As I start to make writing plans for 2016, it felt like a good time to look back on what has happened in the past twelve months.
Two books came out in 2015 with my my name on them and both involved me writing in universes created by others.
The Law Above was a short story for the second Torsobear anthology 'All Stitched Up', the brainchild of writer/artist Brett Uren. I thoroughly enjoying reading the first fluffy noir collection about detective Ruxby Bear and his adventures in Toyburg. So I was very pleased to get the chance to join forces with children's book illustrator Mike Motz to tell a tale of the prison guards who were once involved in the Saturday Morning war. As a big fan of 80s action adventure cartoons, the subject matter was right up my street.
'Imagine Frank Miller's Sin City... Now, color it with all the crayons from a third grader's school box . . . That's the barest inkling of the cruel delights that await you in this
incredible volume.' - Tony Caballero, Fanboy Comics
The Lament of Lady Mary was my second one-shot for the Unseen Shadows universe, created by Barry Nugent and spinning out of his pulp novel series. This time I got to stretch my writing muscles in a historical setting as my story, which centred on the relationship between Lord Oliver Cademus and his Mother the titular Lady Mary, was set after the end of the crusades. It also meant I finally got to work with artist Conor Boyle (Pirates of the Lost World), something I've wanted to do for years. He was the perfect artist for this story and colourist Jo McClelland helped give the story even more depth. It's one of the scripts I'm most proud of and you as it is set at the very start of the Unseen Shadows timeline, you don't need to have read the first novel Fallen Heroes or any of the other comic stories to follow along. You can pick the book up now from Comicsy.
Things have been moving forward with Flux, the sci-fi thriller mini series I'm co-writing with Steve Aryan (Battlemage) with art by Maysam Barza (Fubar) . We've got ourselves a publisher, Issue 1 has been lettered by Sean Rinehart. Issue 2 is partway through, Issue 3 is written and is undergoing rewrites and Issue 4 will be written next month. Expect news of a release date for the series to be announced early in 2016.
Work is also underway on another series written with Steve, The Promise, which features art by Simone Guglielmini (Near Death) and one written solo, Fifteen-Minute Heroes with art by Cheuk Po (Blood Dolls).
I've gone back to my roots in 2015 by taking up various offers to write short stories for anthologies. Two stories are currently with artists, Back to Work is with Federico De Luca (Murder One) and Good Night, God Bless is being worked on by Wamberto Nicomdemes (Rage).
My role as Comics Experience's Digital Content Editor has been gathering pace and keeping me busy, more to follow on that front when we hit the New Year. There will also be an announcement relating to the no (comic) code anthology I'm putting together to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Pearl Jam album no code.
All in all an eventful 2015, with lots of projects on the go, which meant my convention appearances were somewhat curtailed. Next year my convention calendar will be somewhat fuller in 2016, with London Super Comic Con, Bristol Comic Expo and Thought Bubble among the shows that I'll be attending.
Here's to a very productive 2016.
This year has absolutely flown by, and I find myself compiling my favourites of the year list all over again. Like last year this isn't a definitive 'best of' list, merely a compilation of what I most enjoyed in the last twelve months. You can see the 2014 list here.
TV Drama – Marvel's Daredevil.
By no means perfect, Daredevil was a bold new step in the right direction for Marvel's broadcast output, bringing the Marvel Knights world to play alongside the more family friendly cinematic universe. After the 2003 film version it looked like the Hell's Kitchen blind lawyer's story was unlikely to be told again, but they managed to pull it off by making a series that really felt like the book it was based on. This was a show I never imagined existing and I'm pleased that it does.
Honourable mentions – I was very close to picking Ray Donovan Season Three as my favourite show, it was certainly my favourite returning series this year. After the slightly hit and miss nature of Season Two it was good to see the show returning to the edge of your seat tension that made the first season so compelling. Liev Schreiber, Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok continue to deliver exceptional performances each week and I can't wait for the next series. Better Call Saul helped me get over my general distrust of prequels, the show featured some brilliant writing and excellent performances too. It both worked as part of the Breaking Bad world and also as its own thing, mixing comedy and tragedy to great effect. On this side of the pond it was River that held my interest the most, a slightly surreal detective series set in London featuring a powerhouse performance from Stellan Skarsgard, who should be showered with plaudits and awards. It's also the second of my favourite shows this year to feature the ever versatile Eddie Marsan. Marvel's second Netflix show Jessica Jones rounds off the list, we're only seven episodes in and I don't think we'll get it all watched before the year is out. Another interesting show and proof the Marvel/Netflix deal was a very good thing. And for the second year running, yes I know I need to watch Fargo.
