Although I’m hesitant to give it the usual kiss of death by talking about it publically, I’ve another story due for publication early/mid next year, courtesy of the good people of Insomnia Publications. By sheer chance I found out this UK based publisher was looking for submissions that were a little off-kilter, strange and different, which seems to be my bag (not just in my writing but, as anyone who knows me will tell you, just in my general personality). I dropped them a line, fired off my long suffering story, Butterflies and Moths, and waited.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long before I got a response. Which was, that despite liking it, B&M didn’t quite fit within their portfolio due to its length as a 22 page story. However, the company was interested in a shorter piece which used the same characters, for an upcoming anthology called Layer Zero: Choices. Suitably, my choice was to re-write the script to 12 pages, or write something new.
After mulling it over, I went with something new… and Butterflies and Moths: Fragile was born. And much to my relief, the script is nearly finished, too, in the final few stages of editing and rewrites. In the meantime, Insomnia’s Creative Director, the lovely Nic Wilkinson, did several things which made me very happy. She officially announced the story’s inclusion in the company’s blogsite, the Redeye, in this entry: http://theredeyed.blogspot.com/2008/10/trick-or-treat-choices-from-insomnia.html, convinced the artist who did the original sketches for the first B&M to draw the story (take a bow Ariyana – yep, the same extremely talented young lady who’s working with me on another story, the previous entry’s A Twilight’s Promise) and then made another official announcement in this entry: http://theredeyed.blogspot.com/2008/11/nightly-news.html along with the cover to the anthology.
So, Butterflies and Moths: Fragile is coming to your shelves in 2009, through Layer Zero: Choices, all things willing. There’s lots of things going on behind the scenes which are very promising, and this is hopefully just the start of that – I have a lot of plans in the pipeline as usual, after a far too long stint of moping and waiting and more moping. What’s capped off the whole thing so far is that my friend, Matthew Gibbs, has also been signed up for Layer Zero with his excellent story, Erratum. Expect more on that as well, soon.
Fragile itself will be talked about a fair bit in the coming months as the promotion for the anthology starts up, so I’ll save my spiel for then, but I’ll leave this section with a tiny bit of blurb and some artwork that Ariyana did for the original B&M which will be developed for Fragile. Hope you enjoy this tiny glimpse.
Butterflies and Moths: Fragile – coming in Layer Zero: Choices, in 2009
What would you do if the one person closest to you asked you to do something that put her life and your soul in danger?
What if the one person closest to you asked you to do the impossible?
What if you could do the impossible…
…and didn’t even know it?
Before the strike of 12, Angelica Delapz opened her 18th birthday presents. On the strike of 12, she was imparted with another gift.
And through a horrible, horrific explosion of blood and destiny…
Hopes, desires… lives… everything can be broken… as if distantly flying on the fragile wings of a…
What the hell is going on?
Well, as you already know, my WipEout HD fiction was published last month. What you may not have known is that indie anthology comic series Tales from the Plex was re-launched as a monthly in November, which you may have noticed via the banner on the right hand side of this site. The book will run through the rest of 2008 and all of 2009, with a variety of different stories available each month. It’s also the home of a comedy series I devised, called L33tspeak, which I’ve mentioned a couple times on here before, drawn by the lovely and wonderfully patient Stephanie O’Donnell, (not only the artist of L33tspeak but also the great talent behind the excellent The Original Nutty Funsters, a drama/comedy strip which is really starting to gather some much deserved attention after the release of the collection, A List of Grievances). Tales from the Plex will also be the place where A Twilight’s Promise will be published, next year. Yay!
VIRTUA-GIRL by Chris J Powers & Matthew Weldon, IT’S THE BEER TALKINGby Russell Hillman & Sergio Calvet, L33TSPEAK by Corey Brotherson &Stephanie O’Donnell, CROW’S FOLLOW by Cassie Summer (illustrated byBrian J. Crowley) and GUSSY AND PETERSHARK by Jesse Farrell.
28 pages, black and white, RRP: $2.50
MY OLD FLAME by Jesse Farrell, DEMI-DEMZ by Daniel Lundie, DOWN BY THE RIVER by Chad Nevett, Ze Troia & Nate Thompson, COLOSSAL BOY 3 Part 1 by Daniel Lundie, Celina Hernandez, Mike Murphy & Darren Schwindaman, L33TSPEAK by Corey Brotherson & Stephanie O’Donnell and TACO ON THE BEACH by Shironu Akaineko
Buy it here: http://www.indyplanet.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=1467
I’ll talk more about L33tspeak in coming entries, but Issue three of Tales from the Plex will be out later this month, alongside its publishing stablemate, The Darkling by Chris J Powers, a great monthly limited series about a young girl trying to find her way through life… by being dead. Oh, did I mention she’s blue skinned vampire? And has to deal with some really, really weird stuff? It’s Bridget Jones meets Interview With The Vampire – a madcap fantasy comedy drama that’s unlike anything else in the graphic novel medium.
