Friday, 29 January 2010

New episode: "The Sleep of Reason"

This week: Estelle can’t run away from home fast enough. Meanwhile, the Kind Gentleman gets some face time with Jack at last. See why they call him the King of Nasty in “The Sleep of Reason” right here and then check out all the episodes here.

Incidentally, owing to a snag with our flipbook reader, the last page of the story went up this morning without word balloons. It's fixed now, but the interesting thing is that it worked pretty well on the strength of the pictures alone. Alfred Hitchcock used to say that the mark of a well-made movie was that you could follow the story with the sound off. I guess it's true of comics also. Compare the talky version on the site with the pristine page below - which do you prefer? (Bearing in mind that your opinion could put me out of a job!)

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Comics on the iPad

Comics by comiXology concept from comiXology on Vimeo.
On the opening day of the Angoul√™me comics festival comes more news about Apple’s eagerly-awaited iPad and how it can be used for reading comics.

I was already a convert on the strength of just the iPhone. Paper comics are nice to collect, sure. I can hardly move around my study without tripping over piles of Hellblazer and B.P.R.D. back issues, never mind all the graphic novels (they live in another room). But from a commercial point of view print comics are on a hiding to nothing. High print costs and changes in distribution have taken comics off the newsstands and into specialized hobby outlets. New readers aren’t finding comics now, and meanwhile the shrinking hardcore who are reading them have driven the content more and more niche.

Graphic novels in print make even less sense, especially in the tiny UK market. Even if you include the USA, the average sales for an English-language graphic novel in print form are around 25,000 units a year. On a £10 retail price, the publisher is lucky to take £1.50 a copy after print and distribution costs – and out of that they have to pay editorial, advertising and the creators’ royalties. You could make more money by hollowing out the book and selling it with a frozen pizza inside.

Now flashforward to a world of iPad comics. You can now reach a much broader, and therefore potentially much bigger, market, as Eric Stephenson of Image Comics points out:
"There's tremendous potential for the iPad to make comics available to a much wider audience than we're currently reaching. Paper comics will no doubt around for a long time to come, but I think this is an important step in making comics more accessible than they've ever been."
A broader market means more accessible content, which will translate much better into movies and videogames and TV shows – which is, after all, the commercial goal of a lot of this stuff in a medium-agnostic world.

But forget the bigger, broader market for a moment. Just assume you’re a publisher and you get the exact same sales figures on iPad as you were getting with a print book. Now you’re selling for about $9, that’s £5.50. After Apple’s cut you’re taking £3.85 per unit sold – more than twice what you were getting with print books. And advertising and editorial overheads are still there, but you don’t have to worry about shipping crates of books to stores all over the western hemisphere.

Overall, once everybody else is paid, your profit as a publisher is going to be three to four times what you make by selling a physical book.

So what? We care about the content here, right, not the business model? Well, to that I’d say that the days when an author could live in an ivory tower are long gone. Nowadays you need to understand how the publisher is making money from your work, partly so that you can negotiate a fair deal and partly because you might be doing it all yourself before long.

But, okay, leave the commercial stuff to one side. As a reader, why should I be excited about comics on the iPad?

First of all: they look better. Leo and I printed up some copies of Mirabilis Book One on Lulu because we wanted to actually get our hands on the thing and show it to friends. And Lulu’s print quality is pretty good – better than you’d see in 90% of the graphic novels on sale in your local bookstore, if indeed you can find where they keep the graphic novels in your local bookstore. But you know what? Gorgeous as Leo's and Nikos's artwork is, it looks even better on screen.

I’ve been a comic book fan for forty years and yet I would prefer to read a graphic novel on an iPad. But you don’t have to choose sides on this. Based on trade paperback sales compared to monthly comic books, if 100,000 people buy an iPad comic, as many as 15,000 of them will also want to buy the printed book later.

