Tag Archives: hopeless maine

Notes on Ophelia – adventures in art

This year, Tom and I have been experimenting with new ways of collaborating on art and artefacts.

Creating this image was a joint process. It began with my idea to re-imagine well known works of art in the Hopeless Maine setting. We chose the art to jam on together, but working out how to take familiar images into the world of Hopeless was largely Tom’s doing. Above, you see the Millais Ophelia re-imagined into a world where the water is murkier and has things living in it.

Tom did all of the original drawing. I then went through with coloured pencils. Colour impacts on mood, shape, depth and in this case I had the partial translucence of water to contend with as well – it’s without a doubt one of the most challenging things I’ve ever worked on. I then handed the piece back to Tom and he reasserted some of the hard lines, scanned it, and did the things in photoshop that keep the scan looking more like the original. We’re trying to do as little computer tinkering as possible.

I’ve written about collaborating before, but to reiterate, there are key things to making this work – letting go and letting the other person do their stuff is necessary. We also talk to each other a lot while we’re working, feeding back, working out how to make it go as a joint project. What emerges is, I think, far more than the sum of its parts. A third artist who can most easily be called ‘Brown’.

A lot of comics art these days is done in photoshop, which can make it very smooth and shiny. Holding my nerve to be ok with the medium showing is something I struggle with – in this case the pencil marks, in other cases the brush marks or the oil pastel smears. I like the organic, messy physicality of working with materials, but I also feel a kind of pressure to produce shiny industry standard smoothness, which of course, I can’t…

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If we aren’t killed by sea monsters

Sea shanties were part of my life, growing up – my Gran was an enthusiastic singer of these songs, so my memories of them go back about as far as my memories go. Shanties are working songs, creating a rhythm to support the various bits of team heaving and hauling a sailing ship required. Any kind of singing will also help you keep sane when faced with tedious jobs – deck swapping, mending things. When working on boring, repetitive, necessary things, a song will make the difference between being a happy person, and being a miserable resource.

I wrote a sea shanty recently. It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about before because I don’t spend a lot of time on boats. As a fairly landlocked person, it’s never seemed like something I should be writing. But then it struck me that Hopeless Maine needed a shanty. I’ve been making a lot of things this year that develop and expand on the life of the fictional island, and that’s given me time to explore the details of daily life there.

Being an island, sealife is a key part of the Hopeless diet. However, the sealife is also hungry, and dangerous. The rocks, currents, winds and waves tend to force boats in, so those folk who fish don’t go very far, and spend a lot of time trying not to get themselves drowned or smashed. Or eaten.

In normal sea shanties, chaps make a lot of macho, grunty ‘ho’ and ‘hey’ noises and the odd ‘wuuuh’ to punctuate the song. Hopeless just isn’t that sort of place, which is why, in the chorus, Mr Brown is making more of a groaning noise. And if that leads you to think that we must have a rather odd sort of home life… yes, yes we do.


Lost Islands

Those of you who know me will know that I’ve been a fan of Kevan Manwaring’s work for the best part of a decade. And if you’ve been reading the blogs for a while you may also have picked up that one of the things I do is write a graphic novel series set on an island that is cut off from the rest of reality.  Hopeless Maine, as Walter Sickert put it is ‘an island lost in time’.

It’s a terrible thing to have to admit that I’ve only just got round to reading Kevan’s Lost Islands book. I read it in July because I’m thinking about writing more in the Hopeless Maine setting and I knew it would help me think around that.

One of the things I love about Kevan’s work, taken as a whole, is that he doesn’t sit tidily in a single, neat marketing definition, and seeing him do that has helped me take a similarly unboxed approach. Kevan writes poetry, non-fiction, fiction, he’s a performer, teacher and storyteller, and all of this feeds into any given book. Lost Islands brings together that breadth of experience and insight. This is a book of myths and history, geography, geology, politics, pop culture, literature, personal experience, speculation, science, and even a bit of fiction for good measure! It’s the sort of book that would sit well next to a Robert McFarlane title.