Buy it here: http://www.indyplanet.com/catalog/advanced_search_result.php?osCsid=730f357c8da3f2554031232145f9c6d5&keywords=darkling&osCsid=730f357c8da3f2554031232145f9c6d5
Why not give them a try?
And that’s me for now. Thanks for reading, as always.
Ok – I know I said I have a lot of news, and as it turns out I’ve actually got way TOO much to tell in one post. So this is merely part one of the super-large update which I’ve been planning since… well, a long time. You’re… erm… still here… right?
I’ll tell you more about A Twilight’s Promise when it gets published – by who, where and when I’ll explain in the next update (oh yes, slacker-no-update-boy went there). In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview. Only one panel, because, well, it’s only a four panel story. And even in its half completed state (no speech balloons, dialogue captions or finished artwork quite yet – but what Ariyana has done so far is fantastic) giving away a one page story that will be sold in the near future is a little loonier than I can go for right now. At least wait for the opium to kick in…
I’ll spare you the usual déjà vu jokes.
It’s been a very busy month, with a mass of ups and downs, but a full update on things is coming up soon. I’ll spare you the downs, but the ups include some nice surprise announcements, a couple of which have caught me off guard. Let’s just say some of the seeds planted from over a year ago are bearing a little bit of fruit (at last). It’s either a significant part of the journey, or… well, yet another false start. We’ll see.
So apologies on the delay, but there’ll be a mass of news coming soon enough, once I get past the huge amount of work and emails I’ve got on the pile (I owe a few of you replies, sorry about that).
Be back shortly…
…I’ll spare you the usual déjà vu jokes…
The third season of Heroes starts this week in the UK. And after watching the first two episodes, I’m wondering if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
I’ve been a fan of the superheroes-set-in-real-life drama since its first season in 2006, despite its faults which became increasingly apparent during the rather mixed second iteration (curtailed due to the 2007/08 Writer’s Guild of America pay strike that affected a large number of American TV shows in the tail end of 2007). Accusations of a slow build up, repetitious and tedious plotlines that didn’t go anywhere, dodgy acting, and forced storytelling increased over the short 11 episodes – some of which I agreed on, but I still persisted. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was entertaining enough.
Now I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a crazy pedant who picks nits off the show’s hairs because of some barely disguised passive aggressive hatred for it (not yet). I’m willing to let a few things slide in any form of entertainment as long as it does a good job of making me forget its inadequacies. But so far, Season Three of Heroes is a classic case of taking too much of the vocal fan complaints on board without trusting in the reasons why they became fans in the first place.
One of the big problems many people voiced of Season Two was that it was too slow. In truth, yes, the pacing was all over the place, but that was partly because it understandably wasn’t taking into account that there was going to be a strike cutting over 20 episodes to 11. So we had all this measured, methodical build up, and then suddenly lots of things happening all at once as the Season ended. It was all a bit manic, but forgivable under the circumstances. And heck, the apparently lethargic pace wasn’t a problem for me at all – true, we could have done without the bizarre and anticlimactic plot devices (such as “what is in… the BOX?” Oh, it’s just some ID stuff for Peter, and it doesn’t really reveal anything new to the audience… hmm), but it was a similar pace to the first Season, if not slightly faster, and it worked well to create a sense of cohesion in the plot, not least leaving the characters space and time to breath.
Whereas Season Three, well, everything gets thrown at the wall. With super speed. And half of it stuck, while the other half left me going “whut?” or, for the first time during the series, rolling my eyes.
I’m going to have to venture into revealing and spoiling parts of the first two episodes now, so if you don’t want to read about it, turn back now. Really, just kill the page and come back when you’ve seen them – short of an apocalypse, or maybe a devastating economic crisis (…was that too soon?), this will still be here when you come back.
Okay, those of you still with me, the lip gloss and make-up is just on the side there – apply plenty, because things are about to get pretty ugly, and not in the Timbaland produced Bubba Sparxxx way.
Simply put, the first two episodes of Heroes so far, feel rushed, in my eyes. Much like the fourth Season opener of Prison Break (another guilty pleasure), too much is given to the audience at once – not that the general audience cant handle it, but in trying to up the pace from last Season, the writers have been forced to make the characters dumber than a sack of mute spanners resting on Dumbo’s big dumb-ass. The main culprits are future Peter (who shoots his brother Nathan during the speech made at the end of the last Season, to stop him from revealing their powers to the world), Claire, Hiro, Mohinder and Nathan himself. Why are they stupid? Well, here’s where it gets a little strange:
– Future Claire, who’s in full knowledge of future Peter having a ton of powers, tries to shoot him. With a gun. While telegraphing and warning him in plenty of time. This guy can stop time and turn invisible, among other quirks. What made her think this would be a good plan is beyond the realms of mere mortals such as myself.