Film – Star Wars - The Force Awakens
This really isn't the film I was expecting to top this list, but I'm pleasantly surprised that it did. I was grinning from start to finish and there were moments where my skin was actually tingling. We live in an age where trying to recapture the feelings of our youth dominates mainstream media, this is often to the detriment of quality. Having felt like a nine year old for a couple of hours again this is one occasion where touching on old themes and bringing back familiar characters worked exceptionally well. Unlike the prequels this completely felt like a Star Wars film and you were immersed in another world. The new characters were brilliant and the torch has very much been passed. Between this and last year's Guardians of the Galaxy it's fun to go into space again.
Honourable mentions –
Birdman was nothing like I expected and all the better for it. I've always been a fan of Ed Norton and it was good to see him stretching his acting muscles again and for Michael Keaton to get to explore a character that parallels his own Batman experiences. The film made me think a lot about life, creativity and mortality and it is deserving of all the praise it has received. Southpaw isn't the boxing film I was expecting to put on this list, but with Creed's UK release date being in January, this was the one big screen piece of ringside action for me this year. Like most of these kind of films it was very predictable, but it hit all the right emotional beats for me, coming close to being a modern day Champ. I could watch Forest Whitaker train Jake Gyllenhaal all day and before I saw The Force Awakens this would have been my pick. Ant-Man was far better than expected and the casting of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly worked very well. There were still some Edgar Wright touches in there alongside what was added later. It wasn't close to being my favourite film of the year, but was certainly my preferred Marvel movie of the 2015. Inside Out was exceptional, thoughtful, moving and inspirational in a way that most live actin films aren't and I'm really looking forward to watching it again. Indie horror romance Spring was a film that would have flown under my radar if I hadn't watched it as part of a workshop I was working on. The main performances are excellent and it has its own unique vibe, if you haven't seen it I'd recommend you do. John Wick and Big Hero 6 were both late releases in the UK, having been shown elsewhere in 2014. Big Hero 6 was great fun, but like The Good Dinosaur it suffered by comparison from being in the same year as Inside Out. John Wick was one of the best action movies I've seen in years, I'm someone who's always championed Keanu Reeves and it's great to see him have a film like this and the planned sequel to sink his teeth into. I didn't get to see Whiplash to see if that film would have made it onto the list. Mad Max Fury Road looked amazing and I definitely enjoyed it, but I didn't seem to get the same level of enjoyment as others did so it sneaks onto this list for the visual spectacle.
Album – Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson.
When Hand. Cannot. Erase. came out in February I knew straight away it was something special. I've been a fan of Mr Wilson since i first heard Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album playing in a record shop in 1999. A concept album inspired by the death of a London woman, which went unnoticed for three years, it's a exceptionally emotional 65 minutes of music. Regardless of whether you like progressive rock, I think everyone should listen to it, to feel its impact. Probably the first album to almost bring me to tears. I wish I'd got to see it performed live.
Honourable mentions –
It took a very impressive set of songs to mean that Sol Invictus by Faith No More wasn't my favourite album of 2015. I'm a huge Mike Patton devotee and a big fan of all the band's work, rather than just the high profile Jim Martin period that the media tends to latch onto. I'd been eagerly waiting this new set of songs and they didn't disappoint, there was just one album that connected with me more this year, otherwise this would have taken the crown as expected. Meliora by Ghost was another excellent long player and might just be their best album to date, immediate and evocative and overall great fun to listen to. It was great to have Baroness back at the end of the year with Purple, with their first release since the coach crash that caused two of the band to call it quits. And so we watch you from Afar were a band I discovered at the start of the year as the soundtrack to much of my writing, their Heirs album continued their rich vein of form. +4626-COMFORTZONE by Beardfish and Wolflight by Steve Hackett, both prog albums I discovered via my love of Big Big Train, got a lot of play from me in 2015 too. Higher Ground by Chris Cornell was another album I played a lot this year and there was a lot to like about it, particularly the folk vibe on some songs. Sadly I will always compare his solo work to his first solitary outing Euphoria Morning which is one of my favourite records, although in some ways that was him fronting Eleven.
Song - Superhero by Faith No More
When I first Superhero I really wasn't sure about it, it felt a bit like FnM by numbers but after a few listens to the true genius of this anthemic track shone through. It's up there with their best songs and I've been singing along to this aural gut punch all year.
