Frank

I’d forgive you for thinking I’d just jacked in the blogging thing. I don’t have a great track record of keeping it regular. The past week’s absence, though, isn’t that. I came down with the flu and tonsillitis and was just pretty wiped out. Trying to write something coherent between dizzy spells and stroking a picture of my bed just wasn’t going to happen. Hopefully this is the resumption of regular service.

I’ve seen comic writers online talk about how, if you’re freelance, you don’t get sickdays like I just had. You get sick, you lose money, it’s that simple. And horrible. And while that’s a particular peril of freelance work that needs to be addressed, it puts me in mind of what I think is a particularly nasty, narrow minded school of thought – suffer for your art . The idea that you need pain to make your work worthwhile, that you need to grind it out. I’m all for hard work to create something, but I draw the line at actual suffering. Art isn’t supposed to be like that. There’s nothing noble or magical or beautiful about suffering, whether you’re creating something or not. Suffering is suffering and anyone who tells you that you *need* to suffer or that it will ennoble you is someone you need to get out of your life. There’s nothing worthwhile in the world that can only be achieved through suffering. There’s always another way.

This puts me in mind too of the related idea of mental illness being some kind of magical creativity enhancer. That the trade off for depression or any other illness is talent. It’s not. (I’d recommend the film Frank if you want to see a great takedown of the mental-illness-as-muse trope.) Mental illness will no more help your creativity than the flu.

Anyway,  just a short one today to get back into things. It’s December tomorrow so expect me to become annoyingly festive as the weeks go on. You’ve been warned.

 

 

 

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Page one, panel one

So NaNoWriMo isn’t going well, he says, to the shock and alarm of approximately no one. The project requires 1600 words a day, and I barely manage three blogs a week. I’m not being down on myself here, I work a lot and have other things to do. If I could write more, I would. Taking on NaNo along with the blog was always more to just spur me on to write, rather than to have a novel at the end of November. I’m still writing the blog, so it’s helped.

Thing is though, I just want to write comics.

See, I’ve spent the weekend looking at photos and Facebook updates from friends who were attending Though Bubble Comic Arts Festival in Leeds. It’s basically the best comics convention in the UK, filled with panels, high profile guests and signings and everyone in the UK comics community. Which I count myself a part of. And I wasn’t there. You see where this is going.

I love making comics. I want to be making comic right this minute. I love the community (not the industry, such as it is). The people. The enthusiasm. Did I mention I love comics?

I’ve been a comic book fan since I could recognise basic pictures. Blame my brothers. I grew up reading comics, from Superman and Batman to the X-men and Spider-Man and the Beano and the Broons and Oor Wullie and on and on. Eventually I started reading about comics. Books on the form, how they do what they do, what makes a comic different and how we’re criminally squandering their potential.

In a comic, the world of the comic, the whole universe, is the page. The panels. And as the creator, you have control over that. You can change panel six and frequency to control your reader’s sense of space and time. You can render things that Hollywood budgets couldn’t reach in a thousand years.  You have complete control, which appeals to a control freak like myself. As much as I love books and film and music, I’ve never been as affected by any of them as I have been by comics.

So, while I tried to focus on the blog or NaNoWriMo, I couldn’t help but imagine new comics. I can’t walk away from them even when I turn the other direction and break into a sprint. And that’s just fine by me. Why would I walk away from control over time and space?

The pen

I was considering not posting at all today. It’s Armistice Day, and I’ve seen some really thoughtful posts from friends and figured that my planned discussion of the latest Doctor Who episode wouldn’t quite be appropriate. I’d have felt like the guy telling his favourite joke at a funeral.

Wednesday is meant to be culture/comment day on here, so why am I talking about WWI and WWII? Because I’m wondering about how art and writing react to war. We’ve seen war poets like Wilfred Owen write eloquent verse about the horror, the hardship and the wrongness of it. The Rupert Brooke glorifying of a soldier’s sacrifice. We’ve seen war through a fantasy lens in Lord Of The Rings. What will our generation add to this kind of canon? I’d hedge a bet it’ll be things like the Hunger Games and the Divergent series. Even Harry Potter, to an extent. Books for the young, about the young in wartime. Not all wars are declared, or can be delcared. The Hunger Games is about the war on the poor. Harry Potter is about the war against death, against sadness and fear.

There was a theory about postmodernism, forgive me, I can’t remember who espoused it, that no art of real merit could be created after WWII. That after we drop a nuclear weapon on two cities then we’ve pretty much made everything meaningless. Once you can unravel atoms then the form of things doesn’t really matter any more, I guess. This probably explains why postmodernism lacks definition. Nothing matters.

