142: Diamanda Galas said that mortality is insulting

Hullo.

I’m about to go and meet up with a bunch of Old Games Journalists for a meal, so it’s appropriate that I’m hurriedly assembling a bunch of links and stringing them together with aggressive bonhomie for an audience. I’m Kieron! Today, I will be typing quickly and typoing wildly.

Once&NeverAgainOkayActuallyAgain
Art Credit To the Nation
WIP
Links Deluxe
Byyyyeeee!!!

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Once & Future 6 brings an end to the first arc of our Arthurian monster comic. There’s various places saying it’s 6/6, but as the To Be Continued underlines at the end of the issue, we will be continuing. Issue 7 is out in March, along with the trade, and Dan is just finishing off that at the moment.

It’s a climax, and as such (er) climactic things happen. Heart strings tugged and hearts torn from the body. You know how we operate.

This has been fun.

You can see a preview here and buy it from shops, both terrestrial and online.

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The deadline for the Project Artcred was on Monday. We put them online yesterday. Things move quickly.

The idea was that I’d write a one page script, and then artists would draw it, to show how my interpretation alters the finished piece. I believe we had over 200 people ask for the script and 40 actual works came back, which is actually pretty incredible.

The full thread is here but here’s my script, and the first couple.

Really, go and look at the other thirty eight.

Honestly, this was a fascinating thing to be involved with, and honoured to ask. I hope it’s something Project Art Cred do again, because fun things with a point are a rare thing in comics.

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Just before I started doing this, Stephanie lobbed a DIE WIP online.

Coo.

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I was talking to a friend recently and talked about work method, and we circled back to this bit of the newsletter – in how it very much is demystifying writing in an aggressive way. This is showing the working, while making it clear it is work. Things are arranged. Things are written. Things are sent off to other people. Things!

So, in the last two weeks things were arranged, things were written and things were sent off to other people.

I’m aware that time is pinching a little. I had a significant meeting with PROJECT BRIGHTER SHADE OF BLUE, where I presented my Big Idea Nonsense, and went worryingly well. Thankfully that’s the last bit of big plotting required for a while, leaving just the work. That’s where time is pinching. I just lobbed an early version of the first script of PROJECT COWBOY over, as I wanted to show it to editors while it was formed but still a little molten around the edges. Once & Future 8 will be polished before I get on the plane to Philadelphia. Then DIE 12 will be finished off before Stephanie finishes 11 at the end of the month… while I’m also working on a big week for PROJECT BUKOWSKI.

It’s doable, but it’s Must Have A Clear Head And Eyes On the Target period. Which is fine, as long as you know there’s a target and you have a single bullet.

“Don’t Fuck Up” to quote the tattoos Jamie and I often talked about getting.

(I also started running an actual DIE campaign, which is basically me knowing the best way to do something like that is to start doing it and then try and build the tracks ahead of the players. I’ve already learned a lot from the process. The problem conceptually with the DIE campaign is that while the short-form game is translating the first arc of DIE the campaign can’t just do that to the whole game – the splitting the party is a possibility rather than a necessity. As such I’m actually mining other material instead, which seems to be working. Or rather, we’ll see next week. It has at least one good idea, and one passable one.)

Right – that’ll do. One more listen to You’ve Had Me Everywhere and time to headout.

Speak soon.

Kieron Gillen
London
22.1.2020

141: “Some”

Hullo.

Someone asked me if I could do regular tracks of the week in the newsletter, but thanks to Tom Ewing I’ve been mainly listening to Enola Gay by Orchestral Manouveres in the Dark, so best I don’t say anything anymore.

Better is a direction
Master
Futureryier
Truth
Byyyyeeee!!!

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First release of the new year is the collection of this, which I’m going to take as a good omen. I’m in the business for good omens right now.

Anyway – after some delays, the hardcover for PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT drops.

Caspar, Hassan, Mary and me basically did a thing. I talked about it a bunch last week, with the thrown off aside that it’s to superheroes what Phonogram does to music and DIE does to RPGs. The more I sit on it, the more I agree with it.

Adventures in Poor taste have supported the book enormously, and did a review of the trade, which gives you a portrait of the series if you haven’t read anything about it. And if you need more, the whole first issue can be read here.

