Showing posts with label British. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kieron Gillen On Diversity


Kieron Gillen has written some of my favorite comics over the last few years: Phonogram, Young Avengers and Wicked + Divine. He's also work on Thor and other properties around the Marvel Universe. Some of the things that he writes resonates with me, particularly because of his use of pop music as a thread through his writing. I've found a few good indie bands because of his comics (and I rediscovered my love for the unappreciated British power pop band Kenickie).

In the wake of Warren Ellis' long-running email newsletter, I've started following the newsletters of a couple of other comics creators, and Gillen's newsletter is one of them. If you know of any comic creators doing email newsletters like this, let me know. I'd love to see more. I would love to see more RPG creators doing something like this as well.

In my recent post from Warren Ellis' newsletter about privacy, one of the links was to setting up a free email newsletter. I think that it would be interesting to see people like Steve Kenson, or some of the OSR people even, give this a shot. It is sort of like a private blog. I've been considering it myself.

However, I digress. This post was going to be about Gillen. In his newsletter of today he posted a quote from his self-introduction to a panel about diversity that he was a member of a a comic convention. I thought the words were good ones, and helped sum up why people like myself call for wider representation, and a greater diversity of views, in comics, role-playing games, and other forms of media, geeky and otherwise.

I hope that you like what he said as much as I did. I think that it should be provoking some conversations.
Here are a selection of diverse thoughts about the state of diversity.
Perfection is impossible. Relax. “Progressive” imply change. There is no utopia, no stasis. Even the most radical in the room will be Germaine Greer one day. In 20 years time, almost everything all of us are about to say will be problematic. Especially, I suspect, the word “problematic.”
Hearing about girls sitting down and reading Ms. Marvel in the middle of a comic shop and breaking into tears would move anyone. Even a monster like me. However, as important this is, we must not forget the powerful effect on people other than those depicted. By consuming culture about people other than ourselves we flower, and our capacity for understanding and empathy expand. Diversity of culture we consume is one of the the best weapons we have to improve the world. In as much as I was saved, I suspect was saved by Tenar in Ursula Le Guin’s Tombs Of Atuan. I think that Rey may yet save a generation of boys.
It is heartbreaking when I speak to my female peers and say they’ve never had a female role model.
I often wonder how having female heroes effected Jamie McKelvie and my own work. We’re monsters, but I suspect less so.
Diversity is not just a social justice issue. Diversity is a formalist issue. Diversity makes better art, as it is truer to the world. The world is diverse. If the art our culture produces does not have the diversity of the world it pertains to show, the art is failing us.
As a creative community we are in a position where all but the biggest dinosaurs agree that diversity is good. We are all pro diversity. This is a problem, in the same way that almost everyone expresses anti-racist sentiments in a world when everyone, via the background radiation of society, is to some degree racist.
To quote Jordie Bellaire’s campaign, Comics Are For Everyone. However, that should not be confused with All Comics Are For Everyone. You cannot please everyone. That is both a truism and a directive. You should not be trying to please everyone. Ironically, the self-censorship makes less diverse art including less diverse world-views.
Creatives are not just a machine to deliver diversity.
Creatives are petrified in Writing The Other. To be honest, Creatives are petrified of Writing The Same.
I have a test for diversity. If you are using the Bechdel test in any seriousness, your writing about diversity is almost certainly pretty poor. This is surface level reading of culture. Really thinking about sexuality, about gender, about race, about everything needs to be deeper.
In a single work of art, Diversity is a zero sum game. To write a love triangle between men in Young Avengers I had to include more men. As such, I had less women than I’d like in Young Avengers. An expectation of full diversity inside any individual work actually limits the stories you’re able to tell.
Diversity is necessary but not sufficient. Treating bad art with good diversity kindly is worse than useless, because if we do then we are reducing the value of our critical opinion’s coin. As such, it worries me when I see articles about my books which have the #1 reason to read it being the diverse cast. That petrifies me.
The biggest problem in comics is the lack of diversity in the talent pool. Frustratingly, there is no quick fix for all manner of tedious economic reasons. There is a medium term fix. I believe in five years, the industry will be almost unrecognisable. I am optimistic, god help me.
I think white men should probably shut up more. So I will.
He also mentions "formalist" in this introduction, and in case you're wondering what that means, he had some talk about it over here.

