comics

Warning: timeshift approaching

Preparing to leap into 2018 with renewed vigour and a sense of purpose (no, really) I thought I’d wrap up the year with some random observations, mainly springing from Christmas.

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OneMonkey’s parents kindly bought me a couple of graphic novels for Christmas: Grandville Force Majeure, and Blacksad. The Grandville novel is the final volume of Bryan Talbot’s fantastic series about a badger who’s a detective in an England where France won the Napoleonic wars, and I’d been looking forward to it immensely (I read it the day after I got it, and it was tense, thrilling, and a fabulous end). I think OneMonkey’s parents have bought me all five of the Grandville novels, and before that they supplied a few volumes of Cerebus the Aardvark (which kickstarted my love of comics, as detailed here in 2010) so maybe there was a need to fill the gap, or maybe the lass in the Newcastle Travelling Man was particularly enthusiastic, anyway they hit upon Blacksad. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s from Spain, sounds good, and is about a detective (spot the theme?) who’s a cat. OneMonkey immediately noticed the abc of anthropomorphic lead characters in his parents’ gifts (aardvark, badger, cat) so I’m intrigued to know where I might go from here. Any good ones about dragons kicking about?

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I got a couple of other books for Christmas (the Mike Savage one has graphs in, that’ll keep me happy for a while), some notebooks, a beautifully distracting Moomin diary to keep on my desk and write deadlines in, and a pen and pencil set from The Nephew (who I didn’t see until a couple of days after I took the photo). Not many books were exchanged in our house on Christmas Day this year, though we gave The Nephew three: two as presents and one I’d finished with and thought he might like (Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow). And come to think of it I bought three for Big Brother and my dad gave him a Robert Rankin novel I was returning to the Library of Mum and Dad (basically he didn’t have anywhere to put it and Big Brother was sitting next to him on the sofa). So some of us did ok for reading material.

I’m yet to count up how many books I’ve read this year, but not as many as in 2016 I think. That could be the lack of a commute beginning to show, or it could be related to the number of story submissions I’ve made this year (again, not counted up yet but a huge increase on 2016). The final submission of the year was made this afternoon, now I’m going to get my reading and writing back in balance by settling down with a cup of tea, the last mince pie, and a half-read copy of Brasyl by Ian McDonald.

Wishing you all a peaceful 2018 filled with all the books you want to read, all the creative endeavours you’ve got the energy for, and a liberal sprinkling of quiet contentment.

Forthcoming Ostragoth comic: an interview with the illustrator

In between watching live streaming from this year’s Wacken festival, OneMonkey has been working on our new comic. It’s an adaptation of my short story Waiting for Boothroyd (which you can read in my SF collection Cracks in the Foundations).

Boothroyd-svg

OneMonkey has done lettering, odd bits of artwork, and general editing/layout/adding brilliance for Ostragoth’s previous comics, but this time he’s taking on all art-related duties. To the backdrop of a Saxon gig I asked him why, how, and all those kinds of things.

I dabbled a bit last year and I thought I’d got the lettering I needed but I couldn’t get the character style right so I put it to one side. Coming back to it this year I hit on a good character design but that didn’t work with the previous lettering at all so I had to go back to the drawing board on that.

The character design is still under wraps because it may well change (I think it’s good, but I guess I’m slightly biased).

Thinking back to the odd 60s cartoons I used to watch, I wanted something along those lines. I saw a couple of what turned out to be Saul Bass-inspired fonts and they were close but not quite right. So I started from scratch, roughing out the outlines in the gimp then creating the vectors in Inkscape.

He’s like that. He sat and drew then re-drew all the letters until he was happy (a couple of days later). But now we have something unique.

Waiting for Boothroyd is planned to be a dynamic svg comic but we’ll have to see how that turns out. Not like I’ve ever done one before.

That doesn’t usually stop him. I for one am eagerly awaiting the completion of this version of Waiting for Boothroyd. I’ll keep you posted here.