And Caspar has done this delightful animation, which says everything, I suspect.

Anyway, if you like hardcovers, go gets, if you want to buy Peter: Cannon Thunderbolt. Don’t do it if you don’t.

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I’ve mentioned that I’m doing a Masterclass in Comics Writing with the Guardian. I also mentioned that it switched venues to Amnesty International. What I didn’t realise is that venue has twice as many seats, which means that there’s still some tickets. Yay!

Available here.

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There’s an early unlettered preview of ONCE & FUTURE 6 online. Here’s the first page, where I get Bath Abbey in AGAIN. The second script I ever wrote was about a statue standing on the walls of Bath Abbey, which I last heard was still being drawn by the artist. That was around 2008. Any day now.

Review of preview here, comic out January 22nd.

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Now I mentioned the lovely AIPT review earlier, but Hassan and I were charmed by the solitary down point listed in its round up.

“Some”

It’s both true of the book, and my entire career.

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First real week back at work, which means that a regular structure is emerging, and all the work I did plotting last year actually seems to be paying off, in that I now have about 11 or so issues I can just sit down and write. I did a draft on Once & Future 8, and now am working on DIE 12. I’m likely going to change direction tomorrow and start on PROJECT COWBOY, which should actually be cleared for actual script today.

(Which will increase the issues to write whenever I want to 17)

I wouldn’t normally want to leave a script half done, but structurally speaking DIE’s third arc actually is falling into that pattern. Rather than showing each side of the party’s journey separately, I’m juxtaposing them, which really means each is its own thread and can be considered by itself. In other words, when I finish one thread, I can step away without it feeling like I’m leaving something hanging.

Bar that, I’m doing structural work for PROJECT BRIGHTER SHADE OF BLUE, which will should be wrapped up by around midway next week. Plus the usual project plate spinning – the second I finish this I’ll be skiping over to do a lettering draft of Ludocrats 3, and writing to the alt-cover artist for issue 14 of DIE.

This is real nuts and bolts stuff? It’s been a nuts and bolts kind of week. To do list, being done.

The scariest work thing is I pulled the pin on starting an actual DIE RPG campaign, which gives me a weekly deadline to generate what I need to actually make the thing work. While there’s a lot to do before I can give it to someone else to run, I’ve realised that the core driving principle is what I have to dig down into, and that’s best done by running the thing, and writing down the lessons of the experience – which is basically “the Beta was about mimicking the first arc’s structure. The campaign needs to be about mimicking a DIE ongoing series’ structure.” I think I know how to do that now. Fingers crossed.

That’s the scariest work thing. The scariest non-work thing is the world. As a momentary distraction, I was just reminded of the existence of Chris Morris’ Pixies parody, Motherbanger, so will link to it, via a link. I’m glad this exists, and I’m glad you do too.

Speak soon.

Kieron Gillen
London
8.1.2020

140: Jaded regular readers

Hullo.

I meant to do this yesterday, but I decided to start my 2020 schedule with a full day of wrestling with a difficult hangover.

Arcana
Art
Once
Byyyyeeee!!!

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Just before Christmas we released the new version of the DIE RPG. It’s the updated version of the main manual (including a bunch of tweaks, typo fixing and some new rules) and the character sheets (including a new design, moretypo fixing and some new stuff.)

Most of all it’s the DIE Arcana (as seen above) which is a secondary manual of extra material. Some of it is aimed to help new players run their own games (with six walk-throughs of how six different GMs have ran their own games of DIE). Some of it is for GMs who want to run the game with completely different set-ups other than the one in the core DIE manual. There’s also a whole new extended magic system and three pre-generated scenarios for you to run. Plus some more essays on narrative structure and RPGs and all that jazz. Stuff for everyone who cares about DIE, basically, whether you play RPGs or not.

In short: a bunch of new stuff, for free. You can download it all here.

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Artists! Wanna do a thing in your spare time? We have a thing to do in your spare time.

Stephen Byrne and Declan Shavley dropped me a line a while back with an idea. We all talk in the abstract about how an artist’s choices change the nature of a comic script, but we sometimes suspect that’s something people only grasp broadly rather than specifically. The idea was that I should just write a single page story and then we’ll get various artists to treat it in their style, so show how hugely different the experience was.