The problem with that, I think, is that it all feels a bit teenage angst, all too easy. Nothing matters, so why bother? Slam the door and refuse to engage. Now, some people quote from great philosophers and some people quote from great artists and musicians, but all too often I’ll quote from Joss Whedon*. In one episode of Angel, the title character says, “If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do.” I think I like that. Yes, we can unravel atoms, but we can also make new ones, smash particles together to discover things we don’t have names for and that will only give us more questions than we had to begin with. I don’t believe in an afterlife, in the great beyond, but that only means that this aimless one I have is more important, and because I live in a free society, I can aim it anywhere I like. Not everyone has that privilege, the boys pressed into war, trenches, airplanes and boats, didn’t have that privilege. So I better make the most of it.

Alter Ego

It’s not long after 6am and my son is snoring loudly beside me. He got up in the early hours thanks to a cough and couldn’t get back over till now. So I’m awake and looking at WordPress, because apparently I now live and die on site stats, and I see a stat that amazes me.

A post I wrote on basic income is clocking in at 243 views. In the grand blogging scheme of things that’s nothing. 243 is what a kid on Instagram
gets of their morning coffee. (it’s pumpkin spice. #pumpkin #fall #blessed etc). For me though, that’s probably the most eyes I’ve ever had on anything I’ve written.

In the indie comics scene I did print runs of 50 or 100, which usually sold out. While I’ve shifted more than 243 units in my time, there was likely a great deal of crossover in buyers. 250+ units was probably about 100 actual people buying issue one and two etc. But this post is individuals and it’s global and cost me absolutely nothing while making those comics I loved so much cost into the thousand pound range. The conclusion is clear. If you want a big audience, use the internet. A shame then that the peak of my internet powers is scheduling a blog update.

The audience reach implications are actually only at the back of my mind. What’s really been niggling at me is how easy it would be to play to the crowd. To chase the stats, the likes, the comments. Superhero comics practically do this as a business model. Kill character X, bring them back heroically 18 months later, watch the fanbase collectively lose it. And if you can have one good guy beat up another? You’re making it rain. And that’s why, with a few exceptions, superhero comics aren’t very good right now.

Before I started the writing blog stuff I toyed with various ideas, including one on why I wanted to write at all, which is a question every writer has asked themselves at one point or another. I’d like to think that no one’s answer is “so I can say the popular thing and tell people what they want to hear”.  That kind of utilitarian content philosophy is worthless to art and useful discourse. I write because I love to do it, because it might be my only talent and because I’m a good day I might say something worth saying.

If one day I stumble into an opinion that resonates with people and gets me those sweet sweet WordPress stats or comic sales then that’s amazing, but from the days of writing power rangers fanfic as an 8 year old I think I knew I’d just be writing anyway.

But please, keep reading.

(Update: Nano, not going well. I’m not cut up about it, been busy, but it rankles. Getting the comics itch again too…)

Neither bird nor plane

supergirl_bts_video

It’s Friday morning as I write this and I’ve just watched the pilot episode of Supergirl, from The Flash executive producer Greg Berlanti. Like The FlashSupergirl is more than a little silly. It suffers from the same clunky exposition that American genre TV writers have pretty much surrendered to, especially for pilot episodes. Its message is unsubtle, its agendas unhidden. And I loved it.

For all its faults (and I can forgive a great many in a pilot), Supergirl  is unashamedly earnest. It’s about a girl who isn’t learning how to fly  – she always could – but she’s finally letting herself flyLetting herself be as incredible and impossible as she can be. If the target audience for this show loves it as much as I do, it’s going to do well. I hope it does. I think it’s needed, and not only that, I’m hoping it’s at the forefront of a sea change in pop culture. The long night is over – we’re done being depressed.

The current crop of writers and consumers have had a pretty rough time of it culturally. We came up when millenarianism was rampant, the end of the world was round the corner and some people were honestly stocking up on canned goods for the turn of the millennium. The world didn’t end, of course, it just went to hell. 9/11 happened and suddenly American news stations ran “threat levels” at the bottom of the screen on 24 hour news. Surveillance in the UK has gotten ludicrously invasive and violatory. But that’s OK because some people are terrorists and they’re probably your neighbour, so just let the government look at your e-mails, all right?

As a fan of superhero comics, I got to see the impact of this on pop culture up close. Superhero books have always been reactionary to social events and at the sharp end of pop cultural shifts. Superman first appeared in 1938, fighting slum lords, wife beaters, conscienceless businessmen. The creation of two Jewish kids, one of whom had a murdered parent, a totemic force for good calling himself Superman came around when Hitler was coming to power. Superman comics were mentioned by Hitler himself as something sinister. WWII breaks out and superhero comics change into patriotic propaganda. (Sometimes horribly racist propaganda. I said the comics reacted with the times, I didn’t say it was always a good thing.)

