I really should start writing these newsletters earlier in the day, when my brain is still mostly working, but it seems never to happen. Will there be a typo as last week's first line misspelling of "Aretha"? Let's find out.
I’ve been talking about Twenty Four Panels for a while, the anthology I am co-editing, in support of the PTSD charities working with the Grenfell survivors. We’ve announced it properly, in an interview with the Guardian which reveals our publisher – Image. This means that it’ll be available anywhere you’ve got an image book, so both comic shops and retail ones.
The cover is by Tula Lotay, with design by Dee Cunnliffe. Here’s the full Image press release, which includes many more details. How about names? Well, how about: Al Ewing, Alan Moore, Alex de Campi, Antony Johnston, Caspar Wijngaard, Dan Watters, Dilraj Mann, Doug Braithwaite, Gavin Mitchell, Laurie Penny, Leigh Alexander, Lizz Lunney, Melinda Gebbie, Paul Cornell, Rachael Smith, Ram V, Robin Hoelzemann, Ro Stein, Sara Kenney, Sarah Gordon, Ted Brandt, and Tom Humberstone. And More!
The anthology takes the structure of half which were invited, and the other half being open submissions, so there’s a real sense of community from top to bottom. I said this in the interview about the book: “It can’t be triggering. It has a theme of what trauma does, how it’s survived, how community works and generally hope. There’s stories that are intensely moving, but even so, they’re intensely life-affirming. It’s as varied as London itself.” Which sounds like a fair summing up. It’s a hell of a thing to be part of.
Oh - here’s a panel from Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s story “If Einstein’s Right.” I’ll do more previews as we step closer.
We also announced the latest comedy special, as part of the November Image solicits. Here’s the description....
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: THE FUNNIES #1 (ONE-SHOT)
WRITER / ARTIST: KIERON GILLEN, ERICA HENDERSON, CHIP ZDARSKY, KATE LETH, LARISSA ZAGERIS, KITTY CURRAN AND MORE!
COVER: JAMIE MCKELVIE, MATT WILSON
VARIANT COVER: MARGAUX SALTELNOVEMBER 07 / 32 PAGES / FC / M / $3.99Every ninety years gods are reborn as dogs. They are good dogs. They are very good dogs. In two years, they may have learned how to sit, which is one of several (count “˜em!) stories in this special. As THE WICKED + THE DIVINE prepares for its final arc, we invite a bunch of friends over, pass out the fizzy pop and sherbet and have a lovely time. Join us
The “And More” is definitely a thing on this book. I’m looking forward to announcing them, as it’s pretty astounding. And so much fun. Seeing people’s takes arrive in my inbox is gleeful.
Basically these are short, funny comics, playing with the WicDiv characters. I’ve done a couple. One of them is implied in the solicit, and is called (wait for it) THE WICKED + THE CANINE.
Hence the alt cover by Margaux Saltel.
Donnie had stopped going by his given name within a day and a half of arriving in L.A. A writer had glanced at his name tag, up at his face, then leaned across the counter to say, “Don’t you think that’s a little on the nose, kid?”
Donnie smiled back and, when the writer had left, googled “on the nose” and realized he agreed.
Ever since then, Adonis went by Donnie.
A while back I was asked if I had any interest in writing the intro short story for the 2nd edition of the RPG, Scion. It’s a pen and paper RPG where the players are all children of gods, from various pantheons. You may see why they asked me. Anyway, I wrote it, forgot about it, and now Scion is about to be released (with last minute pre-orders here) and they’ve put it online.
The above is a fragment. You can read the rest here.
This was very much a bucket-list sort of activity. These little fictions were often players’ first introduction into a world back in the day, so getting a chance to play greeter is the sort of thing that would have had teenage Gillen grinning hard and has had 40-something doing likewise.
It was the 11th birthday of Rock Paper Shotgun, the site I formed with Jim Rossignol, John Walker and Alec Meer back in the 00s. We launched it with nothing but goodwill and string, and somehow became this thing. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
I was joking about the wonder of Halls & Oates’ last night, and reminded of its entry in the the excellent THIS IS UNCOOL by Gary Mulholland. This immediately led me to dragging it out, and randomly reading passages and playing singles. This is the single volume I’d send back in time to my 11 year old self. It’s a list book of the 500 best singles since punk, going up to 2000. It’s a capsule of social history, subjectivity, joy and sharing. I like it a lot, and you should read it.