My writing life:having a wonderful time, wish you were here

It’s been a good couple of weeks at Chateau Monkey. I’ll forgive you if you missed my story Breakfast in Bradford over at The Flash Fiction Press a couple of weeks ago (but perhaps not if you don’t pop across and read it now…). Since then I’ve submitted to a few more magazines and a couple of story competitions, had another piece of flash fiction accepted (for issue 8 of Firefly Magazine, due in September I believe) and shepherded Ilkley Writers through an evening of writing microfiction.

I’ve made progress with a sci fi story I’m quite pleased with (begun in March 2012 I think – I have to let things ferment at the back of my mind), and started on a ruthless edit of awkward length fiction (12,000 words. Short novella? Long short story?) that I finished in April. There’s a rewrite underway for another submission I made a few weeks ago, and if the rewrite is deemed suitable I’ll be immensely chuffed and will shout loudly about it on here.

Oh, and OneMonkey is hard at work on a comic, just the two of us this time (though there are other plans afoot with Mark, as usual). I’m hoping to be able to give you an update soon, but it’s looking good so far. And he gets to geek out over fonts.

I hope your projects are buoyant too, it’s a good feeling. Let me know in the comments below, or say hello on Twitter @JYSaville – sometimes it seems awfully quiet around here. I don’t bite, honest.

February? What was that?

Even with the leapday, February ends tomorrow and I’ve essentially failed to blog for the whole month. It seems a matter of moments since it was January, and the weather was weirdly mild and all major deadlines and events were ages away.

I had my usual winter excuse of illness for pretty much the first half of the month, so that didn’t help. For a week I was feeling utterly pathetic. I was even too tired to read for a while (I know – I could hardly believe it either). I did (slowly) read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which I’d been attracted to in a charity shop because I’d enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and this novel was about comic book creators. Wonderfully written, set largely during the second world war (and just before and after), it has some bleak moments but also delightful oddness and humour. And it’s full of excitement about the possibility of comics, which had me itching to get back to work on a couple of half-finished comic ideas.

Brainstorming and planning for both the York Festival of Ideas (storytelling with Alice, like last year) and the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival has been limping along, with rehearsals planned and notes scrawled. I’ve also had a new review up at The Bookbag (1930s Italian crime fiction reprinted). You see, although I’ve been quiet I haven’t been totally inactive.

March will be more obviously active, with some book reviews here and at The Bookbag, and possibly some musings on the EU referendum depending on how much I feel like alienating the apolitical (or indeed non-European) parts of my readership.

Sixth annual International Illustrator Appreciation Day

Whose word-enhancing art are you going to appreciate today? Five years ago I tried to boost the profile of artists quietly providing book covers and magazine illustrations. In the last few days, by coincidence, I’ve had my attention drawn to this vote for artwork (suitable for a future book cover) at Spark. Hard to choose, but I particularly liked Monsters and Marvels by Luke Spooner, Snake Bones by Rodrica Cogle, and The Carrot is Mightier Than the Sword by Sean Greenberg.

It’s also been a week for comics exposure, what with Dave Gibbons being created Comics Laureate in the cause of literacy, so in case it’s not your usual medium why not check out some freely available volumes? There’s The Only Living Boy at NoiseTrade, and a whole graphic novel list at Free Online Novels (including 2 written by me, with fabulous art by Mark Pexton, which you can get here).

Wasted Years available for free

During the last couple of years you’ve been able to download my comics for free, but I had a novel and a short story collection for sale on Amazon. To redress the balance slightly, Wasted Years – the novel – can now be downloaded here instead, and you can pay what you like via Paypal – yes, that means you can have it for free if you want. It’s available as an epub file (easily convertible to other formats) under a Creative Commons licence.

Cover of Wasted Years by JY Saville

If you’ve ever enjoyed any of my fantasy or sci-fi output (or haven’t yet, but think you might) then you may want to check back here in a week as you could be in for a treat.

