Illuminati, but delicious
Nothing to plug this week, but I wanted to write. Hell, I accidentally wrote a couple of thousand words about an RPG which I’m saving for another newsletter, as it would be a bit overkill. Also, perhaps I can get paid for it. I like money.
So this is just chat, and a couple of fun things to amuse you, one traditional at this time of year, one not.
Oh – I didn’t say how Christmas went last time.
Christmas went like this.
My Tracks of the Year 2022
It’s been another year that my experience of pop music has been personal, and absolutely reflective of the moment I’ve been in. Which is mainly “the bubble of being a new parent”. Little penetrated, at least until very late in the year. I only discovered Self Esteem has gone big by seeing that she was on the new year Task Master.
That said, it has been an intense year in terms of music. The connections and reflections resonante in ways both meaningful and awfully dumb. I explain what records are and a one-line potted history to Iris whenever something plays. I have had any song with the word “Baby” forever altered, often comically. I have sang Golden Brown by the Stranglers to a particularly full and beautiful nappy.
There’s also the moment to moment stuff. Early on in the year, Chart Music‘s journey through Top of the Pops accompanied me in the sleepless night vigils. Later, when doing daylight feeds I watched a lot of Trash Theory‘s excellent video essays. Now, I’ve moved into actual live radio – Radio 6, predictably, and it has to be live rather than recorded. The connection to something happening, something happening now, outside the bubble is vital.
So – the rules are the same as usual. As in, one track by each artist, though someone guesting in another band or doing a solo project normally means they get to double dip. Tracks, but leaning towards singles, as an aesthetic preference. 2022 release, but that has all manner of cheats – singles from 2021 whose album is out this year may be included. 2021 Albums who release a single in 2021 may be included. Sometimes I just go fuck it. An artist with a lot of stuff I love normally gets one song as a champion, but I bump it up the list.
The last one doesn’t really count this year. Most of the playlist isn’t arranged in any kind of specific order. I’ve made an effort to lob some of the stuff I really did listen to a bunch, but not a HUGE amount. Some stuff I moved around just to make it a better playlist.
Really, bar Mastermind and Northern Boys as the top two on the playlist, I’m not sure of anything else having a firm position. Both of those were great records which said absolutely nothing about my life, like postcards from more interesting, worse friends. It’s good when your terrible friends write, even if I’m not going to write back this year.
The playlist may show below, depending on how Buttodown is feeling, but you can always click the link here.
Note “Top two on the playlist”. My number one? Not on the list, and I will write about it.
1) Undisclosed Lullaby – Kieron Gillen
I’ve insulted my singing a lot over the years. This is the year I’ve questioned that. What I mean is “I do not have a voice that does what I want it to do” which is like me being down on whenever I go running because I’m not an Olympic athlete. It’s foolish, self-hating and I haven’t time for that any more.
It’s a voice. It’s my voice. There’s a lot of things it can’t do, but there’s things it can do, especially if you learn its limits, and sing towards them rather than away from them, and you actually do it a lot, and do it consciously. You can practise, and be aware of how you voice changes depending how you hold your body, or your stance, or where you move the voice in you. It’s my voice, and I’ve learned to love it.
I have been singing more for an obvious reason. I have a baby and I regularly sing her to sleep.
I’m not saying what the Lullaby is, as that’s between us. It’s a standard song which came to mind in the moment early on, and despite singing it for god knows how many hours this year, I’ve still not learned the full verses, so merge one into the other mid-way through.
But I sang it when she was very young, and it had an immediate effect, unlike anything else.
Instantly, she was quiet. It doesn’t work like that always, or even regularly, but in that moment it was as if something soothing had curled its way out my throat and filled the room.
It was like magic.
I’ve got a tumblr ask a while back, which I will do a proper answer to at some point. They were asking me about the concept of cool, wondering whether I worried about ageing out of cool, as they considered a lot of my work grounded in cool. And I get that read of my work, but it never fails to make me depressed, as it’s a misunderstanding of everything I’ve ever done.
It’s never been about cool. It’s only about what’s magic.
This year, I had a lot of magic and I hope you did too.
I finally managed to finally read Zoe’s It’s Lonely At the Centre of the Earth over Christmas, and it’s everything that everyone has been saying. It’s an autobio comic about where she came from and where she is, responding to the success of her debut and trying to carve whole new languages of comics from the page. I suspect there’s an accepted wisdom in Autobio comics that the creator should get out of the way stylistically – if you look at the successful masterworks of the form, they’re usually working with a restrained style. Zoe takes a different route, changing mode between panels, exploding the form, being deeply self-indulgent and then screaming about her self-indulgence and generally being everything you’d hope a new creator would be.
You’d hope Zoe would be happy, but seemingly not, and she draws her depression with all the awful hyperreality of a Junji Ito monster. Without a doubt, one of the books of the year.
