Friday, 30 October 2009

Ragged Roughs

Right before last weekend's London MCM Expo, I received an email from former Starship Troopers: War Stories collaborator and artist on Markosia's recent Harker graphic novel, Neil Van Antwerpen.

Neil's work has always been impressive, both in terms of fluid storytelling and sheer beauty, so when he mentioned in conversation that he honestly felt that The Ragged Man, our upcoming book from Insomnia, was going to be the one that really showed what he and Peter-David Douglas were capable of I was chewing my own arms off in anticipation of some previews.

Well, the previews arrived in time to show them off at the Expo, and I have to say that opening those files was one of the very best moments of my adventures in comics to date.

The Ragged Man is a very important story for me, for reasons I may start to go into as the book moves toward completion. I don't want to say too much about what it is just yet, but I can certainly tell you what it's not.

It's not a superhero book.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the reason why I've never actually written a superhero book. Having this vicious, sharp-cornered monster of a story squatting in my brain is the reason I've ended up turning down every superhero-flavoured project I've been asked to get involved in or invited to pitch for.

Also, as I start to measure my remaining time as a Londoner in terms of weeks, rather than months, The Ragged Man is at once a heart-felt love letter and a final fuck-you to the city I've lived in for the past fourteen years. There was a time in my life when, if anyone had thought to ask me, I would have told them that there was nowhere else on Earth I could have written fiction. There was literally no other place I'd lived in or visited that so forcefully compelled me to write. Whatever energy or "voice" I've developed in my scripting style and dialogue rhythms, I owe them entirely to London.

This story is a product of those fourteen years. It's a last act of peacemaking between me and this beautiful, damaged city and, if you were to ask me now, I'd still tell you it's the only place on Earth I could have written The Ragged Man.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Insert Expo-Related Pun Here - Too Tired To Do It Myself...

By rights, this ought to be the easiest convention of the year for me. The London MCM Expo is right on my doorstep, requires no elaborate travel or accommodation plans and there's little to no heavy lifting involved. Despite all of that, I still find it the most exhausting gig on the circuit.

Some 40,000 people apparently attended the Expo this year, and I'm pretty sure I met most of them. The cool thing about helping out on a dealer stand (other than the fact that this is one of the few opportunities a Londoner has to loudly announce, "let me in, I'm a dealer" without risking arrest) is that you get to scout round the venue before the show starts and take pictures of people and things that'll later be entirely obscured by densely packed, frequently grumpy human flesh. Here are a few examples:

Ian Sharman: Convention Camouflage Edition

Clearly Unperturbed By Supernatural Entities: Ecto-1

Unstoppable, Irrepressible, Non-Refundable: Tony Lee

Of course, once the doors opened properly a whole new world of photo-opportunities suddenly opened up. There were games to play, celebrities to stalk (and by celebrities, I mean there was the fantastic Ronny Cox and a bunch of people I'd never heard of but who probably play sulky TV vampires or something). I toyed with the idea of getting Mr. Cox to quote me a line from one of his movies, but couldn't decide between "I'm cashing you out, Bob" (Robocop) and "I don't give you enough information to think!" (Total Recall). In any case, there wasn't much time for fanbushing* celebrities once the actual show started.

I was again astounded by the number of people who wanted to talk to me about Cancertown. The Expo is very broad-based and, historically speaking, has usually devoted most of its limited comics wing to manga. This year, by contrast, there was a lot more comic stuff going on in general and a much wider variety of styles within that. I signed books, chatted with readers and basically got to feel like a proper professional writer - doubly so on signing the contract for Gamebreaker. Bonus!

Highlights were many and various, but Bryan Talbot's input in the Steampunk talk was predictably wonderful, and I somehow managed to shoehorn my way into a satisfyingly lengthy and wide-ranging conversation with Jacen Burrows and Insomnia's own Ollie Masters (writer of Dead Goats and body double for a major villain in Slaughterman's Creed). Great fun. The Ragged Man preview art Neil Van Antwerpen sent me to take along was extremely well received, and I got to plug the book a bit to Dave Monteith and Barry Nugent, whose Geek Syndicate table was right next to Insomnia's on the Saturday.

