. It also improves on the scene-to-scene flow⁴ of that formula, giving us snappy dialog and dramatic moments that run straight up against action.

I should sum up. I’ve watched BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F twice now, and I have no regrets. I’m not tracking my thresholds lately, but this one definitely clears the Threshold of Awesome. It was better than just “better than I expected it to be,” and that might sound like low praise, but I’ll definitely watch it a third time. Hopefully that helps you calibrate your own expectations.

— notes —

¹ I used ‘competent’ twice because it’s the right word. In the arts it kind of means “knows how to hold a paintbrush, mix colors, and create a painting, but doesn’t know how to make actual art.”

² Google “Crazy Frog” at your peril. It was silly fun twenty years ago, but now it just leaves me annoyed, and ashamed for having liked it once.

³ The third film messes with the formula, giving us a plot twist right at the end. It was a nice idea, but it was not executed well. Just take my word for it. Don’t go watch BEVERLY HILLS COP III. Sure, you can go listen to “Crazy Frog” at your peril but BHCIII is a different level of DO NOT.

³ “Scene-sequel” format, which comes to us from Dwight Swain’s TECHNIQUES OF THE WORKING WRITER, is perfectly employed here. You don’t need to know that to enjoy the movie, but if you are a writer then it’s something you should pay attention to.

Immersion, Emulsion, and No-Butter Hollandaise

I did not expect an immersion blender to become a kitchen essential for me, but that’s where I am now. I originally thought it’d be great for making milkshakes, but then I figured out water-in-oil emulsions, and realized that homemade mayonnaise is a million times better¹ than what comes in the jar.

Summarizing: the immersion blender turns the very technical and tedious process of emulsification into something that is so simple I got it right the first time, and haven’t failed at it yet. Here, then, is a very basic recipe for homemade mayo:

Basic Homemade Mayonnaise


  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 cup avocado oil


  • An immersion blender with its own blending cup
  • Measuring spoons & measuring cup
  • A fridge-friendly container for the finished product


  1. Put everything except the oil in the blender cup.
  2. Gently pour the oil atop the other stuff, and then wait a moment for things to separate. It’s very important for the oil to be on top.
  3. Gently sink the blender head to the bottom of the cup, positioning it like a dome over the egg, tipping it on the way down to get the air out.
  4. Blend at high speed, keeping the blender head at the bottom of the cup. Slowly lift it, and allow yourself to be amazed as it makes your mixture into mayo on the way up.
  5. That’s it! Scrape it into a container and put it in the refrigerator. It’ll keep for about a week

You may be asking if you can use something other than avocado oil. You can, but I recommend starting with avocado oil because I want your first batch of mayo to taste good. Olive oil will, for organic chemistry reasons I don’t fully understand, respond poorly to the emulsion process, giving the mayo a flavor I describe as “sawdust adjacent.”

You may also be asking how this even works. Traditionally, mayonnaise is made by vigorously whisking the eggs and the watery stuff while slowly adding oil. Adding the oil too quickly will cause things to fail, and the failure mode of mayonnaise is that it separates, and the oil floats back to the top. The immersion blender, coupled with its special made-to-fit cup, solves this problem by drawing the oil down into the blend. This is why you start at the bottom and gradually lift. You’re “slowly adding oil” by slowly giving the blender head traction on the oil above it.

Emulsification is Magic

Emulsification is when two immiscible (“not mixable”) liquids get mixed with the help of something else. In the case of mayonnaise you are mixing water and oil by giving the tiny droplets of watery ingredients (the vinegar and the lemon juice) a nice coating of egg proteins.

Fun fact! Butter is also a water-in-oil emulsification. By weight it’s about 80% milk fat (cream), 20% water, and maybe a couple of percentage points of milk proteins, sugars, and “bad at math.” This may seem like useless information, but if you’re looking for a dairy-free recipe substitute for butter, you can substitute almost any other water-in-oil emulsification. The tl;dr— Yes, you can use mayo instead of butter in recipes.

Cow-milk products are pretty complex things. There is a LOT going un under (udder?) the hood, and I’ve found that the best way to swap out a milk product is to swap in something similarly complex. Mayo can be pretty bland (it is literally used in comedy routines as a stand-in for “so bland”) but if you increase the complexity a bit it’ll do just fine as a stand-in for butter.

