Seeking: talented people to make me look good

Update: Thanks to the efforts of everyone who forwarded and retweeted this post, I’ve now found a new artist for Squad Commander Rocket. Once again, thanks to everyone.

Get Dracula is still on the table if anyone is interested in drawing that…

Long term readers might know that I’ve been trying to get a webcomic off the ground for the last couple of years, but sadly it hasn’t worked out with the artist previously attached.

So, I’m putting out a request for an artist (or artists) who might want to collaborate on a short form (20-30 pages) comic book story to be published online first (in weekly installments) and hopefully in print later.

Since last time around, I have now got a second idea for a comic, so if you’re interested in either of the following please get in touch:

Squad Commander Rocket: a mix of contemporary drama and pulp SF intercutting between 21st century London and a retro science fiction future. Big rockets, weird aliens and modernist architecture. There’s a bit more detail on this project here, although my publishing plans have shifted a bit since then (see below).

 

Get Dracula: 1970s vampire gangster story set in the North of England. Nasty people and nasty things kicking nasty bits off each other.

Format for either of these is negotiable. The intent would be to share ownership once a certain number of pages had been completed, and to hopefully pull a print version together after the online version is complete.

If you’re interested in being involved with either of these projects, please contact me at scrcomic [at] googlemail [dot] com so we can discuss.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to spread the word to anyone you feel may be interested.

Image: Tyne Bridge in the 1970s (N T Stobbs) / CC BY-SA 2.0
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May 9, 2012. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Bane by Andy Bloor

Andy Bloor’s art has appeared in various Accent UK titles, including the Wolfmen series written by Accent editor/publisher Dave West. I won one of those ‘my umpteenth follower gets a X’ competitions when I followed Andy on twitter, and the prize was a sketch of the character of my choice.

I picked Bane as (sorry, Rich) he’s one of my favourite Bat-characters, a ‘roided up genius gangster in a luchadore mask. I also thought that Andy would do a great job with all that muscle and menace – Andy has a real weight to his characters, both a physicality and presence from those heavy, curved inks.

Well, I received the sketch today, and I think you’ll agree that, even via the imperfect reproduction of a  phone photo, Andy did a fantastic job:


Bane by Andy Bloor

Thanks Andy! Now, I’ve just got to work out where to hang this…

Mark

Update: there’s a proper scan over on Andy’s blog.

April 14, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

‘Check against delivery’

[The nice people at Microcon kindly asked me to speak at their event this year. This is my script for the talk I gave, tweaked to fit with where I remember cutting or adding bits off the cuff on the day.]

Hello, thank you all for coming and thanks to everyone involved in organising Microcon for inviting me. Apologies if my delivery is a little stilted, I haven’t done any public speaking in a while and haven’t had chance for a runthrough, so I’m reading from a script.

Anyway, please feel free to interrupt at any time with questions, although there’ll be time for discussion at the end so if you’d like to engage in a heated debate on something it might be better to wait ‘til then lest I completely lose my thread, such as it is.

So…

My name’s Mark Clapham and I’m a writer. While I’ve written plenty of reviews and non-fiction stuff, my most substantial work has been writing books for ongoing series where I am one of many writers involved. Most notably I’ve written Doctor Who books for BBC Books and I’m currently working on Warhammer 40,000 novels for Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop.

These books are part of bigger fictional worlds, shared universes which are gradually created and changed by the contributions of many writers, artists and other creative people.

They’re not necessarily the most literary and respectable part of SF and fantasy, but they’re a significant one, at least partially because they often appeal to younger age groups – there are very few fans of serious SF or fantasy who did not start out reading Star Wars comics or Doctor Who books or some similar mass market version of SF.

Beyond the fact that these series tend to be a genre gateway, as well as trading on the strength of an established brand name, I do think their nature as shared fictional universes gives them a different flavour. Even the most prolific writer has limits on their output, even the most diverse talent can only do so many things.

Whereas a work from many hands, a fictional world built by many creators, can have a complexity and possibility for contradiction that the more focussed SF produced by an author with a mission can’t attain. For many readers, this can be an appeal in itself – that a big shared universe has more backwaters to explore, more obscurities to uncover and, should it remain popular, can continue to grow beyond even the death of its original creators.