Honourable mentions –
Wassail by Big Big Train was within a hairs breadth of being my pick (it was was certainly robbed at the Prog Awards this year) and it's another singalong anthem albeit with a very different tone. It's brilliant on record and even better live. Nearly forgot my broken heart by Chris Cornell was the other single that I really liked this year, it's quite poppy but still maintains the immaculate attention to detail and superb vocals you'd expect from the Soundgarden frontman. Spectral Mornings 2015 was a song I played a lot, not a new track but a new charity version complete with vocals (the original as an instrumental). The track featured s who's who of modern prog and Steve Hackett himself.
Gig– Big Big Train (London)
This was by far the easiest decision to make when looking back on the year. On Sunday 16th August my daughter and I were truly captivated by a phenomenal performance by a world class group of musicians, when we were lucky enough to see Big Big Train play Kings Place in London. We were in the second row and make a few brief cameo appearances in the Victorian Brickwork video from the show. I'm not sure another gig would ever top it in my lifetime, let alone this year, I still think about that show every day. Life affirming, majestic stuff.
Honourable mentions –
Shawn Smith at Bristol Folk House in April was another intimate seated affair and it isn't often that you get to share the toilet hand dryer with the act you've just seen. It was great to see him solo a few years after enjoying him with Brad. The live album of this show is available here. The Manic Street Preachers playing all of Holy Bible, followed by a greatest hits set would have been a dream gig for me at one time. It was great to hear arguably their best album played live, but the sunny June daytime Cardiff Castle setting and crowd of anthem lovers alongside the more rabid fans made it a real mixed bag. If only I'd made it to the Tin Spirits gig in Swindon, as I have a strong feeling that would have made this list.
Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics)
For the second year running Lazarus is my favourite book and by the end of the year it was the only thing I was reading in single issues, as I'm reading the likes of Nailbiter, Revival, Zero, Saga, Southern Bastards, Deadly Class. It's a top drawer sci-fi, with gorgeous art, well rounded characters and the ability to surprise. If you aren't reading it you should be.
Podcast – iFanboy
This was the year that I realised how much this podcast has become part of my weekly routine. Monday morning wouldn't be Monday morning without their Pick of the Week show, even though I am reading most books in trade so have to skip forward chunks. With Ron back on the show (although it was sad to see Paul go) I'm reminded how much time I've spent listening to these guys over the years. The first thing I do after seeing a geeky movie or TV show is to listen to the special edition podcast to find out if we agree, we usually do. If you've seen Star Wars The Force Awakens, they articulate what I thought far better than me, listen to that episode here.
Honourable mentions –
It's the usual suspects for me, Geek Syndicate, Nerdist Writers Panel, Austin Film Festival's On Story podcast, Comics Experience Make Comics, Comic Book Outsiders, Word Balloon and The Hat Decides (which I hear is due back very soon). Plaudits must got to PJ and Doktor Andy for taking over The Sidekickcast and making it their own thing. I will, of course, direct you to Bags of Action the action movie show I present with my friend and writing partner Steve Aryan.
So, there you have it. Those choices were a lot harder than last year, with a wealth of things I really enjoyed across all mediums. That's not including some of the older things that I really liked such as the whole run of Battlestar Galactica, classic albums by Peter Gabriel era Genesis, The Dark Tower comics from Marvel and the exceptional Secret Identity Superman book by Busiek and Immonen - all of which were ineligible of course. Anyway, here's to another year filled with things to enjoy.
I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of my previous work and to give a bit of insight into what went into their creation. I'm kicking things off with the first mini series I had published, after years of writing short stories, "The Interactives" was released by Markosia in August 2011.
This book was definitely a labour of love and The Interactives was a very personal piece of work. I clung to the old adage about writing something that only you could write, dispensed with thinking too much about the audience or market and just wrote what felt right. Less dark and less sophisticated than other books I'd started to write, changing direction for this series was very liberating. A couple of the Marvel books I was reading at the time ended up being big influences on the book's tone, Paul Cornell's Captain Britain and MI-13 and Dan Slott and Christos Gage's Mighty Avengers run. Those two books gave me the confidence to have more fun with the subject matter and to be more comfortable setting it in Britain too.
The book was inspired by lots of of different things, although articles on library closures and falling literacy rates helped fuel the over-riding concept, as did the rise in online media and user generated content. The main character Scallywag (named after the nickname my Father in Law gave my daughter) is loosely based on me. The character has to come to terms with not being able to do everything himself, or expecting others to contribute to a task in the way he would have. That's all familar territory for me personally. Learning to be part of a team and an effective leader, without trying to do everything yourself or getting people to do things your way was part of my journey into management.
I was living in Monmouth and travelling back and forth to Gloucester when the bulk of the book was written, those journeys played a key role in the visuals. The first part of the story is set in Monmouth and the book's opening visuals, a dragon flying over the Welcome to Wales sign, was conjured up on my commute.