“According to both Tacitus and Suetonius, when Germanicus came to town people would follow him around and run up to 20 miles outside Rome to meet him. Indeed, he was ‘in danger of being mobbed to death whenever he arrived at Rome’. Basically, Germanicus was the Beatles. And much like the Beatles, he insisted upon being a real-life, quite disappointing person rather than the cipher that teenage girls and grown historians want him to be.”
I just flicked through my PDF and chose the first quote which caught my eye. It was easy. It’s that sort of book. It’s a history book that made me laugh a lot, while still being carefully and precisely argued. When I was doing the research for THREE, and hanging out with classicists, it struck me of how much all of them delineated any statement with the boundaries of how sure we can know something. It led me to have a creeping distrust of anyone online writing history who seems too sure about anything. I’ve met Historians. They’re not like that.
But when you get a few drinks down them, they are gleefully opinionated. They’ll still delineate what they’re saying, but they will have their own hard, hot take. They wouldn’t be Historians if they didn’t care.
I say this, as reading this reminded me of those conversations, when someone who knows a topic infinitely more than you ever can is scurrilous, playful, sharp and opinionated. It’s just really good company. As such, it’s a book which backs everything up, but also has fun with it, and doesn’t pretend not to have its own take.
Such as in the above quote about Germanicus.
It’s not about Germanicus. It’s about his daughter, Agrippina, and is passionately In Her Corner against the array of male historians who demonised her. Southon’s most used (and always effective) tactic is a “Er… does this sound at all likely?”. That’s a useful test to run whether reading ancient history or your twitter timeline. Aggripina emerges as a powerful, interesting, driven woman, and the portrait of the world she navigated and the terrors she faced (and overcame for a long time) vivid.
I had a slow morning this week and answered a bunch of asks over on my tumblr. There’s more over there, but here’s a selection of the better ones. Always ask more, and I”ll include relevant answers here.
Q: Are there any phonomancers who like Nickelback?
It’s Sunday, and I’m going to go through a few asks, so I’m in the mood to go into this.
As shown in the last episode of The Singles Club, there is a line drawn between Phonomancery (as a thing which as Kwk puts it, “everyone does”) and Phonomancers (who seem to be self-identified, as someone who is very much into Phonomancery, usually to an unhealthy degree.)
Phonomancery is our metaphor for all the actual things listening to music does to people. Our whole magic system is based upon if Music does a thing to a person, then it can be used. Even extreme stuff like time-travel and Memory kingdoms is about prompting and engaging with your own memories.
In other words, as some people clearly are very into Nickleback, it implies that’s having Phonomantic effects on them. Hell, that people hate them that much also implies Phonomantic effects - not all effects are positive, as anyone who’s ever had a curse song knows.
Now, most Phonomancers (especially the ones we write about) are active obsessional awful art snobs. If you make music that big part of your identity, it ties up with a lot of various social capital, especially as the other part of being a Phonomancer rather than just using Phonomancery is the active intent. Phonomancery effects everyone passively, but Phonomancers are actively chasing magical effects.
(This could easily segue into noting that’s a false dichotomy. I disagree that people are passive listeners - you don’t need to have a flow chart to put on a song that mirrors or dovetails with how you feel. But I’ll go with this for now.)
So, yeah, for a band of their commercial success the number of Nickleback fans will be lower than their success, likely due to the lack of critical standing.
However, in Rue Britannia, we had the whole subplot about Kohl liking Echobelly. At the end, we reveal that the horror of him waking up and putting on an Echobelly album wasn’t really about him suddenly liking Echobelly - but about him admitting it by listening to it. By the end, after the confrontation with Britannia, he’s able to make that confession, to the reader and to himself. He Got Over His Sorry Ass.
(A lot of Phonogram stories can be paraphrased down to someone Getting Over Their Sorry Ass Or Not. Or, really, most of my stories.)
So turning back to Nickleback, sure, I can easily imagine many (especially American) Phonomancers having Nickleback as their Echobelly.
But there’s more angles than that - I can also easily imagine Phonomancers whose own aesthetic stances makes them actively argue for Nickleback, for the power it gains in getting a rise from elitists. There’s the Seth Bingo-esque flicking of someone’s over-satisfied ear-lobes. If you go far down a Good Taste Hole you end up looking down on people who only have less cultivated levels of Performed Good Taste. To choose an example - I looked down at a certain strand of Radiohead fan circa 2000 primarily because they looked down on people who liked slightly more populist music than their (from my position) equally populist tastes.
So arguing Nickleback is basically identical to a more credible rock band is certainly a stance I can imagine certain Phonomancers taking.