Lost Islands offers a lot of thoughts about physical islands – those that were imagined, may have existed, have definitely disappeared and those that are just very hard and dangerous to get to. It’s also a book that explores the idea of islands in the broader sense – things cut off and surrounded by something other. The driving narrative of the book explores the human desire for the pristine, Eden, and the way in which our search for it destroys not only those pristine environments, but piles on the environmental damage for the world as a whole. There are too many nature writing books out there that encourage us to run off looking for unspoiled nature, and thus to spoil it, so it’s really pleasing to see a book tackle this issue head on and pull no punches about the implications of getting away from it all.

For me, reading Lost Islands generated some fertile lines of thought about how I might map and chart something I’ve set up to be unchartable. Kevan’s recent blog posts have been all about long distance walking, so I’ve been thinking about that, too. I’m thinking about the issue of utopias and dystopias and the desire for something that is not those things. A playground, where you can gleefully run wild but may fall on your face, or be eaten by monsters.

It’s not an easy book to find, your best bet appears to be Speaking Tree


The Hopeless Maine Arts and Crafts movement

At present I’m spending my afternoons making horrible fish art, painting profoundly wrong willow pattern onto household objects, and imagining the arts life of Hopeless, Maine. I’ve never taken world building so far or so literally before.

I’ve been involved with the isolated island of Hopeless Maine for about a decade. It is the brain child of Tom Brown, who first lured me in to writing about it back when we only knew each other online. I married him, and that came out of working together for years on this project. He’s a man with a lot of tentacles.

Opportunities to take Hopeless things out in public have had me making, pondering and inventing for some weeks now. For example, I’ve been making fake dead moths. The Victorians were keen on collecting moths and butterflies, killing them and pinning them to boards. I had a display case turn up full of dead flowers – a rather garish bit of tourist trash. Clearly, the only way forward would be to make the moths from scratch. Mostly out of left over, found, or recycled things. Making them has led naturally to naming them, so we’ve got Granny’s Shroud, the Most Inedible Land Moth and the Poison Druid amongst others (so named because it is partly made of mistletoe, in case you were wondering).

Willow pattern is a widely subverted thing, but I’ve learned a lot hand painting it onto objects. What we see mostly today are factory made, printed to be all the same willow patterns. A foray to my local museum showed me hand painted porcelain, no two quite the same. The idiosyncrasies of the individual painter become a thing, and if there’s one thing I can do, it’s idiosyncrasy. Even so, letting go of the standards of factory produced items to do something that is unique, is not easy. But, what else is an arts and crafts movement for?

I’ve worked out why Hopeless Maine has a tradition of horrible fish art. It’s placatory. People refer to fish (both the main food source and one of the things most likely to kill you) in the way other communities talk of faeries. The Kindly Ones. The Good Neighbours. They don’t call it horrible fish art, they talk about the lovely, generous fish. But, most of the fish are horrible, and the art is no better, so there we are. This is one of the points at which I’ll be generating flash fiction cards to go out in public with the objects.

I also know what’s going on with Werewolf mark making. There’s a fashion in fine art at the moment to talk not about drawing but about mark making. Tom and I do not identify as fine art. Most of the time he’s an illustrator and I’m a colourist and crafter. We do identify with folk art, and things made for people – arts and crafts of course being about mixing the beautiful and the useful. So we are taking a little side swipe at the language of Art, with the werewolf mark making. And there is a little story to tell about the controversies caused because the werewolves probably don’t make the marks deliberately, does that disqualify it is True Art?

If this sort of twisted whimsy appeals, do saunter over to www.hopelessmaine.com where all manner of related other silliness goes on.


The latest Hopeless adventures

There have been some developments this week that I am excited about and want to share…

Anyone who has been with the blog for a while will have likely picked up that one of the things I do is a graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. It is a setting my other half came up with many years ago, and the essence of the main characters comes from him. He asked me to take on writing the stories and script, long before we got ourselves organised romantically!

Back when we ran Hopeless Maine as a webcomic, and with a weekly blog/newspaper for the island, we had a lot of interaction from people. This year we decided to open Hopeless up to collaboration and play, and the results have far surpassed anything I could have dared to hope for.