Okay, sorry, I’m back onto the financials there. And you don’t have to plan your comic as a profitable enterprise. The good news is, even if you are only doing it for love, putting it out on the iPad still makes more sense.

On top of that, electronic publishing makes it a lot easier to give customers a free sample before they buy. With so much content around to choose from, who these days is going to walk into a bookstore and hand over $15 for a graphic novel they know nothing about? Affluent, dyed-in-the-wool, older readers – and not all that many of them. We’re acutely aware of this with Mirabilis, which is likely to cost around $25 at retail and that’s just the first book. You get a lot for your money, but still – it’s got to be preferable to read the first couple of chapters for free, and then make up your mind.

And on that note, there’ll be a new episode on the Mirabilis site tomorrow. If you have an iPad, why not take a look at it on that.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The best gamebook ever? Discover for yourself – it’s free!

UPDATE: Oct 14 2012 - I've taken down the free Heart of Ice file because the book is due to be re-released in spring 2013 by Osprey Books, along with half a dozen other gamebooks by me and Jamie Thomson - with more to come after that, we hope. Read all about it on the Fabled Lands blog.
In the twenty-third century the world is dying. Only a few million humans are left clinging to existence as the weather worsens and ice tightens its inexorable grip on the planet.
The cause of this slow death is Gaia, the AI satellite system designed to regulate Earth's climate. But Gaia has gone mad, and instead of a paradise she has made of the world a frozen hell.
Mankind's last glimmer of hope is the Heart, a crystalline meteorite thought to have been forged in the Big Bang. It has the ability to shape a universe, the one who touches it becoming mankind's savior and wielding the power of a god - or a devil.
The power to make yourself lord of a new creation is a tempting prize. The greatest heroes of the age covet the Heart for themselves, and the race is on.
The quest for ultimate power will take you across a dying world, contending with monsters, mutants and desperate men, to the haunted city of Du-En in the midst of the Saharan ice wastes.
You will need all your resourcefulness to choose the right allies, outwit your rivals, and be first to reach the Heart.
Now don't say I don't spoil you, because we've got a free gift and it's a big ‘un. Right HERE you can download an interactive PDF of my sci-fi adventure gamebook Heart of Ice, complete with exquisite illustrations by fantasy gaming legend Russ Nicholson and evocative maps by Leo. You won't need dice, you won't need a pencil. Just unzip the file and get playing.
And if you like it, please tell a friend. Or mail it to them. Shout about it on forums. Tweet about it. Plug it in your own blog (it’s if you do, and I thank you from the bottom of my not-at-all icy heart). That’s it, that’s the only payment – we just ask that you help spread the word to everyone who might enjoy it.
Now, I appreciate that in these days of freebies everywhere, you do have to look a gift horse in the mouth. It may not cost you money, but there's still your time to think of. So I will say that Heart of Ice has been frequently described in reviews as "the best gamebook ever" and, although I obviously can't comment on that, it is the best gamebook I ever wrote and, frankly, that does probably make it the best gamebook ever. (Hey – it's honesty you're after here, right?)
If further incentive is needed, take a look at some reviewers’ comments:
  • “The game system is not only simple and elegant, but it also makes an absolute joy out of character creation.”
  • “Superb use of exposition, tone, and detail.”
  • “The characterization surpasses that of many a novel.”
  • “Technology whose deeper secrets are lost to the centuries meshes wonderfully with a kind of freakish neo-Renaissance civilization of explorers, opportunists, merchants and nobles.”
  • “At all times this world feels as if it exists outside of your immediate experiences, outside of the page.”
  • “The metaphysical element reflected in the skill set melds seamlessly into the setting.”
  • “It shows every sign of having been written by someone who loves the gamebook medium, and with great narrative skill and vision to back that energy up.”
  • “The best character design, the best one-shot world design and the best writing.”
  • “Heart of Ice is an experience to remember.”
Thanks to Paul Mason, print publisher of Heart of Ice, for okaying the free ebook version. And to Per Jorner for insights and critique.

