Tag Archives: graphic novel

Of novels and graphic novels

One of my longstanding projects – Hopeless Maine – is a graphic novel serious, devised and illustrated by my other half, Tom Brown. He lured me in to write it for him long before we thought about living together. It is a big part of how we’ve ended up married.

Initially, I was intimidated by comics writing. You have to mostly focus on dialogue and there’s not much text on any given page. I felt naked and exposed without a narrator. It’s a totally different way of telling stories, much more stripped down and focused than novels. To get a story in a hundred or so pages of sequential art, is a very different process from novel writing. Inevitably we can lavish much more attention on what things look like.

What I can’t really do as a graphic novel author is spend a lot of time inside the heads of characters, exploring their feelings, history, motivations, and so forth. Whole relationships may have to be defined in just a few facial expressions and physical gestures. One of the things I’ve always liked doing as a novelist is taking journeys into people’s heads. I’m as interested by inner process as I am by action.

At the moment, I’m working on a Hopeless Maine novel – which is going to be illustrated. With an illustrated novel, there’s more room to write, and the art supports and enhances that, but doesn’t have to do the bulk of the work. This has the added benefit of requiring far fewer hours of art to make it viable. There are two Hopeless Maine novellas already – set in the lead up to, and the same time frame as The Gathering. Those will emerge into the world eventually.

Novel writing gives me a chance to dig into the details. Hopeless Maine has a lot of details in it that I’ve not been able to explore. We’ve only seen a tiny portion of island life so far. What goes on outside of the main town? What do young people do for fun? I’ve worked out a story that will give me more Hopeless grandmothers, and some scope for narrative mapping. I started working on this book with an aim to make it a bit like Around the World in 80 Days, only around the island. As the story has found its own shape, I’ve moved away from the Verne, and the feature of the original scheme I am most likely to keep is a hot air balloon, which Verne didn’t have. The principle of exploration remains, and for exploring the way islanders, and by extension, the rest of us, talk about landscape.

I re-read Around The World in 80 Days last summer as part of my warm up to doing this book. It turned out not to be an adventure story, but a tale about a man obsessed with timetables. Verne’s hero doesn’t really want to see the world, and thus the author is largely spared from having to describe anywhere he’s not visited. It’s rather clever, and I found it funny. As a child reader, I’d missed that entirely. There’s a definitely charm in having a main character who is looking the wrong way or interested in the wrong things. Will I carry that idea into this novel?  Don’t know. I don’t plan books in too much detail because for me, the pleasure of writing is the act of exploration, not the business of sticking to the timetable.


The Life & Times of Algernon Swift

The first time I met Bill Jones was in the Stroud High Street, where he tried to sell me a pun. The pun in question was on a postcard. Since then, I’ve followed Bill round a fair bit – well around Stroud at any rate. He gigs more widely but I’m not an especially dedicated stalker. He does performance misery that often turns out to be strangely amusing. And now, this. The Life & Times of Algernon Swift.

This is a small novel, so heavily illustrated and possessed of word balloons that it is classified as a graphic novel. The illustrations are all black ink, which works well for all the comments about colour in the landscape. Bill is very good at catching moods – gloom, anxiety, perplexedness, worry… as Algernon Swift nervously makes his way through a cloudy world.

The cover warns that the book contains over 200 puns. Readers of a delicate disposition need to be aware of the dangers. I hurt myself reading this book – my sides, mostly. Some peculiar and unexpected noises came out of my face while reading – hooting, snorting sounds of amusement, and a fair sprinkling of punished groans. (For reasons of decency I am limiting myself to just the one pun in this review, and that was it.)

If you like whimsy and wordplay, and have a decent tolerance level for double meanings, and were not viciously bitten by a pun at a tender age, this may be just the thing for you.

You can find it here on amazon, and no doubt other places as well.

For the love of God, Marie!

