Tag Archives: comics

Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.

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Co-writing with my younger self

I’ve done a fair bit of co-writing with other people over the years. At the moment, I am in the slightly surreal position of co-writing with myself.

Tom and I are working on the 4th book of Hopeless Maine right now. I wrote the original script more than eight years ago, when I knew far less about comics. Younger me had a rather different voice to current me. Younger me did not really know how to lay out a comics page or tell stories visually. Younger me used to just hand scripts to Tom and leave him to figure out how to make it work on the page. Since then, I have become someone who can think pretty well about visual storytelling and how to get the words onto the page. Having a better grasp of the visual side also means I can see which words to take out.

A few years ago, when contemplating how best to handle an old prose piece in the Hopeless setting, I was given some advice from a fellow writer. Don’t you want it to be your best work? They asked. They were clear that I should revise and update it. In the end, I didn’t do that much. I may have more craft skills than I used to, but there are also things I used to do that I couldn’t do now. How I think about people and situations has changed. I no longer tell the same stories. I am wary of assuming that my current writing self is my best possible writing self. I think previous me had some things going for them.

I find myself working with my old scripts, trying to edit them for best effect, and feeling as though I am working with another author. Usually when I edit for people, the other author is there to talk to. This one is dead, or disappeared, or trapped in another time. I have to edit their work without being able to discuss it with them. I try to honour their vision while applying the things I know that they don’t know. It’s a very odd process. It’s shown me there are things my younger self knew and felt that I need to re-find and re-feel.

We don’t always improve with time. Sometimes our first, unpolished attempts can be the best we do because they have the most passion and energy and are least self-conscious. Sometimes the tools we collect freeze us up and have us second guessing ourselves. Younger me frankly had no idea how to write a comic, but was brazen enough to do it anyway. I am at the moment failing to write a script for something because I’m so bogged down in what I know that I can’t get started. The only way to do it will be to emulate younger me, and write the way I used to write, and then come in for a second stage with all the useful, technical things I know.


Brigantia

A guest blog from Chris Mole

If pushed, I wouldn’t describe myself as a pagan – I’ve always fallen solidly into a sort of relaxed non-religious outlook, with a smattering of nature worship. My other half Limnaia, however, is a Loki-bothered Feri-inspired eclectic witch and Norse/Hellenic pagan, and the influence of all that tends to bleed over – which is why on the morning of November 12th, despite all of my non-religiousness, I poured out a glass of mead, placed it on a makeshift altar, and asked the goddess Brigantia for her help.
For those who don’t know me, I’m a comics writer, and for the last few years I’ve been working on a series called ‘Brigantia’, in which the titular goddess is thrust through time into the modern day. Ripped away from the tribe that originally worshiped her (the Brigantes), she feels somewhat adrift – she has far fewer worshipers in this time compared to the pre-Roman era when she was at the height of her powers, and that translates into her divine powers being somewhat curtailed. She’s lured to the present by Veteris, another of her pantheon, who has seen the destruction that humans will bring upon the world and decides that we don’t deserve protection. When Brigantia emerges, it becomes apparent that Veteris has been stoking fear in the population for centuries; turning humans against each other, feasting on their terror.
I recruited an artist friend, Melissa Trender, to draw the first issue of Brigantia’s story and she set to work on a creating a suitable version of the Goddess for our tale – a rendition that would be respectful of her, draw influence from the various carvings and historical records that we have of her, and would also be an empowering, inspirational image. Melissa produced an incredible design, and in that moment, Brigantia came to life – at least for me. My other half pointed out that despite neither of us being pagan, we’d managed to show the Goddess as she looks for those who worship her.
Anyway, we managed to raise the funds on Kickstarter to allow issue #1 of the story to become a reality, and put Brigantia out into the world. The reaction was overwhelming – a lot of people, pagan and non-pagan alike, identified with the story and enjoyed it. Several worshipers of Brigantia contacted us to tell us how happy they were at seeing their Goddess depicted in all her glory, which further reinforced my belief that we’d managed to tap into something special – that we’d almost become bards for Brigantia, sworn to spread stories of her.
That leads me to the reason for the offering of mead: on the morning of November 12th, I launched the Kickstarter campaign for issue #2 of Brigantia, and sought to ask the Goddess for her help with making it a reality. The story we want to tell is, I think, an important one: it’s about sacrifice and devotion, about compassion and friendship, about how the colour of your skin or the land of your birth doesn’t define the strength and power of your belief. It’s a story about facing down the fear that drives us apart and making the world a better place. And most of all, it’s a story about a Goddess who will fight for what she believes in, who will fight to protect humankind, and who asks only for your belief so that she can be our light in the darkness.
I hope she was listening to my halting, fumbling prayer – and I hope she enjoyed the mead.

