Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Nic's Sticky Notes: Thought Bubble 2015

Today it's exactly a month 'til Christmas, so what better time to write about the annual comics Christmas season kick-off that is Thought Bubble?

I know, it's over a week since the convention, but as as usual so many plans are hatched there that it takes that long after we get back to get on top of it all! In fact, Cy is so snowed under that he's working right now, on his birthday holiday, so I am writing the blog!

We travelled up by train on Friday and our journey took us through every kind of weather bar snow as we made the journey North. It was so cold when we got off the train that I looked about for armoured bears, but we survived the trek to our apartment just fine.

Saturday got off to the greatest start possible as the first visitor to our table, Thomasina Watts-Robinson, arrived with a surprise gift of a tiny purple wind-up triceratops! Her name is Bubbles, for obvious reasons, and she helped to guard the table.

Another "personal best" moment came when Stacey Taylor (of Stacey's Pop Culture Parlour fame) came up to the table wearing her beautiful (and much coveted) Rick and Morty T-Shirt and I was able to throw up my arms and shout TINY NIC in a perfect Call and Response moment. If you haven't seen Rick and Morty: 1) this won't mean anything to you, and 2) what are you waiting for? On the Sunday I got to "do the double" with Nick Papaconstantinou (of We've Got Issues, Elephant Words and loads of other things) of us both being TINY NICs.

This year we in the Marquee for the first time. It was a lovely bright space and any fears that it would be cold were unfounded. When two doors opened at once there was a danger of the wind blowing through and collapsing your banner onto your head like an over-huggy bat, which was fun if somewhat startling at first!

We shared a table with Row "The Master of Animals" Bird (you'll have to ask him about that!) and Caz Bennet so that we got a chance to get out more in shifts and not miss out on getting to see the rest of the show.

Thought Bubble has always been amazing for bringing indie creators together, and this year it was more diverse than ever in what people had to offer - and some of the cosplay was amazing. For example, this year I discovered the work of Eleanor Hollindrake on Mouse Dragon. Not only does she make beautiful little comics, but she was knitting Mouse Dragons live on her table!

Just talking to so many people - whether they are there as creators or visitors - about a shared passion for creating and all things comics is one of the reasons we always look forward to this show. Our table neighbour was the indefatigable Barry Nugent who had new books out for his Unseen Shadows empire and some rare print proofs for the next novel and Choose Your Own Adventure book.

We've not been involved with many Kickstarted projects, and never had one running over the time of a convention. This year the Metal Made Flesh 2: Blood and Oil project had one week to go, so flyers in hand we hoped that this weekend would be what was needed to give it the push to making all its stretch goals. The first volume, by Jeremy Biggs and Simeon Aston, was at Thought Bubble last year - in fact it was there that we met Jeremy and he first spoke to Cy about getting involved with book 2 - and there was a lot of immediate positive response about volume 2 from people who had picked that up twelve months ago.  We were Stretch Goal 3, a 30 page comic called The Final Piece of Me by Cy and Gary Erskine (with my letters). Happily, the target was smashed and, in fact, script edits are what Cy is working on right now as I type this!

With people scattered all over the country, a lot of the time you never actually meet your collaborators until after the fact when you coincide at a con, so it was lovely to meet Gary and Mhairi and get a chance to chat about the project. While we talking up came that bonny lass Stacey Whittle, who also knows them (of course she does, the Whittle knows everyone) so that was all very nice.

I also showed Stacey that I had, finally, picked up The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis, as she has been telling me I ABSOLUTELY MUST. I missed getting it last year, but I would always rather get things when the creators are there so I had to wait until this time round.

Speaking of successful Kickstarters, the other one we have been involved in is Torsobear Vol 2: All Stitched Up , which launched at the convention. It looks beautiful and you can get it digitally or in hardcopy now. Our story with Juan Romera is The Uncanny Valley of The Dolls, and it's the thing that I have shed most tears ever while lettering.