I should also mention that Ferret's Bad Rain quilt, which dominated the Insomnia area, was a huge hit with convention-goers throughout the weekend. Considering the number of costume-makers and fabric fanatics on hand at the gig, the quilt had a real crossover appeal to it. Thanks are due to Ferret for once again going above and beyond.

...and yes, there were cosplayers. To be perfectly honest, I was staggered this year by the quality of the costumes. The bar has definitely been raised over previous years. I still don't understand the dress-up urge myself, but I do have to admire the time, money and effort that goes into some of these costumes.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourites, plus a video I shot of the weird alien autopsy/stripping scientist stage show that inexplicably broke out on Saturday afternoon:

*"Fanbushing" is a term I'm hoping to popularise, referring to the practice of stalking up behind the object of one's geekery, waiting patiently six inches behind them and then exclaiming, "Oh, are you such-and-such?" in fake surprise when they turn around in alarm to see who it is that's breathing on the back of their neck.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Oh, God - Here We Go Again...

Yup, it's that time of year when otherwise sane, sensible, middle-aged men discover their Inner Awesome through the medium of cruelly revealing lycra leotards and giant foam-rubber gunblades. The London MCM Expo is back.

This gig has really grown on me over the last couple of years. I'm not exactly sure what that says about me, but there's something about the miraculous chaos of the expo that you just don't find anywhere else on the UK circuit. The diversity of life is phenomenal, the energy is unmatched and you get to spend two days clinging on by your fingernails in a feeding frenzy of unashamed, full-on fandom. If any proof were needed that the geek has inherited the Earth, then this is it.

As usual, I'll be wearing two hats this weekend. With Cancertown out and close to a dozen more books in preparation with Insomnia and Markosia, I'll be dividing my time between the two stands and generally trying to keep my head above the waterline. With a bit of luck, I'll be able to catch up with Dave Anthony Monteith and Barry Anthony Nugent (I know - weird coincidence, huh?) of the Geek Syndicate podcast, and anyone else I've got to know in my last few trips round the convention circuit.

If you're coming along and happen to spot me (or someone you think might be me), by all means say hi. I'm hoping to have some preview art from an upcoming book or two, and I'm still riding a high from the Sony PSP announcement, so I'm likely to be in a talkative mood.


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Alright, You Twisted My Arm... Cancertown's Coming To PSP!

I wouldn't normally post again so soon after the announcement of a new book, but I've just been given the go-ahead to talk about this, and I honestly can't keep quiet any longer. Here's the official press release:

Insomnia On Demand: Catch the RedEye on PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable)

In the blackest hours before dawn, when all good comic readers were tucked up in bed, the Insomniacs crawled into their dreams.

What were they whispering into the darkness? What did they wish for, lost in the sleep of the innocent?

No less than:

· To be able read Insomnia comics anywhere, at any time

· Take their entire comics collections wherever they went

· To listen to their own music while reading

· To navigate pages their own way

· To find and buy comics easily and access content instantly from the PlayStation®Store

All this will be on offer for PSP owners in December 2009, with the opening of the Digital Comics Store on the PlayStation®Network.

Red Eyed and bushy tailed, Insomnia Publications will be standing proud on launch day as our critically acclaimed books take their place on the virtual shelves, next to world famous names in comic book publishing.

Insomnia Publications’ graphic novels will be presented in the store as single-issue length chapters, following the publication of the book. The first chapter of every book will be offered free to readers as a “taster” of the story.

Crawford Coutts, Managing Director of Insomnia Publications, says:

“We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Sony in the launch of the Digital Comics Service.

Insomnia is committed to nurturing the very best new art, new writing and new concepts in its original graphic novels and the unprecedented scope of this Comics Store will connect independent publishers and readers around the globe.

The help and guidance we have received from Sony throughout truly demonstrates their commitment to support the medium, the publishers, the readers and the comics industry itself.