The Moon of Endine: free sci-fi werewolf comic

I don’t always put the comic/graphic novel stuff on this blog but it occurred to me that readers here might be missing out because they ‘don’t read comics’. Mark Pexton’s art is (in my biased opinion) pretty special at times, and if you’ve enjoyed any of my sci-fi or fantasy stories you might like the one about werewolves on a frontier planet. So try our comic The Moon of Endine which (like we did for Boys Don’t Cry) we’re now making available online for free under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND, though you can still buy the print copy over at our comicsy shop or at Forbidden Planet and Travelling Man in Leeds. You can download the pdf if you like, or just sit and page through it here (it opens up a full page when you click on it)…

Free ebook release of my first graphic novel

The death of books and traditional publishing is a hot topic at the moment, and while I firmly believe that print books will be around for a good many years yet, I do also think it’s time to admit there’s more of a mix than there used to be. Readers of this blog (as opposed to my other one) might not be aware of my graphic novel/comics output, self-published but that’s not as unusual for comics as it is for mainstream fiction. In further experimental fashion we (me, the artist Mark Pexton, and OneMonkey who does all the technical stuff) decided to make a pdf copy of the first graphic novel, Boys Don’t Cry, available for free (under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND) here. This is an enticing picture of the cover:

Boys Don't Cry front cover

And here’s what the back cover says:

Teenage boys aren’t known for sharing their fears and emotions, so if you’re the father or sister of one, how do you know how he’s coping with his mum’s death?

Fifteen year old Hunter isn’t entirely sure himself, and even if he could put any of it into words, he no longer knows who to say it to.

So if zero pence sounds like a good price to pay for the beautifully-drawn saga of a bereaved teenage goth in Edinburgh, feel free to peruse and comment – part of the reason for doing this is to reach a wider audience; there’s only so many people willing to buy an 80-page graphic novel by relative unknowns and I’d prefer to have more people read it. Particularly those that might not normally think of themselves as graphic novel audience material.

Creative Commons License
Boys Don’t Cry by Jacqueline Saville, Mark Pexton, Andrew Woods is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Those who don’t want to know the NaNo score, look away now

This is turning out to be ScriptFrenzy all over again… But hey, there’s only one (two at the most) more of these NaNoWriMo posts to go, so grit your teeth and it’ll all be over soon.

As this post goes out, I will actually be at (or on my way to – I haven’t set the time yet) the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. With luck, I will be selling comics, but at the very least I’ll be with friends in interesting surroundings and I should be able to find some new comics to get interested in (these events can get expensive).

Where does this leave my frantic novelling, I hear you ask (look, just pretend you asked). It pretty much wipes out two days, but since one of the aforementioned friends is also in the midst of NaNo frenzy, we may goad each other into amazing literary feats on Saturday evening. My total should be at around 16,000 words by Friday night (Friday night itself being scratched out due to the Damned gig – got to get your priorities right) so fingers crossed for a decent total by the end of the month.

I’m enjoying NaNo – after ScriptFrenzy I thought I probably would. I’m taking it slow and steady, not worrying too much about the final total as long as what I’ve got is usable, and it’s taking me down some interesting avenues. I’ve already uncovered a weird antagonism between two secondary characters that needs exploring further, and I may even have got the wrong murderer (how can the author get it wrong?). Very much an enjoyable Sunday drive rather than a satnav-planned A to B dash.

Best of luck for the second half of the month to all those participating, further apologies to anyone who’s being neglected (more than usual). Back to the fray.

The bright side

I’m cultivating a positive outlook at the moment; maybe it’s the cold affecting my inner curmudgeon, but there you go.

Strange, Weird & Wonderful has published its final issue, just before the one that my story was due in. So while that’s a sale I won’t make (payment on publication, not acceptance), a credit I can’t chalk up on my scoreboard, and a story that’s back to doing the rounds, if I was looking on the bright side I’d say at least I don’t have to produce that audio version after all (though I’d actually started to feel good about the challenge).