I hope that his words spark something in some of you.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fantasy Gaming On The British Side: Pelinore

I meant to go live with this a week ago, and got wrapped up in some other things. Better late than never.

I've always been interested in the "British Arm" of the early days of British role-playing. Much like with the "US West Coast" style, they brought a different energy and style to that particularly Midwestern mode of fantasy role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons. The British, after all, are the ones who brought us The Fiend Folio and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying. Of course, they also brought us the Monstermark, so I guess that you take the bad with the good.

What has recently surfaced on the web is a netbook compiling the Pelinore campaign and adventures that were published in Imagine magazine. Imagine was started by Don Turnbull, who had written for White Dwarf (including creating the Monstermark system) and Games Workshop before working for TSR UK.

What makes this document so interesting is that it is a snapshot of an approach to fantasy RPGs that really doesn't exist any more. Some of it still exists in some forms in places like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, but what you get in its current form is different from what you got as a game back then.

If I were starting a new game right now, I would probably dig into The Collected Pelinore as my setting. It is a realized world with interesting NPCs, maps, and some interesting rules variants for your old school D&D-ish fantasy games. One of the things that I found interesting was the section on capturing monsters (instead of killing them) for use in an arena, and how to calculate XP rewards for that. "The Arena doesn't want unfettered aerial monsters - who is going to pay to watch a harpie fly away?" That's just a great quote.

Ultimately the reason that I am spreading this around is because I think that we could use more diversity in our old school conversations. What people like Gygax and Arneson did to give us our hobby was a great thing, but getting to see the weird and wild directions that people take this hobby into is a great thing, too.

Update: Thanks to +Tim Huntley (in the comments), here is a link to a site that has scanned and compiled the original Pelinore into a PDF. I haven't read through this PDF yet, so I don't know how complete it is. The truth may lay somewhere in between this PDF and The Collected Pelinore. This is useful as much as an historical document, much like the Fiend Factory file below.

Update 2: +B. Scot Hoover, the architect of The Collected Pelinore is also archiving the Pelinore modules. Right now you can find two of them (In Search of the New Gods and The Awakening) on his Google drive. In Search of the New Gods is for characters 4-7th level, and The Awakening is for characters of 7-8th level. I'll leave this here for right now, but I will probably break these modules out into their own blog post once a few more of them come out.

A big thanks to +B. Scot Hoover for all of this hard work in preserving a piece of gaming history.

As an added bonus, I give you a compilation of the old Fiend Factory monster articles from the old days of White Dwarf. You may recognize many of these from when they ended up in the Fiend Folio, but these are the original versions of these monsters, as they were first published. Some are for D&D and some are for AD&D (the emphasis changed in the magazine when the new edition of the rules came out). This PDF is old and shop worn, and has been circulating the internet for a long, long time. I'm sure that most of you have seen it by now, but it is still a good artifact and for those few of you who haven't seen it...here it is.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Invisibles Friday: Poor People Gonna Rise Up...

So, every Friday now I am going to post about an issue of the Grant Morrison comic The Invisibles. Part of me wants to just pick issues at random and talk about them, but I'll be good and stick to talking about the run in order. I'm going to be honest, despite having loved comics like The Doom Patrol and Sebastian O, I was not a huge fan of this comic at first. The first story arc  just didn't connect with me like some of Morrison's previous work had done.

I read the first story arc and decided that the book wasn't for me.

Then months later I read about the controversy surrounding the book in the comic press (back in the days when we read magazines to find out about what was going on in comics). DC Comics had some dialog changed in the book, in one case a line spoken by the Marquis de Sade was changed so that it would not sound as if children were being "used" in the story, and in another case a reference to Walt Disney was blacked out. What is interesting is the fact that both bits were restored to what Morrison intended in the collected editions.

However, the article that talked about the censoring also talked about the second story arc Arcadia, and the article intrigued me enough to pick the book back up and start reading it again. I didn't stop until the book ended its run.