After the Asylum

I write this blog post on the morning after getting back from Asylum in Lincoln – the biggest Steampunk event in the UK, one of the biggest on the world, in fact. Perhaps the biggest. It involves a great many people, and is always an epic experience.

I’ve always gone to the event to work. This year and last year, Tom and I have run space for books and comics people. We’ve taken a team, provided daytime entertainment and looked after a venue. This tends to leave us too tired to do much of the evening stuff. But still, it’s a great thing to be part of.

This year, I got to meet Nils Nisse Visser, whose novel – Amster Damned – I’ve reviewed here. I also got to meet Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl trilogy I reviewed here. This is no kind of coincidence. We’re picking people who write excellent books, and who have the kind of ideas that translate well into presentations. As this is not a literary festival, most people going have no interest in book readings from authors they’ve never heard of. Most of us are authors most people have never heard of. Most people do not want to go to talks on facets of the publishing industry or talks about the writing process.

However, what people clearly do want is to be entertained, inspired, and engaged. Workshops are good, drink and draws, talks based around concepts, and things you might join in with. We delivered that this year, we delivered it with knobs on. Collectively, we created a space where people could come and hang out, chat, and be amused, and I want to do more of this.

We had an amazing team in the Assembly Rooms – alongside Nils and Stephen, we had Lou Pulford (who writes as Penny Blake) Craig Hallam, multimedia genius Yoms, Jade Sarson who makes beautiful comics, Chris Mole of Professor elemental Comics and Brigantia, Super-minion and MC James Weaslegrease and creator of fabulous devices Ian Crichton. Plus partners, and children. An excellent set of people to spend a weekend with!

Those of you who follow this blog or follow me on social media will recognise many of these names. It may look to a casual glance that what I do is advance my friends. What really happens is that I find people whose work I love and who I want to support, and become friends with them. I believe in creating opportunities and holding permeable edges, and letting people in. I’ll make space where I can for people doing excellent work and putting forward fine ideas.


What Paganism can learn from comics

There’ isn’t a definitive narrative for the Marvel universe. People keep re-writing Batman, Superman, Spiderman, retelling their origin tales. The X-Men have had more re-boots and parallel universes than most of us could keep up with. Some people only ever see the films. People keep telling new stories about these characters because they are popular. The stories keep up with wider social changes. None of these stories ever is or ever should be considered the ‘real’ version.

Imagine that as a person far into the future, you had some of the surviving comics to draw on. You had the middle bit of a film, a book review, three comics, seven fragments of fan fiction and the script for a crossover project. You don’t know which ones came first. You don’t know that you have fan fic in the mix, much less which bits fall into that category. Whatever sense you made of the content, it would not seem to you as it did to the people who created it.

When we look at what writings there are about myths, legends and ancient histories, it is of course tempting to think there’s an underlying truth to uncover. A real version. We look for coherence in stories about Gods and heroes. Coherence is generally in short supply. It occurs to me that we have something in mythology that has more in common with modern comics reboots and re-imaginings than it does with the agreed and fixed texts of book-orientated religions.

There may never have been a fixed, original story. There may be no single coherent truth to uncover. When we’re talking about figures like King Arthur, or Loki, the modern treatment of them in films and books may simply be a continuation of what’s always happened – people tell stories about characters they like.


Hopeless Sinners

I’m excited to announce the arrival into the world of Sinners, the next volume in the Hopeless Maine series. It’s been a bit of a journey – having been picked up, kicked into the long grass and then dumped by Archaia, we found the awesome home that is Sloth Comics. But, it made sense to reboot the series and put the first two books out again. It’s been a long wait to get something new out there.

Let me mention at this point that Personal Demons and Inheritance were the Archaia titles, now gathered into one volume at Sloth called ‘The Gathering’. When we left Archaia they sent us a letter to say they’d stop selling our books, but those books are still being sold and we get no money for them. I’ve no issue with people moving second hand books about, but the length of time Boom (who took over from Archaia) kept them out there was dodgy to say the least. Also, while it says on Amazon that you can buy these – it doesn’t always turn out that there’s one to buy. People trying to buy old versions have had problems.