– Future Peter then goes into the past to stop Nathan. How? With all the time travel power at his disposal? By going to the exact point of Nathan’s speech and shooting him. Not going a day before to talk. Not even going an hour before. But at the EXACT moment to try and KILL him. This would be justifiable if he didn’t actually and literally have ALL THE TIME HE WANTED, TO ACT. He then spends the rest of the time moping about his actions with regret.
– Contemporary Claire, in finding out she can’t feel pain anymore (which is pretty weird seeing as she got her whole body charbroiled by a raging fire in the first Season without a single peep of a scream) and the possibility that she can’t die starts to wonder if she has a soul (eh? That’s some leap of logic there, Claire-bear) and proceeds to go down the path of hurting herself because only through the rediscovery of pain can she hope to ‘feel’ anything again – so she stands in front of a SPEEDING TRAIN. Erm, ok.
– Mohinder, finding a possible way of siphoning powers does what all great scientists do when they want to try a new and untested chemical – he tries it on himself almost straight away! And thus starts turning into Brundle-fly and wonders why he’s picking gooey chunks off his back. Good job!
– Less irritating, but still strange are Hiro and Nathan’s behaviour. Hiro, when asked not to open a safe by a posthumous message from his father, goes ahead anyway and opens it. When he finds out it’s part of a formula that can destroy the world, he blunders around with it for several minutes and it’s swiftly stolen. Which is again fine, if it wasn’t for the fact he can also control time. Nathan, on the other hand, comes back from the dead and almost immediately thinks it’s God’s influence, despite the billion of things he’s seen and done over the space of the three Seasons and his initial worldly cynical nature.
Now, these last two factors are still plausible to a degree, but they’re symptomatic of the same problem that makes the earlier examples so teeth grindingly stupid – they’re rushed. There’s no time for the characters to build to those moments. We’re not shown the thought processes, we’re merely told about them (in some cases, literally, as Claire gives a painful –how ironic- exposition on her doubts of having a soul) quickly and without subtlety, making each of the characters appear reckless and irrational, or at the very least, lacking any sense of consideration or reason.
Hiro is naturally impetuous, but he’s grown a little over the previous Seasons, surely enough for him to take several minutes to decide whether he’d open a safe his father explicitly tells him not to, rather than acting through a cocktail of destiny and boredom. Nathan may have been agnostic before, but how about showing us some signs of his faith (or doubt) before he blindly wanders into a church and gives an impromptu sermon? Claire’s concerns about her soul could be well founded if she’s shown worries previously or even if we started to get an idea of her misgivings before she throws herself in front of a train – something that would have been more believable in Season One, but not so much now. Mohinder could moralise the dangers of self experimentation against his clear desire to no longer be helpless, but instead we’re shown him pondering it a few seconds before chugging down super-juice like injectable Sunny D at the next possible moment (he must have been great fun at school during science class). And so on.
There ARE reasons behind each of these characters’ decisions, but there’s no time to show them adequately in the need to keep the pace up and give us action Action! ACTION-with-(TJ) Hooker. So instead of a little interesting character study we get seemingly idiotic and comical characters, who lack the emotional punch and consideration they showed before.
Another problem is that these characters are far too powerful for some of these actions to be plausible anymore. Future Peter and Hiro in particular, given their time control (and Peter’s invisibility) abilities make bone headed decisions that fly in the face of common sense just so it can serve the story better. And so we’re left going “why didn’t they just freeze time? Or go back to this point?” when yet another clanger strikes. Time travel is a messy plot device at the best of times, so it has to have a lot of boundaries imposed on it to work (or at least given a limitation and circular nature – see the Back to the Future films for a good example) but here it’s used as a convenience and forgotten about when the plot requires. Worse, we’re shown yet ANOTHER apocalyptic future – that makes it three Seasons running now and the impact is greatly reduced this time around. The repetition, three Seasons in, in this, people coming back from the dead, and characters disregarding any growth from their previous exploits are much harder to ignore.
There are still a fair few things I really like about the Season so far – the blurring of lines between what is classed as a ‘hero’ and a ‘villain’ is working well, whether it’s the question of who is in the wrong between future Hiro and future Ando (as the latter is seen fighting Hiro) or Sylar now being forced to help Noah track down escaped super-prisoners. And its introduction of new characters is far better than before, in terms of making them likeable/interesting. The strong sense of self referential humour is also great, with nods to Quantum Leap, Halloween, The Fly and even fan speculation (it’s been long questioned over what Sylar does to his victim’s brains, and when asked by Claire if he eats them, his perfectly played reaction of “…that’s disgusting” is priceless).