Some books are not easily described, so as I fumble my way towards a review, let me start by clarifying that this is a brilliant, surprising sort of book and I really liked it.

For the love of God, Marie! is a graphic novel by Jade Sarson. Page by page it is indeed a comic, but there’s a lot of it and a proper novel shape, so ‘graphic novel’ seems the right term. The main character, Marie, starts out in the 6th form of a Catholic school in the 60s, and we follow her through her trials and adventures into the 90s.

It’s a beautifully drawn book. There are some manga influences, so for the less manga literate odd things (like being able to see where a person’s eyebrows are regardless of where their hair is) may cause confusion. You have to trust the artist and trust that what she’s showing you is more important than a literal representation. I found it a visually accessible book, although Jade does challenge you to keep up with the action sometimes and doesn’t spell everything out. She uses a fairly limited pallet to remarkable effect and she really, really knows what people look like.

I knew before I got the book that it had a significant amount of erotic content. I’d expected it to be a romp, but once it gets going, the story I found touching through to heartbreaking. Marie sets out to love everyone, especially the people deemed least loveable. There’s an innocence to her, an obliviousness to the idea of sexual sin. However, as a Catholic schoolgirl, with Catholic parents, she’s subjected to continual humiliation and slut shaming because she loves too much. Misunderstood, she doesn’t get any easy time of it, and fate plays some cruel tricks on her.

Representations of polyamorous folk in literature are few. Promiscuous men (and that’s not the same thing) aren’t so unusual, but women who are plural in their loving, don’t show up much. This is the least erotic book I’ve encountered with a polyamorous lead; a bisexual character and a woman whose life and sexual identity don’t stop in response to motherhood or becoming middle aged. I wish there was more of this sort of thing.

There’s a naked woman on the cover of the book. If naked people having a good time offend you, then you won’t like it. We live in a culture that fears sex, is horrified by it, doesn’t want people under the age of 18 looking at it but will cheerfully show them depictions of war and murder. This has always confused me. But then, I found a lot to empathise with in Marie, and I’d rather live in a world where no one is condemned for loving too much.

More about the book here – http://www.myriadeditions.com/books/for-the-love-of-god-marie/

Recent reading

Web of Life – Yvonne Ryves

This is a fascinating little book that offers a way of exploring a Pagan path that is both grounded in tradition, and innovative. The Web Yvonne Ryves describes is a flexible tool that any reader could adapt to suit their own needs and practice. You could use it as a focus for meditation, as a form of divination, as a focus for other work, the basis for an art piece… it can become whatever you need it to be.

The book is ideal for someone fairly new to their path who has already figured out that they need to be Pagan on their own terms, but could still do with something to help guide them on their journey.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/shaman-pathways-web-life


Worlds Apart, by Jenni Shell.

I can honestly say I’ve never read anything else quite like this. It’s a mix of autobiography (Jenni Shell) and something more like biography (her mother). Jenni’s mother had serious mental health problems that dominated the author’s childhood and shaped many of her life choices. The need to understand, and the longing to help are central to the book. What comes of the quest is a complex spiritual journey that took Jenni towards teaching spiritual things. I found it a fascinating read – knowing nothing about the author. The books throws you in at the deep end repeatedly with life changes and sudden introductions of people, it’s not the smoothest book ever, but that didn’t put me off, just bemused me now and then.

There are two threads I really want to comment on – one is what Jenni has to share about mental health, and the nature of reality, and what happens to those of us who may deviate from consensus reality. Without any spoilers, what happened to her mother really challenges the idea of how and why we label people, and I think that’s very important. When we deny someone their truth and their reality, we may make them more ill than they would otherwise have been.

The other thread is one of ancestry, and how issues, events, stories and skeletons can have an impact for generations to come. Our relationship with our ancestors fascinates me, and what Jenni has written is a clear case study of how we can end up living out the consequences of other people’s lives and stories.

I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but if autobiography, family drama and spiritual questing speak to you subjects, then I recommend checking this out.

