Friday, 9 October 2009

The Wrong Side of Bedlam

Nabokov describes the writing process as the interplay of inspiration and combination. I have never found that to be truer than in creating this scene that introduces the character known as Talisin, or as Gus, or as – ah, but that we should save for another time.

The idea of Gus first appearing in a mental asylum went right back to my pre-Halloween stay at
Bromfield Priory Gatehouse with Leo, Martin and Roz in 2003. Out for a drive, we had passed a poor, lost, shambling old nutter standing beside the road and I remarked that somebody who imagined he was Hannibal or Merlin at the start of the Year of Wonders might very soon turn out to be exactly that.

Five years later, I was sitting on the lawn of my mother’s house in Surrey on a very summery spring day, possibly with a cold beer in hand but just as likely with a cup of tea. Leaning back in my chair with the sunlight in the branches, I was building the set of Gus’s asylum cell in my mind while the reality around me was of a warm day with bees grazing drowsily and the scent of blossom in the air. And so the scene became the simple reversal of that: Gus in his cold stone cell was the reality, and the idyllic countryside became what his imagination had painted over it.

As the whole point and theme of Mirabilis is that reality and the imagination are part of one continuous spectrum – that reality happens inside the human mind, if you want to be scientific about it – there seemed to be no better way to mark the appearance of Jack’s unreliable mentor, and the start of Jack’s acceptance of “the world turned upside down”. As a writer, I’m always immensely grateful when the Muse does all the work and just drops the scene in my lap like that.

Inspiration over, the combination part just meant swiping a few perfect lines from Shelley (if you have to steal, steal from the best) and some jolly research into archaic slang. I still can’t look at the Home page on the
Mirabilis site without laughing out loud at Gus’s gleeful face where Leo has him shouting, “You drosty fat ear-boil!” Small things, you see.

This page was the one we picked for
Nikos to try out as colourist. As soon as we saw how brilliantly he handled the contrast between the vernal landscape and the grim stone cell, we knew we had found our man.

The scene, incidentally, is the opening of Chapter Two in the
Winter book and was the start of episode six when Mirabilis was being serialized in the DFC. You can read it on the website here or on fReado here. I had planned to mark the beginning of outright fantasy by having the masthead run sideways down the page, as you can see in my original sketch. It had been decided as a point of editorial style, however, that mastheads would always run across the top of each strip – or, if not across the top, at least consistently in the same position. So when this episode actually appeared (in DFC #34) the masthead was in its regular position. (Not to get trainspotterish or anything, but if you can’t stick trivia like that in a blog then what is it for?)


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  2. This is one of my favourite pages. Gus is a fascinating character and I love that we are allowed to see inside his imagination.

    I can't decide if the real tragedy is that he is physically trapped in an asylum cell, or that he was dragged out of a lovely place.

  3. (Meaning, I enjoy spending time in that hypnogogic state where imagination and reality blur together and am as furious as he is when reality intrudes! :)

  4. I planned a whole episode where we would get to see Gus's origin story: how he became the bard Talisin, inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest (little bit of an hommage to Hob Gadlin in The Sandman, there) and finally ended up in Bedlam. After 2000 years living in his inner fantasy world it's a struggle for him to surface into reality, which is how I feel after a day spent immersed in a story - it gets hard to have a normal conversation about the weather!

  5. I would love a peek into his past - I hope it finds its way into a future episode. And I totally understand about getting lost within the creative mind. When in art college, after a two-hour life drawing session I could barely form sentences!