I wasn’t going to do a newsletter today, but then I figured I needed the distraction, and you may too. Love to the lot of you.
We’ve mentioned the competition to “be” in DIE (if you don’t mind suffering an awful fate) in the backmatter and in passing here, but Stephanie recorded a video. Watch it here, as she fills you in.
We’ll basically be closing the competition at the end of November so Stephanie can do them on a cover. We’re loving the entries we’ve had so far.
The Ludocrats trade comps arrived this week, which is just a beautiful, awful, heart-warming, heart-devouring volume. We are very proud and/or ashamed.
It’s out November 18th, so you can talk to your retailer to get a copy. Also, for those who like supporting local book shops, here’s its link on bookshop.com. Actually, while we’re linking, here’s DIE: THE GREAT GAME’s one too.
Thought Bubble is running its digital con on the 14th and 15th and has at least some of its programme online. I believe there’s more coming, but what’s there is a whole bunch of exciting. Everything will be released online that weekend, so this is hyper accessible to all. I’m doing a couple of things…
I think this is actually the first video of a DIE game I’ve recorded and made public, right? And with an all-star cast and everything. It’s a (er) unusual set up for the game, but certainly should give a taste of how it can work, or at least how I GM, or at least how I GM with this bunch, whilst on camera. We recorded it this Sunday night and it was just too much fun. The players were a total delight, all as good as you’d hope they’d be. Also, monsters.
And we still need to work out how to use twitch to make this work. Oh noes!
I’m on a panel this year at Metatopia, talking about finding words to talk about games. This should be interesting. Metatopia details here – it’s all the coming weekend.
Clayton was interviewed over on Decompressed, about lettering generally and on DIE specifically. This is a lot of perspective on one of my favourite letterers’ work, and also makes me miss him intensely. He is also very kind in not sharing any of the horror stories about working with me.
You may guess why I came to this given the book I’m about to write about, but I hadn’t actually heard the original version of It’s Grim Up North with Pete Wylie on Vocals. But it’s on youtube, so I have now, and you should too.
The Golden Cobra awards were announced, and I judged the guest judge special prize, which I gave to Drawing Out The Demon by Liz Strong and wrote about at length in the site. As this is already a pretty text heavy newsletter, I’ll save writing some more for next week, but in short: go nose at all these excellent games, and download.
And lo! The start of another of my army painting threads on twitter. This time, Space Marines, specifically my hyper-purple chapter, The Chastised.
Q: I know you decided against a big essay explaining every WicDiv Playlist song. But I have to know. I have to know so badly that I've literally signed back into my Tumblr just for it. Why "Baby's on Fire"?
A: Baby’s On Fire isn’t on the WicDiv playlist - however, the title track of the album it’s from is - Here Comes the Warm Jets.
I was on a panel at (I believe) ECCC. It’s a music and comics panel. It’s basically me, Matt Fraction and the host. We’re talking about music and comics, and a key part is just playing some records and listening to them. As in, a big hall of people, just silent, listening to whatever we’ve selected.
Matt picks Here Comes The Warm Jets, and it’s just magical. Warm Jets-era Eno is something I knew of, but had never actually went into, so hearing this big fuzzy piece of distorted pop was a full body shiver experience, and just religious.
I quietly added it to the playlist beneath the table. In a real way, the sort of thing WicDiv was all about.
Q: Do you have a process for coming up with period dialogue for comics like the WicDiv period pieces and Three? You can't write the exact same dialect as the era (I suppose it's possible for more modern periods but not for the rest of them) so you have to come up with something that isn't real but feels real.
A: Good question, and one which I don’t have a fantastic answer for. Getting dialogue to feel like a period is something which is one of my more instinctive bits of the skill set.
In a real way, it’s an aesthetic job - it’s never really about the period, and how you want the period to feel to the modern reader.
I love when Death of Stalin does with casting regional accents, as it manages to underline that rather than the somewhat austere nature of most Russian translations that these are basically a group of working class guys who’ve somehow taken over a country. It reveals a truth about them, but is a clear styilsed choice.
I’m half-way through Maria Dahvana Headley’s excellent new translation of Beowulf right now, which uses a lot of modern phrases - the bit which everyone picks up on is its opening, which rather than using something like “Hail!” goes with “Bro!”, which says a lot. But it also doesn’t say everything - this is still a poem, and is powerfully of its moment, but by its choices brings it closer to a warrior talking to you about shit that went down. It makes those ancient warriors feel as murderous and real as the guys in That Pub at closing time.
I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like any of the two of the above - I’m normally writing history to heighten difference. With Three I cut a bunch of period words from the draft, and likely should have cut more, and was deliberately trying to ape the austere nature of classical tales. It was a classical story which just happened to star people who never usually got to star. With stuff like the WicDiv specials, that they’re embedded in a modern story means I want to heighten the difference from the modern day - and as they’re often writers in the period, I’m often trying to capture the timbre of specific writers.
I mean, as a writer of dialogue, I’m someone who looks at style. Whether I’m doing Byron or doing Tumblr, it’s the same skillset.
I admit, there is a story I want to do set in the Bronze age which has a bit more of the anachronism-to-make-stuff-more-empathisable trick.
Q: Any Uber news you can share?
Nothing I can share right now. There have been some positive noises last time I chatted with Avatar.
After so long, I don’t want to say “I have hopes for 2021″ in case of giving false hopes but I do.