Many of our creators are gamers themselves and so were delighted to hear that their work will be offered through PlayStation Network.”

With the first Insomnia titles available right from the December launch, you will be able to:

· Unlock Cages

· Fall into Cancertown

· Dissect the bloody history of the notorious Burke and Hare

With a growing range of titles to choose from and the phenomenal scope of the Digital Comics Store, this is just the beginning.


1. The Comics Store will launch on the PlayStation Network for PSP in December 2009

2. Official Sony Press Release and video demo

3. For further information, interviews and comments please contact Crawford Coutts, MD, at

4. Insomnia Publications can be found online at:

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

"Oh, God! Mother - Blood! BLOOD!"

So, as those brave souls who dared to test their wits in the Citadel of Comics last week may have surmised, I have a new project to announce.

Gamebreaker, signed at this year's BICS by Insomnia Publications, is an insane, free-wheeling rampage of ninjas, gamblers and superspies. It's a story where no-one is who they seem to be, and hardly anyone is who they think they are. It's wild, chaotic and I love it in ways that are almost certainly illegal. Let me break it down for you:

Those who even remember the legend of Godmother Blood and her insane, megalomaniacal schemes consider her a myth. They’re right – and like all great myths there’s a potent, even dangerous, nucleus of truth at her core. When the greatest fictional villain of the Cold War emerges from retirement to reintroduce a disaffected world to the glorious chaos it once knew, she has only one target in mind – her nemesis, the ultimate superspy: Capablanca.

While long-term readers of this blog (yes, both of you) and anyone who's ever been pinned in a conversational corner by me at a convention will be aware, I have a deep suspicion of the Idiot Pitch (or "Elevator Pitch" as the real professionals call it) when applied to fiction. For me, taking the classic "Nutter Hunts Big Fish" as an example, any description that equally describes Herman Melville's symbolist allegory, Moby Dick and stupidest-movie-ever contender, Jaws 4: The Revenge is essentially meaningless.

That said, those who find these things helpful might want to take "Joe 90 Meets The Prisoner" as a starting point for Gamebreaker.

I don't want to spoilerise much further than that, but I'm beyond excited and I'll very likely be shooting my mouth off all over the London MCM and Thought Bubble this year.

That is, if I can even maintain a coherent stream of consciousness over the other piece of super-secret news I've been sitting on for the last month or so...

Oh, and one other thing: thanks to everyone who's commented on, written about or emailed regarding my Fighting Fantasy-style BICS convention report. I'm glad you all seemed to enjoy it so much. For reference, the "one true path" solution runs as follows: 1, 15, 7, 18, 10, 4, 16, 5, 19, 13, 2, 6, 8, 14, 12, 20.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Citadel Of Comics - A Fantasy Convention In Which YOU Are The Hero!

Your journey has been long and arduous, but your goal is finally in sight. As you make your way across the empty, barren Plains of Parking, it looms up above you - a monstrous edifice of glass and steel: the Thinktank of Millennium Point. You begin your adventure with one Trusty Companion and zero Pitch Points.

You pass the entrance gateways unchallenged, navigate the escalator maze effortlessly thanks to your Scroll of Floorplans (cross this off your Adventure Sheet) and finally stand at the portal to BICS. Two cosplay stormtroopers step forward to block your path, but a quick flash of your Pass of Professional Entry silences them and they meekly step aside. Readying your treasure bag, you step boldly forward, only to falter to a stunned and stumbling halt. Directly to the West, you spy the demigod Talbot, guarding a mighty stack of hard-bound books. A queue of supplicants and adventurers awaits his benediction. Will you:

Join the queue to pray at the altar of Talbot: scroll to paragraph 15?

Bypass the queue and enter the convention proper through the portal to the North: scroll to paragraph 7?