Sinners picks up with the characters who survived the first two books and continues their stories. By this point they are young adults. You can jump in here without having read the first two stories. I’m confident about this, because Sinners was the first thing I wrote for Tom. He went to a comic con, saw the power of the cute and wanted to do a young Salamandra story, which is where the first two books – written as prequels – came from.

Getting comics out into the world makes merely trying to publish a novel look very easy. A graphic novel – or fat comic – represents six months to a year of full time work (ten hour days, five and six day weeks) for the artist. We’d have to sell tens of thousands of copies for that to turn into the minimum wage. We can realistically expect to sell a few thousand. The only way to do something of high standard as an indy comics creator, is to be willing to accept poverty as a consequence. A lot of people are making that choice because they want to tell their stories and put beauty into the world. For comparison, Tom has worked for larger publishing houses and on projects that paid advances, and even then, he wasn’t on minimum wage when we figured it out by the hour. The book industry in the UK alone is worth billions a year, but creators are treated as disposable by the companies with the most money.

These are issues across the creative industries. People have to work part time at something else to pay their bills. We want nice things, but we don’t pay for them. The internet makes it easy to have nice things at no cost – and in many ways this is a good thing. Creators are not the only people wrangling with poverty, and lack of financial power should not mean a life devoid of good things, I feel. It’s one of the reasons I’m happy to put time into this blog every day. I want everyone to have good stuff.

I work part time as a book publicist to pay the bills, and I create with what time and energy I have left. I buy books, art, tickets for live music, CDs. I have no desire to exploit other creators, but I also have limited funds to pay them with. If those of us who can pay a bit here and there do, it helps keep creative people going. Part time comics artist is not a realistic trajectory when it can take a whole year of work to create a single book. If you’ve only got a couple of hours a day, it could take more like a decade. As a part time artist you don’t have the opportunities and time to develop your craft or much time to create anything.

And on that merry note, here’s a pre-order page for the new Hopeless Maine book https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless–Maine-2/9781908830142 

Here’s The Gathering https://www.bookdepository.com/Hopeless-Maine-Nimue-Brown-Tom-Brown/9781908830128

(you can get them anywhere that sells books)

And here’s my Patreon page in case you can spare me some small change every month. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


My life with books

One of my many hats, is that of book publicist. It’s work I’m proud of, and also work I think it might be useful to talk about. As an author, and as a person with lots of friends who are authors, I know quite a lot about the publishing industry. The bigger a company you deal with, the more they look for a sure fire win. They want books that are an easy sell. Most Pagan authors would not be able to get their non-fiction work picked up by a major publisher. Or their Pagan fiction for that matter.

For me, it’s always been a case of trying to identify really good books and then get those books in front of the people who would appreciate them. I think this is what the publishing industry should be about – getting great reads to people. Most of the time it isn’t. My friends Phil and Jacqui can’t get a deal – editors love their work, but Matlock the Hare is about a talking hare, and talking animals are children’s books and these are not children’s books and therefore it cannot be done. They are one example among many.

The average book sells three thousand copies in its lifetime. A bestseller is a book that sells more than five thousand copies. Over at Moon Books, Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess – a book about ritual descent and shadow work, has sold over ten thousand copies. This is not the sort of book that many publishers would have taken forward, and yet, the numbers tell a different story. Some time next year Morgan Daimler’s introduction to The Morrigan is also going to pass the ten thousand mark for sales. I take great pride in helping promote these books. What really sells them is that they are excellent and needed.

I’ve seen repeatedly that an original book in a definable niche can actually do better than something that looked like a box ticking crowd pleasing sure fire thing. Forgive me if I don’t name names and ask you to take that on trust.

The author who knows who, specifically they are writing for can do a lot better than the one who imagines they are writing for everyone.

For folk on the literary side, there can be something distasteful about having to consider the lowly business of actually selling the books. The book is published, and then by magic, should sell itself by dint of its obvious literary merit. Again, I’ve seen it done and I won’t name names. The kinds of books that get listed for literary prizes have often only sold a few hundred copies before they make the list. This frustrates and annoys me. If you believe something is good, surely it makes sense to do everything you can to get it in front of people who will appreciate it?

I can say with confidence that when good books sell, good things happen for the authors who created them. The morale boost of a few thousand sales versus a few hundred is considerable.

Moon Books has proved repeatedly that a book doesn’t have to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, or an obvious easy sell in order to be massively successful. All you have to do is figure out who is going to want to read a book and get it in front of them. I see my comics publisher – Sloth Comics – doing the same thing. Sloth publishes quirky comics, and then gets out there and sells them to people. That’s not a quick or an easy process, but it is possible. I think the same must be true of anything else good, well made, beautiful, thoughtful, or worth having.