Later scenes are set in the field behind our garden at the time and then the action moves into the town, so it was very much a case of writing what I could see around me. Stonehenge also features in the book, an obvious mystical destination and also one fuelled by a school trip many years ago. Shifting the action to London (which was originally going to be the US) was partially to make the book more universal, but also to tap into my fascination with the tourist side of the city. I wanted to do some big moments like in Godzilla or King Kong, but with London landmarks being under siege instead. It was great fun getting to bring that to life.
Scallywag's shop 'Killed the cat' is in Bristol's St.Nicholas Market, a place I used to love walking around when I was in the city for comic conventions or work. I actually used to meet for coffee with writer Rob Williams (Unfollow, Ordinary, Dr.Who) right next to the market to get writing advice. He also gave me some great notes on the first draft of the script, one which has a completely different team being dispatched in the second issue. It also featured a dwarf Axl Rose impersonator and an appearance by the Cerne giant.
There's a sense of nostalgia in the book too, which has since become even more prevalent in the entertainment world with constant reboots, reimaginings, reworks and delayed sequels to the things we all liked as children. In 'Killed the Cat' you can see a wealth of items that relate to my childhood viewing and reading, like Alf, Centurions, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Airwolf, Fighting Fantasy Books etc. Music is also something that ended up playing a big part in the book, with some of my musical heroes showing up, particularly those who are no longer with us. When I look back I do wonder if some of these elements were self indulgent, but I always justify it by thinking that the main character is around my age and would have had the same cultural influences I did. These were also elements that helped make the book something that I don't think anyone else would have created.
I pulled in things like the Suicide Angel from another mini series I'd plotted out but aborted, took more influence from trips to London, including my first ever MCM Comic Con, and from a family visit to Puzzlewood. Looking back I'm not sure how I managed to pull all these different things into a little three issue book.
Ultimately it was the team of collaborators I had on the book that played the biggest part in making The Interactives something special, which was very fitting to the theme of the story. I advertised for a penciller/inker on a number of different sites and had an overwhelming response. 17 different artists ended up doing some iniital sample pages and it was Argentinian artist Luciano Vecchio whose work ended up suiting the book the most. His take on the characters made them suddenly far more three dimensional and his work on additional sample pages ended up having a big bearing on the rest of the story. I only had a few pages written when I started looking for collaborators, so his approach helped shape the characters and the world they inhabit. Luciano's artwork has an animation feel, which fit the tone and feel of the book perfectly. He's since gone on to work with both Marvel and DC, but I'd absolutely love to work with him again one day.
Colourist Yel Zamor has been working with my colleagues at Orang Utan Comics already and when I saw her colours on Luciano's artwork there was no way anyone else was colouring this book. She did an exceptional job, not only on the colours, but also as a sounding board and as a stroy editor, letting me know when a scene or sequence didn't quite work for her. That level of investment in the project really made it a pleasure to work on, with ideas and concepts flying back and forth between all three of us. Yel even cosplayed as girl7, one of the book's main characters at Bristol Comic Expo. You can see more of her work on The Only Good Dalek (BBC Books) and The Irons: Hybrid (Madefire). Adding longtime collaborator Ian Sharman on letters, pre-press and edits rounded off our team.
Reviews from the likes of Broken Frontier, Comics Bulletin and Sequential Tart were very positive and my only real regret is that more people didn't get to read the book. I do have a sequel loosely plotted, so maybe one day I'll return to the world again.
You can find out more about the book on my old blog - Always Write and if you'd like to pick up a copy, you can do that by clicking on the cover below.
I often post about the comics I'm currently writing, but haven't shared what I've been reading as much lately so I thought that was rather overdue. I'm currently working my way through the 20 issue run of Fallen Angel by Peter David and David Lopez, from when that book was at DC. The most recent things I read before that were The Fifth Beatle and the Blacksad series of books, both through Dark Horse and the full Locke and Key series from IDW.
When it comes to ongoing books, I tend to stick with ones that I wish I'd written myself. The following books are ones I'm following, either in monthly issues or as collected versions, and they all meet that criteria.
Lazarus (Image) This is the only book I read on an issue by issue monthly basis currently. Defintiely right up my street, as it's a futuristic sci-fi series, grounded in reality with a strong political and social commentary to it. Greg Rucka writes this one, with Michael Lark on art. Issue 20 is due out on Wednesday.
Rocket Raccoon (Marvel) I was reading this monthly until the run finished, but I just found out that it's starting up again in December with Skottie Young writing and one of my favourite artists Filipe Andrade on art. I didn't know the character prior to the movie, but read the full Abnett/Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy run earlier in the year before diving into this, and the Star Lord series. I love Skottie Young's sense of humour and characterisation and I'll be subscribing again when the book returns.