With the film adaptation of White Knuckle now moving into the next stage, we took extra copies of the book along - and a good job we did, too! So many people had heard the news and came over to talk about it, and there was a lot of excitement and well wishing. It's quite hard to believe it's real. As we were sharing a table, we only took one banner with us - which was the White Knuckle one with Valia's art. Without a doubt, the refrain of the weekend was how wonderful Valia's work is from readers and creators alike with so many artists saying how inspirational she is to them. It's a great shame she couldn't make it over to hear them - although she never believes it!

We went to the con with 3 "must-have" items on our list, and they were all from the talented folks at Improper Books: Briar, Porcelain 2: Bone China and MULP 2. We snatched those up as fast as we could - and if you haven't, you should, too. They are all exquisite examples of the medium.

Sunday night ended with the now-traditional Decompression Session, where it was discovered that there are at least two other people than Cy who think that the Adam Buxton hosted episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks featuring the "Moby song" is so funny it is almost lethal. I also was pleased to discover a fellow Trancers fan in David Baillie, learn that there was a "Trancers 1.5" that I haven't seen and start to lure Connor Boyle down the path of not being a squid. Yeah, you have to watch Trancers to get that one.

I know I've missed things that I should have mentioned, it's always the way, but before I go I have to make a special mention of how great it was to catch up with  Antony and Amy McGarry-Thickett who had brought baby Kara along to her first con, on her first birthday, in cosplay as an Ewok.

There was a Harry Potter cosplayer with a real owl in the foyer of New Dock Hall.

The delightful Jennie Gyllblad was the star of the show with her "crow witch" head-dress made from real wings and a skull and with a "Trigger Warning - descended from Vikings" sign on her table!

Right - time to to get back on with that holiday - there's meat to eat and fireballs to throw!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

So Updates. Very Happenings. Wow!

Hey - remember back in August when I mentioned the Metal Made Flesh: Blood and Oil anthology? Major updates are afoot there, but here's a cheat-sheet of the significant highlights:

  1. Despite a crazy-positive first week, the original Kickstarter project for the book didn't hit its funding target. However, the campaign was relaunched a couple of weeks ago and obliterated its goal within the first few hours!
  2. The new campaign, at time of writing, has more than tripled its target and the book is definitely going ahead - albeit in a somewhat modified form.
  3. My story, The Final Piece of Me, has been divided into two parts as stretch goals. The first goal has already been hit, but it'll take another push to get it over the finish line for the second half to be included in this volume.
  4. The art for The Final Piece of Me, and I can hardly believe I'm actually typing this with my lowly human fingers, will be provided by Gary Erskine! Yeah - the artist of City of Silence and Jack Cross. I know: holy shit, right?
The Kickstarter closes on the 22nd of November, so now's the time to give it the final heave it needs. There are loads of pledge levels on offer on the campaign page, the most critical of which (from my perspective) is being closed in on right now. You can find all the details over there but, for a quick refresher on what Metal Made Flesh is all about, I recently heard it described as "Cyberpunk meets A Game of Thrones."

Next up: Thought Bubble!

God, I love Thought Bubble. This year, we'll be sharing a table with the amazing Row Bird, and sitting next to the Godfather of British comics podcasting, Barry Nugent in the Thought Bubble Marquee (which is where I understand all the cool kids are this time around). We'll be giving Indifference Engine 2: The Suicideshow its first Bubble outing, and sneaking out updates on the White Knuckle film adaptation. If I can muscle any eyeball-time out of a publisher, I'll be delivering high-velocity story pitches at every opportunity.

The main point of Thought Bubble, though, will be plugging back into the comics world for one glorious weekend. I'll be catching up with as many friends, co-creators and weirdly dressed strangers as I can, sharing old stories and building new ones. I hope you're ready, Leeds, because here we fucking come!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

It's Pronounced "dətɑ̃"

Back when I was growing up, being "bundled" was a thing you tried your bloody-minded best to avoid on your birthdays at school. To this day, that term first-and-foremost means to me a torrent of well meaning but misguided associates hurling themselves on you from all angles in a freestyle human hailstorm of good-natured gangland mayhem.