Today I’ll be talking about Who, about Warhammer 40K, and diverting into chatting about Judge Dredd and a few other things as it suits me. The title of this talk is –

‘Optimism and Cynicism in pop-SF shared universes’

–      because I had to call it something.

I should really have put the word ‘British’ in there as well, but that would have been a ridiculously garbled title.

Anyway, optimism and cynicism.

I picked those two themes because they’re useful in gauging the tone of a shared universe, and tone, although an opaque concept at the best of times, is often the key to the appeal of a shared universe setting. Characters and creators may vary, plots may span different genre tropes, but there’s a tonal quality that distinguishes, say, a Doctor Who story from other stories that may feature time travel or aliens.

Tone is different to authorial voice. What, to me, distinguishes a shared universe from your average licensed property or spin-off is the ability for creators to contribute to that universe, for their own voices to emerge but for individual stories to lock together. No-one writes like Stan Lee any more, but we have a feel for what kind of universe the Marvel comic books he created are set in.

By contrast, it’s hard to imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer sprawling out into a true shared universe, because Joss Whedon’s writing style is imprinted on every facet of that series, and too much variation from that house style feels wrong.

But I digress. I mentioned Marvel, and there are few multi-author narratives like the major superhero comics that have been running continuously in the US since the 1930s, and Doctor Who is one of them. Although there’s a sixteen year gap in the middle of its fifty year broadcast history, that gap in TV production was filled with books, radio plays, and comic strips.

I wrote one and a half novels along with a short story during that period, and managed to get out of the Doctor Who business just before it became profitable again when the TV series restarted in 2005.

But that’s enough about my credentials. Suffice to say that there’s not been a year since the series’ creation in 1963 when new Doctor Who stories haven’t been created and consumed, and for at least two decades a month hasn’t passed without new Who.

Obviously people like reading about the Doctor Who universe, and writers like me and Mr Walters* like to add to it. So what makes this rolling, ever expanding pop-SF shared universe its appeal?

I know that the chances of anyone here not knowing the premise of Doctor Who are slim to non-existent, but it’s worth reiterating the basics just to provide a context for what I’m about to say.

So – the series is about an alien time traveler called the Doctor who travels in a time machine called the TARDIS with a number of friends, usually humans. The Doctor is a Time Lord, and this alien background allows him to regenerate into different actors, allowing for infinite recasts and for radical changes in his personality over time. The Doctor has had eleven different faces and personalities.

Generally Doctor Who stories are adventures, where the Doctor and friends will turn up on a planet or in a period of Earth’s history to find something nefarious going on, often of an alien or monstrous nature. There’ll be action, some scares, and eventually the Doctor will win out.

There are no rock solid rules to the loose science-fantasy universe the Doctor inhabits, beyond it never drifting into an outright fantasy world of magic and ghosts. Pretty much anything can happen, providing it can be covered by some generic technobabble. Science can do anything, every SF cliché is available for use, and various races including the Time Lords themselves are practically god-like in their capabilities.

Doctor Who is a curious example of a shared universe because there’s no ‘essential’ quality that you can point to which cannot be contradicted:

  • You’d think the Doctor and TARDIS were the bedrocks of the show, but there are episodes where the Doctor doesn’t appear and whole serials where his time machine, the TARDIS, isn’t used at all.
  • The Doctor is generally considered to be a character who fights monsters and villains, but there are stories with no clear antagonist, or few SF elements beyond the mechanism of time travel.
  • The Doctor is also largely seen as a character who abhors violence, but there are plenty of counterexamples where he engages in physical combat or even picks up a gun.
  • Sometimes the show majors in the time travel aspect, with a strong historical bent, at other periods the series has just bounced between alien planets and versions of a generic space future, barely dipping into history at all.

Now, if Doctor Who really was a do-anything fictional universe with no consistency whatsoever, an empty space that can just suck in any type of story and where everything is up for grabs, it wouldn’t inspire the level of devotion it does, because there would be no recurring elements to inspire such loyalty.