Friday, 22 January 2010

New episode today!

Estelle has a showdown with Miss Bodgkiss – and comes off worse. The coin finds a new owner – and awakens murderous envy. Jack encounters Gus again – not in a dream this time. And the Kind Gentleman makes himself right at home. All in “A Coin for the Ferryman”, this week’s episode available here. Or read the story right from the beginning here.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Mirabilis in Japanese: "Stung!" part 2

And, following on from yesterday, here's the rest of episode one in Japanese:

Thanks again to Paul and Keiko Mason, to whom I bear a great on for all their work on the translation and formatting of this version.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Mirabilis episode 1 in Japanese

Hold it, hatamoto! No need to resort to funshi, because here at last are the eagerly-awaited opening 5 pages of the Mirabilis saga in Japanese, heralded here a week or so ago. We'll be running the remaining 5 pages of Episode One tomorrow - then we've got to figure out how to get our online flipbooks to start at the back so we can put this up with all the other episodes. Manga it ain't, I grant you that, but try envisaging it as the storyboards for the first reel of a Studio Ghibli movie and you'll see it just as we intended.

Strictly hush-hush

Good news - though the barest whiff so far - from AintItCool, who have this story that Joss Whedon is meeting with John Landgraf, the head of cable channel FX. I call it a whiff because they're only getting together over a meal at this stage, but after hearing Mr Landgraf's words of admiration for Joss's work I'm sure there'll be candles and music and chocolates.

Seeing as FX are behind the greatest television drama series ever (The Shield, if you even have to ask) and Joss is responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is of course the other greatest television drama series ever, I'm just praying for a quick betrothal followed by the pitter-patter of brilliant new shows. After the tragic demise of Dollhouse, cable is the obvious move for Joss. (Actually, it was the obvious move after Firefly... Joss, for such a smart guy, you took your time, man!)

Monday, 18 January 2010

A good scare

Over on the brilliant Cloud 109 blog, Peter Richardson has been running some veritable comics classics, with today's offering being a tense little drama from the pages of Creepy drawn by the legendary Richard Corben. In a career that has produced some truly great strips, Corben's standout story has to be "The Crooked Man" from Hellboy #33-35. Horror comics are at best usually intriguing rather than truly frightening, but this story (written by the equally gifted Mike Mignola) has chills to spare. It benefits from being inspired by the Silver John stories of Manly Wade Wellman, who drew on North American folklore to whip up some yarns that are so nightmarishly disturbing that you want to look away but you can't, you just can't. If you're into comics that push the boundaries, seek it out - but don't blame me for the sleepless nights.

Holmes improvement

On the whole, I'm in favour of reboots. Often the cultural drift in society results in a movie or book or TV show that started out fresh and exciting starting to feel out of touch. It certainly happened with Star Trek - which, if not actually dying, looked like a franchise suffering from Alzheimer's under Brannon Braga and Rick Berman but was gloriously rejuvenated last year by J J Abrams and his team. And they did that by going back to the original series and figuring, "If Gene Roddenberry had launched this in 2009, how would he have pitched it to get the equivalent effect that in had on audiences in 1966?" In the same way, an English translation of War & Peace, say, can always be contemporary, but the prose must seem increasingly archaic to a reader in the original Russian (and French).

That's why a reboot can be so effective. It's like a new translation.

Last week Roz and I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I was a big Sherlock Holmes fan about the same time I was watching original Star Trek, so I could easily be defensive about such a major reboot. Yet... a few years ago at Christmas the BBC broadcast a Holmes TV movie with Rupert Everett. And it was perfectly good, and Everett was excellent in the part. But it all felt rather too cosy, a comfortable mystery to watch when stuffed with turkey and mince pies, and I got to thinking that's probably not the effect the Holmes stories would have had on Victorian readers. Because when Holmes went over Reichenbach, the public outcry was immense and men went about in black armbands - and, well, yeah, fans will be fans, but you don't ever get that level of excitement from a cosy little detective drama about ticking clocks and puffing pipes.

