New Old English
The second Once & future trade is out today, from comic shops. A scan online reveals that book shops will lag behind a bit, but if you hit up your fine comic retailer, it’ll be there and waiting.
This is where Once & Future relaxes into itself. The first arc expanded from a mini to the ongoing, but this is where it’s being written as an ongoing, and I think the team pulls that canter the form likes. This just cascades, and it’s where I spend a lot of time creating places for Dan and Tamra to go to town in. This is some of my favourite action-set-pieces I’ve ever written in, and is very much the book I wanted it to be - this pop thrill, in the new-pop mode, keeping a splash of theory while still getting you on the dancefloor.
This metaphor is totally inappropriate for this book.
And lo! The second issue of Marneus Calgar. This is the one which is most weighted towards the past sequence, establishing a bunch of fun stuff, and has a lot of clearing up in the present day, both literally and figuratively. The response to the first issue was excellent, and I think it only amps up ever more.
There’s the preview here, and let’s drop a quick page here…
DIE 15 is out next week, which means we’re in the stage of the arc where posting a preview of the cover is basically spoilers from the off. You can look at the 2 pages here. Instead, I show the lovely alt cover by the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz above. Let’s all coo at it until next week, and then you can coo at it in the flesh.
My reading this week was primarily research based, so abstractly a spoiler, so I can’t mention it. However, I did manage to read a couple of lovely comic hardback’s.
Marguerite Bennett and Leila Leiz’s Horde is the first of Aftershock’s French-format OGNs I’ve managed to look at, and it’s a lovely volume. As a story, it’s deep in the family-as-Iron-Maiden theme, essentially taking Labyrinth as a horror story, but resting it upon the mother’s obsessions rather than the daughter’s. Imagine Labyrinth’s Junk Lady building a haunted house...
(It’s also ended up on the DIE RPG’s reading list, as it’s an excellent example of how to externalise internal trauma as fantasy structure, which is about 75% of the core game.)
November’s third volume is Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier continuation of their apocalyptic-tinged noir. Elsa remains a revelation, with the Cooke-esque soft and hard in every panel, that glamour and grim, and I always tune in to watch what Matt’s up to. I always will. We seemed to start from not dissimilar places in our careers stylistically, we’ve divulged hugely – I’m aware that he is, in a real way, the grown up in the room, as far as the medium goes. How he works the 12 panel here is a joy, just pure comics. I think it’s the best of the volumes so far, with the multi-threaded story all pulling together from its atomic elements in the symphonic way you’d hope for.
I mentioned I was the guest judge in the Golden Cobras this year, which is an open LARP competition. The results are here, including all the games to download. Worth noting that LARP is a much broader term than you may be familiar with here. There’s games of every sort here, with a strong showing of epistolary games, online games, and so on. Here’s what I wrote about my winner…
The Kieron Gillen Special Judge's Choice Award
Drawing Out The Demon by Liz Stong
I occasionally think comedy is a strange Faustian pact. Comedy just has a winning personality. We like people who make us laugh. You get a long way on that. Conversely, Comedy is something which seems to make you much less likely to do things like (relevantly) win awards. Comedy gets you so far, then stops, the applause and smiles your only reward. Part of me almost submitted to that instinct, thinking “are you really going to pick the one which just delighted you most as the winner, Gillen? You’re going to get laughed out of serious Nordic LARP circles if you ever show you face there. Well, “laughed out” is probably the wrong phrase to use, but—”
However, then I thought that the business of delight and joy is precious, in all years, and this year especially. And, above all, always remember, that funny does not mean joking.
Which is my long way to say “I love this”.
You play 12th century French artists, all tasked by your patron to draw an animal. Sadly, despite your talent in other areas, you absolutely cannot draw this one specific animal. Problem. You all try to draw it, occasionally writing to your peers to share your progress, asking for advice, and filling them in on the 12 th century France chat. Your peers write back with feedback. Eventually, the final work is completed… and then we skip to modern day, and all the players become art historians, presenting a short academic thesis on the work of this unknown 12 th century artist in a streaming symposium. And then all the essays and art are collected in a little book.
I am delighted.
It’s a clear smart satire of art, creativity, academia and everything. I love how the playfulness of the concept is mirrored with the formal playfulness of skipping between digital, epistolary, streaming and publishing. It’s charmingly written, and skilfully evokes the mode it hopes to be played in. It understands the difficulty for players to create art for others to see, and makes it accessible by insisting everyone – no matter how talented – must make bad art, and then makes it funnier by everyone taking your doodles of a cat with odd eyes intensely seriously.
Most of all, it’s my winner because it’s the one which I immediately wanted to play, would enrich my friends life, and bring us together, no matter how apart we were. It’s the one which I will forward to my friends and go 12 th CENTURY ARTISTS! NOW! LET’S GO! excitedly.
I also cannot draw, and feel very seen and cared for. Thanks, Liz.
I also wrote a few capsules for a few other games that particularly caught my eye…
Playing the same scientist in a parallel worlds who have two hours to communicate with one another, to ask questions about how their lives differed from one another would be sufficient for a fascinating game about lives as lived. That the only way that the questions can be answered is by selecting a song and playing it turns it into something else. How art communicates, how art defines us, what it can say, and whether or not playing It’s Raining Men is metaphorical or actually trying to talk about the awful day the skies opened and men plummeted from the sky. In a real way, I’m someone whose natural state is to try and communicate solely via careful selection of 1990s indie-pop girl-band B-sides, so this is very much my Jam.
A masterclass in character design pushing play. In one corner – the crew of a Star Trek-esque space ship, trying to make a lost ship come home. In one corner – the ship’s AI which has no interest in talking in anything other than the world’s greatest sumo wrestler, Hakuho Sho. Can they find a way to communicate? It’s obviously funny, and obviously born of clear love for its topic but also presents a problem I’d love to see a group try to solve. The image of Picard desperately googling facts about Sumo to try and make a space-ship activate its engines is worth it alone.
One of my favourite novellas of last year was This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and this is the google-doc powered epistolary sister-game. Players travel through time. One player writes an ode to that time. The other writes a little response. The googledoc generates whole new timelines prompts. Time is written over when cells are written over. The sort of collision between poetry and math which I can only imagine Ada Lovelace applauding saying “Yes! Yes! More of this kind of thing!”
I actually managed to play To Boldly Hakuho with my regular group, and it was lots of fun. I played the AI, and communicated primarily in memes I’d generated using the various online generators. It’s a fascinating period of creativity we live in, right? We have all these tools and can just use them.
In short: phew.
Just keeping on going last week was enough. I had personal stuff as well as world stuff, which all comes together. It’s a week where I have to keep to the mantra of “be gentle to yourself” when things aren’t as quick as you’d hope. Getting anything done is better than getting nothing done. And, by the end of the week, I’d managed to get a tight synopsis for the next two issues of DIE done, and all the pieces for the next three. They may not all be entirely in order yet – 18 and 19 are the fluid ones – but it exists.
Which means that I started DIE 16 this week, and am on track to get it over to Stephanie on Monday. I have no idea how good it is, but it is certainly existing. I’ll talk more next week, when DIE 15 is out.