The Invisibles has received a lot of press and critical thought over the years. I am not sure what this series is going to contribute to that body of work, but we will see. My intention isn't to be scholarly or to compile annotations. I am just going to go through each issue, give my thoughts and impressions and talk about what I saw in that book. Breaking down all of the magical symbolism will probably take a stronger mind than mine.

Beetles and Beatles play an important role in this first issue. Beetles play an important part in the symbolism of birth and rebirth, and that is the running theme of this first story arc (and most of the run of The Invisibles as well). Dane McGowan must be reborn into his role of Jack Frost in order to save the world from Armageddon. This is a theme that Morrison uses often. His JLA run dealt with the Earth's super-heroes running up against the ultimate Armageddon in the form of the sleeping God Weapon Mageddon. This wasn't an unusual theme around the millennium.

John Lennon is the other Beatle toplay a part in the story. Dane see him talking with Stuart Sutcliffe on the banks of a Liverpool river, a moment of soft time when the past and the future were able to touch. Later in the issue Lennon is adapted in Chaos Magick style into a psychedelic Godshead and summoned by King Mob as an augury of the future.
Is Lennon actually being summoned, or it is just a metafictional trick of King Mob's unconscious mind, telling him what he already knows to be true? In a book like The Invisibles the answer can go either way.

For a lot of people, Grant Morrison is a fairly incomprehensible writer. He certainly doesn't write the typical comic book stories, whether he's working on a book like The Invisibles or comics like New X-Men or JLA. He has a certain psychedelic style (of which the above page is fairly representative) and an enthusiasm for the medium that I find contagious. I may not like everything that he does, but when he is on I think he is one of the best writers in comics.

The antagonists introduced in this issue show two of Morrison's influences writ large: Williams S. Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. The reason that I use the more generic term of "antagonist," because I am not always convinced that King Mob and his Invisibles cell are always the hero of this story. Even as the "good guys," they do a lot of things that don't set them that far from the antagonists.


Control is bad. Freedom is awesome. It is Michael Moorcock's Law versus Chaos, D&D great, eternal conflict, done up in comic book form. This isn't anything new, really. DC Comics has used a version of Moorcock's Law vs. Chaos for decades in their book. This won't be the only time that Moorcock's influence will show up in this book.

I think that for me, a big part of the appeal of this book (once it really had my attention) was the fact that it took a lot of the things that I was interested in: Moorcock, Lovecraft, Burroughs; and wrote about them in a new context. Throughout the run we will see visits from the Divine Marquis, Borges and P.K. Dick on the evolving story as well.

One thing that I will likely get to in one of these posts was the Grant Morrison Versus Warner Brothers story that happened, as Morrison claimed that the movie The Matrix took some of the concepts of The Invisibles without crediting him for them. As we will see, the theme of initiation (so important to occult thinking) will be important to this first story arc, and as initiation is a fairly universal literary/mystic theme it is not unusual that stories that deal with the theme will have some points of commonality.

Corridors are an important theme as well, as they are symbolic of journeys and traveling. This is something that will pop up more than once as we go through these comics.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. How did this comic hold up? I almost wish that I hadn't read these comics in a long while, so that I could come at them with a fresher perspective. That said, I do still think that they hold up fairly well. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is part of a British cultural "invasion," not all that different from the invasion lead by The Beatles in the 60s. Morrison's work represents a comic/literary aspect, falling in step with musicians like Blur and Oasis, of a movement that took the popular culture of the past and synthesized it into something that was representative of the (then) current times. A lot of the fears and insecurities that The Invisibles comments upon are still plaguing the world as well.

With The Invisibles, Morrison gives us a millennial view of Britian in comic book form, not dis-similar to what Jamie Delano gave us in the 80s with Hellblazer, the first John Constantine solo comic. Both of these comics are an attempt to look into the psyche of the nation of their respective times. In a way, it builds upon the British comics culture started by magazines like 2000AD and creators like Pat Mills.

As we will see, more even than mainstream books like JLA or even Aztek, The Invisibles will show us the heights and depths of Morrison's powers as a creator. Some of his greatest storytelling is going to happen in these pages, and we are going to go along for the ride.

