December 13, 2016

007: Brevity remains an unknown country

Hullo.

Contents!
No Comics Out!
WorkingWorkingWorking
Podcasting For Beginners
SymBUYosis
Questions and ohgodtheseanswersareverylong.
Byyyeeeee, etc.

***

After the rush of last week, I've got no comics out this week. Hence I may keep this one leaning short. Primarily, I spent Saturday morning answering asks, and did a couple of quite long responses which are worth sharing here, I think. As always, if you have anything, do lob it in the ask box. If it's something meaty, it's more likely to end up here.

(I gather everything together, and see this is still over 3000 words. Brevity remains an unknown country.)

The reason why I was taking Saturday slow was that I was drinking on Friday night. This may not surprise you. However, the difference is that I wasn't drinking any other time. Gilliams castle has been pretty painfully self medicating, and we'd realised we had drunk every night since the election for two weeks. So we're basically just stopping drinking at home and ideally during the week, which is for the best.

But I was out on Friday, at a book launch, for Antony Johnston and Steven Perkin's THE COLDEST WINTER, the sequel to the THE COLDEST CITY (the book which the forthcoming Charlize Theron starring film is based on.) It looks like this.

Yes, there's a quote from me on it, but don't hold that against it.

Antony has an odd position in my own personal journey into comics. He was the one comics writer I knew before getting into the field. When I wrote my first five page story back in 2001, I mailed it to him and asked his opinion. Basically “Is this worth finding an artist for?” He said yes, and the rest is history. If he said “No, give up, go home” you could have all been sparred.

In last week's rush, there was one comic I forgot to mention being out. It was this...

The reprint of The Wicked + the Divine 1831. It remains one of the best reviewed things I was involved with this year, which was a relief. I'm in the process of pulling together the final ideas for the second special, which I'll be writing in January. We have an artist lined up, and I'm deeply excited to be writing an enormous double page spread involving far too many people for them.

 

***

It's the final spiral towards Christmas. Which means that it's a process of deciding what I want to tie off before the new year, and provisional plans for what to do in the next. Jamie, Katie and I are chewing over something we've wanted to do for a while, which we'll love to do, not least a chance to get some exercise once a month.

And then there's the work.

I've just finished a second draft of a big Aphra story for next year. What next? Ideally, I want to get a first draft of WicDiv 27 and 28 written, which I've been writing in parallel over the last week. Actual comic script pages that actually look like comic script pages have only started emerging yesterday, though in the process I appear to have written most of the dialogue from the major scenes in the next arc too. The other 100% essential thing is to do the next issue of Uber: Invasion, which should be issue 8, but since we're working so far ahead, I'm considering skipping to 9 and then going back to 8. 8 is a standalone, so needs a certain aesthetic purity that I may not be in the mood for. There's also a polish on that unannounced one-off work for hire thing I'm doing, which hopefully should be quite quick. As it's such an icon, I was expecting to have to do some heavy rewriting from my rough draft, but it seems I mostly got away with it. Phew.

(Uber: Invasion, Aphra and WicDiv 24 all seemed to go down really well last week, which was a relief and/or gratifying. Thanks for everyone's kind words.)

That takes me up to Christmas, and Christmas to new year is dead time in the industry. I've usually used it to work on a new project, or something weird and personal. WicDiv #1 was tied off over Christmas 2013. Ludocrats #1 was pulled together over Christmas 2014. WicDiv #18 was Christmas 2015, which led to me writing all the rest of Rising Action in January, plus a bunch of other stuff. Also, I sent all those scripts to the relevant artists at 12:00 on January 1st, which is me at my most ritualistic.

(More news on Ludocrats soon, btw.)

This year... well, I don't think it's going to be a full script, but it may be something else. Perhaps the first pass on a world bible for SPANGLY NEW PROJECT? That's be a good way to end this year.

Anyway: workingworkingworking.

***

In terms of minor projects I suspect people mostly don't know about, how about COMMUNITY STUDY GROUP?

Basically my friends and I did a discussion podcast about the second season of Community (i.e. the best season.) It was silly and relaxing, and done for no other reason that to get together with creative chums and talk nonsense.

As I always say, I have a face for radio and a voice for prose, but everyone else is great, so if you're looking for some casual podcasting listening, go nose.  It's a completed project, so you can dive into our world of Mean Girls Robocop and Trampoline Racist.

***

Steve Sanders' has just released a chapbook of his long-running Symbiosis project. It's to fund the final leg of the project, and I think it's an excellent thing to support. It's basically a World book – a mash up of art, world design and the rest, with a creative commons licence (i.e. an encouragement for you to use it). Steve is an amazing artist, and his run on S.W.O.R.D. with me was one of my fondest memories of Marvel. I've always said at the time, that his approach to machinery gives the impression that he actually has a huge secret basement full of the real things. As such, him doing a book like this is beyond perfect.

The Chapbook is a pay what you want system. Do the click thing. Do it now.