More about the book here – http://www.orderofthewhitelion.com/worlds-apart.php


Cafe Suada, Jade Sarson

I picked up the first issue of graphic novel Cafe Suada at Asylum in Lincoln as author/artist Jade Sarson was there with a table and it looked like the kind of thing the entire household would go for. It is, so we followed through by reading everything on the webcomic site. This is a charming, funny, silly, warmhearted, human, tea laden bit of loveliness. It is the book equivalent of sitting down with your favourite brew and putting your feet up. Although of course you can get the book and put your feet up with tea, and that would be about perfect.

On the technical side, (excuse me while I geek out about technical comic things) this comic has some inspired layouts, and the visual use of text is brilliant. I’m also a huge fan of the incredibly nuanced facial expressions, which come alongside gloriously overblown and deliberately ridiculous facial expressions. There’s also a lot of whimsy – much of it involving a duck, a koala bear and the little chicken things you can see on the cover. There’s romance, and tea war, preposterous families, improbable business strategies… I could gush pretty much indefinitely. But you don’t have to take my word for it – read the webcomic!

Graphic novels here – http://teahermitcomics.bigcartel.com/product/cafe-suada-teaset-cups-1-5

Webcomic here – https://tapastic.com/series/Cafe-Suada


120 pages of King Arthur

It’s been a challenging year. I’ve never been at the art-end of a graphic novel before – I did some shading for The Raven’s Child – making big areas dark, but that was occasional and mechanical, and did not call for much skill, just patience. This year I’ve been the colourist on the John Matthews graphic novel adaptation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. My husband Tom Brown is drawing it, and today I will colour page 120, completing the first of four graphic novels.

I know how to knuckle down, but this kind of art intensity, most days of the week, for months, has been a challenge in many ways. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned what I can get away with, and what the oil pastels I’m working with can be persuaded to do. I’ve learned what will happen when the lines are dropped back on top in photoshop, and I’ve learned to adapt. I’ve learned that the wealthy of the 1400s (the book is set in Mallory’s period because that’s how he imagined it) had details, twiddly bits and colour on everything. To make the images make sense, the details had to be simplified. I’ve learned that I enjoy doing landscapes, and hate doing the interiors of great halls.

I’ve also been the model for Nimue the character, only blonde. Many friends have loaned their faces to help with the enormous cast. It’s been weird when they’ve died. Turning Druid Camp’s Mark Graham (Uther) into Matlock the Hare’s Phil Lovesey (Gorlois) was an especially surreal experience!

There were many reasons for asking to get involved. One is time – my two hours on a page save Tom perhaps more than 2 hours, for various reasons. It means we’ve both worked more like ten hour days, rather than him working 12 hour days, which is a lot better on the relationship/life front. During The Raven’s Child (a huge graphic novel project a couple of years ago) I felt very much on the outside when he was struggling (lots of seven day weeks there) and I wanted to be on the inside, able to help.

I wanted to be involved for selfish reasons, too. It’s tough when your husband and creative partner is working 12 hours a day on someone else’s book and talking about it when not working on it. If I’m involved in the project, this is a lot easier to take. I wanted to prove I could do it – I did art to A Level a long time ago, I’ve always played with colour (usually fabrics and craft) I’ve also been told I have no idea how to put colours together. I think I can lay that one to rest! I like a challenge, I like the opportunity to pit myself against things I’ve never done before.

The next book will be easier, because I won’t spend the first 30 or so pages in a state of anxiety. It will be easier because of the tricks I’ve learned, and because after 120 pages I am better than I was when I started, inevitably. This means I want to go back and re-colour the first half of the book, but I know how that goes, and you never get to finish a book if you keep trying to get it all up to the most recent standard. It’s the downside of improving. The logo I did at the beginning (top left). I hate the sky. I do much better hills these days, and water for that matter…

This afternoon, I colour the last page, on which Lancelot rides into Camelot. Then I am going to the pub.

