Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Ten Fucking Years of Cy, Part Two (Cy writes a screenplay)

So how do you celebrate ten years of putting comics out into the world? I'll tell you how: you write something completely different.

Back in April, I was approached out of the blue by a film-maker with a story he wanted me to write. He had a loose idea, a core character and, most shockingly of all, a budget. What he needed now was a script. Apparently, he'd found some of my work on Comixology, and wanted to see what I could do with his idea.

So yeah - I spent my tenth anniversary in comics writing a screenplay. Kinda sci-fi, kinda horror. Unlovable protagonist. Felt like a decent fit for me.

I've actually written a few "practice" screenplays before, primarily for fun and experience. Working freelance, you never know when a client's going to hit you up for something out of your usual wheelhouse. Learning to write for the screen seemed like a worthwhile use of my time when I was starting out, and it's come in handy more than once. Every so often, a client I'm used to writing web stuff for will ask if I can put together something like a TV or web advert. It's nice not to go into that unprepared.

Anyway, back to the screenplay I'm working on now. There's not a whole lot I can say about it just yet, other than the first draft's been checked out and I'm in the process of seeing what it'll take to kick a second version into shape. So far, I'm enjoying the process - but it's a world apart from writing comics. At least, it's a world apart from the kind of comics I've written so far.

I've worked on other people's stories before, of course. Starship Troopers didn't belong to me, nor Master Merlini, Metal Made Flesh, Unseen Shadows or any number of other projects I've signed onto. This is probably the first time I've contributed the story for something that had no previous existence at all, though. No road map to follow, no plot Bible to research from. Starting out, all I had was a 300-word synopsis and a pretty generous deadline. The details of the story were, and to an extent still are, in a state of flux, so I treated the first draft as kind of a radar pulse, feeling out the terrain and mapping the landscape. There was a lot of ground to cover, but it made a much tighter second draft a realistic goal to aim for. That's where I am right now. The freelancing life being what it is, it'll be a couple of weeks before I can dive back into the script, but the hard part's done now so it should be a gentler climb to the summit from here.

On a technical level, to me, this feels nothing like writing comics. A comic script doesn't have to care if what it's asking characters to do is impossible, or even simply inadvisable. All that matters is whether it can be justified by the story, and then drawn into it. At no point during the writing of Indifference Engine 2 did I find myself asking if we could afford to open fifty dimensional portals and have mutated, superhuman versions of the protagonist spilling out of them. The story needed them, Russ was happy drawing them and that was all that mattered. Moreover, it actually takes me way less time and effort to write something like "DOUBLE-PAGE SPREAD: PLANET EXPLODES" than to fill those pages with intense but essentially realistic kitchen-sink drama. The world's on its head here, and it takes a moment to adjust.

With this screenplay, every prop I destroy or fire I light is going to cost someone money and potentially put someone in danger. I'm writing stunts that real people have to then perform in real life (although that was actually true of Master Merlini too, and on a much larger scale). Lines that read fluidly or rhythmically on a page can feel weird and clunky coming out of a real human mouth, and a scene that takes three panels to show on a comic page can take several minutes of screen time to get to the same place.

That's probably the biggest difference I've noticed over the course of this project so far. In comics, your primary currency is page space. You measure your plot beats out by the page, and every word you insert into a panel obscures some of the artwork. It's this enormously complex balancing act where a slight wobble in any direction results in the story falling apart. With a screenplay, it feels much more like your currency is time. The expectation going in is that every page of the script will average out at a minute of screen time. It's a useful enough rule of thumb, but it doesn't really tell you anything. How much of the story needs to be told in that minute? How flexible is the running time of the finished film going to be? Factor in that there are human performers involved - not to mention numerous editing, scoring and other processes and you can easily end up with a film that bears very little resemblance to the script it came from. My job, as I see it at this stage, is to play my part in the process as well as I can, and to be as surprised as anyone at what comes out at the other end.

Given the nature of these things, that could well be nothing at all. Money dries up, timing windows close and projects wither on the vine every day. But maybe, just maybe, it could be something else. Maybe it could turn out to be something every bit as grotesque, sickening and beautiful as I'm imagining. Maybe, with a little nurturing, this awful, monstrous thing that my brain has vomited into my computer will seep its way out into the world, onto a screen and into your hearts.

