In Duolingo news, this week, person in first place had 3000XP on the first day. With four and a half days left, they have just shy of 9500XP. I’ve just done the math on that, and I’m not sure it is even possible. Hmm.
Ludocrats is out next week, apparently. While hyping books in this period does feel like this, this incredibly kind review of Ludocrats over at AIPT made me realised I hadn’t actually told the whole Ludocrats story, especially in terms of how Jim and me work. So this is a little bit of a personal history of Jim and me, and a little bit of craft. Heart on sleeve, and how we pushed our sleeves up and got on with this.
Jim entered my life when he walked into the PC Gamer office, as one of two new staff writers. This was 2000, and at a time when magazines were starting to deal with the fact we needed writers who were more digitally literate than the ones on staff. Jim was brought in as the Authentic Voice Of Internet Youth, which meant that he knew how modems worked and could railgun everyone better than everyone else. I had trouble with mouselook.
We soon bonded over mutual interests and disinterests. We didn’t agree on everything, but we agreed in the concept of interest itself. Jim was a philosophy graduate with an obsession about the concept of boredom. I was a self-confessed neophile. That was enough to tie us together.
Generally, we got on as we got stuff done.
Game journalists back then were exactly like every other 20-something creative with a chip on their shoulder (and likely a larger chip, because they were doing something no-one else respected, not even themselves in many cases). If you were in the bar, inevitably someone would talk about how they were working on their novel. No, they weren’t. They were in the bar.
We were too, but found time somewhere. I got my comics done and Jim got his novels done. I remember angrily cornering a friend who had eye-rolled at Jim Working On His Novel, demanding he apologise when Jim finished another one. Yes, there are many posers among us, but Jim was not among them.
His ambition is a wonderful facilitator of others. He is famously terse, but I can’t think of a close friend who has created more places for others to express as much. The site Big Robot was a little cultural organisation for his extended friends to stretch outside their dayjobs. I did a lot there. My longest webcomic work, the photocomic Negativeland, appeared there, biweekly. He even drew a few panels of another story we were playing with, with a piece of sentient ink called David Kohl. I’m pretty sure I re-used that name somewhere.
When Jim left games journalism, he used the Big Robot name for his company, and made a string of games which tried to merge the open game-aesthetics of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with his own obsessions. I’ve often considered a dialogue between our work, in the same way I think of a dialogue between my work and Fraction’s. It’s easy to see Sir, Are You Being Hunted is a strange, slow flirtation with The Manchester Gods in Journey Into Mystery.
Sometimes the conversation turns practical, where we return to Ludocrats.
In 2003 we started an exquisite corpse, writing letters to one another in the voice of two aristocrats of the Ludicrous – Baron Otto Von Subertan and Professor Hades Zero-K. They bounced back and forth until we were just shy of the conclusion, at which point we stopped. We saw the shape of it, and knew enough.
Still, it lingered. We played with the ideas, in our own ways – there’s an article somewhere were I talk about the Ludicrous being a way to break the false dichotomy between Cheese and Credible, but there were more. It was a fun way to reimagine the world around us.
Around 2006-2007, I’ve emerged from an epic break-up and after crawling off a string of sofas, I end up sleeping in Jim’s spare room. Rue Britannia is out and I’m making my plans for comics. This is the period where I’m walking home, and doing the mental math on what the minimum amount of journalism I’d have to do to pay for rent so I could throw all my efforts into comics, as I knew I couldn’t rely on any reliable income from comics. I arrived home to find a royalty cheque from Image for 17 cents arrive. That underlined the point.
I alternated bringing tea to Jim and stalking through the graveyards behind the house. I was playing with what could exist alongside Phonogram. A thing called Multimedium which got as far as an issue, and the idea of Ludocrats. The Klaxon’s Gravity’s Rainbow on repeat, and its rush into space made me think of exactly where we could take them. That also sounded fun. The backbone of a plot was there, and with that weird half idea that seemed to burst from the Klaxons to end it. That could work. That could bring people with us.