So there must be recurring themes that set the Doctor Who universe apart, even if there are none that are absolutely universal and applicable to every story.

Which brings me, finally, back to my central theme. There is a strong aspect of pessimism to the Doctor Who universe. It is full of threat. We know this because of the basic terminology with which we discuss the series: while other SF universes have alien races, the Doctor Who universe has monsters. Virtually every story has a strong antagonist and a deadly threat, whether that be a monster or a villainous plot. For most of its history it’s been an action adventure show, with constant peril.

Really, while the Doctor and his human companions profess to love the freedom of exploring all of time and space, and there’s certainly an appealing, imaginative quality and diversity to the idea of having a vast universe and the entirety of history to explore, it’s a wonder anyone leaves the house in the Doctor Who universe, because you can’t go anywhere without something terrible trying to kill you in a horrible, albeit gore-free and family friendly, way.

But if the format of Doctor Who requires that the lead characters be threatened with deadly danger the moment they step out of the TARDIS into a new time period or alien world at the start of the story, it equally requires that such threats be neutralised before our heroes depart at story’s end.

This is the fundamental optimism built into the Who universe: that there may be many problems, but they are all soluble with good intentions and intelligence. Unspeakable horrors may run rampant, killing off minor characters, but by story’s end they are banished or destroyed and a pleasant normalcy is restored.

That normalcy, no doubt deeply undramatic as various backwater human colonists get back to their futuristic farming or whatever, is allowed to come into existence because of the way the series shifts focus at the end of every story. Gotham City can never be cured of crime because that would give Batman nothing to do, but planets in Doctor Who can be entirely cleansed of evil influence because there’ll be a whole new world of trouble to explore next time.

In this sense there’s something of the classic western narrative to Doctor Who, just transferred to a far wider, more imaginative dramatic canvas. Just as the cowboy rides into a troubled town, shoots the outlaws then moves on, so the Doctor visits small community after small community, ridding them of aliens and bad guys before flying off to deal with the next problem.

This is a very comforting and reassuring form of storytelling. Compared to a real world full of difficult, complex problems the Doctor Who universe is a very straightforward place where bad things are sorted out quickly by good people being good.

While it has the trappings of science fiction, favouring technology and biology over magic and demons, the mechanics of how things happen are largely irrelevant: the conflicts are moral, rather than technical. The technology and technobabble are dramatic props: while much is made of the Doctor’s intelligence as a scientist, it is his strength of character that allows him to defeat his enemies, not his academic qualifications.

While the series is capable of doing political allegories, and there are plenty of satirical parallels littered throughout Who stories in all media, one of the strengths of Doctor Who is that it’s not tied to a specific agenda, or at least not one that can be clearly defined. Its core values are those of a fairy tale, where tyrants and ogres are bad and those who fight the bad things are good. It’s a supremely uncontroversial agenda.

I mentioned earlier that there’s nothing in Who that you can hold up as an absolute of the series that can’t be roundly contradicted by evidence from elsewhere in the series, and this contradictory nature adds to its appeal, providing a reflection.

The series has a general open-mindedness that makes the occasional mean spirited story seem jarring – for the benefit of long term fans I’ll name and shame the anti-peace movement ‘The Dominators’ and the proto-tea party anti-tax rantings of ‘the Sun Makers’ as examples. This is often taken as being a left wing agenda, and indeed there have been specifically politically motivated stories and conscious liberal strains within the series, such as the deliberate inclusion of gay characters in recent TV series, a steady normalising that will probably do more to change the attitude of the next generation than any number of serious documentaries.

However there’s also an element of fusty conservatism at the series’ heart. The Doctor is old, knowledgeable and virtually always right. He comes from a position of authority and seniority, and there’s something almost colonial about his position as the traveling English gentleman, traveling the universe to sort out all the problems space-foreigners can’t resolve for themselves. It’s a paternalistic worldview, one where only the Big White Man can solve the universe’s big problems.