For a while now we’ve had pieces every Friday for www.hopelessmaine.com expanding on island life in all manner of glorious ways. This week saw the arrival of a new column that will go out each Tuesday – Tales from the Squid and Teapot – the first of which can be found here https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/%E2%80%8Bobit-sir-fromebridge-whitminster/

The columnist for Tales from The Squid and Teapot is Martin Pearson AKA my Dad. He’s a natural when it comes to describing the life of Hopeless, and this isn’t really a coincidence at all. The books I encountered as a child, the things I find funny,  the way I think and the kind of phrasing I use has all, to some degree, been influenced by him. He’s always written, but not tended to publish, so it’s a delight to be able to lure him out in this manner.

Our other exciting development is a plan for Hopeless Maine the roleplay game. A new blog has been set up for this by Keith Healing, and discussions are under way about how to turn Hopeless into a set of playable mechanics, that allow creativity and improvising. I feel the need to mention at this point that I played a lot of role play in my teens – mostly D&D (Dragonlance), AD&D a bit of 3rd edition D&D, Some White Wolf (Changeling, Mage and Vampire) some Warhammer, a bit of Star Wars, a few rounds of Shadow Run, and others. I’ve also run games. I was never much attracted to playing magic users because the magic seemed dull, prescriptive, too combat orientated and frankly not that magical. This, will be different, and I’m excited about that. There will also, (take note, steampunks) be something enabling invention. It won’t assume combat is how things get done, but will allow for hitting things with a frying pan in an emergency. Early days, but much potential. You can find more about that here –https://hopelesstraveller.wordpress.com/


A most Hopeless diet

When I’m dealing with fantastical settings, I like to know how the practical details work. I think it’s getting the little, mundane things right that is key to making big, strange, magical things feel plausible. I experience this as a reader as well as when writing. I want to know where you go to take a shit, what people are wearing in terms of materials, how they keep warm, or cool, and what they eat.

Hopeless Maine is a lost island. It used to be more connected, and resources used to head its way, but these days, new materials either come from natural resources or wash in from shipwrecks. Recycling is a must. The Hopeless Maine diet is not for the squeamish. Food is in short supply, and you have to be willing to eat anything passably edible that comes along. This is why ‘bottom of the garden stew’ is the main dish, where the key feature is to cut everything up really small so that it isn’t too obvious what it was.

For the release of The Gathering, Tom and I sent a host of creatures out into the ether, to give a flavour of Hopeless Maine. And, as I was in the mood to take that sense of ‘flavour’ a step further, all the creatures come with cooking instructions.

Thank you everyone who took part. If you would like some denizen of Hopeless to visit your blog, let us know in the comments, we’re very happy to keep doing this. In the meantime, do visit the escapees.

A dead dog hosted by Kyle Cassidy

Spoonwalker, hosted by Fire Springs Folk Tales

Deep Sea Life hosted by Anthony Nanson at Deep Time.

Gnii hosted by Graeme K Talboys

Owl Demon, hosted by Craig Hallam

Mermaid, hosted by Lou Pulford

Agents of Change hosted by R Thomas Allwin

Various small things, some in bottles, hosted by Matlock the Hare (Phil and Jacqui Lovesey) at Niff Soup.


The Hopeless Colourist

Before

Before

I’m not, I should mention, being deeply harsh on myself with this title, I’m talking about colouring for Hopeless Maine – a graphic novel and illustrated prose series that brought Tom and I together many years ago, and that we continue to work on. The first two books will be re-released from Sloth in the very foreseeable future, and they’ve agreed to pick up the two attendant prose novels that have been languishing for years. The prose novels will have black and white illustrations, but we’re doing colour versions for posters and eye candy and whatnot.

After

After

This means that I’m colouring. We invested in some posh artist pencils, and I have to say it makes a huge difference. The colour is smoother than you get with cheap pencils, and far less bearing down is needed to get the more intense colours – which makes things easier on my hands.