By the time you get to 2015, superhero movies are the Big Thing in Hollywood, due in no small part to their massive history, which must seem like a treasure trove of story ideas. But superheroes have transformed again in a culture that believed itself to be under siege. The Avengers were brought together by a military unit, Superman executed his enemy in Man of Steel, Batman employed super-surveillance techniques to defeat the Joker in The Dark Knight. Superheroes joined the military, and it wasn’t pretty.

But there’s change in the air. I think. I hope. Pop culture seems to be warming to the idea that we can finish a story with a smile again. Sense8, a romantic, fantastical adventure story gives us psychic karaoke. The Flash gives us a smiling scientist hero and Supergirl gives us a young woman doing her best, doing the right thing, because she can. She thinks everything is going to be OK.

In a previous post I called this trend post-cynicism. We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t actually the train we were expecting. Pop culture is changing, and superhero stories are evolving again to do what they do best – show us what we’re capable of. Remind us that the day really can be saved. They’re looking up in the sky again. It’s time we did the same.

Insert Boomtown Rats Reference Here

It’s Monday when you’re reading this,(for me it’s Thursday, I try and write in advance) so that means it’s a writing blog. Contain your excitement, yeah? It’s only the first paragraph. As with the last two, I’ll just be giving a quick update on where I’m at with my writing endeavours before getting into more meaty stuff next week.

As most of you are likely aware, the main focus of my writing is usually comics. Can’t get enough of em. Can’t afford to make them, either, which means comic book writing is going to have to take a back seat for a little while. I love it, I always will, but a huge part of making comics is actually making the things, which means working with and paying an artist, colourist, letterer etc and I can’t quite get there right now. I still have a few projects simmering – a political thriller, a coming-of-age drama, and an exercise in comics form disguised as a coming-of-age drama. I’ll get them done in time, I’ll keep working on them, but they’re not a priority.

NaNoWriMo, because apparently I love self harm and am drowning in free time, is the priority for the next month. For those who don’t know, NaNo is National Novel Writing Month, the challenge being that you sign up and try and knock out the first draft of a novel by the end of November, 50,000 words. “Ambitious” doesn’t quite cover the size of that task given my usual time constraints, but I’ll give it a whirl. Goals and all that, If anyone else is taking part, search for me on the site as Sudge. We can weep into each others virtual arms.

Then there’s this blog. It’s here because I need to write more often, preferably every day, and I need something to write about that isn’t a big meaty piece of work that I need more time than I have to complete. That doesn’t mean it’ll be an afterthought though. I’ll put all the time and consideration I can into updates. The plan is to always have a post or two queued so I don’t miss a scheduled post. Doing OK so far, but it’s early.

That’s all for now. Comic and novels and blogs, I also snark on twitter as @StephenSuthes, should your timeline be oddly quiet when Question Time is on and you just want to liven things up.

NaNoWriMo: 1,243 words

Trajectory

Hey, so here’s a weird, thing, I’m using WordPress again! It’s been a while. It was between this and Tumblr but I just prefer WordPress for regular blogging. Which I’m attempting. Again. I’ve been very tired lately, and very busy and as such I’ve missed writing an awful lot. I’ve kept my toe in the water with stuff I don’t publish, but it’s time to get back out there. Time to do it right.

I’m going to try something a bit different this time. I realised when I was in training for Tough Mudder some time ago that I do much better with targets and goals and deadlines rather than a hazy notion of “I feel like blogging”. So I’m setting some targets.

Mondays I’ll likely write about writing – I’m attempting NaNoWriMo this year, so please, if you’re interested in that or are participating yourself, look me up. User name is Sudge. Between that, blogging and comics projects, I’ll hopefully have plenty to talk about.

Wednesdays I’m giving over to my inner (read: outer) nerd and will likely be commenting on stuff I’ve been reading or watching or listening to. This might be in the form of articles or reviews or me shouting “WOW DOCTOR WHO WAS GREAT THIS WEEK” over and over.

Fridays will be more niche I think, as I’ll be trying to talk about general wellbeing and lifestyle stuff – I’m becoming a fitness nerd so expect progress reports on my workouts and such. This could very easily descend into half-journal style entries, as the workouts seem to help my general mental health a lot. Could also tangent off into current affairs, futurism etc. A more grounded entry than “I’ve been writing this piece of fiction” or “HOLY CRAP THE DALEK EMPEROR”.

Please, always feel free to comment or get in touch with anything you think would be interesting for me to talk about. Listen to me, talking like I have an audience already.

Let’s do this.