Southern Bastards (Image) Jason Aaron and Jason LaTour have made something very special with this book, I got that feeling when I saw them both on panels at Thought Bubble last year and I was proven to be correct. Heartfelt and brutal, this small town thriller will live with you for a long time after you read it. I loved the second trade and can't wait for the third.
Saga (Image) At the end of every interview on the Nerdist Writer's Panel the guest seems to say that they are reading Saga. Who can blame them? Brian K Vaughan is my favourite current writer (I need to find time for We stand on Guard and Paper Girls too) and I'm crazy about Fiona Staples' art. There's probably not much left to say about this heartfelt space opera, but much like in Y the Last Man and Runaways, it's the characters that make a huge connection with me as a reader. I'm a little behind on this series in trades and need to pick up Volume 5.
Nailbiter (Image) I always say I'm not a horror guy, but seem to be gravitating to those kind of stories more and more. People kept telling me how good this is, so I decided to check it out. I've read the first two trades and need to pick up the third. It's an absolutely gripping series, written by Joshua Williamson with exceptional art by Mike Henderson. This serial killer based smalltown drama has been compared to Twin Peaks and Se7en, and with good reason.
Revival (Image) Probably my favourite book overall, because I absolutely love the way it's written and I often find myself trying to break down the creative process in this book to help with my own work. Tim Seeley writes this one, with Mike Norton on art. Another small town book and a horror/thriller with very well rounded characters, so it kind of ticks all the boxes the other books here do combined. I've read the first five trades and the sixth is out in December.
The Fuse (Image) A police procedural in a space station gives you the high concept here, but there's far more going on than purely what's on the surface. If the first two trades are anything to go by this series will be around for a while. It feels a bit like Mega City Undercover at times and that's no bad thing. Antony Johnston writes the series working with artist Justin Greenwood.
Sex Criminals (Image) Funny, warm and clever, this book was understandably a breakout hit for Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. The central romance, between a couple who can stop time when they orgasm, is very believable from the first few pages. Saga is the other book where that's the case, they both give the film True Romance a run for its money for most believable couple in fiction. I'm two trades in and looking forward to the third.
I think that's it, unless there is anything I've forgotten. Image definitely dominates my reading currently and I'm certainly drawn more to creator owned books these days overall. There are lots of other books I'd love to be reading, but don't have enough time for many more titles.
I was one of the guest speakers last night at the inaugural Creative Cardiff event, their first Show and Tell. I was asked to bring along an object to help explain my creative process, alongside SC Productions' Sarah Cole and Moshi Moshi dolls' dressmaker Hilary Wagstaff. My little notebook, while not as visually interesting as a penguin or a homemade pin cushion, did help me to explain how I approach things.
It was good to talk about day dreaming and how starting into space is such a vital part of creativity for me. Also to share how keeping a small pocket sized notebook to jot down notes, do crude sketches and put my stream of consciousness onto paper is another vital part of how I come up with ideas. For me, once you are sitting typing you're mainly formatting and taking what's in your head and in your little book and making it palatable for others and the nods of approval suggested I may not be alone in that.
It was good to get to discuss both sides of my creative life and I got to show some of the pages from Flux and explained how I've adapted to co-writing.
I also got to outline how my role as Creative Producer at Bait Studio works and how I approach working on other people's creative projects. It reminded me how much I enjoy receiving film scripts for our visual effects work, reading them once as a writer and then again with my producer hat on.
It was a fascinating evening and nowhere near as scary as I thought it was going to be prior to stepping up on stage. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing how the other speakers approach their work and it was good to meet lots of other local like minded people too. Creative Cardiff looks like a big step in the right direction, joining up the dots in a very creative centred city. I look forward to attending more events in the future.
My second one-shot for the Unseen Shadows universe, created by author, podcaster, tv presenter and renaissance man Barry Nugent will be available very soon. The Lament of Lady Mary, a story set at the end of The Crusades which focusses on Sir Oliver Cademus and his relationship with his Mother, features art by Conor Boyle,colours by Jo McLelland and letters by Paul McLaren. It's one of two new stories that will be on sale at Thought Bubble in Leeds next month. You can see a sneak preview below.
The eagle eyed among you may have noticed that I mentioned taking on an editorial role at Comics Experience in the About section of this site and also in my Twitter bio. That role, and the reason behind it, have now been made official on the CE blog.
I'm excited to be part of the team involved with the upcoming slate of digital-exclusive titles launching on ComiXology. We're also opening up submissions again next week, giving Comics Experience Workshop members a month to pitch their ideas for new titles. There's an abundance of talent in the workshop and I'm excited to help give up and coming creators an avenue to showcase their work. More on this to follow in the coming months.
