Tim Maytom’s Person of the Year is a venerable institution around these parts, dating all the way back to 2010. Every year since, Tim has come to me, and the following dialogue has ensued: “Alex, can’t I make you my Person of the Year this year? Please?” “No, Tim, that would look too self-congratulatory.” “But you’re my hero, Alex.” “I know, but…” And then Tim has to go and find a different name to add to our own personal Hall of Fame. In previous years, we’ve inaugurated Donald Glover, Amy Poehler, Pete Holmes, Matt Fraction & Kelly Sue DeConnick and most recently Taylor Swift. Most of the time, Tim isn’t wrong. Will this be the year he finally slips up?
We all have a favourite Christmas/New Year tradition. Maybe it’s a Christmas Eve drinking session with people you don’t see as often as you like, or a Boxing Day family walk. For me, it’s Tim Maytom‘s Person of the Year. We’ve recognised five Persons of the Year on this blog, given a boost by the fact that Tim’s a dirty cheat, and last year picked both Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick. This year, I’ve managed to keep his rulebreaking to a minimum. So who will wear the Alex-Spencer.co.uk Sponsored by Tim Maytom Person of the Year crown for the next twelve months? Let’s find out. Taylor Swift is by far the most famous person I have awarded the much-coveted title of Person of the Year to. The previous four entries were far from unknown, but to one degree or another, you had to be interested in them to know who they were. Even Amy Poehler, 2012’s PotY, has a tendency to disappear into her characters, and certainly has a lower profile here in the UK than she does in the States, where SNL put her on more people’s radars. Those kinds of qualifiers don’t apply to Taylor Swift. Even if they’ve never heard her songs, the vast majority of people will have heard of her, thanks to the tabloid machine. And the number of people who haven’t heard at least one of her songs must now be a considerably thinner wedge of the pie chart, thanks to 1989. Swift’s fifth studio album wasn’t the catapult that sent her into the mainstream consciousness (that was 2012’s Red, with its peerless “We Are Never Getting Back Together”, and the press at the height of their ‘who’s Taylor Swift dating?’ mania) but it is the one that cements her position as a global pop sensation. Much has been made of 1989 as her first true pop album, and while there’s elements of truth to that, with guitars swapped for drums and synths and a sound steeped in the legacy of acts from its title year, Swift has always been a pop star, it’s just now she’s embracing that. In the liner notes that accompany 1989, Swift writes about change and coming into her own, addressing the foreword from “the girl who said she would never cut her hair or move to New York or find happiness in a world where she is not in love”. For all the effort people put into working out which ex-boyfriend every given song is about (answer: all of them, none of them) that seems to be the true theme of the album – Swift realising that she has changed and that she enjoys her new status quo in the spotlight. In “You Belong With Me”, from her second album Fearless, Swift pines for a boyfriend from afar, criticising his current girlfriend and singing that “she wears high heels, I wear sneakers”. Now, Swift is the one in short skirts and high heels, happy to add a few more inches to her 5’10” frame so she towers over others. It’s worth noting, though, that even back in 2009, Swift played both her ‘self’ and the girlfriend in the video and cover art for “You Belong With Me”. 1989 is a record about confidence and comfort. That’s reflected in the masterful video for “Blank Space”, satirising those who would accuse her of being a vengeful ex. It’s reflected in the absence of duets with artists who can’t compare with her, two of which dragged down Red (fuck off, Ed Sheeran). It’s reflected in the final three bonus tracks on the deluxe version, demonstrating her song-writing process to all of those who complain she’s a manufactured star. And it’s reflected in the build-up to the album’s release.‘Authenticity’ is one of those ridiculous terms that crops up in music criticism with a cyclic regularity, and Taylor Swift manages to carve through that with impressive assurance. Are her Instagram and Tumblr accounts cynical ploys to engage with the teen girls who form the core of her audience? Was inviting fans to a sleepover at her house and listen to the album ahead of time a marketing strategy?Whether Taylor Swift is actually the global megastar who still manages to be the cool girl next door, or if it’s just an act, does it really matter? 1989 and everything that surrounds it is a resounding “hell no” to that question. So often, our artists arrive fully formed, aesthetic and style set in place from the word go. Watching Swift evolve from country singer to true pop sensation hasn’t been an evolution, it’s been a camera coming into focus, refining what was always there until it shines through clearly. It’s been the act of a young woman embracing her power, her status and her agency, and showing the world exactly who she’s become. It is customary to begin this biog of Tim Maytom by pointing out that he is always my Person of the Year, but that has been aggressively true in 2014. As well as setting up a joint blog about The Wicked + The Divine, we now work together. As a result, I am treated to his witticisms daily – watch out for future bestseller Maytom/Spencer: The Skype Conversations (2013-15) – as well as Twitter, Tumblr and occasionally his own blog. Jealous? You damn well should be.