NaNoWriMo is going slowly, probably even slower than I’d anticipated, but if you know you’re not going to make it to 50,000 words, any number’s an achievement and you don’t end up feeling stressed and guilty if you do other things for a while during November. Such as a 2-day comic convention.

Thought Bubble is less than a week away which is a bit scary (in an exhilirating way). I also know that I’m not going to get an early night before it, and I’ll probably have had to put up with a late-night long-distance taxi ride. The bright side of that one is positively dazzling though: we’re off to see The Damned on Friday. Excuse me while I touch up my black nail varnish.

A proud moment at the bookcase

One of the reasons I’ve been quiet recently is that I’ve been concentrating on the graphic novel, its associated blog, and attending the Thought Bubble comic convention in Leeds. Well, Thought Bubble was on Saturday (hectic, tiring, but most enjoyable) so I might get round to doing other things for a while (like making the submission I’ve been almost completing for about 3 weeks) but in the meantime I thought I’d share the proud moment at which my own graphic novel joined Cerebus on the shelf (even if it was just in my own living room)

Boys Don't Cry joins some of my Cerebus volumes

See the main Ostragoth website if you think you’d like to know more or maybe even buy a copy.

This is why I’m the writer

As regular readers know, I’ll be at Thought Bubble in Leeds this November attempting to entice people into buying my graphic novel. They’re having a sequential art competition for Thought Bubble (deadline today so if you haven’t already you’re too late), with the theme of ‘November in the north of England’. Having been struck down by the dreaded lurgy, and hence off work today, once I’d kind of woken up this afternoon I figured I’d give it a go (how hard can this cartooning lark be, right? I didn’t spend my childhood copying pictures out of the Beano for nothing). Taking the phrase ‘we will need your story to be good enough quality to print’ seriously, I won’t be entering the competition but I thought I might as well share it with you. See if you can guess why I normally write these things and let Mark do the art…

My non-entry to the Northern Sequential Art Competition

My non-entry to the Northern Sequential Art Competition

Reviews from a busy week

This week I’ve read two novels and been to see a film based on a comic so I thought I’d share.

Necrophenia, the most recent Robert Rankin paperback to grace my dad’s bookshelves, was pretty much what you’d expect from the founder of far-fetched fiction. While I wouldn’t perhaps recommend it to those new to Rankin (start at The Antipope and work your way through, would be my advice. Only you needn’t bother with A Dog Called Demolition, as OneMonkey is possibly the only person who’s ever enjoyed it), others with a long-held affection for Rankinesque fantasy will probably enjoy it as much as I did (which is to say quite a bit). The themes and some characters may be familiar (Elvis Presley, rock ‘n’ roll, 1950s private detectives or specifically Lazlo Woodbine and his bar-tending friend Fangio, the Ministry of Serendipity, not to mention the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter. Which he does, twice) and of course it does involve an other-worldly threat to the Earth (not just Brentford) and its inhabitants, which is (almost) thwarted by an unlikely sort of hero, but if you like that sort of thing (which I do) then it’s worth a read as it’s done very well. And he’s really toned down on the swearing these days (not that I particularly minded anyway).

The other book I borrowed from my dad (I’m not being tight, it’s an eco thing. Well OK, but I’m not just being tight) was Lullaby Town by Robert Crais, a 1990s contemporary-set novel featuring LA private detective Elvis Cole. I’ve read a few Elvis Cole novels now, and I like the character (and his friend Joe Pike: cat-loving, vegetarian, largely silent tough guy who wears shades no matter how dark it is), and I usually enjoy the plot (enough human interest without being soft, enough violence to be plausible without straying into brutal). However, the thing that really bothers me is the excess of description – yes I know it might tell you something about the bad guy that he’s wearing green socks with a sharp suit, but when he’s pointing a gun at Elvis Cole I don’t need to know which side his hair’s parted or what make of gun it is. And since it’s written in the first person, are we supposed to believe that Cole has noted all these details in the middle of the action? As usual, all the brand names mean nothing to me so maybe it would be better to say expensive/cheap/mid-range/out-moded rather than relying on all readers being familiar with American brands. That aside, Lullaby Town was a fairly fast and satisfying read: Peter, an immature, self-centred film director wants to find the wife and child he walked out on ten years earlier, before his success – all in a day’s work for Elvis Cole, but then it gets a bit more complicated and Peter learns the hard way that money can’t buy him everything, and dealing with the mafia isn’t as easy as it looks on the big screen.

