Chaos in the writing. Chaos in the comics production. Chaos on the streets of burrrmingham.
Imperial Phase sure is Imperial Phasing this week.
Comic Production The Team WicDiv Way
We Tried To Imagine A Better World. We Failed.
Pink Lobster Arms
I'll get the plug stuff out of the way, and then segue into what's been going on in our comics bunker afterwards. Firstly, The Wicked + the Divine 26 is out, which is basically where Imperial Phase shows a lot more of its cards. It may even be one of my favourite issues. Not in the enormous formalist experiment way (like 14 and 23) or the focused singular statement (like 13), but as a pretty good example of the duality of what we do. I suspect people will have strong responses to it, in lots of different ways. We also get our nine-panel grid on, though not in this bit...
Rest of the preview here. Its also the issue with (er) an unusual extra cover. So at least go and gawp at it in real life. I feel The Big Bang in Dublin are probably taking it too far though.
Or maybe not, and this is a picture of the future of comics.
It also appears we've reached the point in the arc where we put out the cover for the collection. As such, Imperial Phase (I)'s cover has showed up on Amazon. It looks like this.
By this point, WicDiv readers will almost certainly have their theories on how we choose our covers. As such, this one is a little more enigmatic.
But it will become clear, eventually, probably. This collection is out out in June, which seems a long way away.
But between the end of Imperial Phase and the next collection we have another of our specials. Andre has lobbed up a panel from it...
...which shows that The Wicked + the Divine 455 is Peak Cute Sheep for WicDiv.
We've been doing some thinking about exactly what to do with the specials collection. We suspect we're leaning to collecting them all before the end of the series in its own volume, probably as the penultimate trade. But it's certainly a long way off – as in, they'll be the eighth trade at the earliest – so if you want to read it before then, it's definitely worth talking to your retailer.
Art by the divine Chynna Clugston, who is one of Jamie's favourite people and huge inspirations. If on the off chance you haven't actually explored her work before, go grab the recently reprinted and coloured editions of BLUE MONDAY. I wrote the intro for the first volume, which basically boils to OMFG!!!! until I run out of space, with my usual seasoning of wanky critical theories.
Other comic stuff...
Well, Aphra 4 is out. Go have a nose at the preview here. We start cascading towards the final arc here, and there's lots of fun games with the location. Kevin is just doing the Force's own work with the storytelling here.
Here's the Avatar solicits for April 2017, including Uber Invasion 5 and Cinema Purgatorio 10. Uber variant covers are always fascinating, in that there's a certain floating nature of them. Some refer earlier issues, some later.
Talking Uber, here's a big piece written about Uber Invasion. Spoilers for all of Uber in it. Engages in lots of ways, not nearly all positive, but this is pretty much the sort of thing Uber's written for.
Okay, this isn't comic news, but FUCK YEAH, KELLY SUE.
It's deadline week. We handed in issue 27 of WicDiv, and Jamie's charged right into issue 28.
This is what definitely has happened.
What definitely hasn't happened is Image has given us a couple of days extension as Matt had worked piled up before, and then Jamie's reference photos ate themselves and then Matt's computer ate itself and we'll be lucky if we hand the files in before Friday morning. That is a thing that has not happened.
28 is the last episode of the arc, which means that I'm going to have to actually finish the final planning for the next one. After this one being six issues, the next should be five, but I don't know know for sure until I do the exact math. And we're also getting to the point where I need to also nail down the final year. I'm still thinking 43 issues, but could easily be plus or minus one or even two. Plus the four specials, of course, though I'm tempted to cram in another special, just because I've got a fun one to do, and maybe we deserve some dessert.
Most of all, I need to get on with my research for the Modernist's issue, but I appear to have gone past the fall of Western Rome and am now exploring Byzantium.
The Complete Phonogram is also at the printer. Bar one last minute panic when we realised a couple of pages were in the wrong order in the B-sides at the back, it's gone shockingly smoothly. This is its cover...
I have trouble believing this book actually exists. It includes all the Phonogram stories, including the never-collected B-sides and Rue Britannia coloured for the first time. It's a beautiful thing and is basically a decade of our lives. I have no idea what I'm going to feel like when I hold it.