Slightly belatedly, we return, stretching the ‘every ninety(ish) days’ part of the T+AGTWATD format to its absolute limit. As usual, here are three essays from myself and Tim, this time focused on the ‘Faust Act’ as a whole. Grand DesignsLooking back over the first arc of The Wicked + The Divine, it’s hard to deny that the story beats are unevenly distributed. There are a glut of events in the first and final issues and – at least if you view this as the story of Luci and Laura – not much of real consequence in between. And yet, each new issue has genuinely felt like an event. A lot of that, I think, lies in the slow teasing of the gods. The book’s set-up tells us that there are twelve of them, but we don’t meet them all immediately. When the story starts, the world doesn’t even know about a quarter of them, and five issues in we still haven’t pinned down who Tara is. (Fucking Tara.) Given Kieron Gillen’s tendency towards full disclosure, he and the rest of Team WicDiv have been impressively quiet about the thinking behind the characters. That leaves it to the comic to deliver the compact package of ideas that is each god. They’re not just characters but archetypes, references, lines drawn across the twin histories of mythology and pop. They’re vessels for cultural criticism, representatives of a diversity that’s more unusual in comics than it should be. All of this is doled out a couple of panels at a time – and the only god we’ve spent a truly significant amount of time talking to so far has had her head blown off. So, what makes this tease seductive, rather than frustrating? I don’t mean to sound shallow, but I suspect it’s all down to looks. Jamie McKelvie was already one of the great designers in comics. His Captain Marvel redesign is a huge part of that character’s recent success. In Young Avengers, each new costume change was a cause of great joy and much Tumblr fanart. In preparation for The Wicked + The Divine, however, it seems he ingested centuries of mythological imagery, catwalk fashion and popstar aesthetics. (Just look at the official WicDiv Style Blog.) Amaterasu’s psychedelic explosion of eye make-up. The sleek androgynous cut of Lucifer’s suits, versus the broad block colours of Baal’s. The Morrigan, three complementary designs that condense the gothy glory of Sandman‘s Endless into a single character. The Jazz Age glamour of the ’20s Recurrence’s gods. Ananke’s wardrobe of elaborate veils. All of those ideas I mentioned earlier, McKelvie manages to pack into the first glimpse of each god, remixing the broad influences into something we’ve never quite seen before. Which makes turning the page to something like this totally thrilling: “Oh shit,” indeed. This double page spread, from issue #4, is possibly the series’ greatest moment thus far. This is a spread to linger on, the way I used to with Where’s Wally? and, after that, with the cameo-packed battle scenes in Marvel crossover comics: Oh. Tim was totally right about Woden. Ooh. Loving Ammy’s new look. Hm. What’s Minerva riffing on? Arguably, it’s completely separate to the story. The page is packed with descriptive information, but not much actually happens. That’s pretty much the definition of world building, a term I normally deploy like someone handling a used nappy. So why do I like it so much here? Maybe because the world of The Wicked + The Divine is unusually distinctive. This isn’t world building in the ‘give the seasons silly names, and make our orcs a different colour’ sense, and each new piece of design does actually shine more light on the ideas that the story itself is communicating. Maybe because it fits neatly with the subject matter so well. Most of us have loved at least one popstar so much that we covet each new glimpse of album art, each magazine cover shoot, each mid-show costume change. Maybe there’s something mimetic about those covers, where McKelvie simply renders his designs as sharply as possible and lets Matt Wilson’s colours, pushed reliably into overdrive, communicate the rest. Or maybe I am just that shallow, and it’s just because everything is so damn pretty. I’d be okay with that, frankly. Illuminated Gospels If we use the common analogy comparing a comic’s creative team to a film crew, then a comic’s letterer would be something along the lines of sound design – one of those categories that Oscar coverage tends to talk over, and people tend to ignore when considering how the final product is assembled. Like sound design, bad lettering can cripple a comic, but good lettering is often invisible, because its whole purpose is to service the more ‘showy’ elements. With that in mind, let’s have a smattering of applause for Clayton Cowles, letterer for The Wicked + The Divine, and shine a light on his craft, and how it plays into the comic’s atmosphere. The biggest lettering style element is the most easily skimmed over – the distinction between the all-caps