The film was Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I was expecting good things from the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and I wasn’t disappointed. Adapted from a series of comics, set in Toronto and full of good music, the film was one of those that leaves you with a buzz for a few hours after you’ve watched it. Although Scott Pilgrim himself mostly just needed a slap, his room-mate Wallace was brilliantly portrayed by Kieran Culkin, and several characters were real enough that they kind of reminded me of people I used to know back when rock music and being cool were major themes of my life. Visually, the comic book and dodgy old pixelated computer game theme worked, though it seemed to be forgotten later on, outside of the fight scenes. It was funny, it was fast-paced, people had superpowers with absolutely no explanation or apology, and it should serve as a self-esteem boost to geeky gawky bass-players everywhere.

A new blog to neglect

I now have a second blog, dedicated to the graphic novel I keep mentioning, Boys Don’t Cry (I never claimed to be good at titles). So now I have two blogs that I won’t quite get round to posting on (or maybe I should think more positively). OneMonkey has his editorial hat on (literally – it’s quite a fetching trilby though I think he should get a red fedora), and also his (metaphorical) lettering hat as he’s adding all the words. So if you’re interested in our progress, I’ll try and keep you posted over at the other place, and in the meantime I’ll occasionally ramble on randomly here as usual.

Long time gone

The more astute among you will have spotted a gap here, and may have wondered what I’ve been doing. Some of you may even (though I doubt it) have hoped I’ve been busy writing brand new fiction, or fine-tuning some almost-completed pieces. I’d like to be able to say that was true, but while I have made a couple of submissions this week, mainly I’ve been coughing, sneezing and feeling sorry for myself. However, with the help of a lot of tea and a couple of afternoons working outdoors instead of in a stuffy office, I’m now feeling much better, my voice is back, and OneMonkey’s peace has been shattered.

Now that I’m well (or not being as pathetic) I’m going to have to get myself organised (I’m already planning a regime for the Easter break): apart from a friend eagerly awaiting (mildly interested in) the serial novel, who won’t start reading it till it’s finished, I’ve also got the chance of a collaboration with Mark. I know we’ve said before that we were going to write a comic, sketch show, play, radio script, TV script, sitcom, drama, comedy-drama… but we never seem to get beyond rough notes and hazy ideas. The exception is his graphic novel adaptation of my story Boys Don’t Cry (oh I’m so fond of those goth song titles) which is on the back-burner but is at least slowly progressing. Now, spurred on by a recent burst of success with his art we have a definite aim: write something short that’s somewhere between an illustrated story and a more traditional comic, and get it finished before his name’s faded from the minds of the great and the good in the world of sci-fi. All we need is the time and space to sit down and work, then we just agree on a plot, characters, style, length and approach, and write it all down. Simple.

A funny thing happened on the way to the podcast

Having been a student for 9 years (in total, not consecutively) at 3 universities, I only ever joined one society for 2 years and that was the rock society which got me a discount at HMV and cheap entry to my favourite club. Now that I’m staff, suddenly I’m joining student societies left, right and centre. Or rather, I’m going along to the first meeting, realising why I didn’t bother when I was a student, and not going back.

Last weekend I went to the first meeting for this academic year of the comedy sketch society; I wasn’t intending to perform, I just thought I’d have a go at being on the writing team, but I was aware before I went along that there are many types of humour out there and it may well be that mine didn’t fit with the majority of the group. What I wasn’t prepared for was such an amazing culture clash: I’d be hard pushed to claim to be working class, but my grandparents were, and dammit I’m northern, I ought to be allowed some leeway on this, so with only the slightest sense of irony I’ll assert my bemusement at the roomful of pretentious new students eager to audition for the comedy troupe.