Anyone who says that a poor workman blames their tools is going to get stared at. Good quality tools make it possible to create a higher standard of work. There are things cheap pencils do, and don’t do, and while I can try to work with that, better pencils are in fact better and allow me to do better work.

There are interesting challenges in colouring. It’s my job to keep in the spirit, mood, style etc of the original drawing. Colour can have a huge effect on mood, and it also can do a lot more around shape and texture than black and white does. The images I’ve shared created a sudden learning curve on that subject. In black and white pencils, flat tentacles are fine. I colured, and then re-coloured them because  I had to totally rethink the 3d-ness to make them make sense.

The image shows Annamarie Nightshade, and her familiar. Annamarie is the central character in New England Gothic, and a significant support character in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series. You can read the first books for free here – www.hopelessmaine.com


Finding the third artist

Arthur by Brown.

In January of this year I started working as a colourist alongside my husband Tom, on the John Matthews graphic novel interpretation of Le Morte D’Arthur. This is an intensely collaborative project – a dead author and a living one, Tom doing all the lines and then me doing the colour, and then Tom doing the final things in photoshop – not least sometimes dropping his lines back in on top of my work. Someone else will be lettering the pages.

I’ve worked collaboratively before, but usually as an author – either writing with other authors (Professor Elemental, Letters Between Gentlemen) or as Tom’s author. There are all kinds of issues around art/words collaborations, but the artist does the art and the author does the words and for your bit you remain yourself, albeit in service to something that is more than you.

At the moment we’re working on the same sheets of paper. For the first couple of weeks I found it hard just bringing colour to the pages. What I do obscures Tom’s lines, inevitably. I’m a big fan of his pencil work, so watching it disappear from view is an uneasy process. A page I’ve coloured looks very different from one he’s drawn. The lines alone have an airy, delicate quality while the colour is solid and substantial. For the first week I had the unpleasant feeling that I was taking pieces and wrecking them. Then the photoshop magic started, and the original lines went back on top of the colour. A whole new thing emerged, something that wasn’t really him and isn’t really me. The third artist who is more than the sum of its parts. We’ll probably call it ‘Brown’.

A great deal of talking goes on around each page – an advantage we have, as most comics artists do not sit at the same table as the colourist. We’re finding out what our individual strengths are, where to back off and let the other one handle it, where to be ok about the end result not looking like our bit. I’ve started trying to do on paper some of the things we thought would happen in photoshop – candle glows, mist… and I spend time watching Tom do the final work on the piece. In seeing what changes he makes I can better see how to get the page right in the first place so that he does less.

In an ideal world, we’d pass the paper back and forth between us, doing very little in photoshop. We’re already talking about what happens with Hopeless Maine this way. I had a go at the latest cover, using watercolour pencils, which gives Tom room to come in over the top and reassert pencil lines. Oils are trickier that way – slidy, and a physical presence on the page. I know it can be done, because my grandmother used to pencil over oils to get the rigging details on tall ships. But these are things to explore another day.

Cover art above. The Sky, the ray of light and the lighting effects are Tom’s.


Favourite things – of Sloths and Men

It may be a bit of a cheat plugging something I’m heavily involved with as a favourite thing for Steampunk Hands Around the World, but bear with me. There’s considerable justification for me claiming Tom Brown as a favourite thing. Favourite to the point of marrying him. He’s also a significant percentage of how I came to Steampunk in the first place (the other percentage being attributable to Professor Elemental).

When I first met Tom, through a publishing house many years ago, he was writing and illustrating Hopeless Maine by himself. I was entirely smitten – it was strange, gothic, moody and a bit Victorian in look. Tom wandered more deliberately into Steampunk, having always been attracted to things Victorian, but not until recently, aware there’s a whole movement. I trotted along behind, and here we are. Of all the projects I’ve worked on since then, Hopeless Maine stands out as a favourite thing for me. Tom eventually persuaded me to write for him – I was reluctant because I’d never written comics and had no idea how to do it. A long period of close collaboration, and all the wider conversations around it, and we ended up with an emotional attachment that took me across the Atlantic to visit him, and later, him across the Atlantic to live with me. I owe a lot to Hopeless Maine.

