Sunglasses At Nightmare
Three books out this week. Cripes. This is quite the busy late-summer.
Firstly, Once & Future #29, which is the penultimate issue. Dan and Tamra continue to create phantasms on the page and Ed brings absolute creepy style to every balloon. By this point, everything's exploding, big reveals are happening every page and the emotions creep ever closer to imploding. I'm pleased with this, and with the extra-long final issue coming next, I think people will see how all this resolves.
The preview is here, which includes major spoilers from the off.
Also, Judgment Day marches on apocalyptically. This week I've got two tie-ins, Immortal X-Men #6 and Death to the Mutants #2.
Immortal X-men #6 is the Quiet Council's perspective on the misadventures and brutal aftermath of Judgment Day 3, primarily using Sebastian Shaw as a filter. So... that didn't work? What now? And what does someone who's long since resigned themselves to Hellfire make of the idea of Judgment anyway?
I enjoyed this issue – I hoped the nature of Immortal's rotating narrator structure would challenge myself to really try and grapple each character's internality, and this is the first one where I was forced to take on a character I didn't have a particularly strong hold of before I started. (All the other issue are characters I knew back to front– in some cases, because I was reinventing them). Like most my writing, there was one line which I hit early on, and everything else fell into place. I wrote it and nodded in recognition. That. That's Sebastian Shaw.
(I understand this is how one does accents or impressions – you find a phrase you know is right use to reset the voice if you wander.)
There's also Death To the Mutants #2 where we check in on the Eternals and (especially this episode) the Deviants, and their responses to Judgment Day 3. Lots of Judgments, debate, Kro meaningfully donning items of clothing, flirtation and screaming. Also, delayed poetry zines as a significant subplot. No, really.
(I'm aware that my Eternals run is, in a weird way, a deeply faithful to Kirby, in that I'm still introducing new characters and giving them a spin this far into it. I couldn't resist Syne, ever since Valerio sent me her initial design)
Reading order? There really isn't one at all. They're both in conversation with AXE 3, rather than each other. I was talking about Event comics with C this week, so the absolute weirdness of their structure is really on my mind. She's got a Modernist Poetry MA, and explaining to her how Events are a fractal and non-linear exploration of a narrative, with no actual set order, and seeing her brain fitz a little made me really aware of what we tend to forget. Yes, crossovers are born of commerce, but they're an unique narrative form, and I'm fascinated by what one can do with 'em as a formalist challenge.
I don't think Judgment Day is an art crossover – for that, you'll be looking at Seven Soldiers – as it comes from the serious-conversation-with-god Michaelangelo part of my brain rather than the what-is-possible-in-a-Mercural-idea-chasing-fashion Leonardo (Er... that's a theory I haven't gone into here. Here's the basic version It's a thing a guy in a bar told me once, and has haunted me ever since. Perhaps I should write it up here, as it's developed significantly since that quick tumblr post.
But even if it's not Seven Soldiers, I'm certainly thinking about the form.
We're approaching the most intense period of me-written tie-ins for Judgment Day. As such, the early unlettered previews have started to come out. I don't want to show actual art in here, because they're quietly spoilers, but if you want to, here they are...
Finally, this is the first pages for AXE: Starfox, which also includes an interview about Eros. There's a bunch of stuff in here, but I suspect this is the key quote...
I think comic writers, as a whole, failed Eros. We've written people whose powers can only kill, and go out of the way to make excuses for them. We see a character whose power set circled pleasure, and to lean into rather than away from the creepiness speaks to the sex-phobic nature of our society. Why couldn't we have thought of Eros in a different way, and tried to create a positive inspirational figure who argues in favor of life and pleasure instead of death and grimness? Often we didn't. We should have tried more.
I'm trying to show alternate ways to think of Eros and his powers, which rethink them into something less sledgehammer as "pheromones" (which doesn't really fit into the conception of Eternals as written). I'm trying to make it less about enforcing a state and more about inspiration and empathy and actually embodying love. The superhero equivalent of being the life and soul of the party, of being the person you need, right there, right then. The one-off is kind of a walking tour of this. Just a different way of looking at Eros.
All out (er) soon. Comics!