These contradictions are both inclusive, as they allow viewers and readers of all stripes to see something they can identify within the complex character of the series, and add some crunch to a universe that could otherwise be overly simplistic. While the ‘good vs evil’ conflicts are straightforward enough, Doctor Who has room for complexity, room that allows writer after writer to contribute their own feelings and thoughts to the greater tapestry of the series.

The Doctor Who universe is a place we want to have access to. You just wouldn’t want to live there. But in British popular SF, it’s one of the nicer shared universes.

Of late I’ve been writing for Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe, and that’s a really nasty place to be, although a fun one to write and read about.

In the far future of the year 40,000, humanity is in a mess. Besieged by merciless alien races and demonic forces that threaten to drag the universe into an actual hell, the human race is ruled by the Imperium, a militaristic dystopia that mismanages a total war of us against everything else in existence, a war that humanity is losing. The doomsday clock is perpetually half a minute from midnight.

The desperation of the situation justifies a society that’s entirely militarised, fascistic in the broadest and most insane way, where human life is entirely disposable and free will is a long forgotten luxury. If you’re lucky, you just die. If you’re less lucky, you are driven mad by the forces of Chaos or mutate into something terrible.

While the Doctor Who universe is a dangerous place where good always wins out, the Warhammer 40,000 universe is a lethal place where the good guys are only marginally better than the monsters, and any victory is only a temporary blip in the advance of encroaching, absolute horror.

Now, SF is full of dystopias, and understandably these bleak futures are quite depressing, apocalyptic scenarios where humanity is dying due to war, environmental catastrophe or disease.

The year 40,000 is simultaneously worse than all of those, but a lot more fun. It has a very British quality of black comedy and gleeful horror, one which can be seen in the many bleak futures of Judge Dredd and the other characters in 2000AD, but here pushed as far as it can go.

If the bleakness of the scenario is pushed to an extreme, so is the scale: not only is the universe big, but virtually everything in it is oversized. Populations are measured in billions not millions, buildings are the size of continents, the frontlines of war sweep across entire star systems. Timescales are measured in millennia rather than years. It’s a big canvas, in every sense.

Warhammer 40K (as it’s generally known) has different constraints and freedoms to other shared universes, mainly because of its background: it’s based on a game, a tabletop wargame to be precise. The dystopian nature of the universe is built around creating a narrative context for wargames, and for making those games fun by raising the stakes as high as possible. It makes for an inherently dramatic backdrop for SF adventure stories, one where any extremity can be justified.

Games have rules, and so many aspects of the 40k universe are mechanically locked down, as official fiction needs to respect the integrity of the game system it’s based around.**

The abilities and equipment of the various warring factions in the universe are quite tightly proscribed. Fictional weaponry has to work consistently. While it’s not hard science fiction by any means, it is a kind of science fiction where consistency is paramount.

While these constraints do exist, the 40k universe also has freedoms. For a start, while there are major characters operating in the universe, Generals and Warlords, heroes and villains, it’s a very big universe and most stories will take place on previously unseen worlds with casts of entirely new characters.

Writers are not constrained by writing for a fixed set of characters whose fates cannot be tampered with, and this creates a greater sense of variety and danger to the universe for readers: virtually no-one is safe. Stories can, and due to the nature of the universe often do, end horribly.

While there is a great freedom in the stories that can be told, they do accumulate and build off each other. There’s a geography to the universe, timelines that can be built upon and added to. If a shared universe’s appeal can be measured in its intricate consistency, then the Warhammer 40,000 universe is a good example of that.

Just as Doctor Who has prospered in comics and books while the TV series has been off the air, so the Warhammer 40,000 fiction has an appeal that reaches beyond the fanbase of the game itself. The popularity of the game alone cannot entirely explain the interest in that background as a source of stories – after all, if participation in a game translated into book sales, football novels would be a bestselling genre.

No, there is an appeal to an epic, violent dystopia like Warhammer 40,000 that transcends its basis as a background for gaming and draws in a wider readership, and I think that appeal is rooted in its gleeful bleakness.