Things I have been reading

When I review in batches, I often find there are themes. I can’t see any links this time, it’s quite a disparate set, but perhaps that ups the odds of there being something for everyone…

Revealing the Green Man – Mark Olly. This small and startling book comes out in August, and is unlike any Green Man stuff I’ve read previously. I’m not an expert on history or Green Men, though. This book intrigued me, it went into the possibilities of the past, and the implications for the future than I had anticipated. Author Mark Olly lectures in archaeology, it’s worth noting, so can be assumed to know his stuff. I’m not going to say too much about the content, to avoid spoilers, but I will say I found it a wild ride of a read, and far darker than I’d expected. If you wanted to be excited and surprised about this familiar icon of modern Paganism, I think there’s every chance this book will deliver.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/revealing-green-man


Steam Hammer – story by Fnic, art by Charles Cutting. This is a Steampunk graphic novel set in an alternate reality where the USA is the conquering colonial power, England is in their power and Scotland is fighting back. It’s a bit like an Asterix setup, although far darker and with an alchemist instead of a Druid. This is a story that revolves around action and violence – to a greater degree than I’d normally go for, but if you like that kind of story, it’s well told, great pace, not gratuitous (readers over 12 I think) compelling setting, mechanical horses… I didn’t read it at the speed the story suggests because I spent a lot of time studying the line drawing of Charles Cutting, cooing over his landscape representations and how he does clouds. I’m entirely a fan. It’s part 1 one of a series, ends in a cliffhanger, and I do want to read the next installment.

More about the book here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/steam_hammer.html


The Fifth Quarter, Richard Selby. Poetry, prose, illustration and photography. This small book represents a love affair with Romney Marsh and is very much written for people besotted with that landscape. Having never been there, I may not be best placed to judge, but I found the writing evocative and it conjured an idea of this landscape for me. There’s a sense of timelessness, and of liminality – between land and sky, sea and shore. Watery landscapes always have that slightly otherworldly quality to them. It’s a charming book, and if Romney Marsh is part of your world, you ought to check this out.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/the_fifth_quarter.html

Friday Reads (because books are worth talking about)

Recently I read Jez Hughes The Heart Of Life. It’s a mix of spiritual memoir and shamanic philosophy. As such it will not teach you how to fix your life, but it does has a lot to offer in terms of how to think about fixing your life. I’ve read quite a few shamanic books, and I realise that I’ve not previously read anything much about the underlying philosophy of this array of healing practices. All too often in MBS titles, there can be a blame element to healing. It’s your karma, or you put it in your life plan before you were born, or because like attracts like it’s a consequence of your not being positive enough. It’s rare to read a genuinely uplifting and helpful book about spiritual healing. I know many of you following the blog have ongoing issues with physical and mental health. I can’t say this book is going to sort everything out for you, but it could give you some useful things to chew on. Certainly worth a thought. I really liked it. More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/heart-life


I first encountered Nausicaa, Valley of the wind, as an anime film from Studio Ghibli. Director Hayao Miyazaki has also written and drawn a 7 book graphic novel series. It’s a much bigger and more complex story than the film offers, everything is in more details, you get to find out more about where the creatures and technology came from, the politics are far more complex. It’s a really good read. There are two things I especially liked about it – the handling of purity and corruption as concepts, and the idea that no one is entirely beyond redemption.

I read all 7 in a couple of days because I really needed some escapism. They absolutely delivered. If you like speculative work and graphic novels as a medium, these are well worth your time.

More about the manga series here – http://www.nausicaa.net/wiki/Nausica%C3%A4_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_(manga)

Assisting the artist

This week, The Raven’s Child comes out. It’s a graphic novel written by New York Times best selling author Thomas Sneigoski, and illustrated by my other half, the adorable and very talented Tom Brown.

It’s proof that myspace wasn’t a total waste of time – thanks to the more famous Tom spotting the art of the arty Tom back in the days of myspace, this has happened.