The new movie tackles the so-what problem head on. Holmes was always meant to be a flamboyent, brilliant, unconventional and slightly disreputable central character, and who plays that combination better than Robert Downey Jr? I grant you this is not the Holmes of traditional dramas: the tall, thin, loftily commanding figure as drawn by Sidney Paget. And yet this Holmes is convincingly a genius, a misfit, one who is a master of all the facts but fares less adroitly in polite society.

Jude Law's Watson is a stronger character than he comes across in the stories - as he needs to be on screen, where the personal reserve we can accept in a literary first-person narrator would not only come across as blandness, but would weaken our impression of Holmes's genius too. And this Watson indulges in little bits of bad behaviour too, though unlike Holmes he recognizes the very specific contract under which Victorian society granted men a degree of licence to do so.

So those elements work, and the relationship between the two is sparky and engaging. It's more of a modern bromance than a Victorian friendship, true, but in a toss-up between historical accuracy and emotional veracity, a good storyteller should always plump for the latter.

Best of all, though, this is no sedate whodunnit to be mulled over in a cosy drawing room. It's a cocaine-shot-in-the-arm of a movie: visually thrilling with some fantastic set-pieces, driven like a hansom down narrow streets at high speed, written and directed with real verve and energy. Oh, and like all the great Sherlock Holmes mysteries, it steers a course very close to the supernatural without ever quite losing sight of the beacon of rational explanation.

Currently it's taken about a tenth of Avatar's revenue at box office (which is one of those things that makes me feel like giving up writing fiction, frankly) so you should get out there and see it on the big screen while you can. I'm going to be buying the DVD too, you bet, but this is a movie that merits the full cinematic experience.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Russell T Davies talks about Doctor Who

I have to admit that Doctor Who is not nowadays, for me, absolute must-see TV. That's no reflection on the show itself, just that it is after all the apotheosis of broad-appeal British light entertainment whereas the few television dramas I go for tend to be US cable output. But I do often find something to enjoy in Who when I see it (when they're not mucking up the Daleks, anyway). And I have great admiration for Russell T Davies, a writer who knows exactly what he's doing and has the chops to pull it off.

In particular, he's succeeded in bringing a depth of feeling to the drama - an emotional dimension that used to be treated quite sketchily, if at all, in the old days. Few TV writers are better at adroitly interplaying "the determination of incident" and "the illumination of character" as Henry James put it.

The main lesson I try to learn from RTD is to tell my stories with pizzazz and showmanship. If old Who was watched from behind the sofa, new Who is definitely on the edge of the seat. Here's an edited interview Davies gave at BAFTA where he talks about his impressive regeneration of the series.

That said, I suspect the show will be more to my taste next season with Stephen Moffat in charge. Allez, Monsieur Davies!

Friday, 15 January 2010

New episode!

In today's new episode: Jack decides he's blowed if he's going to be an errand boy, Estelle fixes a carburettor, and Gran gets a bit of a fright over tea and cake when the Kind Gentlemen lets the spirit of winter off the leash. "Shadows in Silver" is up now, and you can read the previous episodes here.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Great Winter

"There will come the time called Fimbulwinter. Snow will drive down from all quarters. There will be hard frosts and biting winds, and the sun will give no warmth..."
No, I know it hasn't been as bad as the time Snorri was talking about - that's end-of-the-world weather. But when we were under this last week, it wasn't a big stretch to conjure up a picture of that archetypal death of time that the skalds spoke of, an absolute zero season where past and future are obliterated and the world slips into a kind of shivery dreamtime.

If a shortage of grit (both mineral and spiritual) has paralysed Britain in the last couple of weeks, spare a thought for our spunkier ancestors who were out there roasting chestnuts and baiting bears on the frozen Thames. The hellish cold spells of the late 1600s might cost you a few toes to frostbite but at least they saw off the plague. so it was said at the time. They were glass-half-full, those guys were.