You can pre-order from your own shop or online booksellers.
Jim Rossignol popped over at the weekend. Jim is my old partner in crime, who I met when I worked on PC Gamer, where we bonded over our Ballard, James Ellroy, Suede, robots, Spaced, a certain strata of videogames, the ludicrous and getting shit done. He now runs his own game company, Big Robot. We were mainly up to hang and watch Chrissy read as part of a poetry project responding to the centenary of the documentary The Battle Of The Somme, but we dug down on what we're going to be doing with Ludocrats.
(I re-read that paragraph, and laugh, thinking how astoundingly lucky I am to be surrounded by such inspiring people. I have trouble believing half the people I know talk to me.)
Do you remember Ludocrats? It was announced a couple of years ago, with Jim and I co-writing and David Lafuente on art. There's been hilarious tedious delays in starting production, which genuinely were no-one's fault, but it seems that we're close to getting that sorted out and diving in. This is what they looked like back then...
Half-way through the chatty brunch, I was thinking we'd have to abandon the project and do something else entirely.
Which was depressing, shall we say.
It's an interesting case study, Ludocrats. The core characters and idea date from 2003, in an exquisite style writing structure. There's the best part of a novel worth of Ludocrat epistolary novel that dates from there, and we've ransacked for much of what Ludocrats will be. When we came back to it, we realised that a bunch of stuff simply wouldn't work any more, and tweaked accordingly. Some were just changed for the art of it – Professor Hades was originally male, but David suggested the gender flip, which works really well. Generally speaking, the sexual politics has twisted, as neither Jim nor I are in our mid-twenties any more.
Ludocrats is, at its core, an R-rated The Never Ending Story. It's about the joy of imagination and possibility. It's a machine for making people happy.
However, in the few years that have past since writing the first episode of the comic, the world's altered, and our choices at the best could be taken as tin-eared, and at worst could be read as pro beliefs we find entirely repugnant.
By the end of brunch, we'd attacked the problem and found something that seems the core of a solution. In many ways, it improves the book. I say this to talk about the process, and the active unpacking of your choices. This is what writing is, for me. Why are we doing this? What's this about? What can we achieve? How can we best achieve it?
So yeah. I think Ludocrats is back on track. It'll be good to have it out there. I've started keeping an active list of things which make me happy – as in, something which makes a leap in my mood from the sullen background noise of life. This was started when I realised how giddy I was when I saw that the new White Dwarf had flopped through the door, which made me realise how rare those moments are right now.
I think back to my particularly terrible 2006, and how precious every issue of NextWave was, a little ray of silly joy in hell. I suspect, above everything else, Ludocrats is my attempt to do that for someone else.
Chrissy has just mailed me this.
Maybe it's a better idea if we did give the Earth over to the cockroaches.
(Still tempted to order one.)
I wrote the following for my Warhammer blog. It's 2000 words unpacking Slaanesh, one of the primary Chaos gods in the game. It's the last thing in this newsletter, so you can just press eject now and go about your business, but it may be of interest to anyone who likes thinking about geek culture and how to tweak it while keeping its aesthetic effects. It also takes in Moorcock, Lovecraft, Nemesis the Warlock, Ellen Willis and much more.
I also typoed “Lovecraft” as “Lovecock” in the previous passage. What's on my mind? Penises. That's what.
I’ve been thinking of The Problem Of Slaanesh for a while. A couple of queer-focused articles brought it back to focus. I’ve linked to this by Timothy Francis over at Outermode which takes a positive approach, arguing you can make what you wish. Jamie over at Tankpot takes a more critical angle, basically taking highlighting a selection of the reasons why Slaanesh is a problem, and an analysis on why Ynnead may be GW’s attempt to write their way around it. I think I agree.
Say hello to Ynnead’s Avatar, everyone. We’ll come back to them soon.
This is going to ramble. I warn you in advance, it comes to no conclusions. This is thinking about tactics to approach these issues. Some of the points are huge problems in and of themselves.