I also found myself reading the whole of the first Amber Chronicles – all five books, in a row. The road to doing this was a strange one. At Dragonmeet while I failed to meet Dragons, I did meet Sasha Sienna, and we talked about games in a pub. It ended with her giving me a copy her and Jonathan Sims’ excellent micro-setting book Odd Jobs and I promised to find her a copy of the 1990s Amber RPG. I did that, and then realised I hadn’t read it since the 1990s, and when I started that I realised there were such huge spoilers for the books that I should finally read the whole thing before doing so (I’d only read the first back in the 1990s). I saw there was a new edition with a Roz Kaveney intro, so grabbed it and set to work.
And oh me, oh my, you can see how much this has influenced a bunch of folks. Gaiman is most obviously (there’s bits you can absolutely map to the Sandman, with a few tweaks to aesthetic and approach) but there’s other interesting ones. Like, say, me.
The Amber RPG was the last game I played before stopping playing RPGs regularly for over a decad, and I think it left a lot of fingerprints. You could argue that DIE itself is a a horror-Amber, if you look it at the right angle, seeing it cast its shadow realms. And how many of my books – certainly including Immortal – are about absolute bastards just playing games with one another? Many. That’s how many. Many.
Still – lots of fun fun, Chandler-does-epic-fantasy with 1960s trippiness bleeding all over it. It’s especially fun when you’re using the old-skool fantasy set up where a novel can be sub-200 pages, so none of them fuck around. It also has me thinking of the recent revival of the novella series in fantasy is an indirect attempt to reclaim this space away from the doorstops. I read this, and it is a doorstop of a fantasy book… but it’s five books.
Which is yet more stuff to chew over.
I’m getting a new PC this week, so I found myself rooting down the depths of my hard-drive, and found some treasure. Painfully embarrassing treasure.
I last actually looked for a real job in 1998, where I was straight out of University, working bars, and trying to talk a magazine to give me a proper job. I’d already written for Future Publishing during my second year at University, but that was about all I had in terms of experience.
Well… I had that, a huge chip on my shoulder and an early-twenties level of front. I figured if someone was looking for someone with real qualifications, they wouldn’t hire me. So I instead leaned into the me of it.
This is what I wrote to PC Gamer.
They hired me.
Lots to wince at in there – not least the adjectives, and the uncredited lift from J Nash – but I’m proud of that weird kid, fronting. And the last big paragraph is actively strange to read. I don’t think may games critics entered the field back then with that level of clear focus on what game we actually were playing and what was at stake.
I’ll save the ones I wrote to the Music Press for another time. They’re even more OTP and painful.
New Podcast! I gave 3 copies of the Everybody Wins book as presents this year (40 years of boardgames by James Wallis. Er… as in, the book is by James Wallis. Not about his 40 years of game making). Anyway, accompanying that is a podcast series where he is interviewing some real heavy boardgame hitters. Go listen.
Tolkien reads the Hobbit, in his first encounter with a tape recorder. Stuff like this makes me sad we never got to do Phonogram 4. Or was it 5? I forget which one was going to be recorded music. (Via Maria Popova)
This summons city-road-maps into spidery shapes. I suspect we could find use for this, not least just purring at the beauty of a city unclothed.
Andrew Braybrook talks about converting arcade machines to the old 8 and 16-bit computers. Most of this is way above my coding knowledge (i.e. little to none) but I love hearing the process stuff here. Braybrook’s Rainbow Islands conversion was my favourite game for some years.
Sarah Andersen on AI art, talking about her experience being used by the alt-right as a meme and then mined for content. There’s a lot of nuance in here. I’ve been following all this pretty closely, and just haven’t written about it yet. The TL:DR take is “oh.”
Barnes & Nobles have turned themselves around financially, apparently, and here’s how. I’m struck by the answer is “basically, becoming like the best comic shops.”
And that’s it. We’re into 2022 and I don’t feel I’ve really started work, despite the amount of words that have crawled out my fingers. I didn’t actually do the project I was planning to over Christmas, but I have been noodling at it. I may do a little more noodle over the week, or perhaps just write Immortal X-men 12. Maybe some more of the OGN?
What I have been doing is do some firmer thinking about filling out my schedule, and I realise there is now a LOT that I want to write after the OGN. Three CO comics, plus maybe a couple of things outside comics. Which feels like a lot – because it is a lot – but I also need to think that if you plan it right, CO books are less than once a month, so it’s not like doing three Marvel Books. Maybe I can do them all.
Though that does mean I need to start thinking seriously about hiring an editor or a project manager or an editorial assistant or something.
(There’s also a non-comics thing which is WFH, which sounds like it should be fun and also pays well, which means it can ensure I can eat while I roll those CO dice)
Worth stressing: I’m still on Immortal for ages, but this is me thinking about the rest of my schedule. And with my CO development, sometimes it can be multiple years before you see an actual book come out. That said, I don’t think anything I’m planning should take the amount of heavy lifting that something like DIE required. I say that now. I’m thinking about mailing Byzantine scholar friends of mine to ask advice about certain things. The abyss gazes, and it’s full of research.
I’ve also been thinking about 10 year cycles, but I’ll save that for the Sins of Sinister week newsletter. January 25th, if all goes well.
See you next time.