Maybe they were all in character from the moment they stepped in the room, but somehow I doubt it. OneMonkey’s friends S and B (genuinely working class and therefore even more justifiably bemused/enraged than I was) and I were very out of place, and not in terms of humour (though I hadn’t heard of half the comedy shows they were all claiming as influences. It may be that they were making them up, or deliberately being obscure to try and outdo each other, or it may just be that I haven’t owned a telly in nearly 8 years and none of them listen to radio 4). One young lad with studiously messy hair was actually wearing a cricket jumper and chinos.

It may have turned out to be a wasted afternoon in terms of joining a comedy society, but my impassioned recounting of the experience to OneMonkey and my artist friend Mark gave them both a good laugh. Which bodes well for the forthcoming attempt on the part of S, B, one of B’s friends, Mark (possibly) and myself to form our own sketch group with the intention (gasp!) of a podcast. I only have a hazy idea of what a podcast involves but I’ll leave that aspect of it to whoever came up with the plan, and I’ll concentrate on writing. Luckily, only the other day my dad gave me a booklet from The Guardian on how to write comedy; armed with the knowledge imparted in chapter 4, how to write sketches, I should be unstoppable. One of the tips from Richard Herring was to write a blog every day, so for once I’m doing some useful writing here and not just waffling into the abyss.

Digressions into praise

So, another long gap; obviously I’m settling into my long-term pattern here. If truth be told, I’ve done very little writing of any kind lately, and apart from taking up archery (that’ll be the LOTR influence, then) and surviving the trauma of sliding into another decade of my life, I haven’t done much else either.

My friends have been pretty busy though, so I’ll talk about them for a change. One of them has had their first (as far as I remember) story accepted in a magazine, but that doesn’t come out until next year. Another (nearly wrote ‘the other’ there, but I do have more than two friends. Just) has a new comic out, or rather there’s a new comic out there with some of his artwork in. For the last couple of years Mark’s been slowly building up a portfolio of small-press comic art, collaborating at one stage with a guy who wrote a couple of Doctor Who novels (and how excited was I about that?), though he does write some of the stories himself. His style’s quite dark and brooding, perfect for illustrating some of my more goth or sci-fi stories, but somehow we’ve never got round to producing a joint venture. Yet.

I like the idea of one or more of my stories becoming graphic novels (however short they may be), but it’s harder than you might imagine to adapt something written as a long piece of prose. Strip it back to the dialogue and you encounter the same problem I mentioned with Trollope adaptations; if nothing else it shows up a weak plot. Trying to picture the story as a film helps to a certain extent but often subtle points would require too many frames to convey in a strict linear way like that. In a sense, the graphic novel can be quite liberating though, and at the risk of revealing my inner geek, I’ll mention Cerebus by Dave Sim, which was a long-running (more than twenty years) monthly comic with one over-arching storyline, which I’ve read about three-quarters of (so far) in its collected form. Stating the basic idea (mercenary soldier aardvark wanders a medieval-esque world for years, drinking ale, eating raw potatos and becoming pope, while Groucho Marx rules one country and Mick Jagger is prince of another) doesn’t do justice to the creativity involved in presenting visually something it might take pages to describe.

Another friend of mine (see, that’s three already), being French and knowing that comics are more popular in France than in England, has suggested Mark and I translate to French (just to add an extra layer of complexity to the process) and release our comic (when it eventually exists) over there. There is a certain appeal to that, though unfortunately the big comic convention takes place not in beautiful Paris, but in Angouleme, which will forever remind me of a school trip from sixteen years ago. However, I’m willing to give it a go, just as soon as I find the time and skill to adapt a couple of thousand words of prose into directions for a handful of drawn pages.