I'll leave the penultimate word to peerless writer Verlyn Klinkenborg:
"I always imagine preparing for a winter you can't muddle through. It's a deep, wooded season. Time pauses and then pauses again. The sun winks over the horizon, glinting on a snow-swept lake - just enough light to wake the chickadees.

"The eaves are low all around the house that this winter comes to, and I've surrounded the entire house with cordwood, leaving gaps for the windows and doors. Winter will go nowhere until I've burned through it all."
Fenris breaks his chains in the new episode tomorrow. Brrr.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Mirabilis in Japanese!

Sneak peek here of something we'll be unveiling on the Mirabilis website in a few short weeks: the whole of the 10-page opening episode, "Stung!", in Japanese. The translation proved to be nowhere near as straightforward as with our French version, and we have to say "domo arigato gozaimasu" to Keiko and Paul Mason for putting in the work required, not just to turn the English text into Japanese, but to figure out how to lay it out on the page. As Keiko notes:

"A completely manga treatment would be impossible as the artwork doesn't follow manga conventions. For example, it is pretty well de rigeur for a manga to display a close-up of a character in any scene where the character has strong emotion. Various bits of visual grammar will then be deployed to express that emotion (hence the huge twinkly eyes in most manga). But the Mirabilis approach is more Western, and in many cases more literary."
Whether there will be any appetite in Japan for a non-manga comic remains to be seen. But the Japanese reading public is pretty comics-literate (unlike some other island kingdoms we could mention) so we'll just have to see.

Meanwhile, our English-language episodes are still up - and watch out this Friday for "Shadows in Silver".

Monday, 11 January 2010

Mirabilis calendar

Never mind him. Today's big news is that you can get a 2010 Mirabilis calendar from right here. Enter the coupon code LOVE when ordering and you'll get 25% off until February 14, which makes it a snip at under a tenner, or around $15. (Be wary when picking your postage option as Lulu defaults to the most expensive "express delivery". You don't need that; the cheapest option will still get it to you in just a few days.)

The calendar is a whopping 13.5 x 19 inches and it's packed with gorgeous artwork by Leo, Martin and Nikos, much of it never seen before. Go on, make it a year of wonders.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Drosty fat ear-boils

Today sees the first of the new episodes that will be going up every Friday on the Mirabilis website. Those nostalgic for the DFC will remember reading these almost a year ago, but we think you’ll agree that liquid crystals show it off so much better than – now what was it called? Oh yes, print.

If you haven't yet seen the earlier episodes, you will find them all here. You can even read a French version of episode one ("Stung!") here and we hope to start bringing you a Japanese translation of the story very soon. And, although it's not part of the main story, you might like our standalone ghostly yarn "A Wrong Turning" which is in PDF here and JPG version here.

This week’s new episode is “The Wrong Side of Bedlam”. You’ll meet Gus again (in the flesh this time), get a glimpse into Jack’s childhood, see our lad’s sparky reunion with the Honourable Miss Meadowvane, and find out exactly what the deal is with that pesky green comet. Ribbit.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The next nine Fridays

Doh. If I'd thought about it, I should have numbered these as a countdown and put them up as a sort of Advent calendar thingy. Nice to see them all like that, anyway, and to dream of the parallel universe in which we're free to publish them as a monthly comic book. As a youngster, I used to gaze longingly at the covers of Creepy and Eerie advertised in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Were those atmospheric covers by Frazetta just mood pieces, or did they actually illustrate the stories inside? In the absence of actual copies of the mags, my ten-year-old mind tried to conjure up tales that would do justice to such powerful images. But (the good news) you don't have to make do with DIY Mirabilis. Read on...