Music is a very important part of who I am and it plays a significant role in my writing. I've been reminded of that a lot lately and the gig I went to on Sunday afternoon brought those thoughts to the fore once more for a number of reasons. It got me thinking about my relationship with music, what part it plays in my everyday life and in turn my creative pursuits.
Music has the power to connect people, to elevate us above and beyond our own limitations and restrictions. In many ways I think music is one of the things that makes us human. I'd be lost without films, TV shows, books and comics but I have a feeling that music is the entertainment medium that I'd be most unable to live without. Probably because I could listen to music while trying to make things for those other outlets myself. I actually tried the making music thing, but having attempted to sing in a couple of bands as a teenager I soon realised that wasn't going to be my most fruitful creative endeavour.
My gateway to music was through my Dad, I didn't like absolutely everything he listened to but he's someone who tends to have music playing all the time, in the house or in the car, so I was exposed to a lot of music at a young age. I actually took my eight year old daughter to the concert with me on the weekend and watching her sing along to songs she'd discovered in my car reminded me of learning songs the same way, at around the same age.
As I type this I'm listening to an album that my Dad and I played a lot when I was seven, as that's the age I was when it was released. Time by ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), came out in 1981 and unsurprisingly it was the first concept album I'd ever listened to. The songwriting and the production made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and overwhelmed my young psyche with a range of unexpected emotions. This wasn't just music to dance to or sing along with, this was music to think and feel to, music that told stories. Thirty four years later, the feeling I get listening to this album is the same as it was then and I still know all of the words. It's an evocative collection of songs, conjuring images of the future, time and space travel. The young writer in me found inspiration in this collection of songs when he first started putting pen to paper. Any album with a prologue and epilogue will help teach about about structure, build up and pacing, even if it's only subliminally.
Robin of Sherwood was my favourite program growing up, it ran from 1984 to 1986 so I was ten to twelve years old when it was shown on ITV. My favourite character in the series was defintely the Saracen assassin Nasir, played by actor Mark Ryan (who Wikipedia tells me has written for DC Comics, in fact his whole career sounds fascinating). As well as enjoying the acting and adventure on the show, this was the first time I'd really noticed the music on TV. In films I was used to the score being an integral part of the whole experience, but I'd never felt this sensation on the small screen before. Robin (The Hooded Man) was the theme, but the whole soundtrack was something very special indeed. My Dad bought a copy of "Legend" by Clannad, which had all the songs from the series on it and we played that a lot in the house and in the car. Those songs didn't just live on through that cassette copy though (which come to think of it may actually have been my older brother's), it also played almost constantly in my head. Growing up in the countryside meant lots of fields and woods to play in, and those Clannad songs were the backdrop for my own Robin Hood adventures too. Years later I bought my own CD copy and I still listen to it regularly. It was one of the albums I put on when I was writing medieval story "The Lament of Lady Mary" for the Unseen Shadows universe, along with Last Samurai, Kingdom of Heaven and some other selected soundtracks.
My tastes have changed over the years, but I still have to listen to music every day. Music is still one of the things that inspires me as a person and also helps fuel my own creativity. A lyric, a song title, the production values of an album, a particular riff or refrain, all can spark story ideas or help shape the ones I'm working on. Much of this is relatively under the surface, but there are times when I use music in a more direct sense when I'm writing.
My one and only screenplay Restitution Day (a Western) is named after a Jerry Cantrell song lyric and contains characters taking their surnames from Cantrell himself and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. In my early comic work I weaved in references to the likes of Iron Maiden, The Smiths and The Doors, into the shorts I wrote for anthologies and I've written two separate stories featuring vampire rock bands - the most recent Blood Dolls appeared in the British Comics Showcase from Markosia. I totally wore my heart on my sleeve in my graphic novel The Interactives, which featured a character taking on the physical appearance of Mother Love Bone lead singer Andy Wood and a group of other deceased rock stars.
One of the mini series I'm working on, Viva Las Venus, was loosely inspired by PM Dawn's song Downtown Venus, an old series idea 5th Outlaw took some cues from the Velvet Revolver video for She builds quick machines. I was also planning to delve into another music centred concept with a mini series idea simply called Prog, but the existence of This Damned Band by Paul Cornell and Tony Parker from Dark Horse, probably put paid to that one. I'm currently editing and writing for a Pearl Jam based anthology I put together called no (comic) code, which features almost eighty other comic creators with an affinity to the band too. So I have plenty of out and out influences that come from the world of music.