Although sensational newspaper headlines may try and convince us otherwise, the western world in the early 21st century is a relatively safe place. Societies are generally orderly, military conflicts are distant and contained, and wars conducted in our name are done so by a professional military. Since the end of the second world war the chances of the average British citizen being called up to fight in armed conflict have steadily decreased.

Yes, crime and tragedy can strike, but these events are relatively rare. Most of us will, hopefully, live fairly contented, untroubled and undramatic lives, with everyday problems.

The bleakness of Warhammer 40K’s pessimistic vision presents a distraction from our everyday concerns, and a cathartic look into a world where there are no minor problems, only massive life threatening ones. Death may be a constant presence, but the beleaguered subjects of the Imperium of Man at least die as part of sweepingly important events. We can be both glad to not live in such a dangerous, dramatic universe, but also slightly envious of the scale and drama of it all.

Doctor Who offers a similarly threatening universe, albeit with more light and shade to appeal to a wider audience, and especially a younger one. While relentless horror may be fun for adolescent boys of all ages, and I include my 35 year old self in that, most people prefer a little hope in there hopelessness, and Doctor Who sugars its sense of danger with a reassuring message that the horrors may come close, but they can be driven back.

There are many other examples of SF shared universes of course, and I’ve just been talking about those I know best. What they do show, I think, is that for one of these shared fictions to grow it needs to provide a tone that suggests new stories and inspires and the open space for creativity, but while having an identifiable character that binds the stories into a whole, and creates something distinctive that draws people in. A universe can be more optimistic, more pessimistic, but that balance of light and shade needs to be clear and fixed.

It’s by knowing what kind of place a shared universe is that allows us to decide whether to keep revisiting it.

* Fellow Microcon guest and fellow BBC Books Doctor Who author Nick Walters.

** I seem to be suggesting here that the novels are entirely led by the game, which was what I believed at the time. Since giving the talk I read this excellent article by Aaron Dembski-Bowden that makes clear that, to use Ben Goldacre’s favourite phrase, it isn’t quite as simple as that.

March 16, 2011. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Mister James

So, Professor Parkins, how are you taking the prospect of a sequel to Watchmen written by someone other than Alan Moore?

“Oh no… oh no… oh no…”

Fair enough, Professor.

February 4, 2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Reviews!

While there’s been some nice chat on various fora about Secret Histories, here’s the first full-length review of the book I’ve seen so far. Please don’t read my comment at the bottom of the review until you’ve read the book… it’s got some implicit spoilers in there, of sorts.

And here’s another review, not about Secret Histories but by me (everything is about me, in the end) in which I talk a bit about a recent Wolverine one-shot and the first couple of issues of SWORD, and get ridiculously excited about Death’s Head.

I love Death’s Head. As you’ll quickly gather.

Mark

December 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Earth One

No time for punning titles, I’ve spent long enough on this already. As many of you will already know, DC have announced a new range of original graphic novels, and have shown off some nice artwork (above). Having used this as an excuse to be rude about previous crappy comics on Twitter, and chipped in on a lively thread about the topic on The Beat, I seemed to find myself with a lot still to say on the topic.

So I said it here, on Shiny Shelf.

So there.

Good night,

Mark

December 8, 2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Squad Commander Rocket needs YOU!

Yes, it’s a massive cliche. Sue me.

Are you a talented up and coming comic book artist looking to showcase your skills? If so then the webcomic I’m hoping to get off the ground in 2010 needs YOU!

What is it? Squad Commander Rocket (title TBC) will be a weekly webcomic that will eventually be compiled into a one-shot printed comic book of between 20 to 30 pages. The model I’m looking at imitating is that used by David O’Connell on his excellent Tozo: The Public Servant, where the comic page is broken into a three by three grid, and a weekly installment is usually one row of three panels, with odd larger splashes taking up more than one row, or occasionally a whole page. (Take a look here and flick through the archive to see what I mean.)

By telling a story at roughly a third of a page a week, this will hopefully set a manageable schedule for the artist, and result in a full comic ready for print within a year.