We live in a world where the norm is to make cheap throwaway things, pile them high, sell them as fast as you can and move onto the next one. I know, because I’m part of a company that does it, that other ways are available. I know there are plenty enough people out there who want substance and quality, originality and beauty. I feel no shame in trying to sell to those people so that good authors are paid for their work and encouraged to keep going.


My latest steampunk adventures

Last year at Asylum in Lincoln (biggest steampunk gathering in the UK) I spent quite a lot of time stood outside a venue being the signpost, because there wasn’t a sign, and one was needed. While I was doing that, another author at the event asked how on earth I’d ended up doing that. I said I’d offered. This year I’ll be co-running that venue, and Tom and I have had the honour of putting together a team of authors for the event as a whole. How did we end up doing that? Well, in no small part because we are the kinds of people who pile in and do what needs doing.

It’s not about the money, or the glory. Ok, it is a bit about the glory. We were keen to jump in because we want to change what happens around ‘literature’ at steampunk events. Tom and I will not be touring venues across the weekend as part of the author team, we’ll be looking after the Cathedral Centre/Steampunk embassy. If you’re in town, come and find us, it’s not a big building.

It would be fair to say that as things stand, ‘literature’ is not something most steampunks are that excited about, and with good reason. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily engage with when there’s loads going on. It doesn’t grab your attention like art or music, or clothes or devices or just about anything else at a steampunk event. If you aren’t already into an author, you may not be even slightly excited about hearing them read, and you don’t want to go to a talk about how they self published their first novel, and if you don’t write, the standard fayre of talks about how to write books may not appeal. And then there’s the room of gloom – I’ve seen these at too many events and not just steampunk ones. Tables full of books behind which mournful and obscure authors sit in puddles of grumpy entitlement wondering where all their adoring fans have got to.

Of course that’s not steampunk writing, or steampunk books as a whole, and even in the rooms of gloom there are always people worth meeting. This year, Asylum has taken a radical new approach to how it deals with authors. With that as our underpinning,  Tom and I have done a number of things to further change what happens. We’ve brought in more comics people – because unlike books, comics are easy to engage with quickly. We’ve brought in authors who are great performers, we’ve got all kinds of drawing workshops on the go, and the talks are full of ideas and interesting concepts. Around the authors we’ve lured an array of fascinating folk to come and do their thing at the cathedral centre, and I think it’s going to be a really interesting space.

We will be doing some Hopeless Maine stuff – we’re using it as a recruitment opportunity for The Hopeless Vendetta (if you feel a sudden urge to be recruited, comment below!) and we’re taking out a show called Songs from a Strange Island – a mix of material written for the Hopeless Maine project, (like the Hopeless shanty) and things that inspire us (gloomy and magical folk music for the greater part).

I know we’re not alone in wanting to see things change around books and book events. I’ve been having all the same conversations with the people running Stroud Book Festival as I’ve had with many people on the steampunk side. ‘Literature’ turns people off, and often what happens under that banner is dull and self-congratulatory. I want to see more spoken word content. I want to see authors stepping up to entertain and engage people. I want to be talking about books, comics, fat comics, ephemera, writing, and creativity. I want things people can join in with, not the literary on one side and the audience on the other.


Wife of the artist

Last year, will be remembered by my household as ‘the year of the raven’s child’ because mostly what my husband did last year, was draw. There were a lot of 12 hour and longer days, and a lot of seven day weeks of him sitting at the table, and drawing from the moment he got up, right through the day and well into the evening. This is, it should be noted, entirely normal for comics artists at all levels of the business. Long days sitting at the board and no days off, for wages that numerically are the same (not relatively, numerically) as they were in the late seventies.

Art takes time. Back in the 19th century, John Ruskin was protesting about the way in which people were being required to work as machines, but no one really listened to him, and the industrialisation of creativity has continued, and if anything, got worse. I have heard of artists working 18 hour days. I know authors who write at a rate of a novel a month.

For those not caught up in the creative industry, this can all sound fine. Because as everyone knows, doing art and writing books is fun, so doing it all day must be fun and not like a proper job at all. By extension doing it all day every day and never getting a day off is also fun because this is a hobby so you can just keep doing it. Right? I grant you, a bit of playful painting of a Sunday afternoon is fun. Writing a poem on a whim, making up a short story… these are delightful ways to spend some time.  But when your day starts about 7am and you have to hit the board, or the keyboard, and make content for ten hours and more and then get up tomorrow and do it all again… ‘fun’ is not the best description. When you tot up the figures, the chances of making the minimum wage doing this are slim. No one joins the creative industries seeking this, but to be ‘professional’ this is all too often what’s required.

