Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Story of Death, and the Men Who Defied it...

"What has the future in store for this strange being, born of a breath, of perishable tissue, yet Immortal, with his powers fearful and Divine? What magic will be wrought by him in the end?"
Nikola Tesla, 1930

Monday, 22 July 2013

Nic's Sticky Notes: Marooned!

This week Cy finds himself marooned on the Forbidden Planet International desert island with only 8 comics and one luxury item. That being the case, I am writing on his blog until he finds a way to turn all that coconut oil into fuel and make his escape!

But how would just having fuel allow him to escape, you wonder? Well, he was very forward thinking in choosing his luxury item, as you will see at the end.

Oh, I'll tell you what, why don't I just rig up the pirate ship and swing by to rescue him? There might be dinos on the island that I can recruit, too!

Here are the choices he made:

The Mighty Thor: The Hammer and the Holocaust (Marvel Treasury Edition) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Generally speaking, I don’t read a lot of superhero comics – but there was a time when I could hardly imagine anything else in this world being worth my attention. I liberated The Hammer and the Holocaust, an 82-page epic concerning the triggering of Ragnarok by the unstoppable Mangog, from my primary school reading bin in 1976. I almost literally read the covers off that thing, and still treat my copy like a holy relic. I’d go so far as to say that there is nothing to know about Marvel superheroics in the 1970s that can’t be found in this book.

Samurai Executioner by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
Samurai books are a big deal in my personal history as a comics reader, and I thought long and hard about which Kazuo Koike / Goseki Kojima collaboration to include in my list. Lone Wolf & Cub might have seemed the highest profile and most natural choice, but in the end I went with the tighter, more focused Samurai Executioner. Its protagonist, Yamada Asaemon, is in some ways the shadow of Lone Wolf’s Ogami Ittō – a sword-tester and professional executioner whose purpose is as much to examine and reflect the world he lives in as to drive the story itself. The art in this book is unfailingly, brutally beautiful and the storytelling is a masterclass in economy and power.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Charles Burns firing on all cylinders. I first discovered Burns’ work in 1988, via the outstanding documentary film, Comic Book Confidential. Before that time, I had no idea that a comic could provide a genuinely creepy reading experience. That is, I’d read and loved plenty of horror comics, but had never really seen one that stuck with me. Black Hole, with its sexually transmitted mutations and rich vein of nightmarish metaphor, is among his strongest, purest visions.

Stray Toasters by Bill Sienkiewicz

Stray Toasters is a perfect example of what happens when a creator with the skill, scope and sensibilities of Bill Sienkiewicz is given enough rope to hang himself – he makes damn sure he takes us all with him. Stray Toasters is one of the most visually striking books of its decade – endlessly influential and boasting a level of glorious insanity in its storytelling that makes his better-known work on Elektra: Assassin seem almost tame and pedestrian by comparison.

The Bulletproof Coffin by David Hine and Shaky Kane

William Gaines meets William Burroughs in this legitimately unsettling exercise in altered-state-of-the-art craftsmanship. David Hine and Shaky Kane complement each other’s styles more fluidly and troublingly than virtually any other creative pairing I’ve seen in comics. Layers of misdirection and non-linear navigation elevate an already outlandish tale into a true celebration of exploration in the medium. The Bulletproof Coffin is comic book psychedelia at its best – grotesque, hypnotic and expertly, deliriously warped.

Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill

Pat Mills and Kev O’Neill, individually and in collaboration, have been responsible for some of the most memorable reading experiences of my life. Toward the end of the 1980s, I was suffering from a growing sense of discontent with mainstream comics – largely due to having my eyes opened to the possibilities of the medium by books like Maus, Ronin and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. At that critical moment, Marshal Law exploded onto my radar and threw all my dissatisfaction with traditional superheroics into pinpoint focus. This book is an utter demolition of the superhero, untainted by sentimentality or affection for the subject matter. Subsequent Marshal Law stories, at least for me, gradually moderated in tone and never quite lived up to the brutality of this first arc, but Fear and Loathing stands the test of time in its clarity of purpose and total lack of compromise.

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

Probably the single most important item in this list, Luther Arkwright just floored me when I first encountered it. Stylistically and conceptually, that book was doing things I’d never heard of in the medium and breaking rules I didn’t even know existed. It’s interesting to speculate with any great “milestone” comic whether or not it would have the same impact today that it did at the time, but with Bryan Talbot’s work I don’t think you ever need to ask the question. If you challenged me to describe a legitimately timeless classic that still stands out as innovative today, my answer would be The Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!

Okay, this is a tough one to explain – a collection of the frankly unhinged works of Fletcher Hanks between 1939 and 1941. While superficially a set of adventure-type stories native to the era, there’s an undeniable undercurrent of nihilism, misanthropy and rage flowing through the work. Imagine Robert Crumb trying to tell a Superman story without ironic intent for a rough idea of the experience – then reflect for a moment on the fact that Crumb himself describes Hanks as “a twisted dude”. The book concludes with an account the compiler’s own efforts to track down Fletcher Hanks, his findings throwing the material into an unexpected, oddly desolate new light and elevating the collection into something unforgettable.

Luxury Item:
Assuming for a moment that I can’t just pick my partner and serial collaborator Nic Wilkinson for this, I think most people trapped in a desert island scenario would ask for an Apache attack helicopter, wouldn’t they? I mean – that’s just common sense, isn’t it?