What’s it about then? The story is a combination of pulp SF and contemporary drama, intercutting between contemporary London and exciting alien worlds. This is an ideal project for an artist wanting to show that they can draw characterisation and reality, but also action and inventive SF weirdness.

Blimey, that’s a big ask. Maybe. I’m not looking for immaculate draftsmanship or elaborate finishing, and I’m open to whatever art style is pitched to me. I’m also flexible in terms of whether the strip is black and white, full colour, or some form of spot colouring or shading. However the artist for this story will definitely need the following:

  • a good grasp of facial detail (there’s one character who appears at different times of his life, at different ages and wearing different clothes, and they need to be recognisable throughout).
  • an ability to draw buildings (architecture plays a role in the story) – I’m happy to see anything from scanned in and ‘shopped photo ref to silhouetted shapes of tower blocks, but you will need to be able to draw a straight line and be at least willing to draw backgrounds.
  • an ability, and preferably enjoyment of, playing around with the design tropes of 50s, 60s and 70s popular SF in a way that’s recognisable without just copying Dan Dare, Star Trek etc.
  • the discipline to stick within the format and required panel size, so that the individual installments will stack up OK to create the finished comic, and of course to maintain the demands of a weekly schedule.

What’s the deal then? There’s no money up front or per page, I’m afraid. I’ll also be retaining all rights to the property itself until completion. Understandably sometimes artists need to drop out of projects like this, and I’d hate to lose the story altogether. However, on print publication and for any subsequent use of the strip we’ll share ownership and split profits equally between writer and artist (with appropriate shares hived off for a letterer or colourist, if those are done separately).

Although there’s no money in the foreseeable future, this should be a fun project, and a great showcase for your artistic abilities, initially on the web and then in a nicely printed format. I’ll be swallowing the costs of the print run, and acting as publisher, while the artist will get a nice stack of comp copies to do with as you wish.

I’m not going into Squad Commander Rocket lightly – I’ve wanted to publish a comic for a few years, but have waited until I’ve got the right story and an achievable plan for getting that story from outline to finished product.

Finally, this should be a well-promoted strip. My work on Doctor Who, Bernice Summerfield etc, as well as the existing Shiny Shelf website I’m a part of, means that I have a little head start in terms of drawing attention to a new property. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a big name, but I do have a bit of a track record that can be converted into interest here and there.

How do I show my interest? I’ve set up an email address for anyone wanting to contact me to discuss this project. It’s scrcomic [at] googlemail [dot] com. If you think you may be the artist for Squad Commander Rocket, drop me a line and we can discuss it.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to send the link to this post to anyone you feel may be interested.

Mark

December 4, 2009. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Hey Kids! Comics! (updated 6/11/09)

OK, maybe not kids, considering the first couple I’ve reviewed are mature readers titles…

Anyway, as previously mentioned while I was up in London I picked up a mighty backlog of comics, and to mark that occasion I’m spending this week reviewing a few titles that we should have covered on Shiny Shelf aaaages ago. Here they are (I’m lazy and just updating this post with the others as the week goes on):


Criminal: The Sinners
The Unwritten

Wednesday Comics (added 5/11/09)
Detective Comics (added 6/11/09)

Looking back at these, they’re both rave reviews – perhaps a side-effect of the fact that, with me cutting back my spending, I’m not taking as many risks on purchases as I used to. Hmmm… will try to pick something less absolutely outstanding for tomorrow, before this turns into a total fawnfest. (I did – see Wednesday Comics review!)

Meanwhile… I’m not nanowrimo-ing. While I kind of like the idea, various reasons have conspired to mean I couldn’t start on time, and it would be foolish to throw a whole month of my career break into a single project like this. However, I am seeing how far I can use the nano ethos to get as many words as I can down for an existing project, so we’ll see how well I do with that over the month… even if I don’t get anywhere near 50,000, even 10,000 words of rough draft would be a decent start.