For each series I write I usually create a playlist, not necessarily to write to as I try to avoid lyrics when I'm working, but to help shape the tone and feel of the narrative. I might put that playlist on during the staring into space stage of the writing process, be that sat at my desk, in the shower, car or gym. Then when the actual physically getting words onto paper stage happens I shift to the likes of Matt Stevens, And so I watch you from Afar and film soundtracks to stop me from being too distracted. Although silence usually ends up being my final destination once I get into the real nitty gritty of the work.
So what does this all have to do with the gig I went to on Sunday. What was it about that two and a half hour show that made me think so much about how important music is to me, or why and how it helps fuel me as a writer?
The concert on Sunday was at Kings Place, near Kings Cross in London and the band we went to see was Big Big Train. I discovered the British prog band via comic artist friend Marc Laming (Planet Hulk, King's Watch) after he shared the video for Make Some Noise on twitter and made it his 'jam'. That song was quite immediate and not as overtly prog as the rest of their music, it also reminded me of those teenage bands I mentioned earlier. I delved into their English Electric: Full Power double album and was instantly liking what I heard. I was already a big fan of Porcupine Tree and this was a slight left turn from that band, through the prism of Peter Gabriel era Genesis.
Fast forward just under two years and Big Big Train have become one of my favourite bands and certainly my favourite current one from this side of the Atlantic. Like many other progressive rock outfits they are immensely popular with other creative people. Fables and Miracleman artist Mark Buckingham is a fellow Passenger (the name given to the band's loyal fanbase, as seen on the official Facebook page) and he was also at the gig on Sunday too. Comedian and actor Mark Benton also put in an appearance at Kings Place and Justice League artist Jason Fabok is also a fan.
So why was Sunday's concert so important, what was it about two and a half hours of award winning progressive rock that felt so enlightening? It was a number of things, taking my daughter with me was part of it, seeing how much she enjoyed the show (we're in the photo above together) reminded me how I bonded with my own Father over shared musical tastes. That took me back to those early albums and early musical experiences that shaped my first forrays into writing when I was at school. Secondly the whole thing was so joyful, the crowd were all complete afficinados of the band and each musician seemed to be thriving on the fact that they literally had a captive audience to play to. Then, above and beyond all else, there was the music, some of the best songs I've discovered in recent years played expertly by a set of extremely talented musicians, each bringing something to the stage that made the whole thing far, far more than the sum of its expert parts.
With reflection there was a lot I could take away from this concert and from becoming a fan of Big, Big Train and listening to their music.
1) Collaborate with lots of talented people.
Fidelity isn't a trait I hold highly in my musical heroes. Artists like Neil Finn, Steven Wilson, Mark Lanegan and Mike Patton record under a variety of names and with a variety of musicians and their discographies have been all the better for it. Members of the Seattle bands that were such a big part of my teenage years have tended to form supergroups and have numerous side projects on the go too. I like the fact I have music by At the Drive In, Mars Volta, Bosnian Rainbows and Antemasque in my collection too. Big Big Train evolved from being a duo into the eight-piece band they are today (thirteen when they add in the brass section) and each member of the band has other projects and other collaborators. Founding members Andy Poole and Greg Spawton have changed instruments over the years, guitarist Dave Gregory is also in Tin Spirits and was on twelve XTC albums, Rikard Sobjolm also fronts Beardfish in his native Sweden, Nick D'Virgilio was also the Spock's Beard drummer, he's recorded solo records, worked with Cirque de Soleil and appeared on a Genesis album, violinist Rachel Ward used to perform in a duo alongside her Father, vocalist David Longdon and pianist/double bass player Danny Manners have both been in the Louis Philippe band. I'm remnded that I can write alone and co-write with people, work with a variety of artists and in a mixture of genres to keep my work fresh and interesting.
2) Don't be afraid to be British.
Big Big Train's award winning song East Coast Racer, which closed the second set on Sunday, is about the Mallard train, Judas Unrepentant centres around art forger/restorer Tom Keating, they have songs that feature places like Highfields, Upton Heath, London and Winchester. In my own work The Interactives is one of the few British set stories I've written, as the action takes place in both Monmouth and London. Listening to Big Big Train has reminded me that not all my stories need to be in space or the USA.
3) Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other.
Prog rock is a genre of music that sometimes doesn't get the respect it deserves (you could level the same thought process at comics as a storytelling medium too), one of the things it does really well is taking lots of diverse influences and experiences into one song, one album, one show. BBT and other bands like them remind me to try new things, to experiment and to not be afraid of failure.
4) Don't be afraid to be emotional.