Slaanesh is, as GW won’t describe it, the Chaos God Of Fuck. This makes it a double problem for the company. On one hand, they have one of their four primary antagonistic forces entirely not-PG rated (so automatically causing problems for younger gamers. Or rather, the parents of younger gamers). On the other hand, you have a set of queer-coded villains who implicitly state that any variance in sexuality or gender is a sure way to damnation (so automatically causing problems for any gamer who thinks that, actually, no, that’s just not true.) Plus for a good chunk of gamers, just having such a set of sexualised miniatures is a wincer.
This problem has actually got worse as the universe has altered over the years.
Francis notes the Queer-imagery that percolates through the Warhammer universes, even outside Slaanesh. This comes from various places inspirations, but I’d mostly argue comes from 70s British Fantasy’s response and assimilation of to punk. Punk similarly used a lot of queer and fetish imagery, which worked its way into the 2000AD, which is obviously a major visual influence on 40k.
In other words, Warhammer’s founding was born of the counter-culture, and generally British working class’ counter-culture. Using any of these visual signifiers in any way was a relatively radical position in a medium where Dragonlance was considered cutting edge. Fantasy elsewhere in this period seemed primarily informed by the early 70s and sixties. This, born of punk, was closer to the conversation, and whose ideas were informing the conversation. You can certainly draw a parallel between Games Workshop’s earliest period as a general distributor and – say – Rough Trade record shops.
Let’s go in another direction. Consider the metaphysical axis that Warhammer rests. Rather than Good and Evil we have Law and Chaos. This is a lift from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books, most relevantly Elric. In the Eternal Champion sequence, Elric is torn between the two, and the books are about a search for balance. Philosophically speaking, this is a more interesting axis - without explicitly trying to deconstruct what the words mean anyway, “Good Versus Evil” can only mean that we’re on the side of Good. “Order versus Chaos” is actually a philosophical question. What is important?
It’s worth noting that one of the other primary Warhammer influences - and I’d argue THE primary influence on 40k – also uses this dichotomy. 2000AD’s Nemesis the Warlock and associated stories use Law and Chaos, but writer Pat Mills almost always comes down on the side of Chaos. In the universe of Nemesis, the Termight empire of Earth wages a war of genocide against the rest of the galaxy to bring the jackboot down on them forever, chanting catchy slogans like Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave. The diverse aliens have to oppose them. The humans are, without a doubt, the bad guys, and “order” is just another word for “monstrous Imperialism”. The humans are grotesque parodies, but the aliens are also explicitly freakish, but their bizarreness bears no relation to their morality. It’s okay to be a freak. It’s better to be a freak – or rather, better to be what Order would label a freak.
Now we come to the original mode of 40k. It is somewhere between satire and horror, depending on its inclination. As I’ve said many times before, the point of 40k there is that there are no good guys. Like 2000AD, it is implicitly and explicitly counter-cultural, a big black joke at the horror of existence.
Now, in that context, where Slaanesh was born, it become something else. If the Empire/Imperium are not the good guys, then Slaanesh and everything it represents are not implicitly the bad guys. It’s about the dynamic between puritanical excesses and its opposite. In a universe with no good options, it’s easier to imagine going “Given a choice between your idea of order and this idea of damnation, I choose damnation”. Fuck it. Let your Freak Standard Fly.
I’m sure you see the problem.
As the Imperium moves more even slightly towards a reading of them as heroes, the more it makes Slaanesh harder to defend. If the Empire is the good guys, it’s not hard to work out what the sexy people with less gender conforming bodies are.
But that’s me with my adult mind. I look back at how I felt about Slaanesh when I was an early teenager.
I remember how I felt about Realm of Chaos. I was petrified of Slaanesh. I didn’t like thinking about Slaanesh. I never stopped thinking of Slaanesh.
The other element of Warhammer is that it is a horror fantasy universe, which was primarily aimed at British boys. Slaanesh is literally powered by homophobia, transphobia and the fear of the other… but the point of Slaanesh is that This Is Inside You. Slaanesh doesn’t just exist as a thing to punch. Slaanesh exists as a threat to your own identity. Whatever your identity actually ends up shaking down as, you were still afraid of this. Maybe this is what you wanted after all, says she who thirsts and suggests you thirst too. And Slaanesh takes that, strips away the polite whispers and just PUTS IT OUT THERE. It’s taking what mainstream culture doesn’t talk about and putting it in the game books. It isn’t really about expressing the designers homophobia – or at least, I suspect not primarily. It’s about using homophobia to disturb teenagers. Notice I don’t say straight cis boy teenagers. In my experience, to grow up in a homophobic society and be queer is to be afraid of yourself. I was afraid of Slaanesh because, to some small degree, this was what society would think of me if it truly knew me. I was afraid of Slaanesh because I didn’t want it to be true.
