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.

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