Sandra is allergic to dairy, mustard, wheat, and yeast, but she loves Hollandaise sauce on Eggs Benedict—a dish which, if prepared traditionally, is the Yahtzee in the game of “Sandra can’t eat this.” We prepare it non-traditionally by taking a nice Hollandaise recipe and swapping out the butter for homemade no-mustard mayo. Then we serve the sauce and the eggs on a bed of wild rice, which, if I’m being completely honest, is a healthier and tastier option than an English muffin.

Dairy-Free Hollandaise


  • 5 egg yolks (set aside or discard the egg whites²)
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallots
  • 1/2 cup homemade no-mustard mayo
    • OR sure you can just use a stick of softened butter instead of the mayo, but then it’s not dairy-free, obviously.


  • Immersion blender & blender cup
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Knife & board for mincing the shallots
  • 1 pint canning jar with ring and lid
  • A small hand-whisk or maybe just a fork that will fit into that canning jar
  • Sous vide bath, because let’s do this the easy way


  1. Separate the eggs, and put the yolks in the blender cup. What you do with the egg whites is your business², but they don’t go in your Hollandaise sauce.
  2. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and minced shallots. Don’t be lazy and expect the immersion blender to mince the shallots for you. It’s not a food processor. Cut them up fine using your knife!
  3. Add the homemade mayo.
  4. Blend with the immersion blender. You’re not trying to emulsify, so just blend away. The mix should end up yellow and a little runny.
  5. Pour the pre-Hollandaise into the pint jar, and put the lid on loosely.
  6. Put the jar into the sous vide. The water level should be below the lid, but above the level of the stuff in the jar.
  7. Run the sous vide at 160°F for 90 minutes.
    —90 minutes later…
  8. Remove the jar (carefully, it’ll be hot) and remove the lid. Whisk the contents vigorously, then (and I cannot stress this enough) shove that whisk into your mouth and slurp the delicious Hollandaise from it. Then put it into the sink, NOT back into the jar. No, not even if you live alone.
  9. Lid the jar and put it into the fridge. It should keep for at least a week, assuming your whisk was clean.

When the time comes to serve the sauce, it’ll work well cold on sandwiches, or you can microwave a little bit of it for Eggs Benedict.

The Plot Thickens, AKA “I See What You Did There”

19th-century French chef Antonin Carême famously declared (in a book that got lots of traction) that there are five sauces mères or “Mother Sauces”: Espagnole, Velouté, Béchamel, Tomate, and Hollandaise. All other sauces are sauces petit, variations on the basics.

Of Carême’s five mother sauces, four are thickened with roux (butter and flour)³, while the fifth is a water-in-oil emulsion. My inner taxonomist screams, because that’s really just TWO basic sauces, so maybe the system should have been sauces mère et père, or just “saucy parents.”

The point here is that an ultra-simplified water-in-oil emulsion is literally THE MOTHER OF ALL MAYONNAISE.

Let me restate this more usefully: once you reduce water-in-oil emulsification to water, oil, and a binding agent, you can make any emulsified sauce you want to. In mayonnaise, the vinegar and lemon juice are “water,” the avocado oil is (SURPRISE!) “oil”, and the egg is the binding agent. The salt and mustard are irrelevant to the emulsification (provided you don’t add so much that they become relevant.)

You can make flavored mayo by messing around in the “irrelevant” column. Mother said it’s okay, really! For instance, you can make a nice Southwest seafood taco sauce by replacing the lemon and the vinegar with lime juice, using a dash of Cholula instead of mustard, and throwing in some cilantro. Did you want “spicy mayo” for sushi? Use rice vinegar and maybe two tablespoons of Sriracha instead of lemon juice, then toss in some minced ginger. As long as the general ratio of “watery” to “oily” stays the same, your mixture will emulsify deliciously.

Metrics For Science

The measurements in my recipes are all Imperial, which is problematic for two reasons:

  1. Imperial. Ugh.
  2. Milliliters are better than rounding to fractions of cups and spoons.

I’d switch to metric, but that would mean buying a bunch of kitchen stuff and learning new things, so it’s a project for a more ambitious day. Still, I recognize that if you really want to get fancy with your oil-in-water emulsifications, you’ll find that the metric system provides more consistent (especially with regards to the consistency of the sauce, hah!) results.