Of course, only some of them would actually like Nickleback, versus using the music as a weapon.
But you can never tell. The other option is building up a huge intellectual argument around a band to just justify your fundamental “I dig this.” That’s another kind of insecurity, and Phonomancers tend to be nowt but a mass of insecurities with pop-songs as sticking plasters.
TL;DR: Phonomancers can like whatever they like, as their magic systems are based on the music that they think has magical effects in the world, and that is - at least in some areas - entirely subjective on an individual level.
Q: How does Inanna sit down with that star belt buckle? It looks impractical for cosplay, yet is quite essential to the look.
A: There is nothing practical about any WicDiv character.
Q: You (and most comics writers) juggle a bunch of projects at once, do you have any advice on how to manage that, both in a practical (e.g. scheduling) sense and in terms of making sure your brain has the bandwidth?
A: On the practical side…
I’d strongly advise you over-estimate how much time everything takes. You know your work-rate? Never plan to operate at your max work rate for any extended period of time.
(Me? I don’t schedule to work on the weekends. So Every 7 days I have 2 days which can be used for panic mode shit-hits-the-fan if I need to. Ideally, I don’t, which helps avoid burnout. In practise, most of my relaxation is work of a different kind, but that’s me.)
So - between the above, it means you can practically be sure you manage all this.
I plan for a minimum 5 pages of new draft (or equivalent) every day. In practise, that can change, and on a good day you write more, but that is a steady and sustainable pace which leads you to produce at least four scripts a month. Even if you’re being slow, that’s a script a week - and “A script a week” is a good and useful way to thinking about scheduling. “This week is about this.” This also helps on cognitive load…
On the Bandwidth issue…
Changing gears between projects is the hard thing. This is, in my experience, primarily in the generative side of things. In non-generative work, the load in switching between projects is much lower.
My usual day is “generative work in the mornings, all other work in the afternoon.” This is a plan, and rarely completely sticks, but if it does, it’s a good structure.
Generative work is anything entirely new - mainly first draft scripts, the aforementioned 5 pages.
All other work is obviously the usual busy work (e-mails, etc) but also includes things like edits and even polishing early drafts into scripts I can show an editor. If the underlying work is solid, I find polishing not as cognitively demanding.
(Sometimes less essential generative work goes in the afternoon too, though usually affecting it in some way. If you want a reason for messiness in my Newsletters (usually written right at the end of a work day) then that would be it.)
Returning to the switching gears in generative work, this is where you get absolutely crushed. If I’m working on one project and I have to deal with ANYTHING else from another project, no matter how small, it involves downloading everything you were doing, picking up the whole other project, solving the problem, and then reversing the process. I lost two hours to this the other week, when I had to switch from Spangly New Thing to WicDiv to give a new interstitial for issue 39. The result of all that effort was the word “LOW.” Obviously for a less demanding project than WicDiv that would be easier, but with a super-structual fucker like this god book, I need to think how it reflects with literally the whole thing.
This is the other advantage of doing things week by week. You know this week is for generating a certain project. On Monday you start writing it. You upload that project into your head. You live with it for the week. By Friday, you’ve finished it. You download the project, reset on weekend, and repeat the process next week
As the above shows, it’s been a busy one publicly, and even busier privately. Two new projects actually move from conceptual to actual, plus pulling together our trailer for Spangly New Thing. This led to me spending the weekend wrestling with software trying to create something that explains this book in three pages. I’m pleased with where it ended up – I suspect when it’s out, I may write a little more about the process, as it’s a useful technique. We use preview pages to sell books, but that’s only ever going to be like playing a minute or two from a movie. Yes, it’s of use… but it doesn’t really explain what the book is.
We’ve done this kind of thing before – hell, even going back to the first Phonogram, we did it, in a one page introduction, and did it for every single issue of the first series. We did it for WicDiv, in another two page bespoke story, in an early case of Imperial Phase. Spangly New Thing is the other form of trailer, where you take pre-existing assets, re-arrange, tweak lettering and form another story. We’ve done that with WicDiv too, with the two-page one for issue 18. I think Spangly’s is a little more developed, and can’t wait for you to see it.
After that though, it’s calmed down a little. I’ve had a chance to breathe, and start to work steadily again. I’m aware that things will get hectic soon, so I just need to breathe deeply, steel myself for the storm to descend and prepare for the fray.
This roughly translates as “Remember how to do interviews, as it’s been nearly a year since you were doing any regularly and you’ve completely forgot.”