Which brings me round to the important matter of Sloths. Sloth Comics have now gone public on their slog, with the news that they are picking up Hopeless Maine. We’ve known this was happening for a while, but there’s nothing like a big public declaration of intent to get things moving. When our relationship with the first publisher – Archaia – fell apart because they’d been bought out by bigger and more commercially orientated Boom Studios, we looked around for someone cool. We liked Sloth as soon as we saw them – they publish comics that aren’t obvious, and formulaic looking. They also make very high quality books, and we’re looking forward to seeing Hopeless with that much better page print quality.

We’re not Sloth’s first Steampunk project, either. Happily, this move puts us alongside Francesca Dare and her glorious Penny Blackfeather, http://www.pennyblackfeather.co.uk/ (this comic I really like, its funny and full of unexpected things) the link will take you to the webcomic. Another canny female lead with a slightly dappy male sidekick, we suspect Salamandra and Penny would get along fairly well. Sloth also have Steam Hammer – an alternate history with a Scottish hero and a Victorian Britain that’s been overrun by steam powered Americans. I haven’t read it, but it looks good. Then there’s The Ring of the Seven Worlds – steampunk and studio Ghibli influenced. There are other non-Steampunk titles too, and I have some reading to do to catch up. It’s great moving to a house and feeling excited about everything they do.

I’ve popped the new cover in this blog – it’s for the omnibus edition that will bring volumes one and two out in the same book, with some other things that haven’t been seen before, and then we head for book three. This is the first Hopeless Maine piece where Tom and I have collaborated on the art – he does the lines, I do the colours, he does the magic and the photoshoppy bits. I can’t claim it as a favourite thing – it was an absolutely terrifying thing, but likely means I’ll be more involved in the art for future books.


A history of Fast Food

If you found the magical centre of the world, what would you do?

Fast Food at the Centre of the World first existed as a small number of instalments written and drawn by Tom Brown. It was part of the work he was doing, alongside New England Gothic back when we first ran into each other online. The second title I took on writing and that became our joint creation, Hopeless Maine. Fast Food languished in the background because there’s only so many pages of comic a person can draw in a week. (7, if you were wondering, but fewer than 7 if you also want to have a life and stay passably sane.)

The second time I flew to America, I took a big notepad with me. I spent the long hours of flight, and the dull hours at airports, scribbling frantically into it, much to the amusement/bemusement of the people sat next to me on the plane. I wrote sat on Tom’s porch, with him drawing, and we decided this was a way we could be and that we liked it. Most of my work now happens with me typing at one end of a table and him drawing at the other, and this is good, and suits us both well. In Portland, I read Tom what I had so far – because these were his characters in his setting. I had previously been very wary of sharing work in progress, but since then, Tom has listened to everything as I’ve been developing it. I find his insight and feedback invaluable.

Life threw us a lot of challenges, and the novel took a back seat. I eventually finished the first handwritten draft, and then, when I could get enough electricity to run a notepad computer, I typed it up on the narrowboat, and then it languished again. Last year I got it out and polished it up.

Since rejoining the land of electric, I’ve done a number of short audio stories over at www.nerdbong.com and decided to offer them Fast Food at the Centre of the World as an audio serialisation. I recorded it myself, at home, with limited technical gear such that I could do very little editing. Most of it went down in one take, and I did not find that easy. It wasn’t written for audio so there were a lot of voices to find, and as I can’t pull of the New Jersey accent that was in my head when I wrote some of the characters, alternative solutions had to be found for my jazz gangstas. I had to work out what Gary sounded like. That’s Gary, in the picture. He’s voiced entirely on the inbreath, which was tough on the throat, but gives him a distinct sound. I’ve never done any serious acting – only mumming, which is largely about shouting your lines, not nuance. Apparently I have scope for using my voice.

The first two episodes are now up, and more will be along, and hopefully they will amuse you… http://nerdbong.com/category/podcast/fast-food-at-the-centre-of-the-world/

Music by Cormac Brown – Tom’s awesome son, who has been with Fast Food since the beginning.