Many comics artists die prematurely. They die in America in part because their low pay does not allow them to afford health care. They die because their sedentary lifestyles undermine their health, and because if you have to spend your waking hours working, then all the self-care things like cooking and food shopping go out of the window.

Such work does not pay most people doing it enough that they can keep a second person at home to take care of them. Fortunately for us, I also work from home. Last year, alongside the various day job things I do (press officer, publicist, editor, professional blogger, occasionally author of fiction and non fiction) I did pretty much all the household stuff. I fought a running battle to make the time to get him outside regularly, to get odd hours of downtime when we could, and to give him some leisure time alongside this phenomenal project.

There were about 200 pages of art in this project. A page a day isn’t unusual for comics, but often a person is drawing, or inking, or colouring, not doing all three. A page a day doing all three, is tough. Tom can do a page a day, but then to go from the drawn image to the finished electronic image takes more time. A comics page isn’t created by just sitting down of a morning and putting down the lines. It has to be planned to get the text onto the page. Often, research is required. There are continuity issues and things that have to be remembered and repeated. The bigger the book, the more of these there are. So alongside the drawing and the toning, there also has to be time for page design, character design, and research.

There’s a really macho culture in comics. It has, for a long time, celebrated the habit of working yourself to death. People take pride in their long, long hours hunched over drawing tables. Anyone who can’t keep up should get out, is the general wisdom. That complicity with the system helps keep the comics industry the way it is. But in the last few months I’ve seen increasing numbers of artists stepping away from this, to talk about the truths of their lives, the human cost of being asked to work like a machine. It’s one thing to suffer for art out of personal passion, another to institutionalise that process. Last year was tough, but we got through it. Tom could have made the choice to push straight into the next big thing and go along with the story about how you get successful as a comics artist. He could have chosen the short life expectancy, and restricted relationships. He didn’t. Having put heart and soul into the year of the raven’s child, he’s eased off, and we’re going to try and find other ways to make this work.

I’m with John Ruskin on this one: We should not be trying to turn people into machines.


How to empathise with imaginary people

Tom and I are co-creators on a graphic novel series. Volume three has just launched in webcomic form over at www.hopelessmaine.com . For various reasons I’d not looked at it much in the year since Tom finished the art. It came as a bit of a surprise to realise how many real people and settings had crept into this one. The first chapter features the church from Purton, Gloucestershire, fellow comics creator Maxwell Vex, and Canadian Steampunk icon Lee Ann Farruga, more real people will be along later.

It is generally held wisdom with comics that the more realistic the people are, the harder it is to empathise with them. Smiley emoticon faces have the power to be anyone, and this can be a great aid to getting people into the story. Cartoons function in a totally different way to realistic representations, in terms of how they affect the mind of the viewer. From a creative perspective, this raises some really interesting questions about whether we want people getting inside or standing outside the characters.

Alongside that is the issue that the less detailed and individual the faces are, the harder it is to have something visually gorgeous going on. Elegance can be had, but not sumptuousness. You can’t have nuances of emotion in smiley emoticon faces either. The words have to do more of the work.

Hopeless is not a story full of ‘everyman’ characters where the idea is that the reader can slot their own life into the gaps. Although that said, a surprising number of people have cheerfully imagined themselves into islander roles, which is part of why more of the people we know are getting into the books. We know this from www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com and from reader responses. Despite the specific and individual nature of characters, people can get into this. I have theories of course. I always have theories…

Everyman faces work for simple storytelling. They work for uncomplex emotions. If you want a mix of emotions, you need more face with which to express it. You need eyes that can reshape and lips that can move, and a body shape that can express feelings. It isn’t possibly to convey all of the things human bodies and faces can convey without an image able to hold more of those details in the first place.

I think it’s also a consideration that empathy is not transference. You can feel with a person without feeling that you *are* them. I know that many people come to all manner of things just looking for affirming reflections of themselves, but not everyone does. Some people are happy to look outwards, to consider unfamiliar emotions and ideas, to put themselves in shoes that are not their own. If your capacity for empathy depends on being able to see yourself in whoever you’re looking at, then simpler cartooning is your friend. If what inspires you to empathy is seeing someone else’s humanity, then perhaps more involved art isn’t going to alienate you from the story.