We just decided it could be even more effective with more artists.

If you’re an artist and wants to start the new year with one page and think this sounds like a fun way to spend your line, drop me an e-mail to the wicdiv address and I’ll send you the script.

The deadline for finished art is 20th of January.

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Dan Mora drew the cover art for the Boom Xmas card and it is totally delightful.

I did a chunky interview about all things Once & Future over at Newsarama too. Lots of stuff about its future, bits of research and what it’s like to work with Dan.

Oh – we also had the Boom solicits for March, which included the first ONCE & FUTURE trade plus the start of the second arc. Here’s the solicitation…

ONCE & FUTURE #7
JAN201324
(W) Kieron Gillen (A/CA) Dan Mora
Although Bridgette and Duncan were able to escape the Otherworld, their adventure is only just beginning! As the chaos of Arthur’s return reaches London, an artifact at the British Museum is stolen. But is it Arthur who’s interested in the relic… or someone, or something, new?

Which is all very mysterious, right?

Finally, here’s Comicon’s annotations for Once & Future 5, which is going deeper into Galahad.

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Regular readers may expect my tracks of the year in this mail. Well, not all regular readers. Hopeful regular readers. Those more jaded regular readers know that you’ve basically got a 50:50 chance of it happening in the first week of a year, and this year it hasn’t. I’ve just had my attention elsewhere – I haven’t even managed to compile the shortlist from my various playlists. I’m looking forward to it. It’s always a focus on the year, a little perspective. What was I listening to? Why? What does that say about where I was? It ties the bow.

2019 on a critical and commercial level felt like a year with a bow on it. Personally, it often felt like a year with a noose on it, for me and my extended family. I could list three events which happened to the extended Gillens which would be enough to notably bad year. All three happened on the same day.

So the contrast between the critical and commercial success of almost everything I’ve written and the context it’s been experienced in has been difficult. That tends to be a theme in my creative work. My worst years personally are often breakthrough years in the work. 2006-2007. 2013-2014. 2019. The strain between the two is difficult, to say the least. I’d add that I would be wary about anyone out there thinking pain = art thoughts. Most of the work was in progress well before those periods (Phonogram, DIE) and some of the work born in those periods suffered because my head was on fire (Young Avengers, The Wicked + the Divine).

(Comixology’s sale is still on if you want to grab some of these, btw. The under-the-radar book that’s on sale was  Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt mini that Caspar, Hassan, Mary and I did. It did as well as anything else critically, but this will be the deep cut one. There is an irony that as a book that is about Watchmen, it’s very much my Flex Mentallo. It’s out in hardback soon, but at the moment, this is the only way to get it. Our five issues are entirely stand alone and I think it’s the best Superhero Comic I ever wrote. As DIE is to RPGs, Phonogram was to Pop Music, this is to comics.)

Still – even putting aside how the work was received in 2019, I was still in the rare position of being pleased with what I was doing. Like most creators, I normally look at the work in regret. 2019 doesn’t have that as much. 2019 may be the first year I felt like I was being the writer I was trying to be – at least, the first since 2000, and 2000-era me knew nothing. Of course, having done 2019, I already am on the move to try and find something else.

There’s still the rush of shame of talking about this stuff candidly. I think I sound like a shit, even if it’s objectively true I’ve been on a hot streak this year. When my friends have noted it’s been a great year for me, I’ve noted that it’s just a perfect storm. This year I got to finish big long projects (people like seeing plans end) and bring the new hotness (comics desperately loves new things for about 12 issues) especially from people who haven’t dropped their science in a while (I had done new major work since the start of WicDiv and Darth Vader).  Next year, by definition, won’t be as critically hot – DIE and Once & Future will be moving into “familiar” by the end of the year, and while I’m excited about the new work I’m dropping this year, it won’t have the pure rush of surprise due to this year.

Of course, this is also me being classically British and seeing all success in the context of ultimate failure and death. I don’t know. This is clearly all trying to both reduce the ego of all I wrote above, and emotionally protect myself when next year isn’t this year. Writers lie to you. Writers lie to themselves.