But personally, I’m hoping things get much better in the following episodes so that I can get back to not shaking my head in mild disbelief. A part of that would be for things to slow back down and letting the characters have a second to exhale for a moment or two. Allow the scenes to hit us with the emotion it has the potential to, rather than rushing us through the meal.
It’s not a crime to have stupid characters – only stupid writers have all their characters act smart all of the time (unless that’s the point in itself) – but you have to show us the reasons why they’re being so inept. And that can take time… something, it seems, not only the main protagonists of Heroes are misusing.
*PS. Congrats to anyone who actually gets the musical reference made in the title of this post, your prize is in the post…
Magic of Myths has been five years in the making.
And the funny thing is, it won’t even be released this year, either – it’s part of a much wider secret project that so far, is looking pretty damn great. But, for most of the part, Magic of Myths #1 is finished.
There’s a long and bizarre history that surrounds the conception and eventual creation of this comic book series that you’re about to get a sneak preview of, but that’s a tale for when the comic is closer to release. Instead I’m going to concentrate on the formation of things I’ve had to think about in its current iteration and what you see here.
Magic of Myths was originally titled Magic, Myths and Mythology. That was shortened last year for what effectively boils down to PR reasons – ‘Magic of Myths’ is far easier to remember, far easier on the tongue for potential buyers asking for it in shops and also brings a different meaning to the title; the former implies three separate things in potential combination, while the new title infers more in relation between the concepts of ‘magic’ and ‘myth’. And to be honest, it sounds less like a university textbook, too. Always a plus when you’re trying to sell fiction.
The story revolves around a young woman named Evelyn, or, as she prefers, “Eve”. The preview will tell you more in a shorter space of time and in a (hopefully) more entertaining fashion than me listing off stuff here, but the basic concept is that Eve is drawn into a strange yet familiar fantasy world where she’s forced to take part in various tasks for a benefactor she knows nothing about. She’s given powerful abilities and vague objectives, but until she completes them she’s trapped within this realm, unable to return back home to Earth.
Where the whole Myth angle comes into is, is something I’d had to take care over producing. The intention is, for the first five parts of the story, each issue is self contained, but part of an overall story – so it’s a serial that can be picked up any time over the first five parts without you needing to have read previous parts to understand it. And given each part is only five pages, it means a lot of tricks are rolled out to get as much information to the reader in as short a space as possible, while reintroducing the characters, concepts and any important elements each time without sacrificing the forward momentum of a new story (continuing from the last) and the central series plot every issue.
So one trick is the reference of well known works of fiction in each part of the story. This should be fairly obvious in the preview, but lets the reader latch on to something a bit more familiar to introduce themes and concepts that are predominant to Magic of Myths -and so you have the myth and themes of a famous story, running in parallel to the myth and themes being created in the comic, which in itself forms a new myth when you combine the two.
(It makes sense in my own head. Honest.)
The main plot and other parts that make up Magic of Myths are things I’ll be saving for future blog posts, but needless to say the main bulk of the story is that there’s something much larger going on than Eve doing random tasks for an unseen master, which will of course tie into the title further. There are plenty of clues in the preview alone if you’re reading and studying the artwork closely enough, but as we’re a way off release I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
There is one final thing I wanted to briefly talk about before the preview itself.
Magic… and race
Eve is mixed race. It may come as a surprise to many people that in the comic book medium, there are very few mixed race characters. And even fewer mixed race female leads.
This shocking lack of representation is something that isn’t particularly new to me – for years you could count the number of black males in their own books who could survive being cancelled and exceeding a year’s worth of publication on the fingers of one hand, less so with black females and even less so with when trying to encounter non-white/black leads full stop. It’s something that’s slowly changing, none more so than in today’s comics which have a proud diversity the medium has never seen before, but for a long time stereotypes were the norm even when there was representation.
Go on to a typical message board or talk about the subject to various others and you’ll get a range of responses as to why this is, and that’s not something I’m going to go into right here (it’s a massive and complex thing and this blog post is already too long), but it’s always curious to see the conundrum that often occurs when tackling the thorny issue. How do you reflect race within a story without the story falling within stereotype of an accepted (and potentially erroneous) view of the race in question – and if you go too far on the other side of the scale, are you in danger of disregarding that character’s apparent culture and background by not acknowledging it enough? Depending on the story you’re trying to write, it’s a difficult task… and yet, it isn’t, really. There will always be someone willing to point out you’ve written a character too [insert colour/race] or you’ve not written that character [insert colour/race] enough. The knack seems to be remaining true to the character in question, to their background, history and core – everything else tends to fall into place soon after. Of course, this is easier with your own characters than one already created – after all, how many different takes of Luke Cage and the Black Panther have there been?
