I’m wearing shorts again. This is getting silly.
I like to party. Everybody does.
What Happen Happen
So, I’m a wizard now.
Yesterday, the University of Staffordshire made me an Honoury Doctor of Art, which is the sort of sentence which has me blinking as much as anyone else. “I thought Doctorate” was a website where people review MDs. Thanks for everyone at the University of Staffordshire for incredible hospitality, and enormous thanks to Gee for actually nominating me. Humbled, in dozens of ways.
I also had to speak to the hall. An actual recording of my mumblings is here, but the text follows…
I was born in Stafford. I left to do a degree in the sciences. The Sciences.
I feel twitchy standing here becoming an Honoury Doctor of Art, just because I’ve spent the last twenty years sitting in a room hammering at a word-processor. It feels like cheating. When I’m in front of an audience of people who’ve worked hard for years to be here, I feel rude.
So, I’m honoured, but also guilty.
This got me thinking about what “cheating” really means, and how it’s useful.
There’s two kinds of cheating. There’s the bad kind you’re probably thinking of. Don’t do that. Then there’s a second sort. I’ll define it as “gaining a seemingly improbable result inside a set system by an unprecedented action”. Or less academically, “doing something no-one else does that turns out to work really well.”
Humans have always been good at this kind of cheating.
For example, us not being eaten by tigers is blatantly cheating. The natural relation of humans and tigers is “humans are a handy protein source.” One day, that changed. You can imagine Tigers sitting around, complaining about those delicious simians who have started luring them into holes and stabbing them with bits of sharpened wood. How dare they?
This kind of cheating has another name. It’s human creativity.
Not being eaten by a tiger is pure art.
You’re about to head into the world, with a head full of lightning. I suspect many of you are nervous. That’s normal. Also, an entirely sensible response. The tigers may be mainly metaphorical, but there are a lot of them. It’s easy to get lost, which is dangerous when the world is full of cats that thirst for human flesh.
So… are you aware of the Hamming question?
He’s a mathematician who did a speech advising folks about how to go about doing Nobel prize winning work. It centered on a couple of questions you should ask yourself.
One - What’s the biggest problem in your field?
Two - Are you working on it?
One of my editors and I used to quote it back and forth at each other, when deciding what to write next. Which is obviously hilariously grandiose for a couple of chancers, but it worked.
The point is that the first question is subjective. What do you think is the biggest problem in your field? This applies to any career. Ask it of yourself when you feel lost. It focuses your attention.
The world is full of tigers who will try and make you forget how creative you are, and trick you that there is one simple path which involves doing exactly what you’re told (which coincidentally is exactly they what you to do). The first, most necessary step of creativity to see what they’re not telling you.
There’s another word for the kind of creativity I’ve called “cheating”, of creating something from nothing.
The Tigers will try and tell you that you’re not magical.
This is because they are Tigers and want to eat you.
Don’t let them trick you. Trick them.
Your magic is better than theirs.
San Diego Comic Con is next week. I’m going, to primarily hype the forthcoming ONCE & FUTURE from Boom. Next week’s newsletter will be full of all the details of where you’ll find me (not least as I’m still wrestling down bits of the schedule).
Comixology are sponsoring the CBLDF party at on July 18th. It has a British Invasion theme, and Tula Lotay and and myself (plus friends) are DJing.
It will be fun time. Get your tickets here.
My friend Mink found a piece of paper left over from a game that basically said “WHAT HAPPEN” on it. This amused us so much that we turned it into a full powered by the Apocalypse Hack.
This joke may make no sense to anyone else. We just like saying “What Happen” quizzically.
A bunch of press from times most recent plus links of other nature.
Friends of mine are doing a streamed Age of Sigmar game to raise money for MIND. This makes me very happy.
I was interviewed by the GCN when I was over in Dublin, circling around representation issues in comics.
RPG Youtube channel StoryAlways interviewed me about the development of the DIE Beta. Lots of chat!
Jason Latour has just started a video series where he interviews his fellow creators, called THE DRAWL. This is really emotional and focused stuff – very different terrain to my old Decompressed, but really intimate. The first interviews are with Chip Zdarsky and can’t wait to see what comes next.
There’s now a Discord for folks who want to discuss or ask questions about the DIE RPG Beta. You can go join up here.
It’s been a big few weeks. I skirted over my own individual business in a rush last time, and I suspect there won’t be much time for much more here. It is a time. Project Millionaire Sweeper and Project Private Bukowski are very different sorts of project, so how they hit my time is still something I’m learning.
It was also the end of Vertigo. Everyone wrote their memorials last week, so I’m a little late, but it did hit me. The work which led to Vertigo (and was eventually folded into it) and the work which Vertigo produced were absolutely core to what I do. It was the work I was reading before I fell fully into the medium when I was 25. Jamie’s origin sequence involves being introduced to Sandman by a girlfriend. Those key 90s texts are essential – you can see the fingerprints of the Invisibles and Kill Your Boyfriend over WicDiv as much as anything else. Hell, Transmetropolitan was the book which made me go to a comic forum for the first time.
Also, it produced the model of a comic series which still is the most viable route for producing adult genre-adjacent fiction in the anglophone market. Sandman forged the template, and it was the one which supports the vast majority of Vertigo’s books. Hell, any book which tells a closed story which is told in monthly issues which are then collected into trade paperbacks is in debt to Vertigo.
I wrote for Vertigo once – a small story for American Vampire. I did the pitch dance a few times before my time was consumed by Marvel. I’m aware there’s a different career route where that’s where I did my work around the late 00s and early 10s rather than what I did. In some ways, with my pretensions, it makes more sense. The bit of me which did whole Uncanny X-men issues homaging Notes From Underground kind of were the give away. As much as the alt dimension where Jamie and I did more Phonogram, the alt-dimension where some of my Vertigo pitches landed and I went that-a-way is also something I think of.
Eventually, I just did my own. As I said above, any of the Image book which Do The Sandman Model owe Vertigo, but I suspect The Wicked + the Divine owes it more than most. Jamie and I, due to our routes into the industry, wanted to do our own take on the Vertigo book. The fingerprints of so much that was formative on us is in WicDiv. I joked that WicDiv was Ultimate Phonogram, but it could be as easily described as Ultimate Vertigo. “How would the pop-intellectual book of 90s Vertigo operate in the 10s?” WicDiv was our answer.
I’ll miss it. It’s one of the genuinely important labels of the industry.
This week’s work has mainly been Once & Future. I should finish off a Draft of issue 4 tomorrow, which I’m enjoying enormously. Dan Mota and Tamara Bonvillain’s work is coming in, and startling. Its order cut off is on the 26th, so still time to talk to a retailer.
Right – back to the e-mail. Speak to you soon, as I prepare to rush to a plane.