***

Anyway – some questions to finish off? I think so.

Thank you for not killing Aphra. Thank you a lot. I can't wait for her series to start, but I was wondering if she'll be interacting with many recurring women or female coded characters? Not that I don't love her 'team' tho
 

Thank you. I hope you like it.

The lack of women in Aphra’s supporting cast is something that’s on our mind. I do keep the cast tight, but there’s a major supporting character who turns up soon. 

Re: Aphra. I’m glad I managed to work out a way out of it.

In passing, as I’m talking Aphra, I did find it interesting the various responses post issue 25. Like any story, there’s going to be people for and against it, but there was a divide between those who were glad she survived and those were annoyed she didn’t die.

(Worth stressing the vast majority of the response I’ve seen to 25 has been positive, of course.)

I’m going to throw gender here in a second, and I hope those in the second group can get past the understandable defensive reaction and actually chew this over, even if they still come back to “No, I think Aphra should have died.”

I didn’t see anyone in the  latter group who were women.

One of Vader’s core stories - and the one with the most tension, as it’s the one whose end we don’t know - was the whole Vader/Aphra story. Is she going to die? I think the division over the end really comes down to who the reader thinks is having agency in the story. For the latter, I suspect they’d describe the Vader/Aphra story as “Is Vader going to kill Aphra?” For the former, I suspect they’d describe the story as “Can Aphra find a way to escape Vader?”

When an escape plan was set up twenty one issues earlier, and the other building blocks for it arranged since, and Aphra’s  squirmed between her divided loyalties for that whole time, I do think Aphra earned that escape. I think that removing her agency as a character in favour of a murderous, domineering man whose ego is sated by the rest of the story would have been bad and arguably sexist storytelling, as well as undercutting Vader’s own story by making his victory too simple. 

So yes, I’m happy with it. Glad it worked for you.

Has anything changed since WicDiv began? Like, since Issue #1 came out, have any major plans for a character been scrapped because as you wrote them you sorta realize "Oh fuck, the Morrigan would never do that, we need to restructure" or something like that?
 

Less than you’d think.

On the beat-to-beat level, it changes all the time, but that’s just writing. WicDiv’s larger structure was aways based on the characters, their needs, their flaws and a knowledge of where that will lead them. Specific interactions alter all the time, but the big larger structure remains. Magnetic north is magnetic north and all roads lead to Rome. 

I do think there’s some changes that people on the outside would think are big… but that’s not quite the same thing. But the changes are rarely from “a character wouldn’t do that” place.  They come from “a character WOULD do this” now. Changes are more in decisions to take rather than decisions NOT  taken.

That’s mainly as, despite knowing them conceptually at the start, I know them better as living characters now. 

You often describe comics in terms of music genres - would you mind explaining what you mean by this? Thanks!
 

When I got this ask, my brain basically frazzled, as all I could do was work out one liner responses. From really mean ones (”I mean it as a metaphor”) to self-insulting ones (”It means that I have wasted my life listening to too many records”).
 
But really, it’s just metaphor and allusion. This bit of comics feels like this bit of music in either its cultural context or its effect.

I mean, I could say “This comic is pure punk rock.” Now, punk rock is a phrase which you can unpack in a bunch of ways - and part of punk’s joy is that people took the core idea of it and ran in all directions. I could be meaning that it leans into the DIY culture aspect of Punk. I could be talking about the fact it’s raw and using minimal technique with maximum passion (“Three chords and form a band” –> doing comics with less virtuoso technique). I could mean that it’s about the emotional effect of what most people think of punk rock - the sheer energy and power and the FUCK YOU at the world. If I said something as vague as “Pure punk rock” I’m more likely to mean all of the above.

Which is most of the reason why when I reference, I tend to get a bit more specific. The “Phonogram was Daft Punk’s first album. WicDiv is Daft Punk’s second.” Mostly I’ll add a bit more that comparison so those who don’t. So I’d write something like…  “Phonogram was Daft Punk’s first album - mostly cold, intellectual, deliberately sparse, a critical favourite. WicDiv is Daft Punk’s second - all about colour, brightness, celebration and an attempt to use the tools of the present give birth to the next decade of pop music.”

Why do it?

I mean, there’s a bunch of reasons. 

Partially, it’s just how I think. I’m a critic. I connect things together. And my thing was always trying to draw connections between distant things, as a way of encouraging people to look at something they think they understand in a different way. So I look at a comic and think “This reminds me of the Damned” or something like that. Or I’m aware that the thinking behind a certain genre is the sort of thinking that leads to certain comic work - Post-Punk was very deliberate, precise, critical to its form, suspicious of making anything easy for an audience, pretentious, precious… and never really sold enormous amounts. That’s Phonogram all over, innit? 

Partially it’s also what Jamie and I do. We both believe that comics are at their best when they engage with the wider culture. The best comic creators always have influences from media other than comics. As such, we both lean on our own obsessions and try and take stuff which people have seen less in comics to comics.