Q: Hey! Loved Ludocrats in its completed form, the bit with the stuff (you know) was so good. Quick question, are all the backmatter pages in the trade?
A: Ludocrats includes the main backmatter stuff, and certainly the stuff you’re talking about - we don’t have every single credits page or the next month page, as that would be pointless and make no sense. However, we also have other presentation stuff in the trade which is unique to it.
Basically, we’ve edited it to the format.
Q: I had a question about comics versus books. I’ve written a story but I don’t know whether it would be best served as a comic or a book? I was wondering if you there were any times you considered going with books over comics or the other way round, and what made you go with your choice? Thank you.
A: Medium is the first question I ask about any story. Normally the medium is part of the story’s inspiration - I am explicitly thinking of doing a comic with (for example) Stephanie and thinking of what would work well with her, in that medium. Even earlier, when I didn’t have an artist in mind, I’m thinking about the pure and beautiful idea of comics. I came to comics hard. I wanted to do comics, and was thinking of comics and their strengths and limitations. That’s what was exciting me.
I have had some story ideas which I’ve realised don’t quite sit well as comics - and they normally feel like something else. I mean, I did a twine thing for my own amusement this year, as it was something which was about THAT medium. There’s one fairly big Idea I have which I flirted with a comic for a while, but never did it, and I realise that it is fundamentally a novel. It’s about that medium, and needs what a novel allows.
Unless it shifts, and suddenly becomes something else, and works as a comic. Or a twine game, apparently
There was an entirely unplanned music-centric and period-centric theme to my reading this week. I read 45 by Bill Drummond, My Riot by Rick Spears/Emmett Helen and Smoove City by Kenny Keil. All circle around the early 90s in different ways, either as inspiration or a gravity well it can’t quite escape. I know the feeling.
My Riot takes Riot Grrl and uses it as the backbone of a coming of age story – girl finds escape from stricture of her life in the punk rock scene as it transforms into the emancipatory A-bomb of Riot Grrl. Spears is particularly well observed in his choice of scene detail, and Helen’s cartooning absolutely nails the variety of emotions here, all in zine-appropriate black and white. I was struck how its opening classical YA-beats are subverted as it builds towards a more emancipatory conclusion, with the story slipping the shackles of its genre in the same way that its protagonist slips the shackles of her life. Smoove City is inspired by New Jack Swing, and a hypercolour kaleidoscope of loving silliness of boys trying to perfect their air-humping while not being chewed up by the music industry. It kicks into a higher gear when their equally incompetent manager arrives as a foil, and things escalate and finds new ways of using its striking 100% period perfect aesthetic to great effect.
45 is the book that Bill Drummond of the KLF wrote when he was 45. There’s relatively little about the time when he was in the greatest band on the planet, and this essay-memoir circles around it – before and after, admitting that period is likely why you’re reading this, but not focusing on it. Not a problem in any way – Drummond is someone with a huge history in pop before that weird period where they got to reign supreme in the UK charts for a year or two, and has enjoyed (or at least employed) the later infamy. The Discordian Pranksters of the Imperial Phase is born of all of that late 1970s art-scene which begat a bunch of fascinating bands. The section of managing Echo & the Bunnymen was most inspiring, and also saddening – the specific alchemy which allowed these ideas and this art come together is just gone now. The KLF are one of those bands which people who care say “We’ll never see their like again” which seems especially true – the context and the culture which allowed them to germinate and allowed them to do what they do simply doesn’t exist any more. We won’t see their likes again simply because the rainforests are burned to the ground. I found myself just chewing over the idea of the Crucial Three, leading to three bands, two of which had literally some of the greatest band names I’ve ever heard – Echo & The Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. No wonder Pete Wylie kept on changing his Wah! Moniker – you had to feel competitive. Point being: a band name is the simplest sign of thought in a band, the ability to conceptualise yourself, to know what a band is beyond simple sound.
All of which is miles away from the book, but still part of it. Drummond has stories to spare, and is a hell of a writer. It was bought for me as a present (thanks, Sarah!) as I turned 45, and it written when I was a similar age to when Drummond started his career. This is a rare burst of much needed perspective from one of my inspirations. Recommended.
Bedding in of methodology continues, and seems to be holding up. Managed to finish the ludicrous self-imposed deadline for a project last week, wrapping it up. Monday was polishing up an Eternals issue, leaving the rest of this week for doing the tight plotting for DIE’s fourth arc. I’m leaving myself lots of space to solve this equation – yesterday was a tight read of the 15 issues so far, seeing what’s left lying there that I need to bring back in.
Plotting is my least favourite part of writing. It’s the literal blank page. You have a bunch of ideas, and a direction, but in a very real and literal way, the story doesn’t exist. It’s the difference between “the hobbits go to Mount Doom” and “How the fuck do they get to Mount Doom?” It always intimidates me, and then I just crack down. Collect notes for everything. The aforementioned re-read. Start seeing what appear to be the necessary elements. The second you’ve got those necessary scenes, you start suggesting other necessary scenes. Suddenly, you’ve got an actual structure, and then it comes together, and it’s a story where nothing was before. You lean back, a little dazzled. Creation. That’s one of my favourite things in writing. You just have to go through an existential hell to get there.
I will return to it, after I eat some cheese on toast. See you next week, when I believe Marneus Calgar 2 should be out.