word bubbles, in traditional comic style, and Laura’s narration, which is closer to handwriting. It doesn’t go to the lengths of Hazel, the infant narrator of Saga, whose asides are hand-written directly onto the art by artist Fiona Staples, but the lower-case lettering and rounded bubbles give it a vulnerability and naivety that the same words in all-caps would lack. It has the feeling of a diary or a confession, conveying personality and intimacy. Some of the lettering effects have been more overt – Woden’s square-bubbled, neon green on black lettering, lit by a gentle glow at the centre, is autotune visualised, a voice stripped of any personality and irregularity, perfect in its anonymity. When Laura runs into Highbury & Islington Underground in the hopes of finding the Morrigan, her yelled plea first becomes a large, disjointed word that cannot be contained by […]
Once again, we return.Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. This time round, we’re focusing on issues #4 and #5 – and as you might expect, there’s a big focus on Laura and Luci’s relationship. Spoilers abound. Elegy for the Devil In many ways, Luci was the apotheosis of Gillen/McKelvie characters – a morally ambiguous, razor-witted woman with mythical powers, fantastic fashion sense and an asymmetrical haircut. In her swaggering DNA, we can find the traces of Emily Aster, Loki, Astrid, Silent Girl, America Chavez and more. Of course she had to die. Even in the world of The Wicked + The Divine, gods are defined by their stories. After all, while the deities manifest for only two short years, their influence stretches far beyond that. Their role is to inspire, to trigger something lasting from their brief time on Earth, and that means leaving behind tales that will drive people to obsession and fanaticism. They are defined by their stories – the ones they live, and the ones they leave. Woden must hang upon his tree. Minerva must enter the world fully formed. Lucifer must fall. So what caused Luci to fall? One could point to a number of emotions, both those that track with classical depictions and those very much unique to the book’s setting and interpretation, but in the end, I think it comes down to fear. Laura’s final visit to Luci’s cell, just before her escape, strips away all the illusions the character had held. She will be left to rot in jail for her sins until she dies, cut off from those who worship her, unable to wield any influence, alone and forsaken. Her fellow gods do not care if she is guilty or not, if she is a good person or bad, all that matters is that the (super)natural order is maintained. There is no justice. She will die, and leave little trace upon the world. It’s the throughline of the series, the Big Message Laser focused upon one character. Read that page as she comes to term with the news. Is that a tear she wipes away? We’ll never know. Look at the slow push McKelvie draws, boxing Luci in more and more. “You’re told you’re going to die…and some part of you just defiantly doesn’t believe it.” “It was never going to be okay.” In the end, it isn’t fear of death that triggers Luci’s escape, and subsequent demise, it’s fear of a death without meaning. It’s dying without a chance to make an impact on the world, to write her name in fire and blood and headlines. The Wicked + The Divine isn’t just about death. It’s about what we do with the knowledge that death is coming. Lucifer has to fall, but she has to go to war with heaven first. And of course, in those final moments, we see the young woman she originally was shine through, the one who doesn’t want to die before she’s 20. That small “Don’t”, a prayer and a plea against the inevitable. But then Lucifer is finally crowned with her halo, first one of fire, then one of blood, and her life comes to an end. But her story? That will last a lot longer. More Than A Superstar Bat for Lashes’ Laura is a song about loss which also finds the time to toy with ideas of glamour and fame. If you’ve been listening to it as much as I have over the past few months, you may just about be able to spot some connections with The Wicked + The Divine. There’s a good reason for that. In the Writer’s Notes for issue #1 of The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen says that Laura is one of the key songs – if not the key song – that inspired the series. It’s where our cheery (currently not so much) fangirl protagonist got her name. It’s the song Gillen posted on This Is My Jam the day issue #5 dropped. “You’re the train that crashed my heart/You’re the glitter in the dark.” The lyrics contain a pretty good summation of where we are at the end of #5 – I don’t think it’s much of a stretch so say that, in the film adaptation, it’d be the song that plays as that last scene fades to black – but it features a dark promise for the future, too: “Laura, you’re more than a superstar/You’ll be famous for longer