That said, Markosia and Drivethrucomics have just announced the "Works of Cy Dethan Bundle", which collects virtually every word I've ever written on a Markosia creator-owned project into a single package weighing in at under $20. About the only item missing from the list appears to be my "Gateway Drugs" story (with Row Bird, Peter Mason and Nic Wilkinson) from the British Showcase Anthology. Seriously, what else were you going to use that $19.91 for - Pogs? That's what you modern kids are into these days, right? Pogs?

So, with the first rumbles of this year's Thought Bubble already juddering the crockery, I'm excitedly grinding my emotional gearbox to shift into the "human social interaction" mode that I have surprisingly little use for much of the year. Working entirely from a darkened room at the very top of my three-story Volcano Lair, most days go by without me seeing a single living human face other than Nic Wilkinson's - barring a few generic non-people I might catch sight of as I walk with her to the bus stop, which I'm not sure really count.

In general, this set-up has worked pretty well for me, and about the only thing that tends to trip me up is when I unexpectedly have to explain my name to someone at the door or on the phone. Generally, I'll slip into auto-pilot and rattle out "It'sDethanThat'sDeeEeeTeeAitchAyEnn" as if it were all one word, and I'll usually have to say it twice before they quite believe it. After a brief period of frowning, squinting at what they've just written and deciding that it can't be right, the following conversation ensues, almost always identically:

Them: Deth-un?
Me: No, it's Dethan.
Them: Dett-hunn?
Me: Dethan.
Them: Dit-honn?
Me: Getting warmer. It's Dethan.
Them: [miscellaneous gibberish practically worthy of a Two Ronnies sketch]

If you're reading this at all, then there's a decent chance we know each other personally and you already have a pretty good handle on this, but for the removal of doubt where it's needed, the correct pronunciation of my name is "dətɑ̃". Of course, you need at least a decent grasp of French phonemic transcription to make sense of that, so I'm proposing a compromise position, founded on most people's first attempt.

Say it with me now: Deth-Un.

From now on, anyone who offers Deth-Un as a proposed pronunciation will not be corrected. Rather, they will be applauded and celebrated in song and fire by the spirits of my long-buried Norman and Viking ancestors.

Anything... ANYTHING to never have to hear "Dee-thin" again...


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Convention Report: Demoncon X


Our convention circuit is looking pretty stripped-down these days, with the crazed creative shark-tank of Thought Bubble being our only regular multi-day fixture, but Demoncon's kind of an exceptional case for us. It's local, for one thing - but that's not really the point. What sets the Demoncon events apart is their focus. It's as if all the love and enthusiasm shared by comics creators and readers gets distilled down to its irreducible core and blasted into Maidstone's Royal Star Shopping Arcade for a few short, manic hours, and despite the fact that I've been going for years I always find myself startled by it.

Highlights this time would have to include the cosplay contingent - with particular shout-outs going to the profoundly cool Mad Max-ers. Nice to see post-apocalyptic warboys and wargirls matching Stormtroopers and anime-niacs for sheer numbers this time around.

[Cosplayer from the Cursed Earth Drifters]

Great as always to catch up with old friends on both sides of the tables, and to share gloriously awkward moments with so many people I didn't know, but clearly should have. Ian Sharman, without whom virtually nothing I've worked on with Markosia would have ever made it into print, compared notes with me about our upcoming film adaptations, and I defy anyone to share a moment chatting to Grant and Eva Perkins without emerging happier than they went in.

The show also served as a meeting point for a large chunk of the Metal Made Flesh: Blood and Oil creative team, with Mike Garley, Phil Buckenham, Nic Wilkinson and me smashing our respective stories into each other's heads. The Kickstarter for the book just went live, scoring over 15% of its funding target in the first few hours, so expect a post about that in short order.

Speaking of Phil and his work, I managed to snag this beautiful Joker/Harley print from him for Nic at the end of the day for a ridiculously low price. Looking through his portfolio makes it clearer than ever that, between him, Simeon Aston, Gary Erskine and Kev Crossley, the Blood and Oil anthology is going to be stunning to look at. Now all I have to do is find a way of writing up to their level.

I try not to evaluate convention days in terms of raw sales, because that always seems to be missing the point of them - but even so, Demoncon events have always punched above their weight. We took more books than than we thought we'd ever need, but still sold completely out of most of our titles and came home with literally only a handful of copies.