Why should you read The Invisibles if you haven't already? Well, if you like any of the authors that I have listed as being influential on this comic then you might like this comic as well. If you are looking for a comic that makes you think, is more than just a passive form of storytelling, and that deals with more than just comic book super-heroes, you should check out The Invisibles. Sometimes horror, sometimes fantasy and sometimes science fiction, this comic is most likely the story that Morrison was meant to tell in comics. So, even if you have only read his work on Batman, or Action Comics, check out a couple of the early issues of this on Comixology or pick up the first trade from your local comic store (or your preferred internet seller) and give it a try. There's a lot in here for gamers to find as well. If you're looking for something new for your modern horror or adventure campaigns, you could do much worse than to tap into the energies of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles.

Next week we will be back with a look at the second issue.

Now, since music was an important influence on Morrison's writing I am going to close with an unrelated music video. I think that it ties in well enough with the story of Dane that I named this post after a quote from it.


We're talking about a revolution...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dorkland Interview With British Comics Force Pat Mills

Pat Mills is a force in British comics, and one who may not be as recognized as a name in the States despite the fact that he created or co-created such important and seminal characters as Judge Dredd, Nemesis The Warlock, Slaine and Marshall Law. He is also responsible for starting the British comic magazine 2000AD, which is still publishing today. I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Mills because of the upcoming reissue of his Accident Man comics from Titan Comics. Here is how it went...

Dorkland: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Before we get to talking about the reprint of your Accident Man comics, can we set a little of your biography for those who may not know about it? You started out developing magazines and comics for D.C. Thomson and IPC, but for many one of your greatest, and lasting, creations was the 2000AD magazine. How did this come about, and what made you want to create a predominantly science-fiction magazine?

Pat Mills: I'd successfully produced Battle and Action so now IPC wanted another comic for the boys market. Science fiction was about to go big with Star Wars so an SF comic was the logical choice. 2000AD  was very successful when it came out. The film Star Wars followed a few months later and - surprisingly - our sales went down a little. Possibly because some readers went over to Marvel's version of the film.  For me, personally, I could probably adapt to a Western, Crime, or Horror comic. Basic drama and storytelling remains fundamentally the same.

DL: While with 2000AD you’ve created what are probably some of the most enduring characters of modern British comics in Judge Dredd, Nemesis The Warlock, The ABC Warriors and Slaine. Which of these characters are still your favorite, and what makes them still of interest to you as a writer?

PM: That's tough.  Probably Slaine because I'm in the throes of a new Slaine saga with Simon Davis which I'm really enjoying.  It's called A Simple Killing and is set in Britain and is part of a new story arc The Brutania Chronicles.  It holds my interest because there are still things i want to say about Slaine. The relationship with his father, for example, which was never explored in earlier stories. I also enjoy the sense of a character having real longevity and making the later stories every bit as strong as the early ones.

DL: You have created two of my favorite comic characters in Nemesis the Warlock and Marshall Law. Like most of your characters, neither of them are stereotypical comic characters. What qualities does a “Pat Mills” protagonist have to have, and what drives you to create these sorts of characters?

PM: Nemesis was the product of artist Kevin O'Neill and my Catholic  backgrounds. There's so much inspiration there. Torquemada is the embodiment of every racist and religious fanatic I've ever met or heard about.  Marshal Law originated because I have a huge admiration for genuine heroes who are usually ignored in fiction. I have little respect for super heroes who - in mainstream at least - are rarely heroes in the true meaning of the word. Usually they're pillars of the establishment armed with the magical equivalent of America's high tech weaponry which it uses to subdue the Third World. They ain't heroes. So Marshal Law's views and my own are rather close.  Thus  my heroes have to reflect my own experiences or views;  invariably they're under-dogs, often working class. It may be a catharsis for me to write them, but I think I also have a muse who drives me.   Who she/he/it is unknown but it's a powerful motivation and when I write traditional stories they invariably fail because my muse doesn't like them or motivate me.

DL: While Judge Dredd or Marshall Law are characters defined almost by moral absolutes, characters like Mike Fallon in Accident Man or Nemesis or Slaine are much more morally ambiguous. What is it that appeals to you, as a writer, about characters like that?