Eve’s race eventually plays an important part to the story (although possibly not in the way you may be thinking) which is why I’m highlighting it. Yes, it’d be nice to see more diversity within the medium and I’m more than happy to try and play my part in that, despite the fact my audience is so small (and probably smaller after this long-ass post) and I’m unlikely to even make a difference. But it has a story driven purpose beyond merely increasing representation, which I feel is something that -while not essential- helps add a lot more depth and meaning to the whole narrative. Or at least, that’s the plan, best laid or otherwise. I guess we’ll see.
Magic of Myths – 3 page preview
So, at last, the preview. I’m only showing three pages of the five, but if you want to see the whole thing, just email/message me and I’ll fire it off to you. Magic of Myths is just one part of the whole project that will come with it, and because it’s so far off I don’t mind showing you the whole first issue now on request (and if you like it, it’d be nice if you could spare a few pennies when the whole thing comes out, as you’ll have a few more other great stories for your buck). The first image may or may not end up being the cover, we’ll see what the artist of the story – the superb and diversely talented Sergio Calvet – feels like doing closer to launch.
Thanks as always for reading and hope you enjoy the sample.
Magic of Myths #1
Genre: Fantasy drama
Script: Corey Brotherson
Art and lettering: Sergio Calvet
(click to enlarge)
“At what cost?”
That’s one of the most important lines spoken by one of the characters during a pivotal scene in Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins.
At what cost.
The Dark Knight is not an easy film. It is, by all means, an extremely enjoyable and spectacular one, but it will work you for its brilliance. Because of that one line. Following from its predecessor, this sequel takes the theme of fear that was so dominant in Begins and twists it into something far more terrifying. What can you do against a person who has no fear? Has no boundaries? No sense of personal danger? The introduction of the Joker into Nolan’s Bat-verse is the perfect foil as the purple garbed villain enters Gotham city’s streets and turns everything upside down and inside out, with only one desire – to show that beneath everyone, no matter how noble, lays a monster. And in doing that he stretches Batman’s moral compass, made all the more difficult with the arrival of Ace Attorney (ahem) Harvey Dent, who’s the shining new beacon of hope for a Gotham creeping under the influence of crime and corruption in both its civilian society and the law.
The film expertly plays off these elements, muddying its waters with complex ambiguity at every turn, leaving no character safe in its pursuit of what is ‘just’ and ‘right’; amorphous concepts that constantly come under the script’s microscope. People ask if Batman has harmed the city more than helped it, through the rise of vigilantism and people like the Joker. Or if Dent’s dogged persistence and belief in the judicial system is realistic when over half the police force is involved in crime itself.
And each time the main characters ask themselves if doing what is right worth their convictions, the answers refuse to come easily, made harder through the reflection each one sees in the other – Batman believes in going outside the law to get things done, Bruce Wayne is less certain, especially in seeing the courage of Dent, who himself has shades of Batman’s lawlessness within him. Rachel Dawes, the one who they both hold their affections for, falls between those gaps, while the Joker shines an unpleasant light on all of them to expose the hypocrisy and contradictions in their lives. The film doesn’t try to answer all the questions it poses – that would defeat the point of them, in some ways – but it does leave you pondering, never letting you settle too comfortably in jumping off the fence before exploding in an incredible action sequence or an emotionally charged or deeply unsettling scene. Naturally, it’s the latter of those that the late Heath Ledger’s Joker really stands out.
A lot has been said about Ledger’s performance, given it was his last full one before the unfortunate events that took his life. Posthumous Oscar material or not, there’s no denying that his Joker is simply amazing. To say he disappears into the role would be an understatement – there’s no trace of Ledger in the character he plays on-screen. He IS the Joker. Each appearance is marked by such a feeling of charisma and dread that you’re transfixed. Not to say the other cast members suffer from this – all are well played, Aaron Eckhart’s Dent especially, who provides the core of the story and so had to be good – it’s just that the Joke- erm, I mean, Ledger, commands his scenes with such force it’s hard not to feel in awe.
While Jack Nicholson may have claimed fans everywhere in his turn during the Tim Burton 90s Batman movie, Ledger’s iteration makes even Nicholson’s cower in despair. There’s mirth to him, true, but it’s layered with a calculatingly sinister streak that’s frightening to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. And while Nicholson’s Joker is fantastic, the 2008 edition has you gripped at every turn because when he’s around horrible, horrible things happen, regardless of whether you’re convinced a character is safe or not. Hell, when you see how the Joker introduces himself with his magic trick, you’ll never turn back.
Is The Dark Knight a masterpiece? At this stage it’s hard to honestly say. Not without a few more (very eager) viewings and the test of time. It won’t change your life, nor is it perfect – some very, very minor moments in the script undermine its tone and on a couple occasions the editing is a little haphazard… but it’s really nitpicking to ever suggest these actually harm the film. It’s certainly the best movie I’ve seen all year and without a doubt the best comic book adaptation created. Which is high praise coming off the incredible likes of A History of Violence, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, X2, Road to Perdition, Sin City, Batman Begins and a host of other greats. At the moment, after a breathless exit from the cinema and a few hours of contemplation, they don’t even come close.