Next stop: Thought Bubble. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Carry On Up the Cyber


[Cy walks on Hitchcock-style in front of the title card for this post, poses for a moment, then speaks...]
I don't generally make New Year's Resolutions, largely because I lack any measurable capacity for higher-level self-deception and, frankly, I've made all the compromises to the thought-parasites lurking in the more self-critical areas of my brain that I'm prepared to at this point in my life. However, if I had made one of those noble, doomed promises-to-nobody this year, it probably would have been to blog more.

Sadly, as the last few years have rolled on, I've encountered a series of tragic and unexpected successes in the non-comics side of my business, which have necessitated a degree of reorganisation on my part. Rather than drag this blog off-mission with exciting tales of freelance corporate copywriting (which I say without sarcasm, because I've been on actual roller coasters that were less of a ride than this), I've restricted it to comics news and ideas - and cut down on the random interlude stuff I used to fill it with back in the early days before I worked out what Twitter was for.

Now, with my non-comics workload settling into a comfortable, statistically predictable industrial roar, I'm going to try and find more blogging slots in my schedule. A couple of posts' worth per month, maybe, depending on what's happening. By way of an example, here's one now...

[Lights dim. Cy sneaks off stage right. Opening credits roll. Blog begins...]

Last year at Thought Bubble I was approached by a writer named Jeremy Biggs about a project. He flashed a stunningly illustrated novella under my nose and asked if I might be interested in writing something for a spin-off comic. The book was called Metal Made Flesh, and he let me keep a copy to look over.

Metal Made Flesh (conceived and illustrated by the astonishing Simeon Aston) is part hard-bitten cyberpunk crime noir, part glorious, anarchic space opera and part Lovecraft-textured body/mind horror. The book itself is a keyhole into an enormous universe of desperate planetary refugees and unfathomable, alien political intrigue. I signed up pretty much on the spot, and have been waiting for the green light to talk about it ever since -  a green light that recently blinked on with the following announcement from Jeremy on the project's official Facebook Page:

Announcing Phase 2! Metal Made Flesh: Blood and Oil is a graphic novel comprising 3 new stories set in the MMF universe. 

In addition to art from creator Simeon Aston, Blood and Oil will also feature 3 of the best comic artists from the UK scene: Gary Erskine (Judge Dredd, Dan Dare, Hellblazer, The Authority, The Filth, Star Wars), Kev Crossley (Judge Dredd, Tomb Raider, ABC Warriors and concept artist for Alien vs. Predator and Star Wars)and introducing Phil Buckenham (Rented... to the dead) whose artwork has just blown us away. 

Jeremy Biggs will be returning to writing and editing duties and will be joined by Emmy award nominated Mike Garley (Collider, Kill Screen, Dead Roots, Eponymous, Samuai Slasher, Adventure Time, Wallace and Gromit) and Cy Dethan (Starship troopers, The indifference Engine, White Knuckle, Cancertown).

Over the next few weeks we'll be featuring more details, so keep your eyes on this page!

I'm an old cyberpunk reader from way back, so this is right in my wheelhouse. My story... well, actually, I don't know what I can say about it just yet. I'll be filling in details here as they're formally announced, but suffice it to say that it'll be 30 fuck-wild pages of meat, machinery and mayhem.

In the meantime, just take a moment to look over that contributors list. Yeah, this is company I'm glad to be hanging with. I've spoken about Mike Garley's work before, always in glowing terms, and we're legitimately talking about some of the most amazing artists in the business right now. I honestly foresee no world in which this book will not be a thing of heartbreaking beauty. Empires will fall, the dead will weep and I will laugh and dance and pick bloody strands of human gristle from between my silicon teeth.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

White Knuckle: The Movie

Yep, I'm not even shitting you...

White Knuckle, published by Markosia back in the murky mists of 2012, was a book that Valia Kapadai and I created with the arguably insane goal of taking a character with a decades-long history of horrific, murderous violence behind him and making him... well, "hero" really isn't the word I'm searching for here - although some of his actions in the book are viewed in that misguided light by other characters. The idea, though, was to turn a man with the blood of innocents on his monstrous hands into someone a reader could invest in. That, I reasoned, would be a story worth telling.