I’ve included some art here from the development stage.

It’s about 200 pages of graphic novel, and those 200 pages were planned, drawn and toned last year, which meant that my Tom was working most days, and for long hours. I did what I could to take care of him.

One of the things I contributed, was shading. Large areas of straightforward black can be slow, dull things to put on paper, and ‘make that bit really dark’ is an instruction I can follow. On my more ambitious days, I shaded raven feathers and did the lines on the rattan armour.

What rattan armour is this, I hear you cry? Well, it’s in the book, and if you look for the slightly less good bits, those will be mine. I did A Level art a long time ago, barely scraping a pass. I’ve dabbled since. I have neither the skill nor the discipline to be a serious artist. It can be fun to dabble. What it isn’t fun to do is spending hours and hours shading things in very dark. (Watch out for the eye sockets in the skulls, I did the insides of those.) On the whole, Tom did far more of the less than entirely exciting shading bits than I did.

It’s an odd thing to look at a book and know it’s pretty much a year of someone’s life. The energy that goes into making a graphic novel is huge. The hours, the physical skill, the knowledge. We lived with these characters, with their world. We talked about them in bed. We talked about them when we went out to do the shopping. The number of pages left to go was the measure of our days, shaping every choice we made in the long months Tom was working on this. If a page was easy to draw, it might mean a few hours off, a rare chance to go out, or just curl up and rest.

I also did some modeling, getting into assorted poses so Tom could figure out what went where. I was the test reader (the resident idiot) on a lot of trickier panels. I’m not very visually literate, and some of the pages have to be pretty intense in terms of what happens. Whether I could make sense of what was on the page was often the measure.

It was a journey. It was the year of The Raven’s Child. Nothing will ever be quite like that again. Early reviews have suggested it’s the new Buffy, and this cheers us greatly. There are ideas in this story we’d really like to see out there, getting people thinking.

More here: http://www.sniegoski.com/ravenschild.html

Hopelessly Happy

Yesterday, author copies of Hopeless Maine book 1 found their way to us. Now, I thought I’d done enough of this paper malarkey to be able to be passably grownup about it. Apparently not. The urge to run round making random ‘squee’ noises and show it to everyone was huge. I resisted though, mostly. This is not just a book, this is a moment in an epic journey. It’s a bit like the moment in a very long and sometimes quite challenging walk, when you find a pub and they turn out to do good beer.

This is the project that really cemented the friendship and working relationship I have with Tom. This is the project we were working on when we fell in love with each other. There are pages he was doing when I visited in America all those years ago. There are pages drawn after Tom moved to the UK. Whole swathes of our lives are wrapped up in these pages, and this is the first time either of us has seen them on paper like this. It’s also the first book with both our names on the cover, and that makes me feel fuzzy and emotional.

Tom and I have both travelled a long way to get to this point. I shared his story back in September, of medically induced nervous breakdown, homelessness, a total loss of everything and a slow, hard rebuild. To go from there, to here, is epic. My own journey from lost soul to new self was not on the same scale, but it’s been plenty dramatic enough. Then there was the crossing of the Atlantic a physical journey alongside the creative one.

We’ve made some amazing friends along the way. We’ve both learned a huge amount too about our craft, and ourselves and each other and life… This is a milestone. Getting here makes it seem like a lot more things are possible than I would previously have dared to hope. We got this far, we can go a lot further.

Thus far, online reviews have been really encouraging. Not just that people are saying nice things, but there are deeper observations coming through about what it means, what it’s for, and that makes me very happy indeed.

So, we’re off to Druid con this weekend, to launch a graphic novel, and wave Druid books at people and talk about the end of the world whilst wearing spoons.

To everyone who has supported, encouraged, and enabled Hopeless Maine, Tom and I offer heartfelt thanks. We would not have got this far had it not been for everyone else who believed in the project. Thank you.