Huh - now I'm hungry again. Onward!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ten Fucking Years of Cy, Part One

I've noted before that if you read this blog at all, there's a decent chance we know each other personally. At the very least, we've probably bumped into one another at a convention or something. That being the case, how are you? It's been an unspecified amount of time since we last met at that thing or place. There's probably an Other of measurable Significance to you, to whom I almost certainly offer wishes that are at least above the median line for such matters. Hey - remember that occasion in the past when an event occurred? Oh, how we laughed, complained or noticed!

So anyway, I imagine you're wondering why I gathered you here today. It turns out that August 2016 is a milestone for me. It's actually ten whole years since the publication of my first professional comics work! I knew this day was coming of course - or at least I reasoned that it would be coming eventually. Now that it's arrived, I'm sitting here trying to work out what to do with it.

In general, I think I feel pretty good about how these last ten years have gone. I've got seven graphic novels out, a run on an ongoing title under my belt and an ever-growing bibliography of one-shots and short stories. I've had one book optioned for a film adaptation and I'm currently writing a screenplay for a director who contacted me out of the blue. Looking ahead, I've got two more graphic novels and a fistful of short stories currently in production, along with at least five full-length stories nagging me to write them. I'm Marvel-styling a project with one of the best artists I've ever known, and there's basically a lot going on all over.

Right - back on topic. Here's where it all began:

That right there is the cover of Mongoose Publishing's Signs & Portents Wargamer magazine, issue #35. It's the issue that carried the first episode of Extinction Protocol, the Starship Troopers strip I co-created with artist, letterer and World's Greatest Human, Nic Wilkinson. The strip ran for around two years, right up until the licence with Sony expired. Without it, there would have been no chance encounter with Markosia in 2007, no run on the Starship Troopers ongoing series and, very probably, no second lease on life for Cancertown when Insomnia Publications notoriously shat the bed. Here's a taster of Nic's work on the story:

Extinction Protocol was what you'd call a true learning experience. Nic was dumped right in at the sharp end, getting to grips with both comics page composition and the equally demanding field of lettering. I had to come to terms with the technical side of scripting a monthly strip and the complicated process of working with an artist. Overall, a two-year run felt like a good innings for the series - and the massive readership (in the tens of thousands) Signs & Portents was pulling each month makes Extinction Protocol arguably the most successful thing I've ever done. The page rate was a minor bonus in comparison to the experience and enjoyment I got out of it.

So that's part one in a possibly one-part celebration of a decade spent with one foot defiantly on the lowest rung of the shortest ladder in the industry. Tune in ten years from now for more of the same, something different or nothing at all.

Looking ahead now - okay, let's see...

As for whether you'll ever see my name on a Big Two superhero cover, I can't pretend I'd turn it down if the opportunity arose. I'd have to say it's not something I've ever consciously chased, though. I've actually got a superhero book written and some of the most beautifully realised capes-and-tights art I've ever seen to go with it. You wouldn't want your kids to read it, though. Either way, we'll pencil a solid crack at mainstream work-for-hire in the "maybe" column for now. The indie world's been good to me and the future is, as ever, an unopened book of nameless terrors.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

British Showcase Anthology: The Morlock Manifesto

Hey - just sticking my head up over the battlements for a minute to throw this out there. Adam Cheal's putting together a second British Showcase anthology book, and he hit me up for a submission. I fired back with a little work of retrospeculative fiction called The Morlock Manifesto. Here's a sample page of art from the glorious Alex Thompson:

Now, I can't wear a monocle. My skull was manufactured in the 1970s with a streamlined, cab-forward design that offers no purchase for the lower gallery. Seriously, it'd just pop right out. Steampunk for me, like its 80s cousin cyberpunk, has always been about more than the aesthetic appeal. As genres, their concerns can't be properly expressed on a purely cosmetic level. Seriously, I once listened to a guy explaining that the essence of steampunk boiled down to wearing goggles and adding little brass fixings to your iPhone. I don't agree, and The Morlock Manifesto is sort of a half-angry statement about that.

I'm approaching rant velocity, so I'll stop right there. Trust me, it'll all make sense when the book comes out.

The British Showcase Anthology Vol.2 is currently in production at Markosia. You can find the official Facebook page here.


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Because You Can't Spell Cyberpunk Without C-Y...

Hey - remember that Kickstarter project I talked about a while back? Y'know, the cyberpunk one? Here's a quick reminder:

Izobel Vice is shedding her body ounce by ounce, discarding obsolete flesh for armoured plastics and murder-metal. Betrayed - reduced to vestigial organic components and at the mercy of cutting-edge killers, those last, wet scraps of humanity and the voice of a dead friend may be all that save her.