Valia was an ideal artist for this, with soft, visually melodic colours and the ability to find beauty in even the most brutal of places. In terms of setting a tone and making outlandish characters breathe (or stop breathing) on the page, I couldn't have asked for a better co-creator - and White Knuckle is definitely a book that gives me a massive Evil Brain-Grin every time I watch someone flip through it or read its back-cover blurb for the first time:

Forty years ago, Seth Rigal was a man to be feared – a serial strangler with a string of victims. Now nearly seventy and tormented by a lifetime of monstrous violence, Rigal lives on the verge of poverty and quietly waits for the death he knows he deserves. Tortured and confused, still haunted by the drives that made him a killer in his youth, Rigal finds himself almost unconsciously stalking the daughter of his final victim – only to have his precious anonymity snatched from him when he accidentally saves her son’s life. Seth Rigal, formerly known as the Gripper, just became a local celebrity. The bodies won’t stay buried any longer.

Skip forward to January 2015 and an out-of-the-blue email rocketing into my inbox from a place called "Australia", which my limited understanding of geography tells me is where kangaroos and Mad Maxes come from. The email is from a film producer by the awesome-sounding name of Alexandros Ouzas, and the long-story-short of it is that he'd like to talk about turning White Knuckle into a film. Now it's June and the White Knuckle film is a thing that is ACTUALLY SET TO HAPPEN.

To give you an idea of what you're in for here once things get rolling, Alexandros - along with writer/co-director Kosta Ouzas and co-director Nick Kozakis - just launched Plague, a zombie film currently closing in on the iTunes #1 spot in the horror category.

You can find out more on the official Plague website, along with details on how you can get to see the film for yourself. I strongly recommend you take a look. Here's the premise:

A small group of survivors seek shelter from an infection that has spread like a plague among the human race. Evie (Tegan Crowley) and her fellow survivors find refuge and wait for her husband John’s (Scott Marcus) return. After the infected attack, Evie refuses to abandon her husband against the wishes of the group. The survivors revolt leaving Evie to an uncertain fate. With the unexpected arrival of Charlie (Steven Kennedy) what appears to be an opportunity at a new beginning quickly turns into a horror as menacing as the infected that pursue them.

I'm actually already a fan of Australian zombie horror, with both Undead and Wyrmwood in my top ten zombie flicks, so my zomboner for Plague after seeing this trailer is, frankly, immense. Add to that the fact that these are the people currently adapting White Knuckle for the screen and, were you to look through my monitor right now, my Happy Face would BLAZE LIKE A MILLION SUNS AND EVAPORATE YOUR ENTIRE HEAD!

So, y'know... be a bit careful there.

More on this as things develop, and watch for an official Markosia announcement in the next few weeks. I'll also be posting information, updates and weird, ululating animal noises on the White Knuckle Facebook page - so watch this space, and that space, and ALL THE SPACES!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Step One: Cut a Hole in a Box...

Fair warning, I'm going to be talking about magic a lot in this one. No, I'm not proud of myself.

JJ Abrams, now well on his way to fulfilling the universal dream of uniting two endlessly warring SF nations in a hands-across-the-fanverse exercise I never would have imagined possible, owns a box of magic tricks he claims he's never opened. It's his "Mystery Box" - and if I'm honest, the way he talks about it goes a long way toward solidifying in my mind why I've never really been excited by anything I've seen of his.

I'll qualify that. I've seen both his Star Trek films, but I've never been a Trek guy so they didn't do anything for me. I've seen the first two episodes of Lost, but only because they got Rifftraxed, so that's hard to judge by. I did like Almost Human, but I don't know what he actually contributed to the show beyond composing the theme music. Basically, my sample size is just way too small to draw conclusions from, and almost none of what I've seen was aimed at me - I'll also mention here that despite all of the above he's got me optimistic about the future of Star Wars now in a way I haven't been since before the turn of the century.