PM: They're all reflecting  truth. Accident Man kills people and makes it look like accidents. When you look at events over the last twenty years or more it's clear he's out there and kept busy. There was a time when heroes had to be moral in comics, but we've finally caught up with the rest of the media and have ambiguous characters, which reflect moral dilemmas in our own lives. That can be very absorbing to write and read. We need the comic equivalents of Breaking Bad.

DL: Humor is often a part of your stories, from biting satire to broader farces. How important of a tool is humor to you, as a writer?

PM: It's essential in comics. if it's all "straight",  it's probably a little tedious or worthy and readers will turn off. Even in Breaking Bad there's dark humour and so we need the same in comics. Satire tends to be my speciality. I think because the world is not the way it's presented to us and satire is a way of showing this. I grew up on humorous novels and satire - reading everything I could find that was satirical and that's doubtless reflected in my work. Books like Erewhon, Animal Farm, Gulliver's Travels and writers like Stephen Leacock spring to mind.

DL: One of my readers sent this question to me, to ask you: “With Judge Dredd having been made into a movie (twice!) are there any other of your characters that you would like to see adapted to movies or television?”

PM: Slaine, ABC Warriors and Accident Man would seem to be the most likely bets.  And we're looking at optioning Accident Man just now. So if we can wade through the small print in the contract we've been sent, that could happen. It also has the huge advantage of being low budget! It's been optioned before and I'm actually surprised it's never happened.

Charley's War: there is a lot of media interest  at this time because of the Great War anniversary. Hope I can say something more about that very soon.

Marshal Law we made it up to the Warner Brothers boardroom - just a few weeks before Watchmen came out. So that didn't fly - for reasons of timing and possibly the director and screenwriter assigned to the project. It's hard to gauge for certain. But we hope he's due another round.

American Reaper was commissioned by a film company and is a particularly cinematic story But often that's not enough.

Currently, my money is on Accident Man making it into the screen.

DL: If you could go back and give advice to the Pat Mills of the 70s or the 80s, what would that be?

I don't think I would do anything that different because of the pressures at the time.  But I wish I'd developed Misty - rather than just coming up with the concept - because I firmly believe there would be a strong  girls comic and adult female comic market now as a result. Stronger - or rather more popular culture - than it is now.

That's a big regret. But producing three comics was hard work and I really couldn't face another at the time.

DL: Let’s talk about Accident Man. Titan Comics is reprinting these stories in a large collected edition, and the preview of it that I have seen looks great. I was actually lucky enough to have seen some of this story in its original incarnation in your magazine Toxic! A friend brought a near complete run of the magazine back from a trip to the UK. What inspired the creation of this character?

PM: My writing partner Tony Skinner told me these guys really existed and elaborated enough to wet my appetite. Not only that, he had the technical knowledge to figure out how these "accidents" would be committed.  Rather like the way Agatha Christie weaved a whodunnit, Tony loved dreaming up ingenious accidents. We had so much fun writing him.  I wanted someone who was a reflection of the vapid, consumerist times we lived in and continue to live in.   A champion for capitalism, a shallow but very likeable guy.  And a piss-take, of course.

DL: Re-reading the preview of the collected edition, I was struck by just how timeless these stories are. What about Accident Man would appeal to the comic reader of today?

PM: Very little has changed. So we're hoping to put an Accident Man 2014 story on line soon. His hair is shaven now and he's ditched the Armani suits, but otherwise it's business as usual.  At the time we wrote him, I called him GQ Man and i was looking through GQ the other day, at the hairdressers, and the magazine hasn't changed. So Mike Fallon is still GQ Man!

DL: What is next for Pat Mills?

PM: I'm working on a Charley's War style series - Brothers in Arms - with artist David Hitchcock. Because there are so many aspects of World War One that haven't been explored in drama. For instance, government issue of cocaine tablets, a love of ragtime - early jazz - the rock and roll of its day, and widespread trading with the enemy.

DL: Thank you very much, for taking the time to do this interview. As a long time fan, it has been an honor to get the chance to talk with you.

PM: Cheers. Great talking with you, too.  Excellent questions.

Have a look at a preview of the re-issue of Mill's Accident Man comic, coming soon from Titan Comics.