I’ve found a workaround, though, and that’s by using the lines on the immersion blender cup. My watery ingredients for a proven emulsion come halfway up to the 3-ounce line. The egg takes me up to the 3 ounce line, and I’m using 8 ounces of oil. This means my ratio of water to emulsifier to oil is 1.5 : 1.5 : 8. When I start messing around with other ingredients, I keep that ratio in mind, and use the lines on the blender cup to help me get the ratio correct. I also use it to keep track of what I did in case I need to change things on the next pass.

Would metric measurements be better? YES THEY WOULD please leave off with the pestering of the cartoonist and go update all the gear in your own dang kitchen.

But start by getting an immersion blender, because homemade mayo is, as I stated at the top of this essay, a million times better¹ than what comes out of a store-bought jar.

— notes —

¹ “A million times better” is sloppy math, but that didn’t stop me from using it twice. Fine. Let’s instead say that homemade mayonnaise is the thing casting the mayo-from-a-jar shadow on the wall of Plato’s Cave & Delicatessen.

² Now that you know how to make The Mother of All Mayo, those egg whites might be the elemental emulsifier for some (sorry-not-sorry) very saucy experimentation. You could also use them for an egg-white omelette, or perhaps a nice meringue.

³ Since roux is butter and flour, and butter is a water-in-oil emulsion, it should be possible to make a no-dairy/no-wheat roux using mayonnaise and corn starch and why are you looking at me like that?

⁴ My taxonomical howling is about a hundred and fifty years too late to get this bit of wordplay into all the best cookbooks. And even if I could yell back in time I’d be yelling in English, and I’m not a chef, so I don’t think Carême would listen to me.

⁵ Water-in-oil emulsion is also the mother of butter, and the mother of a long list of non-edible things, including industrial lubricants and hand lotions… although I suppose you could make your own hand lotion from edible ingredients and this is why I am not and never should be a chef.

Slowing Down Is Hard to Do

Long COVID has made the last couple of months quite difficult for me. I supposed it’s inaccurate to say that slowing down has been hard for me to do, because I haven’t been given a choice in the matter. What’s been difficult is adapting, adjusting, and ultimately accepting the slow-down.

For those just catching up on the old news, I contracted COVID back in “wave zero,” the community-spread wave in late January of 2020 when none of us thought the virus was here yet. I was the father of the bride at a wedding whose guests included a family who had guests in their home who had recently arrived from Wuhan province in China. I got better, but I never got all the way better, and I’ve been dealing with chronic fatigue ever since.

The salient point: I want to do more than I am doing. I mean, sure, I want to do more than I am *able* to do, which is a pretty common desire among humans of all stripes, but especially among those whose abilities have been, for whatever reason, reduced in scope.

So what *am* I doing? Well, today I’m writing this, and then diving back into the marginalia for Book 18, which we can’t send to the printer until it has all its marginalia. A lot of the pieces are things like this one – concept sketches which I’ve revisited digitally and cleaned up so they look nicer.

Concept sketch of Peri Gugro, a Fobott’r female soldier and (eventual) clan mother

The marginalia is a necessity born of the fact that Schlock Mercenary was not originally formatted for print. Comics should be written and illustrated to the page turn, with attention given to the reveal that occurs as the reader turns the page and uncovers the art and dialog of the next spread. I say “should” be because Schlock Mercenary definitely is NOT written that way.

When we put it into print, we can fit four regular-sized strips on a single page of the book. A week of strips has nine of these rectangular collections of panels, because Sundays have three, and those last three strips in the week need to all be on the same page. Since no amount of fudging the math will make 9 cleanly divisible by 4, a week of Schlock Mercenary takes up three pages of book, and those three pages have some white space.

Hence the marginalia. Sometimes a weekday installment is extra large, sometimes there’s a footnote, and sometimes I broke the pattern in other ways, and so sure, sometimes the white space has taken care of itself, but sometimes my layout shenanigans mean an entire half-page of the book needs a new picture.

So that’s what I’m working on. I wish I could do more, or do it faster, and maybe the booster shot I got two days ago will perk me up the way previous booster shots have, but I’m not going to wait for a cure before I get back to work. I’m just going to accept that I have to slow down.