Wednesday, 4 February 2015

My Own Worst Enemies

As I type this, The Indifference Engine 2: The Suicideshow is at the printers and on track for a March launch at this year's London Super Comic Convention. Review copies are sneaking out and I'm biting down hard on the urge to give the thing one last proofread to find too late that punctuation error or continuity glitch that I didn't notice on the last five readings but which my mind is screaming absolutely must be there.

In other words, I'm going through my usual routine before a book launch.

I've done some horrific things to characters in the past. Things that I'd honestly have a hard time looking them in the eye after - those that still had eyes, I mean. I've drugged and burned them, had them dissected and loaded them down with crippling nightmares of backstories, just to see if they could survive them. Alan Blake is a kind of special case, even in that company.

Alan Blake is the only one I've ever felt I owed an explanation.

When Alan wandered inoffensively enough into the original Indifference Engine on page 5, we were already an entire flash-forward scene of foreknowledge ahead of him. We knew exactly where the story was heading (although not exactly how it'd get there) before Alan himself even knew he was part of it. Over the next few scenes, I took away Alan's job, his girlfriend and a cat I'd already secretly decided had always hated him. I was also, behind his back, plotting to involve him in a vast inter-dimensional conspiracy composed entirely of super-human alternate-reality versions of himself. Alan Blake spent that whole book in an uncontrolled plummet, frantically pedalling his feet like a cartoon coyote.

With a gun...

...and a total metaphysical certainty that nothing he does in this life has any moral implications whatsoever.

So, I started with a well meaning but down-trodden doormat and ended with a nihilistic destroyer of universes. Along the way, I've killed Alan Blake more times and in more ways than any other character I've dealt with. You'll forgive me if I take a little pride in that.

The Suicideshow (and I can already tell that I'll be spending a LOT of time correcting people who break that into "Suicide Show") picks up the story some time after the end of the first volume and, instead of Alan Blake, we find ourselves following a new character called Alan Blake. It's okay, though, because our old Alan Blake is following this new Alan Blake, too. Of course, that's complicated slightly by the fact that there's another Alan Blake following that Alan Blake. With me so far? Good, because we've got another 84 pages of story to go from there. Don't worry too much about the number of Alans we're juggling. We burn through them pretty fast.

Anything more would probably veer into the spoiler lane a bit, but here's the blurb for a rough idea of what we're dealing with:

A suburban IT professional turned one-man genocide is blackmailed into slaughtering his way through a web of interconnected parallel realities, destroying every single alternate version of himself. Frustrated and desperate, everything changes when one of his targets unwittingly presents a possible way out. It's his only chance of freedom, and all it will cost him is the future.

The art on this book is a perpetual source of joy to me. This was my first chance to work with the amazing Russ Leach and Mike Summers, but I'm already looking forward to doing it again. There was literally no situation I could throw at those two that they couldn't handle with technical precision and genuine charm. Angry cat who secretly hates one of its owners? Check! Man with vat of acid dumped on his head, falling from a window? Can do! Bloated, mucus-oozing giant with a half-mummified homunculus version of himself for a cock? Not a problem! Seriously, nothing I could send their way could break Russ and Mike's stride for a second.

I live in awe of Nic Wilkinson, as all mortals do, but even so I'd have to say that Indifference Engine 2: The Suicideshow represents her finest lettering work to date. I'd already given Russ a script that was clearly impossible to draw and he'd made it look glorious. Mike's colours, as with Mel Cook's on the first volume, served an actual narrative function throughout the story, so Nic's job in lettering it was to preserve the all-important rhythms of the dialogue without ever swallowing up any of the actual storytelling. I still don't understand how she does it, but she always finds a way.

Long story short, Russ and I'll be signing copies of the book on both days of the London Super Comic Convention (March 14th-15th), and if it causes 1% of the near-biblical migraines to its readers that it caused to me then I'll consider the whole expedition a mighty success!
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