Some have suggested this is because Nolan’s film is a very strong crime thriller wrapped in the spandex of superhero form. That effectively Batman, Joker and crew have stumbled into a noir classic by accident. I disagree. Remove these characters and replace them with a stock crime movie cast and part of what makes The Dark Knight so special goes missing. Nolan has gone through great pains to show the characters’ evolution from Begins, making their choices a natural progression from the first film, but also underlining their core traits that have made them so popular in the first place. The moral dilemmas on show work in tandem with the costumes and gadgets and high octane action sequences, given a modicum of suspension of disbelief because it’s Batman. We’re just so sapped into the tale that we forget. Yes, it’s a crime story, but it’s also a Batman story – and you remove one from the narrative, the whole wouldn’t be nearly as strong. Everything here is given purpose and reason, making it one of the most tightly plotted films in recent mainstream cinema – and the Batman mythos and its well known concept is an important part of the whole instrument. Saying The Dark Knight works without it is a bit like saying a guitar will still ‘work’ if you cut a couple of its strings. You’d be right, but it kinda misses the point.
Chances are The Dark Knight, as sterling as it is, will leave you exiting the cinema a bit conflicted. Exhausted. Maybe even a little dirty as it thoroughly bathes you in murky moral greys that refuse to wash white come the film’s heavy climax. This is not a leisurely experience. It will ask questions of your morality and challenge you… and for some it may be too much. Too close to the knuckle. Too punishing. Too harsh.
And there, in that moment, comes the answer.
At what cost?
That, is the price of masterful cinema.
I feel sick.
For anyone who knows me, this isn’t a rare thing. My body turns against me with frightening regularity that usually means I tend to feel sick every so often (it’s a gas thing, and by that I’m not using a colloquialism for it being funny).
But in this case, the sensation of my stomach lurching and my head feeling this immense pressure is because, well…
…okay, let me line up the shot from a different angle.
Whenever I tell people I read and write comics, there’s often one of several responses I get. More often than not, I get a raised eyebrow of slightly concerned curiosity. A nearly-30 year old man, reading comics and writing/about them. Hmm. Even if the other person has briefly read comics in the past, there’s an element of scepticism that’s difficult to ignore. Mainly because it’s slapping you in the face with its obviousness. This is usually followed by questions over what I read and sometimes, how much I typically spend a month, at which when I divulge my ‘addiction’s monetary costs, the sense of concerned curiosity gets a sprinkling of outrage and scoffed ridicule.
So if what I’m going to tell you seems weird, well… I expect it. But allow me a moment to explain.
It was the most recent edition of The Walking Dead – a comic – that has made me feel sick.
Hardly the most glowing way to recommend the medium to you, I’m sure. But I refer to the above caveat about moments and letting me use them to explain as to why this is.
The Walking Dead is a series about the world overrun by zombies. The premise, on its surface, is a typical one – unknown plague/virus/McDonalds has changed people into raving flesh eating mutants and humanity is left to struggle with this by becoming surviors, and as a result we discover that it’s Not the Zombies Who are the Real Monsters, but Humanity Itself. You know, standard horror fiction theme.
The Walking Dead goes beyond that. Way beyond.
Most zombie movies will take you on a journey which emphasises this theme through the changeable brutality of human nature. How people react under immense pressure, devolving to Cro-Magnon ferocity and savagery, turning on each other just to try and survive, something which is mirrored ironically by the zombies, who are, for all their brain chomping nastiness, an expression of human hunger and desire without moral conscience, and thus creatures of purity, untainted by the horrors that we expose ourselves to in trying to find food, keep our loved ones safe and live at the expense of everything else.
However, these films are finite. The longest zombie movie lasts around 2 hours. There’s yet to be a long running TV series about zombies (as far as I know). The Walking Dead has no limitations. Yes, it’ll eventually come to an end, but its current verve and medium allows it to go further than any other work out there as a piece of zombie-driven horror fiction.
To be frank, it’s horrible.
But in the best way possible.
Writer Robert Kirkman has created a universe where no one is safe. Where main characters get maimed, mutilated and killed in the most terrible of ways. Where even the most unspeakable of horrors is carried out on page.
It’s terrifying. It’s shocking. At times, nauseating.
And it’s grippingly brilliant.
This uncompromising zombie tale is meticulously written and drawn (artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard do a stupendous job) with a very easy to follow narrative that envelops you into a world of hope and grime and chokes you on its depravities. It is totally captivating. It feels real. Characters are introduced and fleshed out, each with their relatable traits, and just when you start to get comfortable with them, the sledgehammer of their reality hits and things take a terrible turn. And it’s all within the realm of realism – you could easily see people acting the way they do reflected here because, well, it happens in our world. Just under different circumstances.