As work has slowed down a little, I've found time to get to some things I've been meaning to for ages. This is a three-part DIE game I ran in September last year, in the final round of playtesting before passing over a draft to RR&D. As such, a lot has changed since then, so will be bad for following rules explanations (though I explain the rules which I say that are “wrong” in the video description.)
However it does show you how DIE Rituals works when it's singing, and that structure is exactly the core of the game (DIE Rituals is the standard DIE game, previously called DIE Core.) If you want to see how I run DIE in a multi-session game, these three videos would be the best example out there.
It's also just a wonderful game. DIE always warps according to the players and the persona they create, and queer themes are extremely common, but this one went full on for trauma and solidarity, and was powerful, funny and deeply emotional. There's a bunch of content warnings at the start, so if you want to watch, do pay attention to them.
I also lobbed the previously MP3-only early playtest of Con Quest on Youtube and made playlist of Actual Plays of DIE (by me, or other people)
I have at least one other playtest I may edit up in the next few weeks, or perhaps I'll find space for another playtest of Total Party Kill or Video Nasty (my and Grant's new scenarios, respectively). I'm definitely in a “The final PDF should be going out to folks this month – I'd like there to be some assets that folks can look at for inspiration.”
Tom Humberstone's excellent Graphic Novel Suzanne came out this week from Avery Hill, so I grabbed the chance to record a Decompressed with him. You can listen to it here. It's available from all good book shops.
I've managed to get some reading in the last couple of weeks. Two novellas and a short book. I'm not sure if it's like an exercise regime restarting, the reading equivalent of Couch to 5k, or if it's just an understanding that the pressures on my life mean that finishing short things is better than starting a longer thing you know you will likely be derailed from.
(This is one reason I came to comics – in my years at PC Gamer, my life was so crushed with all the writing and (er) clubbing I barely had time to read. I wanted a narrative form I could go to completion in an hour, in the bath. Comics. This also birthed my other key appreciation of comics – if something can be read quicker, it can be re-read quicker, and so the re-read is more likely, and so you can read (and write) assuming a re-read. But I digress.)
Piranesi is Susanna Clarke's's long-awaited second novel, as short as Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange was long. It is, to use the technical term, really fucking good. A sparkling innocent of a lead, a living fantasy of Rousseau in a mythic dungeon where there's clearly a lot more going on than he's aware of. We approach the truth tangentially, us both a step ahead and behind him. It's all sharp, effective prose, making the fantastical world as solid as the keys beneath my fingers. While the stripped-back style is miles apart, I found myself thinking of Gormengast and Tombs of Atuan, out of that sense of a lived place, and its understanding of labyrinth and the people in it.
The Novellas were Rosebud by Paul Cornell and Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and both were good company. Rosebud is a dense, nano-scale, post-human, weirdly funny and funnily weird first-contact novel which plays games with time, space and genre. It feels like Paul having a lot of fun with trying to fit as many ideas in a small a space as possible (which is basically what the ship of the Rosebud actually is).
Elder Race is a dual-perspective culture clash story. One lead is the idealistic fourth-daughter of an Empress, travelling to the tower of an ancient wizard who once saved her ancestor. The other is an actively-depressed anthropologist, abandoned in his high-tech base, observing the ancient colony that has long since descended to a pre-modern state. Between them, they battle demons, of various kinds. The perspective game works brilliantly, illuminating character and the worlds. Elder Race was just pipped for this year's Hugo Novella, and I was happy to see this on the shortlist. Really strong.
(I've read and loved four of six, but not the winner – which I'll just go and buy now. )
I was rooting through my hard-drive trying to find something, and I found the following opening statement for a SMASH panel at the MCM Comic Con in 2017 on the subject of selling out. The recording is here. As per any SMASH panel, at least the point is to be provocative, so I had some fun here. What the recording won't show is that I was nodding through Dan White and Rob Davis' points, despite them being completely from the opposite place in almost all of it. It was only after the panel did I realise that it was probably be a good idea to say what the synergy position was – namely, we were talking about two hugely different things. There's a lot of truths out there.
Anyway, here's what 2017 me was thinking.
Some Thoughts From A Sell-out.
“Selling out” is a middle-class construct created by people who don't need their art to be a commercial success to pillory working class people who lack the financial support networks that remove material consideration from any of their decisions. Working class people internalise these beliefs to their ultimate harm.
