What is out this week? (Clue: NOTHING)
Sign my name, sign my name.
Monsterhearts run free, except not free, it's kickstarted.
Jamie Does Costumes
I haz Big Die
It'll be a relatively quick one this week. There's a lot on, and I strongly suspect if I don't write something literally now, a slot won't open up. Hell, I haven't even got around to writing the writer notes for the magazine issue of WicDiv. Soon, probably.
It's The Wicked + The Divine deadline week, which is an obvious crunch time. Abstractly, you'll think it means little for me. It's Jamie and Matt and Clayton and Chrissy who'll be crying. Alas, I don't get to sit on a throne of gold and cackle. I have to do the backmatter, lettering drafts and (most importantly) polish the next issue so Jamie can actually draw the bloody thing, so we can repeat all this the next month.
Due to the vagaries of print time, if it's deadline week for us, it means you're going to get the next issue. Plus the reprint of 1831. And here they are, looking pretty, on my table.
It's accompanied by Doctor Aphra 1. And Uber: Invasion 1 will be along shortly, which means that after a few quieter months, everything starts kicking off before Christmas. I did a draft of the last issue in Aphra's first arc over the weekend, which I smiled at a lot, as I managed to untangle a plot problem which I suspected was going to force me to do something I really didn't want to. But by avoiding the problem long enough, my brain sliced that rope asunder. Go brain! Brain is good.
It's a pretty intellectually febrile time too, in terms of work. One idea – to use my Ellisian codename for it, Project Spangly New Idea – has pretty much caught fire. A project I worried would be dead (or, at best, delayed for years) has suddenly burst into light. And I'm also teaching myself Unity, for no reason other than I fancied a fiddle.
In short: no, I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet, leave me alone, you're not my mum.
Aphra 1 is out next week. I'm doing a signing at Forbidden Planet London on Wednesday, from 6pm to 7pm.
Come say hello to me and Kev.
Last week I was revealed as a stretch goal for MONSTERHEARTS 2, a second edition of Avery Alder’s RPG. Hopefully I’ll be writing a “town” for it - which is basically a mini-setting for play. I was honoured to be asked, and thought I should write a little about the game, and why I find it so fascinating.
What’s Monsterhearts? Well, you click through to the Kickstarter for more, but the strapline to the kickstarter pretty much explains it: “A tabletop game about the messy lives of teenage monsters, now entering its second edition. Evocative, groundbreaking, and queer.”
Monsterhearts is fascinating. I’ve only ever played it once, but I’ve come back to the manual many times. It’s a child of the indie RPG renaissance, and has an especially strong understanding of both theme and how mechanics fundamentally shape the experience of a story led game.
It’s built off the Apocalypse World system, which is a robust system that’s been used for all kinds of purposes. Its main mechanic is that things either fail, succeed with complications or straight out succeed. This seems pretty normal.
However, Monsterhearts encourages the GM to push that complications aspect hard. For example, from the session we played, my character - a monstrous teenage MRA atheist who had sold his soul to the a demon who spoke to him through the Internet - found himself almost killing a fellow classmate in the cafeteria, in front of everyone. His power fantasy led to consequences, which then echoed out. There was a lot like that. Giving someone what they want and having them live with it leads to some really powerful, emotional situation.
It’s also knows that the game will naturally lead to areas that are emotionally raw. It encourages setting areas which are okay and not okay before starting. It encourages communication if things get too much. It is a genuinely mature RPG, and does not take any of the things it deals with lightly.
There’s many things I like about its precise, brutally well chosen mechanics. For example, the gradual arc of character improvement reaching its apex when its characters eventually learn the skills to get over their own shit is pretty amazing, the experience trail as actual character growth. But I’ll give you one example I think is particularly key to the game’s brilliance.
One of the core moves (basically “abilities”) is to Turn Someone On. If this works, the character - player or NPC - will have feelings for you. They’re the same gender as you? You IDed as straight? Well, this is the moment they realise that no, there’s something else going on. It’s a game about discovery, and how your experiences make you realise things about yourself. Its not that you’ve been turned gay - it’s just that you’ve never realised that stuff about yourself until exactly right now. And now what? What does that mean? The game continues, and we find out.
That’s one example, and the book is full of smart ways to make a game about what the game wants to do. It’s a game that uses the conceit of teenage monsters, and puts the metaphor right to the fore. After all, we were all teenage monsters.
I’ve said before, but if anyone wanted to run a WicDiv RPG, I’d suggest hacking Monsterhearts. When I first read it, I was aware that Avery was coming from a similar place to the bits of me that wrote both Young Avengers and WicDiv. I think if you like my work, you’ll find it interesting, even if you never actually play it. It’s a book that I’ve thought of a lot, and I’ve found useful in many ways.
Oh - my town?