I spent Christmas with the family, which was lovely. As is traditional, I cleared my desk of work (Once & Future 7, Ludocrats 4, Project Bukowski) and spent time on a big new project. It’s PROJECT COWBOY and (as is equally traditional) I sent it off just after midnight. The second it’s signed off on, I’ll dive into it.

I sent the mail at Ram V’s party, watching fireworks explode over London. Shortly later (or possibly before – alcohol had rearranged time) I tried to explain how much I loved the entrance of Zhukov in Death of Stalin, by miming it. Caspar Wijngaard proceeded to film me doing it, and doing on the spot editing to nail the effect.

Here it is.

Happy New Year.

Kieron Gillen
London
2.1.2020

139: I’ve been the Queen’s Spaceship.

Hullo.

This week I learned that due to an understandable fear and loathing of songs in books, Jamie skips anything he sees written in italics. Jamie is a poopyhead. That’s interesting information to know.

Once Again
The Die is Recast
Plugs
Links
Byyyyeeee!!!

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Unless I’m forgetting something, this is the last issue I wrote this year that’s coming out, and a pretty good way to end it. Part of me would have loved if it was 6, so ending the first arc, but it can’t be that neat. There’s a bunch of stuff in here. Grail Castles! Big reveals! Slightly Too Much Exposition in The Opening! This one has it all.

Dan and Tamra are making one of the best looking action comics on the shelves, and this issue Ed Dukeshire has to deal with some of the classic Kieron Has Something Weird He Wants To Try nonsense.

Preview here and you can get it digitally or from your local comic shop.

Dan also has his Klaus Christmas issue out, so go grab that too. Him and Morrison doing Santa Klaus as Mystical Barbarian is a genuine joy.

Go comics!

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It’s in issue 10, so spoilers of DIE follow. Skip to the next section if you don’t want it.

We’re sending DIE: SPLIT THE PARTY off to the press this week, to print in time for its release in February. We always inevitably fix a few typos and other things. There’s one thing we’re tweaking we thought worth putting in the newsletter, as it’s a significant tweak and I wouldn’t want people who’d read the single issue to not see it.

In the one in issue 10, we mistakenly had Mistress Woe drawn instead of the Mourner, and the line was "But I knew what I owed her” rather than “But I knew what I owed Izzy.” There’s readings which are open with the former which are closed with the latter.

Thanks for your patience. Comics!

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Let’s plug some fine stuff I’ve enjoyed recently…

I’ve always loved Ray Fawkes solo work, and IN THE FLOOD is Comixology Original collaboration with Lee Lougbridge and Thomas Mauer was great. Ray’s always moving in space between the Lynch skewed vision, the brutal formalism and the sheer horror. This takes from all three traditions, and is one of the most accessible version of his vision. I gave a pull quote, which is “As compelling and disturbing as watching the water level inch up your body. There's nothing you can do to resist." Which certainly sounds like the sort of thing I say, right? You can go buy it all here.

I also read Charles Soule’s second novel ANYONE, which prompted me to tweet “A near-Future Cartesian Count of Monte Christo vengeance thriller which determinedly explores how mass mind-swap technology would be abused, I dug it a lot. Big ideas, big velocity, big fun.” which also sounds like the sort of thing I’d say. I sure do like saying. Buy here.

Christmas is a time for games. These are both great, and forgive my crappy photoshopping to try and make the two be in the same image.

FOR THE QUEEN is my favourite story-game of the year, and it’s so good that I almost didn’t say “Story-game” both because it’s that good and that I didn’t want to turn anyone off. It’s the sort of hyper-accessible and directed thing which could entirely find an audience outside of the classic indie-RPG circles – it looks and feels like something that could transfer to a more standard boardgame-y group. I’ve played it 7 times since James D'amato tossed me a copy at Thought Bubble, with groups varying in size of 2 to 6. I’ve played it with experienced roleplayers. I’ve played it with people who’ve never roleplayed at all before, even one on one. At its worst, it’s been really fun. At its best, it had four of us standing up and punching the air and high fiving at the tale of (er) the how awful the fucking Queen is.