Mark

* Criminal artwork nicked from Sean Phillips’ blog, which is well worth RSSing to for the regular art he posts. However, work viewers beware, there is quite a bit of nudity and horror in his work…

November 4, 2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

A Public History of Secret Histories (1)

A while ago, I mentioned Secret Histories, the short-story collection I’ve been editing for Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range. As the book is out in a few weeks time, and I’ve just finished working through the proofs (cover coming soon, promise, although you can see a little preview of Adrian Salmon’s cover art in issue 8 of BF’s free pdf mag Vortex), now seemed like a good time to talk a bit more about the book, provide some background and do a little sales pitch.

As with all these things, the ideas for Secret Histories came from various places and had been stewing for varying periods of time.

There was an idea for a Benny novel that I’d had since the Virgin New Adventures featuring the character in the late 90s, which I’d dabbled with as a possible audio or novella in the last couple of years but which, in the end, became the framing sequence for this book, a vehicle to tell stories within as well as a story in its own right. As is also typical of my writing, what had started out as a deeply serious idea about deeply serious things ended up turning into something a lot lighter, still with drama but a bit more optimistic and fantastical. So that was my framing sequence and hook for the book, as described in the blurb.

Then there was a bundle of ideas for short stories spread across a period of late 19th/early 20th century history: at one point I was considering whether the whole book should be about Benny and her friends being lost in time, having different adventures in the same year and finally coming together, but that was too restrictive, at least partially because of the next paragraph, and so the visit into time is a mini-arc threaded through a few stories in the book rather than the whole focus. (The macguffin I used for this section came from a Fortean Times article I’d read a while ago, and which had really stayed with me. I also had a couple of very loose images and ideas for stories in this bit which I doled out to writers to take or discard as they wished.)

I wanted to avoid standard SF adventure stories, and encourage the writers to be more creative than doing familiar Doctor Who story types with a female archeologist instead of a Time Lord. Bernice is a character who may fall into adventures, but she isn’t a superhero or detective who saves worlds and solves murders as her bread and butter – she’s a smart, normal person who works for money to feed her kid, and whose line of work just happens to take her to dangerous and odd places around the universe, frequently getting her into trouble. That, to me, is a lot more freeing than the requirement to have epic heroism and massive baddies to take down. There should be action, and drama, and threat, of course, but there could also be weird stuff that pushed the button marked ‘imagination’ rather than ‘action’.

(If that last one sounds like a hark back to the New Adventures and the editorial ethos of those books, then yes, that was entirely deliberate.)

Because I wanted the authors to let their imaginations run a bit, as well as having the space to do the kind of characterisation, travelogue and observational humour that Bernice does best, I wanted longer stories. Initially, the plan was to have six or seven long stories that would have more depth than the usual 4000/5000 word short stories, but not feel like the truncated novels that the novella format can often lead to. (That a smaller list of contributors to wrangle would make the project a bit easier to manage wouldn’t do any harm either.) In the end for various reasons including the time constraints of some contributors, and a wealth of good pitches to choose from, we ended up with nine stories not including the framing sequence.

(As is the way of these things the stories found their own length – some proved to be very tight narratives built around a strong central idea that came in quite compactly written, while others expanded and some hit their wordcount dead on. In the end I got what I wanted – a set of more substantial stories that are long enough to make their mark but are still very much well-formed stories rather than bonzai novels.)

So that was the format. All it needed was authors and stories. I had ideas about that, which I’ll discuss in part 2 tomorrow.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Secret Histories from here, or get it in a bundle with the rest of this year’s Bernice output (including CD plays by a lot of Secret Histories contributors, including myself!) here.

Mark

PS – Bonus content for the day is a little ramble about the dominant art style of 1990s 2000AD.

October 15, 2009. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

Hark at this

In my ongoing review-a-day campaign (although strictly speaking it’s a Shiny article a day, as yesterday’s Batman thing was hardly a review), today I finish off the BICS pile with Harker.

I think I’ll keep this going until the end of this week at least, as it’s a good mental exercise in terms of building up my capacity for banging out words. One problem I’m going to hit is that, with my comics order piling up in a different city to the one I live in, I’m running out of recent titles to write about. So expect a few reviews of recent arcs that are coming out in trade, as well as a couple of articles outside of the Shiny norm.

Mark

October 13, 2009. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Comments off.

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