than them.” The end of issue #5 suggest that maybe Laura could take her place among the pop-pantheon. But the previous issues have also gone out of their way to establish that’s she different from the gods. Their fate – infinite fame, very finite lifespans – was foisted upon them. Laura seems to be actively planning for it – no friends, no A-Levels, just a dream that makes everything else not worth living through. Maybe Laura will fill one of the two remaining openings in that wheel of symbols, but I’d bet that if she achieves her dream – and it’ll be interesting to see how much she still wants it all now she’s has her first bitter taste of fame – it won’t be as a god, omnipotent and disposable, but something else. Something more, according to the prophecy of Laura. In order to rise above your influences and become something truly great in your own right, you have to kill your idols, as the saying goes. The downside of that, of course, being that your idols end up rather dead. “You say that they’ve all left you behind/Your heart broken, the poverty died.” We’ll see how that one pans out. Every Superhero Needs His Theme Music It was the suit that did it. Jamie McKelvie has an […]
Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. In two years, they’ll probably still be doing this.Welcome back to Tim + Alex Get TWATD. The Monarchs of Fuck For a series whose core theme is the inevitability of death (as we discussed last time), The Wicked + The Divine spends a lot of time concerned with art’s other great motivator: sex. The gods, as befits their largely pre-Christian origins, seem like they can’t get enough of it. While Inanna and Sakhmet (with her lifeless, drained entourage) are highlighted by Cassandra as the most prolific of the gods in this sense, we also have Woden’s “army of ethnic mono-cultured valkyrie fuck buddies”; Baphomet and The Morrigan’s Sid-and-Nancy-esque relationship; and Luci, who seems to have tangled with most of the pantheon, and flirts relentlessly with Laura. Even Amaterasu, relative paragon of purity and wholesomeness, causes fans to orgasm with joy at her concerts. And then we have Laura, our window on the world, Virgil to our Dante. Laura is presented as neither virginally pure (she knows her way around an orgasm, it seems) nor particularly sexually experienced (she’s blindsided by Luci’s flirting). She is, in other words, your typical teen, surrounded by images of sex but not truly engaged with it yet. The gods are both her peers (in terms of age) and her idols, and are hyper-sexual in the way the world is when you are just 17. However, while the gods may talk the talk, we’re yet to see them walk the walk. The book isn’t exactly rated T for Teen (exploding heads, c-bombs, etc), but has so far shied away from any direct depictions of sex, graphic or otherwise. The sexuality of the gods is both everywhere and nowhere, inescapable yet entirely abstract. We can infer the kind of kinky hijinx Luci’s been up to or The Morrigan and Baphomet’s room-trashing passion, but so far it’s all been kept behind closed doors. Sidenote: it’s worth pointing out that while Laura has been in close proximity to five different gods (or seven, depending on how you view The Morrigan) so far, her only moment of flesh-on-flesh contact with one is giving her hand to Lucifer when they first meet (and if that doesn’t strike you as ominous, you’re not paying enough attention). The sexual nature of the gods is, at least in these first three issues, for our own interest, rather than theirs. It may be graphically detailed, but it’s there to fuel our speculation and our fantasy. The only hint of an actual stable relationship (Baal’s boyfriend) is noted as being “off-brand”. Just like real pop stars, the sexuality of the gods is there to tease, just another product for our consumption. Icona Pop The last work from ‘Team Phonogram’ (Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson) was 2013’s Young Avengers, a superhero comic for Marvel which attempted a whole bunch of things and succeeded at most of them. But my single favourite thing about the series was undoubtedly the promise of a double-page spread every issue. Fight scenes were rendered as diagrams or montages or some new eye-popping idea, every month, guaranteed. Comics as a Michel Gondry pop video. So I was disappointed to hear they wouldn’t be bringing the same approach to The Wicked + The Divine. Three issues in, though, it’s pretty clear that these visual experiments haven’t been abandoned . I could point to the introduction of The Morrigan, probably the nearest direct relative to YA‘s visual setpieces. Two circular panels, at opposite corners of a double-page spread, are linked by a black flurry of crow shapes, thick enough to become an abstract shape. All other panels are knocked off their axis or even pushed off the page as reality is bent. But I reckon The Wicked + The Divine‘s real visual