...and so the cunning plan for escape seemed assured but for this final cruel and unusual twist by Richard Bruton of FPInternational at the last minute, who added:

"Brilliant luxury item though it is, there is the slight problem of it being a potential means of escape from the island. So we’ll give Cy the Apache. But don’t tell Cy we’re going to conveniently forget to fuel it."


If you didn't see it a few weeks back Cy also explained to FPInternational what is his "BEST COVER EVER", and why.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Half-Dozen (or so) That Got Away: Part One

Most of the time, the posts on this blog are focused on the things I'm working on, have worked on or am about to work on. That's basically the point of the exercise. If I'm excited about a piece of art I've just received or an idea that's finally evolved into a script, I get to talk about it here. What I don't do - what I actively avoid doing, in fact - is talk about the shit I've decided not to do or that's fallen through in some way.

Fuck it - time to rectify that.

Unless you count my various runs on Starship Troopers, which were original stories with my own characters set against a backdrop established gloriously by others, I've largely stayed away from adapting other people's stories or using their characters. It's a habit I should probably invest more energy into breaking, as I've done for Barry Nugent's Unseen Shadows transmedia project (where I'm given more than enough rope to hang myself ten times over) - but there's a reason for it and it has nothing to do with my overall preference for owning the stories I write. That's a separate question that can easily be resolved by paying me for writing them in the first place.

It has everything to do with the Bristol Comic Expo in 2008.

I was enjoying my life a great deal at that gig, making new friends and discovering that the foot I'd jammed into the door with the recently released Starship Troopers Ongoing #5 was starting to pay off pretty impressively. Cancertown was at the preview stage already and things were generally gathering speed. On the first night of the convention, I had an encounter that looked particularly promising. With a level of caution I had reason to congratulate myself for later, my blogged comment that night went as follows:

"I've kinda been offered a very intriguing gig. More on that if anything comes of it."

There was, for reasons I've never explained, no "more on that".

By the time this blog goes live, probably 25% of it will have been redacted by Nic Wilkinson, a large part of whose job it is to prevent me from career-suiciding myself every time I touch a keyboard (she's also supposed to prevent me from using "suicide" as a verb, but I'm hoping she'll let it slide this once). However, I did want to talk about this fascinating and personally hilarious experience to give some context to the choices I've made since.

It shook out like this. Someone I knew introduced me to someone he knew who had been approached by someone else to draw an adaptation of his story. With me so far? I was recommended for the adaptation because the first person had passed on it. That, in retrospect, should have been an alarm bell right there, but I was a little less wary back then and said I'd be interested in getting on-board. A few months went by and eventually a  page rate was set and a grand total of £18,480 was offered to me for scripting the entire project.

I turned it down.

I didn't just back carefully away, I rocketed over the horizon with every survival instinct in my lizard-brain screaming. I may actually have left tyre tracks behind me. Why? Because I made a critical error at this point - an error so fundamental and all-encompassing that it has coloured my attitude toward direct adaptation work to this day. In short, I read the adaptation material and realised this wasn't a story at all. It was some fucker's shitty fantasy RPG campaign.

I think my first blood vessel burst at the part where the demon-man rapes the heroine through a wound he's just cut into her stomach.

But it's okay, you see, because it was just a dream...

...the dream of a woman who, shortly after, gets gang-raped and kills herself.

I honestly wish I could say that this was the worst of it, but I can't, and a little bit of vomit-acid still crawls up my throat at the thought of my name being attached to this fuck-mangle of a story with its laugh-out-loud stereotypes and appallingly named characters. It was the worst kind of unintentional parody high-fantasy bullshit and I feel stupider, uglier and less physically healthy for reading it.

So anyway, I pretty much gnawed my own leg off to escape that mess, and with another member of the team expressing similar doubts to mine the project seems to have fallen apart pretty quickly after that. I still occasionally Google key titles and character names to make sure the damn thing hasn't resurfaced in some unholy new form - but so far, so good.

Just to wash the taste of all that out for a moment, I'll briefly touch on how good the "adaptation" experience can be when it's done the right way. I've written, to date, three one-shot stories and one full-length graphic novel for Unseen Shadows, and in each case I've had a completely rewarding time doing it. I've been able to focus on the elements of the source material that appeal to me personally, and to tell my own stories within that framework. Characters, organisations and plot points that I've contributed have been worked into the developing "expanded universe", showing up in other spin-offs and even the core trilogy of novels. I've never once felt that I've been asked to attach my name to something I wouldn't want to be judged on, and the support I've received has been unfailingly top-tier because the project's creator genuinely knows (and cares about) his stuff. See? It can work...

...but don't bring me your cliche-driven, rape-obsessed D&D campaign and ask me to turn it into something beautiful, even at £18.5K for three months' work, because fuck you.

Monday, 1 July 2013

A Magician Among the Spirits

Sometimes, talking about comics you're working on can be like walking a razor-thin tightrope over a minefield populated by acid-filled laser sharks. Oh sure, it's fun - but caution is generally the wisest policy.

But just for a moment, fuck all that. Here's the cover image I received this morning from RH Stewart for our in-progress counter-factual historical horror book, Powers Fearful & Divine.
I first met Roy (very briefly) while he was working on Aleister Crowley: Wandering the Waste (recently released by Markosia) when he stopped by our Thought Bubble 2011 table with a beautifully framed piece of his artwork for Nic. I'd been angling to get him signed up to a book ever since, and when the idea for Powers Fearful & Divine came to me I couldn't imagine anyone better suited for the art. 

Again, there's not a whole Hell of a lot more I can say about the book just yet, but as soon as there is I'll be back.

Bonus points for naming three or more of the characters in this cover...
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