We went as far as some early talks with an artist, but in the end, the creative effort that would have gone into those comics instead went into Rock Paper Shotgun, the games site Jim and I founded with Alec Meer and John Walker in 2007. Jim’s idea, and both our weird testament to leave behind in games. It was a surprise that it worked, and worked so well, and people who have no idea who Jim and me are pay their rent from it. I haven’t even mentioned New Games Journalism, which Jim was in the front row for and even co-edited a book with me. “That’s the most pretentious thing you’ve ever done,” he said, the morning after I published the manifesto. Jim also is the person who encouraged me to change from my previous glasses to the current square shape, so is a clear enabler of pretension.
Eventually, we came back to Ludocrats, as it felt like fun. We both could do with some fun.
We write a script like so.
Jim and I arrange a summit. We get together. We try to avoid just playing Warhammer.
We had previously taken the original letters, and previous notes we made. As Ludocrats has almost come into existence several times, we have synopsis and notes for each issue. We look at them again, open up in a shared google-doc, and start making notes and additions. We have a debate over stuff, how things could land, what elements time has been cruel to and how to fix them. We check what was in previous issues, elements Jeff has added when drawing into the comic and think of what we could reintegrate into the new issue. We hammer some of that down, and eventually submit to our instincts, and play Warhammer.
Jim goes home, and takes those notes and tries to write up his take on the content for the issue. This is primarily dialogue driven, but with some action. There is a lot of content, as the point is play.
I take the content, add a bunch of my own stuff and edit it to work as a comic script. This is my area of expertise. This can mean ejecting elements we like, and writing more to make it land. We jettison about half the stuff, and move to being more visually driven. I pass it back to Jim, who gives it the okay or makes tweaks, and then we pass to C.
As any book, we do another pass on the script before lettering, and likely some tweaks afterwards. With Ludocrats, this is especially true. We have an idea of what to do in the essays in the back before it’s drawn, but it’s only really done afterwards. A lot of the content are based on things we spot in the comic and want to write more about. Jim handles the vast majority most of these – we write the letters page together, and I do credits page, but otherwise it’s only a paragraph or so.
That’s what co-writing looks like on Ludocrats, and it’s the sort of co-writing that only really can exist when you’ve been living inside each others’ pockets for two decades. It is a time.
One week until you can get hold of it. It has been a journey.
TL;DR: They worked on the synopsis and dialogue together, Kieron translated it into comic and Jim does most of the back matter.
A few weeks ago, I auctioned a game of DIE as part of the Creator 4 Comics push to support comic retailers. The Saturday just gone, we played the game. I was nervous, as that while it’s for charity, folks who paid over $1200 for a game is a big pressure. The biggest compliment I can give is that by the end I’d entirely forgotten most of the group didn’t know each other. Murder and emotions, and a ludicrous amount of Meta. A fun time was had by all.
I may write up the scenario at some point for folks to play. Kieron Gillen was an NPC in it, which is very much the sort of thing you’d expect in a game run by me, right?
It’s not too late to donate if you want to support the charity, and your local shop would be grateful for any direct support you can give too.
C is editing a section in the Insider Art anthology (in aid of female and NB retailers) and has been tweeting some little bits of art. Go have a nose for it all. Stephanie’s piece shows her working in a completely different style.
I got a comp copy of Antony Johnston’s The Tempus Project through the post, the second of the Bridgette Sharp technothrillers. I read it as a Beta reader, and enjoy Bridgette and her precise sense of how someone like her emerged from a specific subculture at a specific time. There really were a lot of goths in the roots of the British internet culture. It’s out next week, and you can find links to get it here.
Avery Adler is one of my favourite tabletop designers, and she pulled together this thread of her game design threads. If you want a crash course on indie RPG design thought, this is it.
Big losses this week in the world of music. Little Richard was the only one of the first wave of rock and rollers to enter my obsessional listening in my formative years. The voice was an explosion. The first three syllables of Lucielle still sound like an argument for why one is the greatest of all time. Kraftwerk were a band I loved and admired, but never one of my bands, if you get that division. Florian Schneider’s death is a huge thing, and prompted me to go back into them. If you want an overview, Tom Ewing writes about them here. Trans Europe Express was always the album I went to, but my immediate response to hearing about it was to listen to all twenty minutes of Autobahn which is just an undeniable landmark in the 20th century of pop.
Talking about Tom, his people’s poll world cup of pop is highly entertaining (and for a good course) and the playlist which collates them all is a great scratch list of pop.