It's been three and a half years since we created our first episode for the dummy issue of the DFC, and over a year now since weekly instalments of Mirabilis began appearing in that late, lamented comic. There was a long creative development phase: Jack started out as a podgy kid in WW1 uniform, Estelle wasn't nearly as pretty, and the Kind Gentleman wore a walnut whip wig that towered higher than Amy Winehouse's beehive. Fast forward to 2010 and, all told, we've clocked up about 4 man-years of effort - not just in creating the 190 pages of the Winter book, but also the storyline for all four graphic novels, the standalone episodes such as "A Wrong Turning", and the Royal Mythological Society correspondence over on the main site. That's a whole heap of work, taking up a good chunk of our creative lives, and most of it self-funded into the bargain. And most maddening of all, it's work that has largely never been seen. Only ten episodes of Mirabilis ever appeared in print, barely a quarter of the first book. The rest sits now in a virtual drawer gathering digital dust.

Okay, so if you were a subscriber to the DFC you will have already seen episodes 1-10. But it's fair to say that the DFC didn't enjoy quite the best quality paper or printing, and some of the early episodes came out looking rather muddy. So we are going to be rolling out (as they say) those episodes on the Mirabilis website, a new one every Friday over the next nine weeks, starting tomorrow. Not only will you get to see the previously published episodes in a form closer to how they are supposed to look, you'll get to read on and see what happens after Estelle fell out of that train window. And to cap it all we'll be running at least one never before seen episode. Santa told us you'd been nice, that's why.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Kicking off with something new

And bringing us full circle, here is Mirabilis #1, the twelfth and last in the series of Silver Age mockup covers. Lovely as the artwork by Leo, Nikos and Martin is, I appreciate that you can't get much sense of the whole story from these few images, but we have a notion what to do about that. Come back tomorrow to find out.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Get ready...

According to Wikipedia, tonight is Twelfth Night. But that's by the medieval reckoning of time, whereby each day began at sunset. Our decorations won't be coming down until tomorrow night, and by the same token this is the eleventh of our merry Marvel-style covers. The final one in the set will be up tomorrow, and the day after that we should have some news about new Mirabilis episodes for you to read online. Keep the faith, O True Believer!

Monday, 4 January 2010

McFabulous wins again

And here's the latest "what if" comic cover. When you think that this is just a small detail from one panel, it works pretty well as a cover pic. What I like most of all, though, is the expression on Gran's face - evidence in favor of Eisenstein's theory that it is the juxtaposition of images that creates a sense of meaning in the viewer's mind.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

What the butler saw

Peter Richardson of Cloud 109 was saying only last year how Leo's panels work amazingly well when blown up to cover size. This one is taken from a page using the classic 3x3 grid, yet Leo has managed to fit in the finely-observed detail and dramatic composition that marks out the best cover art. I just couldn't bring myself to splash an episode title all over such a perfect little gem of a pic.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Disney buys stake in POW Entertainment

I was looking for an excuse to knock up a few more Marvel-esque comic covers, and Stan Lee's recent deal with Disney is just that. Seeing as how the worthwhile Marvel movies have been the ones that stuck closest to Stan's original concepts and characters (I mean Spider-man 2 and Iron Man) the news gives real hope for Disney to do some interesting things with the Marvel universe. So this cover is fondly dedicated to Stan the Man himself, for turning a whole bunch of generations onto the wonders of great storytelling.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The knights are getting shorter

As the year turns over, here's a seasonal snippet from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Now nears the New Year and the night passes,
The day fighting the dark as God wills it.
But wild weather awakes in the world without;
Clouds cast keenly their cold upon the earth
With sharp north wind to nip exposed flesh.
Every animal seeks shelter from the sheeting snow;
The wailing wind whistles from the heights
And drives each dale full of deep drifts.
The man listens as he lies abed,
And though he closes his eyes, he gets little sleep.
Each hour's tolling sounds like the tread of time.
The illustration is another of the character designs Leo did for our New Knights of Camelot project. That's another one that we really must get back to one of these days.