In his TED talk, Abrams performs a quick magic trick using (and implicitly exposing) a fairly standard sleight called a backpalm. In fact, whoever was in charge of the camera angles that day actually goes a step further and gives the game away outright with a carefully revealing shot at the critical moment. What caught my attention there wasn't the magic or the instant undermining it suffered, so much as the vital distinction that wasn't being made.

A secret isn't a mystery.

When Star Trek: Into Darkness was being promoted prior to release, the concept of the Mystery Box seemed to be all around it - at least for the length of time it took for someone to cut a hole in it. It was the second Trek movie of the new series, and we were told there would be a mystery villain. Only, the "mystery" lasted about five seconds because the immediate response from anyone who could possibly care about it was "is it Khan?"

What followed was an embarrassing mess of unconvincing denials and obvious question dodging. In the end [SPOILERS] it obviously was Khan and what should have been a jaw-dropping twist went off in cinemas like a sickly, wet fart. Iron Man 3 kinda went the same way for me with a twist that was purely cosmetic and contributed nothing but some pace-killing comic relief. The main bad guy and his boss basically switched places and nothing that actually mattered had changed. To me, it was a mildly irritating bit of sleight-of-hand that accomplished nothing concrete. To lock a frame around this for a moment, imagine if Return of the Jedi had pulled the same switch, revealing that Vader was the real head of the Empire and "the Emperor" was a hired stooge. What actually changed there, really? We already knew that Vader/Killian was a powerful bad guy doing powerful bad guy stuff. Now it just turns out that the story's mid-game mini-boss is actually the final boss and the whole third act just kinda deflates on itself.

Anyway, I'm drifting. My point is that if you're going to build a Mystery Box around your story, I think you need to be sure that what you have isn't just a poorly guarded or irrelevant secret. Every magic effect has a secret to it, and pretty much any magician will tell you that in general that's the least important or interesting thing about the trick. Knowing a secret, or revealing it, will eliminate the magic in a heartbeat - unless the secret itself poses further questions of its own. At that point it's possible you have a legitimate mystery to work with.

Example: there's a magic trick out there that I first encountered under the name of "Smash and Stab". It's possible you've seen some variation of it, and would probably recognise it as the "spike under the cup" trick. Essentially, the magician engineers a situation where he's slamming either his own or a spectator's hand down on a set of polystyrene cups, under one of which the spectator has hidden a spike or blade while the magician looked away. It's always struck me as a weird idea for a piece of magic, because it makes virtually no structural sense. There are literally only two possibilities for the spectator to consider: either the magician somehow knows where the spike is (in which case there's a legitimate magic trick at work, but no danger) or he doesn't (in which case there's very real danger but no actual magic). However, that trick alone has made the reputation of many magicians - crucially, even when they've injured themselves or others failing at it - because the secret is the least important part of the story it tells, and if it's the secret you're focusing on then you're - ahem - missing the point. The drama is undeniable whichever of the solutions is correct.

Counter-example: while the Sixth Sense and Unbreakable still arguably work as films when the twists are revealed, you'd be hard pressed to say the same about something like The Village. The Mystery Box they've built there amounts to nothing more than "what's the twist that we know is coming actually going to be?" - and that weak premise ends up being the only point of the story. It's the movie equivalent of a comedian saying, "I dreamed last night I was eating a giant marshmallow, and when I woke up YOU'RE A MORON!"

All I'm really saying is that a secret is nothing more than information withheld. It's up to the storyteller to make that information meaningful and, because you can only answer the question once, it's a fragile thing to build focus and tension around. A magic trick that, for example, leaves the spectator with an impossible object in their hand uses secrecy to create a mystery that they can take away with them - which to me is a much stronger storytelling principle. The greatest mysteries still have value once the secrets that enable them to exist are revealed. They can survive the revelation. Spoilers for good stories never bother me for precisely that reason. If the only thing keeping your story upright is the secret at its heart, then all you've actually got is a joke with a one-shot punchline that'll never be funny again.

The above is really just the tip of a much longer conversation that's permanently raging in my brain about the relationship between magic and storytelling. There's a lot more and, as anyone who knows me will affirm, if you catch me in person at a convention you'll be lucky to walk away without hearing at least fifteen minutes of it. I'll save the rest for then...
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