The events that occur in The Walking Dead, in particular the most recent trade volume, (Volume 8 “Made to Suffer”) affected me more than any other piece of fiction has in a long time. I’m not going to spoil it, as that would miss the point and me describing them to you wouldn’t have the power as they would you experiencing them, but for the first in a long time, I had to stop reading half way through because it was just all too much. Too intense. Too painful. Here was a book, in a medium which sometimes has me deemed as a some deviant man-child, that had actually left me shaken to the core at what was happening to its characters. And by the end of it, my throat had tightened and stomach felt like it had been repeatedly pounded by a giant sledgehammer.
Hence the sickness.
The sense of relief in finishing that chapter soon became replaced by an urge to find out what happens next, as with all good fiction, but also knowing that this powerful effect The Walking Dead had – not for the first time – was something that will likely stay with me for a long, long time.
To have that same effect, The Walking Dead couldn’t be done in any other form. Film is limited by time and space, and while TV avoids such problems, there’s no TV broadcast company that would be brave enough to allow the sort of stuff that happens in The Walking Dead. It’s too raw and untamed, not to mention the fact there are things depicted here that would be difficult to reproduce on a TV budget to the same level of effectiveness. In a similar vein, a book would lack the dual layer of simultaneous narrative comics are unique with, showing you a picture that freezes a moment while the words lace them with separate, yet combined meaning, playing with time. A comic panel is designed to be looked over as long as the reader allows, without that break in narrative becoming unnatural, meaning the horror of certain things becomes prolonged and fixated, while your imagination moves them in a very personal way between panels. It’s a depth easily taken for granted.
As said by people much smarter than me, comics are the last ‘underground/guerrilla’ medium out there. They can express anything they want with limited budget and limitless imagination, sometimes with just a team of one person pulling the strings and creating something that visually pushes narrative boundaries without fear of executive decisions and a million other financial fingers getting in the way as often does with TV and film. Again, this is something easily taken for granted.
Comics are generally more accepted than they’ve ever been, but having something that can affect you on that level, the way The Walking Dead affected me and countless others (read the reaction to the series online and you’ll find a plethora of critical acclaim), will probably come as a surprise to those who still think it’s a puerile medium. It’s an attitude that will be sternly tested in mainstream eyes through the cinema screening of The Dark Knight as well, which is being heralded by some quarters as a crime film epic that just so happens to have Batman in it. People are generally walking away from this movie, shaken, disturbed and full of praise for its powerful and intense story. Quite an achievement given its protagonist is a man who dressed up in a rubber bat-suit.
Comics can move you like any other medium – it’s just finding the right story that pushes you. And there’s plenty out there if you’re willing to look for it. From the political, journalism sci-fi edge of Transmetropolitan, to the fantasy and multi-cultural epic of Sandman. From the socipolitical gender commentary of Y: The Last Man, to the hardboiled crime thriller of Criminal. From the revolutionary historical samurai saga of Lone Wolf and Cub, to the equally influential and all encompassing Watchmen. Heck, even if you like to see where you favourite fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters ended up, there’s the fantastic Fables to try out.
And if you’re after the best horror movie that will never be made, something that will genuinely shock you, you could do far worse than The Walking Dead – just don’t blame me if it truly and quite literally moves you.
But then, isn’t that what we all want our fiction to do?
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon
Obviously I’ve been out the loop far too long and things have escaped me. Again. And again and again. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day or a glitch in The Matrix, but even more frustrating because, you know, at least those are planned. And fictional. Instead I’m at the mercy of erratic scheduling and procrastination. (Oh, and hayfever.)
A full update is on its way, along with – fingers crossed – a rather nice preview of something I’ve been working with the past year or so. Well, actually it’s been something close to 5 years, but only now is this starting to bare lovely multicoloured fruit. If you’ve been following the blog (and I apologise, because if you have this two month absence must have been a little strange, if not wholly unexpected) then you’ll have seen some of it before, but not at this stage of completion. And even then it’s still miles off the shelves.
But hey, it keeps me off the streets.
At least until I find the key to my cell.
Apologies for the lengthy absence. It’s been an increasingly difficult month (okay, months) and time often beats me over the head with a large stick when it comes to things like this, and between numerous circumstances (mostly bad, I’m sad to say) updating the site became less of a priority and more of a burden. This is something I’m hoping will change soon enough, along with the delivery of a new laptop to ease my woes slightly (- yes, the knave is dead, long live the knave, thanks to the wonders of contents insurance *pumps fist*).