There are a number of world cups online. Last week, I had a moment of clear confusion, and started one of my own. It is the World Cup of numbers (1-32). The Semi-finals will be posted after I finish this, where four numbers face each other, and will be picked between, for reasons solely based upon the preference of people.
I am unsure whether this celebrates or critiques twitter. I suspect both.
I did some answers on tumblr this week. Here’s a selection. You can ask more here.
Q: How do you write young characters so that they sound convincingly “young”? I keep aging up my characters so that I get their mannerisms and voices correct. I’m trying not to have a “hello fellow kids” moment
A: This is one of those things which are hugely subjective. I’m glad that you like my stuff, but I’m aware that enough people think it’s Hello Fellow Kids. I suspect many people thought it was Hello Fellow Kids even when I was a Fellow Kid.
This actually comes back to the ask a couple of times ago - is work better done in the moment or later? Perspective is useful. You may not be 16 now, but you have been 16, and you can try to remember that. I try to write from the inside out - it’s what they’re expressing rather than how they’re expressing it is the main thing to get right.
That said, I don’t think I’ve tried to write anything like an authentic modern teen voice since 2008′s Singles Club. Everything else is highly stylized (YA), or leaning into the inside-out approach (WicDiv) or period based (DIE).
Q: Do you think art created about a crisis during a crisis portrays the emotions of the moment more accurately than art created after the fact? Do you as an writer and as a reader prefer retrospective narration or like a ‘diary’ style?
I think all generalizations about art are generally wrong. Generally.
However, I find myself thinking of a poem C wrote in her Bear anthology, about reading a poem by Douglas Dunn written after his partner’s death, and then being shown the first draft, and noting how much it was reworked over time, and how the raw feelings were shaped, much later, into something that works better as poetry. Sometimes things can be too raw and overwhelming to translate. Sometimes you don’t understand what was happening until afterwards. There’s a lot of “sometimes.”
I don’t have a preference. It’s all tools for a job, and creates different aesthetic effects.
Q: What are your thoughts on the “Dawn of X” comics? Is there a story you’d want to tell in this “new age” for mutants?
A: I’m not up to date with everything, but all the X books really are one of the most creative and exciting part of superhero comics right now. There’s a wonderful playground of approaches, and the mixture of individual visions with the big coherent direction is a hell of a thing, and WFH universe at its best.
In terms of doing a story, I’m not really thinking about it because…
i) at the moment, I’m not really interested in doing WFH where I’m not expressly playing lead. Jonathan’s done amazing things with redefining X, but I’ve already done a lot of WFH work where I’ve been a supporting character actor (everything I did for the MU with the exception of YA falls under that, I’d say). What little WFH I’m taking on right now, I’m mainly looking for new creative challenges.
ii) I don’t think about WFH unless I’ve actively been asked to. I try to avoid corporate powers getting free labour out of me.
As a side note, if was actively thinking about it, I wouldn’t say so in public, as I think writers talking about what books they want to write when other people are actually writing those characters is a little off. It may not be the intent, but it may just get the person writing the book sacked.
That said, it did amuse me that the me and Hickman flirting in public about Sinister in public led to a bunch of fellow pros (not even fans!) asking me if I was writing a Sinister book.
Work, though oddly spacious. Other projects creep in around the edge, to Jamie’s horror. Stuff is still being done, but I started the week by randomly picking one of my projects to work on. It was PROJECT COWBOY, and I’m now 15 or so pages into issue 13. The “or so” is unusual. I’m not normally writing in a way where I don’t know the panel count. I move scenes around, switching between the threads as seem right. It’s a good way to write.
I hit the end of DIE 15 last week, which wraps up THE GREAT GAME. I’ll polish 14 and 15 down the line – Stephanie is just moving onto 13, so I’ve got a month and a half until she’ll need it. Once & Future 12 is handed in on Friday, which ends Old English. This means that at some point in the near future I’m going to have to sit down and do the tight planning of the next arcs for both. DIE’s is weird after the epic scale of THE GREAT GAME. Once & Future’s is huge, and heads towards a huge status quo change. I am both scared and excited.
Plotting arcs is what scares me more than anything else. It’s what still feels like magic. That’s where the white page feels biggest for me. Once you have the larger shape of the story, everything else just feels like doing arrangements and playing with execution.
I was going to write at length about COME DINE WITH ME but I started yabbering about Jim instead. Perhaps next time.