I distrust anyone who uses “Selling out”. I instantly suspect they are uninterested in changing the world. I primarily suspect they're interested in getting laid from saying they want to change the world.
As an accusation “Selling out” from an audience is born primarily of their own entitled ownership of an artist, a belief that they only exist a device to supply them with social capital. It is primarily born of an annoyance that people you consider less cool are now experiencing what was your sole property.
An accusation of “Selling Out” from a fellow creator is typically a mixture of jealousy and fear.
"Selling out" easily morphs into the idea that only obscure art can be popular. This is a rejection of the possibility of engaging and changing the world, or at least the people in it. Ironically, this surface-level counter-cultural idea actually reinforces the status quo.
"Selling Out" fails to understand that artworks are both art and work.
In short: any accusation of "Selling Out" from one person to another is bullshit. It is none of your business.
The only accusation of Selling Out which matters is the one that comes back from the mirror in the morning. "Have I unduly compromised my art?" you ask yourself, and either nod, shake your head or shrug... and even then the artist must remember they may be full of shit. You are your worst critic, in this and all other things.
Quinns over at Shut Up & Sit Down does a video telling you how to get into Tabletop RPGs. This is good entry stuff, and is really encouraging. A lot of writing DIE RPG is about trying to make it as unthreatening as possible to someone wanting to facilitate a game, and Quinns is doing a whole pantheon's work in trying to make the on-ramp as shallow as possible here. There's also at least one killer joke, as is Quinns' wont.
Scott Snyder going deep and talking about stuff we don't normally do. In this case, when do you leave a book?
This is in the list of DIE Actual Plays, but as it's a presently ongoing, Total Party Kiss are doing a DIE game. It's on their twitch stream, but the games' mirrored on Youtube too. Total Party Kiss is a A+ name, obv.
Stuart Lee on rare form on Boris Johnson's slow heading out the door. I have no words for the disgust I feel towards him, which is lucky, as Lee has lots.
I'm writing this on Monday. By the time you read this we'll have our new ruler in the UK. I'm Half expecting the winner to be a write-in vote for the animatronic corpse of Thatcher.
I've managed to get a couple of X-scripts off my desk, which leaves my next deadline (er) somewhere in the future? I probably should hand in an X-script at some point in September. The next deadline would be another in October. In other words, I really only have two hard deadlines for new scripts before November. That long-awaited free time to write in a more exploratory fashion is here. I don't have to do anything.
(Of course. I've already said yes to writing a scenario for an RPG stretch goal. Just like the four tops, I can't help myself, etc.)
I have decided to revive an old tradition. Well... it's not strictly speaking a tradition. An example of one of my traditions would me handing in a new project on January 1st, pulled together in the between days after Christmas. That's nice, healing and ultimately warm. Tradition. The September thing is not that. The September thing is MY LIFE IS A WASTE AND IF I DON'T WRITE SOMETHING MEANINGFUL BEFORE MY BIRTHDAY AT THE END OF THE MONTH I MAY AS WELL JUST GIVE IT UP ENTIRELY, YOU USELESS. USELESS PERSON. Not really a tradition, more of a scream.
I think the first was the month before my 27th Birthday, where I wrote the majority of an (unpublished, abandoned, terrible) miniseries called LOGOS. It was kind of crappy knock-off Invisibles stuff, with the “you can pronounce the title in two ways, and I won't tell you which one it is” the one really smart/dumb thing about it. In the month before my 28th I started work on Rue Britannia, though didn't get a draft of issue 1 until nearly November. In the month before my 29th, I wrapped up Busted Wonder, Charity and my web graphic novel. All were really about being petrified of turning 30 without having done anything with any heft. It did did mean by the time I actually did turn 30, I had processed a lot of stuff and was pretty chill about it. I'd done the screaming, and had the pages to prove it.
I won't be screaming for the existential reasons this month, at least I don't think I will. You can never tell, right? But I do like having basically a full month to write something about the length of Busted Wonder, 18 years after I wrote my last graphic novel. Graphic Novel feels a grandiose term. If anything, 80 pages feels like a Graphic Novella, really.
I do like novellas. You can do a lot with 80 pages of comics. Let's see how it goes.