As you arrive at the Stand of Markosia, you are astounded at the range and variety of goods on sale. From the monster-infested epic, Serpent Wars to your own humble run on Starship Troopers, every item glitters with possibilities untold. What's more, within mere feet lie the jewelled caverns of Orang Utan Comics and Monkeys With Machineguns. The hypnotic, simian synergy of these fabled studios is almost too much to absorb, but their deadly ensorcellment is broken by the stern voice of your Trusty Companion, who announces that it is time for the Bryan Talbot talk. You hurry out of the main chamber and toward the amphitheatre, praying you are not too late. Scroll to paragraph 6.

The cosplay Judge Dredd grimaces at the perp scum he has allowed to infest his convention. Within moments the entire Fetishman creative team is led away in cuffs and Britain takes another shuffling step toward artistic authoritarianism. Lose one Pitch Point for your lack of backbone and integrity and slouch off in shame to paragraph 19.

Moving on North, you find that the aisle takes a sharp turn to the West. You continue to follow the path, coming to a junction. Will you:

Continue West by scrolling to paragraph 2?

Turn south toward paragraph 16?


Your argument is forceful and persuasive. Comics is a legitimate artistic medium, and no field of human interest lies beyond its scope. Soon, other passing conventioners rally to your cause and the cosplay Dredd is forced to back down and reconsider his position. Gain one Pitch Point and head to paragraph 19.

As you march to the amphitheatre, you are shocked to spy the demigod Talbot himself bearing down upon you. If he notices you at all, it is as the mountain notices the climber at its roots. You rummage hurriedly through your treasure bag. Do you possess the Tome of Grandville? If so, scroll to paragraph 8. If not, scroll to paragraph 17.

The entrance to the main hall is packed with questing conventioners, and you marvel at the diversity of life within the citadel. Surely, it is a golden age you live in when so vast an array of disparate creatures can gather together to celebrate a unified appreciation for Pokemon cards and violent anime porn. Will you:

Head West, where the crowd is at its thickest (scroll to Paragraph 13)?

Make your way North on your Trusty Companion's advice, in search of obscure trinkets (scroll to 18)?

Go North-West, where an altercation of some sort appears to be brewing (scroll to 16)?

Drawing the sacred tome from your treasure bag, you miraculously catch the attention of the demigod Talbot. He looks down at you with an expression of benign dignity, and in an unimaginable show of generosity offers to show you the back way into the amphitheatre, bypassing the queues and ensuring a front-row seat for the ceremony. Gain one Pitch Point for your excellent fortune and scroll to paragraph 14.

Terror grips your throat as you realise you have not prepared your pitch! Panic-blind, you flee the main chamber and hurtle out of the citadel and back toward the Plains of Parking...

... where you are probably eaten by, I don't know, a Troll or something. Either way, your convention ends here.


Thinking quickly, you offer to introduce the C2D4 crew to Stacey Whittle, co-host of the Small Press Big Mouth podcast. Your offer is accepted and the cause of independent comics is advanced one notch. Gain one Pitch Point for contributing to the cause and scroll to paragraph 4.

Crawford considers for a moment before speaking. He's obviously interested in your ideas, but there's something missing. Your heart sinks at the prospect of reformatting your pitch and submitting it again, but your determination remains untarnished. One way or another, your story will be told! For now, however, your convention ends here.

After the intensive training of your conversation with the Nuge, your pitch is primed, honed and razor-sharp. You hit Crawford full in the face with it, obliterating his scepticism and dazzling him with a virtuoso display of cosmic genius...

...or so you hope. Look at your Adventure Sheet. Have you accumulated 3 Pitch Points in your travels? If you have, scroll to paragraph 20. If not, make your way cautiously to paragraph 11.

Pushing your way to the front of the crowd, you find yourself basking at last in the glory of the Stand of Insomnia. Truly, this is the altar of ultimate comics coolness. Crawford Coutts, inscrutable overlord of this realm, ushers you behind the stand to take your place among the company's many creators. You encounter Jeymes Samuel and Michiru Morikawa of Buskers fame, and spend several minutes discussing Burke & Hare with its creative team, Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering. Ferret the Artisan is busy proclaiming the significance of Bad Rain, a moment from Cancertown immortalised in the most ambitious work of textile art since the Bayeux Tapestry. In time, a pilgrim drifts as a shadow through the massed conventioners toward you. Recognising him as the silent enigma known in these parts as the Nuge, you steel yourself for the confrontation. The Nuge demands that you regale him with tales of adventure and mystery. Searching frantically through your memory, you muster up your strongest saga - the legendary Gamebreaker Pitch.