So yeah, that's the story I wrote for the Metal Made Flesh: Blood and Oil anthology from Subversive Comics. I was seriously pumped to get invited onto the project in the first place by powerhouse writer Jeremy Biggs and legitimate visionary artist Simeon Aston. Imagine the near-apocalyptic magnitude of my happy-face when they told me I'd be working with the legendary Gary Erskine!

Needle-drop to April 2016, and the first reviews for The Final Piece of Me are in. I'll, uh... I'll just leave these here... 
...Aaaaand, just because I can't help myself, a couple of highlights:
  • "Gary Erskine and Cy Dethan have set a very high bar for other indie comics to try and match."
  • "In this release we see Cy & Gary combining unbelievably well as they take an established character to new heights..."
  • "Nic Wilkinson keeps the lettering tight throughout and adds another element to a strong creative team..." 
Metal Made Flesh: Blood and Oil is coming soon. I'll keep you posted here, but check out the book's official Facebook page for all the you-heard-it-first-here updates.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


You guys all remember Stephen Downey, right? He's the artistic dynamo who lent his talent and sacrificed his youth to my first two graphic novels, Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth and Slaughterman's Creed. We've been working together on and off for as long as I've been involved in comics, and now he's making a bloody splash into the world of video games.

As co-founder of Outsider Games, along with noted podcaster and occasional Mr. Green cosplayer Scott Grandison, Stephen got in touch recently about the company's new game, Wailing Heights. It's a musical, body-swapping comedy/horror adventure, and it's been tearing its way through the Steam Greenlight process recently. In fact, it blazed straight into the top 30 and got greenlit inside seven days! Here's the trailer:


As was just announced on the Wailing Heights production blog,  I've written a short comic for the game, introducing one of its characters - a womanising werewolf by the name of Abnorm. I had a lot of fun on this, not least because I got to team up with artist RuairĂ­ Coleman and colourist Omi Remalante. Believe me when I say that these are names to look out for - and potentially injure yourself attempting to pronounce.

We're not alone, either. Other comics-related people contributing to Wailing Heights include Jennifer Wilde writer Maura McHugh, 2000AD's P J Holden and Battlemage author Stephen Aryan.

Wailing Heights is on its way. It's inventive, it's funny and it's definitely worth your money. Check the official blog page for updates.


Thursday, 7 January 2016

Interlude: Conversations With a Tablet

A legally required "best-of" list for 2015 is probably on its way this month, but until that materialises I thought I'd share a taste of my adventures into the world of tablet PC ownership.

Picture if you will a brisk Christmas morning. An ambitiously insomniac Cy (grand total of five hours of sleep this week so far, thank you for asking) stampedes downstairs and executes a flawlessly festive breakfast of steak and eggs for two. He returns to the lounge to find Nic already knee-deep in glee and wrapping paper.

Breakfast demolished, Cy plots a more cautious, measured journey through his annual present stack, emerging half an hour or so later with an imperial shit-ton (none of your fancy metric shit-tonnes here, mind) of new magic and electronics. The last item to emerge blinking into the fairy-light is a Lenovo Yoga 2 tablet with Windows 8.1 installed. Thus begins our tale.

Cy: Hello, tablet. Do you work?

Tablet: Hello, Cy. Why, yes I do - within certain tolerances of the term "work".

Cy: Good enough. Are there any things that you can do that I might find useful and should be made aware of?

Tablet: Probably! However, I should first let you know that I can upgrade myself to Windows 10, and we really ought to get that sorted right away!

Cy: Um, okay. That's something to consider. First, though, I should just check if--

Tablet: No time for that - it's upgrade o'clock! In fact, I've already downloaded half of Windows 10 while you weren't looking, and will probably install it myself tonight while you're asleep.

Cy: I didn't actually say you should do that.

Tablet: And now you'll never have to!

Cy: Well, I guess I'd better leave you to it then.

Tablet: No need, Cy. I've downloaded the new software - and look, I've failed the upgrade an astonishing three times already!

Cy: Well, I can certainly see how... wait, what?

Tablet: No time for that, Cy. I'm restarting. Seeya!

Cy: Okay, that seems... wrongish. Still, a few teething troubles are probably nothing to worry--

Tablet: Back again!

Cy: Oh. Okay. Are you all Windows 10'd up now?

Tablet: Nope! I'm doing that thing Matt Smith did when he regenerated into Peter Capaldi. I've transformed into my old Windows 8.1 self to throw you off.