Grown men cried on Sunday, that is the power of the music and lyrics of many Big Big Train songs. You are taken on an emotional journey, powerful enough to make you feel very different by the time the song is over. My favourite comic writers do the same thing in their work, the likes of Jason Aaron and Brian K Vaughan. I'm reminded that this isn't a bad thing to aspire to.
Big Big Train are a band whose lyrics hold weight, but they also seem to approach what they do with a sense of collective joy. Guitarist Dave Gregory smiled almost continuously through the thirteen song show and I'd love to capture that feeling, the unadulterated joy of creation and sharing it with an audience. I'm going to remember his smiling face and use that to push me forward whenever I feel like my writing has hit a wall, or if I'm riddled with self doubt and over analysing my early drafts.
Sunday was an amazing, magical, truly life affirming and almost spiritual occasion, probably the best concert I've ever attended. It will live long in my memory, but the impact on my writing will hopefully be permanent. Music has always shaped me as a person and as a creative and Big Big Train will continue to be a big part of that.
Stephen Aryan, my co-writer on comic mini series Flux (along with a few other titles in development), has his debut novel coming out next month. Battlemage is the first in his Age of Darkness epic fantasy trilogy, coming out through Orbit Books.
“I can command storms, summon fire and unmake stone,” Balfruss growled. “It’s dangerous to meddle with things you don’t understand.”
Balfruss is a battlemage, sworn to fight and die for a country that fears and despises his kind.Vargus is a common soldier — while mages shoot lightning from the walls of the city, he’s down in the front lines getting blood on his blade.Talandra is a princess and spymaster, but the war may force her to risk everything and make the greatest sacrifice of all.
Magic and mayhem collide in this explosive epic fantasy from a major new talent.
It's not exactly the latest news from San Diego Comic Con, but it did think it was about time I posted about the progress of the various mini series I'm working on.
Flux - I'm co-writing this sci-fi crime series with Stephen Aryan, with Maysam Barza on art duties and Sean Rinehart on letters. Twenty pages of Issue 1 have been inked and once the final two pages are complete, we'll be prepping for colouring and lettering. The script for Issue 2 has been through a few drafts and it is currently getting peer and pro feedback over on the Comics Experience workshop. We hope to have the full four issue series completed this year and released early in 2016.
Fifteen-Minute Heroes - This super-hero series has art by Cheuk Po and letters by Tomas Marijanovic. Issue 1 has been coloured and Issue 2 is written and is about to be re-written, following the latest round of feedback from the Comics Experience workshop.
The Promise - This crime series is also co-written by Stephen Aryan, with Simone Guglielmini (Near Death) on art. The whole book is plotted out, we've written much of Issue 1 and have a pitch package that we've been sending out to prospective publishers.
Saturday Mornings - This all ages fantasy book is plotted out and half of Issue 1 is written. It was recently submitted to a publisher for consideration. Artist/s TBC.
Beta Wolf - I'm in the very early stages of this action series, having changed the title and made some major plot improvements to the initial idea I had. Plan is to complete the plot and move onto scripting very soon. Artist TBC.
Viva Las Venus - This is a very old space opera idea I had, which I've given a major overhaul recently. In the very early stages and won't be plotting it fully until other projects have moved further along. Artist TBC.
The Rush - This is an experimental sci-fi series, put together with a writer's room approach. The five issue first arc has been plotted out by myself, Stephen Aryan and Cy Dethan (which some initial assistance from Chris Lewis). Three issues have been written, one each by Steve, Cy and I. We'll be coming to this book soon and planning to have a different artist on each issue, much like Zero from Image Comics.
Forgotten Planet - This sci-fi adventure was originally developed with artist Azim Akberali. Later I returned to the book with Giancarlo Caracuzzo (Random Acts of Violence) and we ran two failed Kickstarter campaigns with Scar Comics. At some point I would like to revisit this and may attempt crowdfunding again.
Hopefully with so much going on, there will be plenty of my work on the stands next year.
I'll be making my second comic convention appearance of 2015 this Saturday, when the much missed Cardiff Independent Comic Expo makes a welcome return. The show is moving across town from the Mercure Holland House Hotel to its new home at the Masonic Hall.
I don't have a table at the show this time around and I'm not a guest of the event, but I should be around for most of the day. As it's my home town show, I also get to bring my daughter along for the morning, which is always fun. Very much looking forward to catching up with people and seeing what new books are out.
You can find out more about the show here.
I have lots going on at the moment writing wise, so I thought it was time to set up a slightly more official looking website, rather than just relying on a Wordpress blog.
Expect to hear more about the writing process here and to see work in development, updates on convention appearances etc.
There's plenty to share in the second half of 2015 and beyond.