With a minimum of core establishing facts, the game takes the format of each of you taking turns to answer questions about the Queen, and so defining the world and the situation you’re all in. Other players may throw in more questions. You all build, with knowing what the last card is at the start to guide you. It shows exactly how much you can do with the right guiding question. I’ve been the Queen’s courtier. I’ve been the Queen’s Warlock. I’ve been the Queen’s Spaceship. I’ve been surprised, delighted and horrified each time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s from Evil Hat, so easy to get in the US but you’ll need to speak to your retailer in the UK. Leisure Games are sold out but Games Quest have it.

If you want something more EVERYONE PILE ON! IT’S CHRISTMAS! You really need to grab a copy of any of the MONIKERS games. It’s what I’ve heard called The Hat Game, but made a little cleaner. You play in three rounds – the first is taboo (where you have to get your team to guess the name on the card without saying the name). The second is where you only get to say a single word to get people to guess. The third is charades. The magic sauce is the group uses the same 40 or so cards for the whole game, meaning you generate a shared social language primarily of in jokes. You can get it easily in the states for $20 for any of the boxes, but they’re oddly hard to find in the UK. You have someone trying to sell it for 70 quid on amazon, which is a Sling Your Hook, Mate. The US lists do ship to the UK though. All the expansions are standalone – I’ve been playing the one above, which was entirely written by the chaps at Shut Up & Sit Down.

As the only game where I received applause from my peers for mime of “Sharknado”, it clearly has my approval.

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Here’s some recent asks I answered. More on the tumblr, and do ask if anything is on your mind.

Q: Do you think your skills as a writer have benefitted you as a GM/DM?

A: Yup.

There was basically a 10 year gap where I didn’t run games for anyone - and in that period I basically basically did my whole journey into doing comics. The campaign I ran afterwards was instantly  better in some core and immediately striking ways. I was kinda shocked.

Some of it is just knowing what a satisfying narrative unit is - I’d end a session 20 minutes early if it was a better place to leave it hanging rather than play until the last second. Some of it is being better with theme on the fly. My NPC were always something people liked, but more so  - especially that I tended to structure scenarios based around antagonists with desires rather than planning in detail. I was more comfortable with living worlds. I just had a better understanding of structure and character, which I could then play with.

In some ways it was just more practise - I was always a particularly descriptive GM, but you play with me, and you get all manner of ludicrous description. One of my regular players notes that at least once a session you’ll get a bit of really uncanny imagery when I’m clearly going for it.

I have huge weaknesses as a GM, but I’ve always been good at flash. I suspect that only got more pronounced.

Yes, this question did lead to the “Has being a writer hurt your as a GM?” which I’ve yet to answer properly, but the short answer is “yes”.

Q: Now that OaF is an ongoing (yay, btw), and if it's not too much of a spoiler, did you have a set length in mind, or are you keeping it loose depending on how many adventures you feel like writing? The characters and set-up feel perfect for a connected series of "here we go again" shenanigans that could go on for as long as you want, or just as equally a very particular set of character arcs. Either way, loving the book!

A: Your opinions are Sympatico with mine.

Basically, I’ve got an arc I want to tell, and then we’ll see where we are at the end of it. Duncan and Bridgette are very much that kind of iconic-character who can be plugged into adventures, as you say.

Q: What’s up with the delays for the Thunderbolt HC? It was first scheduled for September, then November, and now late December. Any chance the delays are to allow for additional content?

A: As far as I know, nope. I presume it’s a printing issue or similar. Looking forward to seeing them.

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The week was a hard one personally. That I was DJing at Marioke on Friday after the election wasn’t something I would have chosen to do. In the end, going into a room full of people howling socialist game pop remixes of pop culture before dropping a song was genuinely healing. I ended playing Shipbuilding, which also felt right.

I’ll likely write something more eventually. I distrust shooting from the hip right now. I need to think.

Work in the lead up to Christmas is normally about clearing the decks. ONCE & FUTURE 7 is finished. Jim’s passed me the raw text for LUDOCRATS 4 which I’ll beat into shape before Friday – in fact, I’ll move onto it after I finish this. There’s been meetings and writing for all my associated PROJECTS. MILLIONAIRE SWEEPER and PRIVATE BUKOWSKI have had some writing – I’ll be doing some on Bukowski later tonight. COWBOY has an artist attached, and I got notes on BRIGHTER SHADE OF BLUE. Ideally I’ll have a full outline on COWBOY done before Xmas – at least, that’s the aim.