So, first thing. My entry in Shadowline’s Create a Super-Heroine contest ended at the semis, which was…. unfortunate. I got some interesting feedback from a couple of important people in the industry, which was nice, although that isn’t enough to mask disappointment at the end of the day. That said, when I got the news I was in the middle of writing something else so it wasn’t so much a case of trying to get back on the saddle, more a case of: “Bugger. Well, this saddle isn’t as comfortable as it was a few seconds ago. Feels kinda… warm. In the bad sense.”
However, something else happened regarding my writing plans to eventually help offset that irritation (namely a really nice offer of continuing another series I’m working on) and also my work for the contest won’t go to waste because I’ll be using it for another publication. Oh ho. So at some point you’ll be able to read it and see for yourself what semi-failure looks like! Although the artist I have lined up for it will at least make it appear miiiighty puuurty.
I’ve a couple reviews up over at ComiX-Fan, so feel free to check those out. There will be no quiz afterwards. I promise.
THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #11 REVIEW :
ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL #5 REVIEW:
There is also tons of my work on the official PlayStation Europe site, although seeing as that’s the day job and all (you dont want to know what I am during the night. Really.), but as there are no bylines I can only really usher you over to the site and go “that one! No, THAT one” rather than provide links, lest I be beaten over the head with yet another large stick, this time with a P45 attached to it. Which would be somewhat ironic seeing as I couldn’t find a recent copy of the damn thing when I joined the company last year.
No idea when I’ll get to update this again, but the intention is to have something to preview next time.
Although what’s more likely is that I’ll go missing again for a month and turn up wearing just my underwear. Again.
Did I just type that out aloud?
My friend, the talented Stephanie O’Donnell (she of The Nutty Funsters) fame is looking to do commissions in her run-up spot to the forthcoming New York comic convention. She’s charging only $10 for black and white drawings, $15 for colour – you can find examples of her work over here: http://kitschfactor.deviantart.com/. Well worth a shot, as Steph is veeeeery diverse and quick to go with her talent (which is a rare combination in this fair industry, believe me).
My other news is that I recently discovered news that my entry to Image Comics/Shadowline’s Create a Super-Heroine competition managed to reach the semi-final stages. To say I was surprised would be understating things a fair bit. Very happy, but surprised – I feel a bit like Charlie when he got a golden ticket the chocolate factory (although this soon passed at the thought of the rather creepy Willy Wonka showing me around). To those who are wondering what the blue hell I’m babbling about, see here: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=140485 and results thus far confirmed here: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=145528
The contest is basically as follows:
You had to submit a plot synopsis of your newly created, original super-heroine story to the company by the end of Jan. One short paragraph. That’s it.
If you’re among the lucky ten chosen, you then have to submit a 5-page script. From those, five will be chosen in March and their synopses posted to comic site, Newsarama, where posters will vote on their favourite. Polls close come April, and the winner will have their concept and story taken into the company, drawn by a pro artist (the excellent Franchesco! – exclamation mark is compulsory 😉 ) and published by Image/Shadowline for the end of the year.
So in essence, a story contract for one of the biggest comic publishing companies going, with your story drawn by one of the best artists in its line.
I entered knowing my chances were pretty slim – it turned out there were over 5,000 entrants in total, and with various aspects of my life taking over recently it was only during the last week of Jan that I realised how short time was before deadline. And I still didn’t even have anything more than a basic concept… which was untitled as well.
Thankfully, I sat down, fleshed it out, researched some bits, fleshed it out some more, decided on a name and then had the pain of reducing it down to something brief (and if you know me, ‘brief’ isn’t even something I use as underwear – that’s boxers, by the way, before that metaphor gets out of hand) and finally carved something out of it I was pleased with, which I sent off on the last day, uncertain that it would arrive in time. Amazingly, it got selected (this shock took about 60 minutes to pass… and 20 of those minutes was waiting for the broadband connection to download the confirmation email – ah, technology).
So, what happens next? Well, at the moment (figuratively speaking, of course) I’m scripting the pages for submission. While I wait for my washing machine to be fixed and someone to repair my shower (oh yes, I lead the glamorous life, yes yes). After that, I send it off and try once again to forget about my chances while secretly hoping for the best.
At this point, some of you will be wondering “why hasn’t he said anything about the story itself?” – and the answer is, I’m not legally allowed to. Unless I want to get unceremoniously dumped from the competition before I’ve even written anything, I can’t name the title or indeed anything about the story. Which is 100% fair, because everyone else is in the same boat and it means the final five are judged on the basis of the story itself rather than how many people you can spam to get you votes. But it’s all pretty damn exciting. And between that, the two series I’m developing right now and a 3 page story I’ve been asked to recently write featuring two very well known comic characters (just a sample, rather than anything to be published, but it had my jaw drop in disbelief – never thought I’d be writing about these characters any time soon, and the pin-up artwork is done by a comics pro and looking amazing) I’m in a happy place for now, at least where my writing’s concerned.
Now if only I had the time to do it all…
Anyone got a spare DeLorean?