Partially it’s just that I’ve always loved artists who are gateways. I got into various bands and books because they were alluded to by creators I loved. I know if I was reading this and a fan of my work, and I didn’t know Daft Punk, I’d have called up those two albums on Spotify by now.

But mainly, just like the four tops, I can’t help myself.

Dear Mr. Gillen, I've been doing a read-through of Uber at a forum I frequent, and while it is popular and many people like the series, a certain type of complaint has arisen that I find myself hard pressed to disagree with. The gist of it is that more and more people are starting to think that too many things are going the Nazi's way, that all their gambles pay off and those of the Allies fall flat. Hopefully this will change soon in the story, if only so my readers stop grumbling so much. :P

I kinda wanted to just put the first page of issue 5 as a response, but I decided that’s too far out to spoil yet.

Spoilers for all of Uber V1 follows…

The question of luck is an interesting one in Uber, as well as a read of the successes and failures of the war so far. There’s two angles I’d like to talk about.

Firstly, the question of luck. 

I think there’s a tendency to overlook how lucky the Allies have been. The majority of the Allies “luck” has been front loaded. Stephanie being in deep cover for ages without being uncovered and stealing the secret of how to generate superhumans and getting it to the allies in time to generate an army? Without that, the Allies lose in two months. Less pure luck, but Hitler killing the only person who understands to properly use the Ubers? Without that, Nazi victory in 4-6 months. And, of course, the most powerful Uber in the war is on the Allied side. Lucky.

There’s certainly gambits that the Allied have tried that have worked (THE SECOND BATTLE OF KURSK, The first HEAVY vs HEAVY fight jump to mind). There’s gambits that the Germans have tried which have ended extremely badly (THE BATTLE OF KIEV). That the germans have no remaining Geltmensch alone says that gambits aren’t unreservedly successful.

Equally, in areas of R&D everything that goes wrong for the Allies has also gone wrong for the Germans. The Allies fuck up the development of Leah? Well, look at Battleship Zero. The allies problem is that they are dealing with the R&D issues now, when Germany did theirs before the war. In many way, that’s the actual story - the allies attempt to catch up.

Put it like this: Uber is a “Nazi Germany gets the bomb first” story. Without a lot of luck and author intervention, that story immediately leads to The Man In The High Castle.

As Uber tends to lean materialistic, means that gambit and counter-gambit play hard. I haven’t done anything which is actually real-world examples of luck at all, which is where the materialism actually makes it less realistic. It’s obviously narratively unsatisfying for an attack to just fail randomly due to shit weather, as true as that is throughout history. Uber does set up every time anything is going to happen which is a reverse of expectatio, and give reasons why things succeed and fail.

I will also say materialistically, Germany in Uber is a glass cannon. I want to spend some time over there soon, just to show exactly how fucked Germany is in the story. After the obviously USA-centric start of Invasion, we’d do that, which should stress how utterly pyrrhic this all is. And, just as we’ve restarted the comic, we do have to restress its theme and mood, which is exactly what we’re doing.

Anyway - that’s all factual. I think the more important thing is the second line of thought is just generally about WW2, and speaks to Uber’s intent.

Imagine you were alive in WW2. On the ground. You can read the papers, but that’s all you know.

At which point would you know the Nazis were going to lose? Up to which point would you think the Nazis were winning?

With hindsight, we can easily point to places where “this is where Germany lost the war.” This is actually the one comforting thing about WW2. As bad as it was, the Allies won. You can even make an argument that Germany lost the war the second it started the war.

This is not the experience our ancestors went through. 

I’d think that most of us would have thought the Axis powers were winning the war until Stalingrad. Historically we look at the 1942 offensives as a failure, and clearly could never have worked… but imagine what it felt like to look at it. At first glance, it seemed as invincible as those initial offensives earlier in the war, at least on the ground. The lessons of 1939-1942 would have told our ancestors: The Nazi empire is enormous! It’s crushing armies at seeming will. Obviously they’re winning..

Imagine that despair. Imagine how much they wished the good guys could get a break. Imagine the horror when they didn’t. 

And imagine fighting anyway. 

At least in part, that’s what Uber tries to evoke.

(I find myself thinking about what Uber WW1 would look like - which would be the whole middle 70% basically being big allied offensives with slowly evolving tactics on the western front… all which all failed, completely. That would be even more crushing than Uber, I fear.)

So… to go back to the question I posed you, at the earliest 1942, and most likely 1943. And what the army had done before 1943 will be lingering in your head. I’d think it was 1944 before you’d be confident we were going to win, and after everything earlier, maybe not even then. So, assuming 1943, for at least 50% of the war, you’d have been “FUCCCCCCCKKKK!”

In short: we clearly haven’t reached Stalingrad yet.

***

Right – that's enough. Back to trying to work out exactly how on Earth these gods are going to fuck up this month. Speak soon.

Thanks for reading.

Kieron Gillen
London
13.12.2016