And you immediately go “Wait – this isn’t the sort of shit we should be pushing into vulnerable kids heads?”
And yeah, you’d think obviously not, but…
We hit the Lovecraft problem, which is not that his work is racist (which is evidently true) but its a considerable portion of its aesthetic innovations and merit is 100% powered by its racism. It is fear of the Other writ large. You cannot remove the racism from Lovecraft any more you can remove the uranium from an A-bomb and still expect it to flatten cities.
That’s an exaggeration. Defusing the genre and trying to work out ways to get similar effects without similar problems is one of the goals that generations have wrestled with, but you need the awareness that the Ur-text is simultaneously Great and Reprehensible. Genre is a building whose foundations are made of corpses.
This is the argument I first met in Reynolds/Press’ The Sex Revolts, which they lifted from Ellen Willis, based upon finding the Sex Pistols Bodies more inspiring that the most morally pure women’s music due to the commitment and belief, in the same way that you could admire a rocket without worrying about its fuel (misogyny) and its target (you). In the case of Lovecraft, fear of the other is built somewhere into us, and in a horror work, pricking that uncomfortable feeling is 100% the point. Only someone with a crippling fear of the other could evoke that so horrifically.
In the case of Slaanesh, I find myself thinking early Slaanesh which was more explicit is actually less of a problem that later, reduced-horror Slaanesh, due to the fact it was aiming at that with more determination. There was nothing sexy about Slaanesh. The sexlessness of 40k’s worldbuilding, while lifting so much visual fetish imagery, is one of the more interesting aesthetic aspects of its world, and I suspect should be an essay of its own.
One final aspect on here, and the possibility of inverting societal hate into weapons, defenses and survival tactics. I think of an culturally marginalised friend’s response to Shut Up And Sit Down’s take down of Cards Against Humanity. How dare they police how I process my trauma. There’s certainly a reading of Slaanesh which you could file next to that.
However, I feel all of the above only works in Games Workshops earlier counter-cultural days. As a multinational corporation, it holds far less water. You can’t get away with that when you are a micro-Disney with chainswords.
So what can you get away with? What can you do about this fantasy of an earlier age to make it work in ours?
Well, you could just kill Slaanesh. I can see the argument for that. I certainly wouldn’t be angry if they did, but I’m going to forward alternative approaches.
Jamie notes that that the Eldar are the race who have always been the race which includes the progressive ideals. In fact, that’s one of the things which makes Slaanesh so problematic – the implication that sensuality and intellectuality will lead to damnation. As such, Ynnead – the new death god born to keep their spirits safe from their literal worst sides – provides an antagonist and balance to Slaanesh.
And, as Jamie also notes, it’s clear that there is a blurring or questioning of gender in the Avatar of Ynnead.
I think this is critical. We think about diversity as a representation issue, but it’s more complicated than having positive role models, especially in a universe as fucked up as 40k. When you have many characters of any group, the less any one of those specific characters has to represent. Or to put it another way – the queerer they make the Eldar, and the more queer content there is elsewhere in Warhammer 40k, the less problematic Slaanesh becomes.
While there’s approaches to the models that I suspect should be phased out in terms of fetishising of bodies, there’s places where a wider representation gives the freedom to make Slaanesh bad guys. By having explicitly queer content elsewhere, it makes clear the problem is based on Slaanesh specifically rather than their identity generally. I always come back to the quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” There’s examples of every stereotype in the world, but everyone who conforms to a stereotype is also more than the stereotype.
So that’s the core of problem of the Problem of Slaanesh – as in, it’s not the problem of Slaanesh. The problem of Slaanesh is that it’s in the Warhammer universe, and it’s the Warhammer universe that has to change… and then She Who Thirsts becomes less of a problem.
And I’m out.