Purgatory High: Jet black afterlife satire. Do you graduate to a white halo job, drop out to to the burning pit below or just deal with a double math class that actually does stretch on for eternity. High School isn’t hell… but it’s close.
Which is clearly me trying to push the game to can-the-game-handle-it? degrees, which is me all over.
Anyway – 39 hours left on the kickstarter at the time of writing. Do consider supporting it.
Music debate of the day was us all gnashing our teeth over Kate Bush saying that she's a big fan of Teresa May. I found myself instantly surprised, and then unsurprising when I unpacked it a little. She's never been political. Her works reaches to idealism and her quote has nothing about the Tories per se, but rather an admiration of May and that she likes women being in charge. It's the idea of it, divorced of any facts or even much evidence of thinking. You can say she's solipsistic and narcissistic here – and I'd agree - but her work is often all about gazing at its navel and a creation of her own fantasy kingdom within that magic circle.
It's a shame, and I wish she didn't, but made me think of a few things. One is writing about the art/artist divide, which I haven't got time today. The second was SMASH at the Barbican. It was on the weekend that has just gone past, which I didn't get a chance to go to, but is always a useful cultural touchstone for comics in London.
I thought of SMASH, because of my time there last, and I include a bit of it below.
I was asked to speak a while back. As part of the process, each speaker had to do a statement of where they were on the issue. Of the three panels, Joel put me on the Diversity panel as token white guy, and it seemed to go well. All the other speaker’s pieces are here, and you’ll find mine below. The aim was basically to throw down some unconnected thoughts and give some angles of attack on things to talk about. Do read everyone else’s, for the panel I was on, and the other two. These are all smart interesting people and well worth listening to.
Here are a selection of diverse thoughts about the state of diversity.
Perfection is impossible. Relax. “Progressive” imply change. There is no utopia, no stasis. Even the most radical in the room will be Germaine Greer one day. In 20 years time, almost everything all of us are about to say will be problematic. Especially, I suspect, the word “problematic.”
Hearing about girls sitting down and reading Ms. Marvel in the middle of a comic shop and breaking into tears would move anyone. Even a monster like me. However, as important this is, we must not forget the powerful effect on people other than those depicted. By consuming culture about people other than ourselves we flower, and our capacity for understanding and empathy expand. Diversity of culture we consume is one of the the best weapons we have to improve the world. In as much as I was saved, I suspect was saved by Tenar in Ursula Le Guin’s Tombs Of Atuan. I think that Rey may yet save a generation of boys.
It is heartbreaking when I speak to my female peers and say they’ve never had a female role model.
I often wonder how having female heroes effected Jamie McKelvie and my own work. We’re monsters, but I suspect less so.
Diversity is not just a social justice issue. Diversity is a formalist issue. Diversity makes better art, as it is truer to the world. The world is diverse. If the art our culture produces does not have the diversity of the world it pertains to show, the art is failing us.
As a creative community we are in a position where all but the biggest dinosaurs agree that diversity is good. We are all pro diversity. This is a problem, in the same way that almost everyone expresses anti-racist sentiments in a world when everyone, via the background radiation of society, is to some degree racist.
To quote Jordie Bellaire’s campaign, Comics Are For Everyone. However, that should not be confused with All Comics Are For Everyone. You cannot please everyone. That is both a truism and a directive. You should not be trying to please everyone. Ironically, the self-censorship makes less diverse art including less diverse world-views.
Creatives are not just a machine to deliver diversity.
Creatives are petrified in Writing The Other. To be honest, Creatives are petrified of Writing The Same.
I have a test for diversity. If you are using the Bechdel test in any seriousness, your writing about diversity is almost certainly pretty poor. This is surface level reading of culture. Really thinking about sexuality, about gender, about race, about everything needs to be deeper.
In a single work of art, Diversity is a zero sum game. To write a love triangle between men in Young Avengers I had to include more men. As such, I had less women than I’d like in Young Avengers. An expectation of full diversity inside any individual work actually limits the stories you’re able to tell.
Diversity is necessary but not sufficient. Treating bad art with good diversity kindly is worse than useless, because if we do then we are reducing the value of our critical opinion’s coin. As such, it worries me when I see articles about my books which have the #1 reason to read it being the diverse cast. That petrifies me.
The biggest problem in comics is the lack of diversity in the talent pool. Frustratingly, there is no quick fix for all manner of tedious economic reasons. There is a medium term fix. I believe in five years, the industry will be almost unrecognisable. I am optimistic, god help me.
I think white men should probably shut up more. So I will.
Hey, Jamie's redesigned the X-men. Here they are, as drawn by Art Adams.
Other people, when they are feeling like excess, spend money on sports cars or enormous cocaine mountains. I spend my money on this.
I can barely lift it, let alone roll it.
And I’m out!
Thanks for reading.