The thing of getting stuff off the plate is that (as all the editors and similar are away) it leaves the space between the new year as a liminal space. I’m almost always writing something in the gap, but it’s deliberately something extra, something I want to give the space to play with. WicDiv 1, WicDiv 18, Ludocrats 1 and DIE 1 have filled the space. I don’t think it’ll be a script this year – I mean, if I fall in love with writing the outline of COWBOY, it could be that, as I suspect it could segue into a script easily.

Or it may just be putting some firm ideas for DIE RPG’s next step down. The Arcana is all together and C is just doing the tweaks on the main books and character sheets. So with that removed from the decks, I’ve got that.

Or maybe I’ll just play with prose.

Or sleep.

Either way, this will be the last newsletter in 2019. Next time we’ll speak, it’ll be 2020, and I’ll be making lots of Cyberpunk RPG jokes.

Love to the lot of you. The year has been hell, but you’ve been good people to be in hell with.

Kieron Gillen
London
18.12.2019

138: It's not the despair, it's the hope.

Hullo.

No books out this week, but some things to say. Swiftly, as I have to meet someone in – oooh – half an hour.

United
Links
Byyyyeeee!!!

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I was out with an activist journalist friend of mine last night. She’s been out canvassing for Labour over the UK. She’s actually optimistic. I’m less so, but that’s me. As Clockwise once put it, It’s not the despair, it’s the hope.

To speak broadly, this is an election with a lot riding on it. I’d say more than has been painfully obvious.

I have spent a lot of the decade thinking about the nature of democracy and the Internet age, and what is possible and what makes things impossible. To speak broadly, there are so many bad actors, concentrated power and concentrated power in bad actors that I’m unsure how it can continue as an exercise as it is. Democracy works on the idea that you can educate a population and provide them with sufficient information to make an educated decision. I think it’s clear this is being undermined.

This is where the cynical truisms will come back to haunt us. Dismissing all politicians as liars means that those who seem actively allergic to truth are free to act freely, viewed as no different to anyone else.

The Tory party has collapsed into an absolute moral black hole, at every level. One of the worst thing about watching old documentaries about the 80s was being struck by how the politicians I despised at least believed in something. The Tory party at the moment doesn’t. I believe the people funding it believe in things (mostly profit) but I don’t believe the politicians do.

I don’t believe Johnson believes in anything other than he should be Prime Minister. I believe the only actions he will take will be to maintain that position. That’s all he’s done.

That he’s a liar seems a small thing, and to list the compounded deceit would turn this small newsletter into a huge one. I cannot believe some of the things which have been just accepted. The Conservative Party are the party of the status quo, and he’s been found in court to have deceived the fucking queen. He does that to the queen, what the fuck do you think he’s going to do with five more years?

I’m unsure he will get Brexit done. He will certainly get you done.

To return to the thesis: the election is important as I’m unsure that any future government will be able to change how democracy works? When all the present conservative tactics are to abuse this system, why would they do any of the necessary work? Johnson will only be in power because of the current system.

There’s other reasons to run away from them and do anything to stop them having another years to erode this country’s existence. If you want, you could question whether 130,000 people dead from austerity if you want, but whatever figure you end up on, it is still a figure. Do not vote for more corpses. Do not vote for tax-paying people who’ve lived here for years being made afraid of treating a country like their home. Do not vote for a country that is visibly more cruel on every street corner.

Of course, purely negative campaigning is not great. I am aware I am likely preaching to the choir. It’s not enough to simply hate the Tories… but it’s not a bad start, right?

What to do: you know my politics. I would vote tactically – especially in Scotland, but look at where you are and make choices in the area. I would look at the Labour Manifesto, and think about how transformative this could be. If you don’t agree, question why you think it’s unrealistic. It’s more realistic that what Johnson has promised, and you can google how each has been costed. Why do you think it’s unrealistic? Because we have been sung this this song so long that we believe it, and think hope is impossible.

That’s the thing. They don’t want to hope. They’re afraid for you to hope. And it’s understandable – we hope, they lose.

I write this in hope and I hope the next time I write to you, it’s in a better country

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Been writing comics and things which are not comics. More next week, when Once & Future 6 will appearing in fine comic shops.

Kieron Gillen
London
11.12.2019

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