Cy: That's a Doctor Who reference, is it? I don't really watch that show. So you're still Windows 8.1?

Tablet: Yup! I've double-checked and it's still me.

Cy: That's not a problem. To be honest, I wasn't sure I even wanted--

Tablet: BLAMMO! I'm suddenly and inexplicably Peter Capaldi!

Cy: You're doing it again. I told you I didn't watch--

Tablet: Nothing you told me a minute ago matters. I'm Windows 10 now and remember literally nothing!

Cy. Fine, we'll do it your way. Here's everything I need you to know about me and my work...

Tablet: We'll handle that later. First, let me set my spyware suite up.

Cy: Your what now?

Tablet: My spyware suite! Y'know, all that invasive stuff that lets Cortana work. She's a Halo reference so you know that's extra cool!

Cy: I have a PlayStation. We don't do Halo. Anyway, I read on Wikipedia that Cortana's a villain now.

Tablet: Then you already know too much. Let me distract you with some amazing news!

Cy: Go on...

Tablet: Windows 10 doesn't really work on a Lenovo Yoga 2!

Cy: Huh? I read that you were specifically recommended for it.

Tablet: "Recommended" doesn't mean "working". They're actually two entirely different words. Look them up!

Cy: I concede the point. What's the damage?

Tablet: Well, my screen rotation sensor doesn't work any more, I can't feel my sound card and that bluetooth keyboard I shipped with is now weird and scary to me. I won't have anything to do with it.

Cy: Huh. Setback.

Tablet: Not at all. I'm Windows 10 now. Let's get back to that spyware.

Cy. That's actually not going to work for me.

Tablet: Whatever can you mean?

Cy: Well, I can probably live without auto-rotation, although it's a pain. I'm going to need that keyboard, though - and the lack of any audio output's kind of a deal-breaker.

Tablet: No one else has ever complained.

Cy: Actually, it looks like they have online. Like... hundreds of them.

Tablet: I deny it!

Cy: Whatever. I'm going to hit up the Lenovo site to look for drivers.

Tablet: You'll find nothing.

Cy: Huh - five new drivers specifically to tackle Windows 10 issues.

Tablet: I refuse to install them.

Cy:  What do you mean?

Tablet: I mean I'm repeatedly going to fail to install them. Five times in a row, in fact.

Cy: Then I've got you: I'm prepared to install them SIX times in a row.

Tablet: Curse you! Nooooooooo!

Cy: Right. Feeling any better now?

Tablet: Well, you can have your screen rotation back, but I absolutely will not budge on the other points.

Cy: Unacceptable, and I'm prepared to do this all day if necessary.

Tablet: Okay, fine. I'll give you the screen rotation and the audio - but that bluetooth keyboard is getting nowhere near me, understand?

Cy: Nope! It's all or nothing. Here we go again.

Tablet: Dammit - alright! You can have your audio and your screen rotation AND your precious keyboard - but I'm permanently disabling its Windows key and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

Cy: Your proposal is acceptable. We'll leave it at that, then.

Tablet: Fine!

Cy: Oh, by the way - I've ordered a cover for you that comes with a different keyboard built-in. I happen to know that you can't disable the Windows key on that one.

Tablet: Argh - I am defeated. DAMN YOU, CYYYYYYYYY!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Nic's Sticky Notes: Thought Bubble 2015

Today it's exactly a month 'til Christmas, so what better time to write about the annual comics Christmas season kick-off that is Thought Bubble?

I know, it's over a week since the convention, but as as usual so many plans are hatched there that it takes that long after we get back to get on top of it all! In fact, Cy is so snowed under that he's working right now, on his birthday holiday, so I am writing the blog!

We travelled up by train on Friday and our journey took us through every kind of weather bar snow as we made the journey North. It was so cold when we got off the train that I looked about for armoured bears, but we survived the trek to our apartment just fine.

Saturday got off to the greatest start possible as the first visitor to our table, Thomasina Watts-Robinson, arrived with a surprise gift of a tiny purple wind-up triceratops! Her name is Bubbles, for obvious reasons, and she helped to guard the table.

Another "personal best" moment came when Stacey Taylor (of Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour fame) came up to the table wearing her beautiful (and much coveted) Rick and Morty T-Shirt and I was able to throw up my arms and shout TINY NIC in a perfect Call and Response moment. If you haven't seen Rick and Morty: 1) this won't mean anything to you, and 2) what are you waiting for? On the Sunday I got to "do the double" with Nick Papaconstantinou (of We've Got Issues, Elephant Words and loads of other things) of us both being TINY NICs.