As your story reaches its apex, the Nuge's implacable gaze finally relents. He offers you the slightest of nods, an almost imperceptible acknowledgement that you have narrowly passed this test. Make a note that you have practised your pitch on this most ferocious of audiences, before heading off North by scrolling to paragraph 2.

The Talbot talk is a kaleidoscope of wonders - a sixty-minute epic of brilliance and awe. The depth of the demigod's knowledge and experience instantly robs all those present of any lingering delusions of their own competence or fitness to call themselves creators. While this lesson in humility may be galling to some, you find it personally inspiring. Whatever your own writing capabilities may be at this time, you feel sure that you are on the proper path.

Your self-reflection is cut short at the ceremony's end, as your Trusty Companion reminds you of your appointment to speak with Crawford Coutts about future projects. Have you already spoken to the Nuge? If so, scroll to paragraph 12. If not, scroll to 9.

As you join the supplicants' procession, you are surprised to spy the Small Press Big Mouth podcaster, Stacey Whittle hurrying toward the exit. You hail her, making a mental note that she is present for future reference.

Your wait is long, but fruitful. Your encounter with the mighty Talbot yields a copy of the Tome of Grandville, complete with the demigod's personal blessing inscribed inside. You head off toward the portal to the main chamber, feeling that your quest is well starred already by this chance encounter. Scroll to paragraph 7.

As you proceed, your attention is drawn to raised voices at a small stand to your right. Following the noise, you discover a cosplay Judge Dredd remonstrating with the creators at the Fetishman table. Will you:

Attempt to convince the cosplay Judge that the Fetishman comic is both a legitimate use of the comics medium and a thing of beauty in its own right (scroll to paragraph 5)?

Stand by and watch the situation develop (paragraph 3)?

You are as dust beneath the boot-heel of a giant, staring in undisguised awe as the demigod passes. Scurry quickly to paragraph 14, where the ceremony is already beginning.

Heading North, you are pleased to find the site of C2D4, whose Last of the Chickenheads, Crowman and Jack in the Box have provided you with much entertainment. You rack your brain for a way of assisting them in their efforts to promote their work.

Have you encountered Stacey Whittle in your travels so far? If so, scroll to paragraph 10. If not, continue your journey by scrolling to paragraph 4.

Your phone vibrates in its plastic sheath. Examining it, you receive a text message that Ferret the Artisan is summoning you for a photoshoot at the Bad Rain quilt. You hurry to the Stand of Insomnia and prepare to take your place before the monstrous work of art. You resolve to retain your smile despite your dire suspicions that the arcane camera device will rob you of a portion of your soul. Scroll to paragraph 13.

Crawford's eyes widen in astonishment as your well practised pitch strikes him between the frontal lobes. You spin the tale of Gamebreaker in dizzying detail, taking the overlord through every layered nuance of the premise and its characters. You lose all track of time as your pitch reaches its climax, but when the dust settles and the red mist finally fades from your eyes you see with great satisfaction that your efforts have landed a telling blow. Crawford reaches to shake your hand and the legend of Gamebreaker is cemented as a three-book deal.

Congratulations, conventioner. You have won a hard-earned victory in the Citadel of Comics!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Microsoft Makes Me Want To Cut Myself...

I'm off at BICS this weekend. In case I don't get a chance to blog the event while I'm there, please enjoy the following shameless filler material:

Surely this must be some kind of joke. I mean, it can't be for real, can it? If people honestly believe that this is a sane response to a cocking operating system launch, then there really is no hope for us as a species.

Great, now I'm all emo...
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