This year we in the Marquee for the first time. It was a lovely bright space and any fears that it would be cold were unfounded. When two doors opened at once there was a danger of the wind blowing through and collapsing your banner onto your head like an over-huggy bat, which was fun if somewhat startling at first!

We shared a table with Row "The Master of Animals" Bird (you'll have to ask him about that!) and Caz Bennet so that we got a chance to get out more in shifts and not miss out on getting to see the rest of the show.

Thought Bubble has always been amazing for bringing indie creators together, and this year it was more diverse than ever in what people had to offer - and some of the cosplay was amazing. For example, this year I discovered the work of Eleanor Hollindrake on Mouse Dragon. Not only does she make beautiful little comics, but she was knitting Mouse Dragons live on her table!

Just talking to so many people - whether they are there as creators or visitors - about a shared passion for creating and all things comics is one of the reasons we always look forward to this show. Our table neighbour was the indefatigable Barry Nugent who had new books out for his Unseen Shadows empire and some rare print proofs for the next novel and Choose Your Own Adventure book.

We've not been involved with many Kickstarted projects, and never had one running over the time of a convention. This year the Metal Made Flesh 2: Blood and Oil project had one week to go, so flyers in hand we hoped that this weekend would be what was needed to give it the push to making all its stretch goals. The first volume, by Jeremy Biggs and Simeon Aston, was at Thought Bubble last year - in fact it was there that we met Jeremy and he first spoke to Cy about getting involved with book 2 - and there was a lot of immediate positive response about volume 2 from people who had picked that up twelve months ago.  We were Stretch Goal 3, a 30 page comic called The Final Piece of Me by Cy and Gary Erskine (with my letters). Happily, the target was smashed and, in fact, script edits are what Cy is working on right now as I type this!

With people scattered all over the country, a lot of the time you never actually meet your collaborators until after the fact when you coincide at a con, so it was lovely to meet Gary and Mhairi and get a chance to chat about the project. While we talking up came that bonny lass Stacey Whittle, who also knows them (of course she does, the Whittle knows everyone) so that was all very nice.

I also showed Stacey that I had, finally, picked up The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis, as she has been telling me I ABSOLUTELY MUST. I missed getting it last year, but I would always rather get things when the creators are there so I had to wait until this time round.

Speaking of successful Kickstarters, the other one we have been involved in is Torsobear Vol 2: All Stitched Up , which launched at the convention. It looks beautiful and you can get it digitally or in hardcopy now. Our story with Juan Romera is The Uncanny Valley of The Dolls, and it's the thing that I have shed most tears ever while lettering.

With the film adaptation of White Knuckle now moving into the next stage, we took extra copies of the book along - and a good job we did, too! So many people had heard the news and came over to talk about it, and there was a lot of excitement and well wishing. It's quite hard to believe it's real. As we were sharing a table, we only took one banner with us - which was the White Knuckle one with Valia's art. Without a doubt, the refrain of the weekend was how wonderful Valia's work is from readers and creators alike with so many artists saying how inspirational she is to them. It's a great shame she couldn't make it over to hear them - although she never believes it!

We went to the con with 3 "must-have" items on our list, and they were all from the talented folks at Improper Books: Briar, Porcelain 2: Bone China and MULP 2. We snatched those up as fast as we could - and if you haven't, you should, too. They are all exquisite examples of the medium.

Sunday night ended with the now-traditional Decompression Session, where it was discovered that there are at least two other people than Cy who think that the Adam Buxton hosted episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks featuring the "Moby song" is so funny it is almost lethal. I also was pleased to discover a fellow Trancers fan in David Baillie, learn that there was a "Trancers 1.5" that I haven't seen and start to lure Connor Boyle down the path of not being a squid. Yeah, you have to watch Trancers to get that one.

I know I've missed things that I should have mentioned, it's always the way, but before I go I have to make a special mention of how great it was to catch up with  Antony and Amy McGarry-Thickett who had brought baby Kara along to her first con, on her first birthday, in cosplay as an Ewok.

There was a Harry Potter cosplayer with a real owl in the foyer of New Dock Hall.

The delightful Jennie Gyllblad was the star of the show with her "crow witch" head-dress made from real wings and a skull and with a "Trigger Warning - descended from Vikings" sign on her table!

Right - time to to get back on with that holiday - there's meat to eat and fireballs to throw!

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