achievement lies in a repeating set of much simpler elements. Look at those covers. The portraits overlaid with text are reminiscent of the trend for movie posters that looked like the Social Network’s, but here the concept is pared back as far as it will go. The covers are supremely confident – of how compelling a McKelvie-drawn face can be, and of the mystery of the pop-gods’ identities. That confidence is not unfounded. The covers are comfortably iconic enough that The Wicked + The Divine‘s interiors start playing with them from the very first page, echoing the face of Luci or Laura (depending on which version you picked up) with a big ol’ skull in the exact same proportions – a trick issue #3 repeated with The Morrigan’s head. Look at the use of black. For four pages, as Laura takes a journey into London’s underground, issue #2 almost turns into an illustrated prose story, each page featuring a single quarter-size piece of art and a smattering of words carefully on a sheer black canvas. In issue #3, they push it even further, beginning with black panel borders which eventually overwhelm the whole page. There’s one entirely image-free page with just ten words on it, and I’ve stared at it probably longer than any other. Like sensory deprivation, these sections highlight what’s great about each element of the creative team in isolation – the rhythm of Gillen’s narration emphasised by the room it’s given, Clayton Cowles’ ever-so-slightly-organic letterforms bringing Laura’s chatty diarist voice to life, McKelvie’s compositions toying with negative space to create a believable sense of place, Matt Wilson lighting these sets moodily to lead us down from the pinkish surface to the deep blues of the underworld – before bringing the band triumphantly back together for the end of the issue. Look at those diagrammatic scene breaks. Iconic in the simplest sense of the word, the symbols on these pages act like a wordless ‘Previously on…’. They tell us that there are 10 gods who have […]
This is the high concept behind The Wicked + The Divine, the latest Image comic from Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson. Every ninety(ish) days, two handsome young writers return to this blog. They read the last three issues of The Wicked + The Divine, and they write three essays each. Welcome to Tim + Alex Get TWATD. Each set of essays will be broken into two posts, to save our wrists and your eyes. We might be doing close readings of particular scenes or panels, picking out a theme or character that’s caught our attention, or just speculating wildly. Spoilers will be everywhere, so if you haven’t read the comics yet, avert your eyes or, better yet, grab them and come back later. In two years, they’ll probably still be doing this. The idiots. “But not yet.” You know, given that its very first page is dominated by a skull, and the majority of its cast’s lives have a guaranteed expiration date of two years’ time, The Wicked + The Divine has actually shown a remarkably light touch when it comes to mortality. In the opening pages of #1, which take us back to 1923 and the era’s own set of deities, we get a preview of the gods’ inevitable fate. Eight have already been reduced to the aforementioned skulls, and a couple of pages later, we see the explosive murder-suicide of the remaining four. But their demises don’t weigh too heavily on us – they’re not characters we’ve had time to get invested in, despite their wonderful Jazz Age designs – nor, it seems, on their 21st Century counterparts. Over in 2014, Amaterasu (aka 17-year-old Hazel Greenaway) is asked about her imminent demise by the comic’s resident cynic, Cassandra. There is a regretful pause, a moment of wonderfully-drawn sadness in Ammy’s big brown eyes, before she pretty much shrugs it off:There are a few possible reasons for all this: They’re teenagers. Do you remember being 17? The threat of dying before 20 feels more like a promise. Amaterasu’s reaction is pretty much this. They’re also kind of immortal. After all, that elegant set up makes two promises: You will die. But, in some sense, you’ll be back, long after everyone else here is gone. It’s just like pop music – I can just about conceive that Prince Rogers Nelson will one day die. But Prince, the artist previously known as an unpronounceable symbol? He’s not going anywhere. They’re too busy making the most of being not-dead. Creation is these gods’ main business, both in the artistic being-popstars sense and the procreational one. Based on Luci’s accounting in issue #3, pretty much the whole pantheon has touched pelvises. (More on that from Tim in our next set of essays.) Simple dramatic license. If The Wicked + The Divine was wall-to-wall moping about the gaping abyss (and not the kind Badb is taking about), it’d be about as much fun as hanging out in a funeral home. Besides, with a promised run of 30-40 issues, the comic has plenty of time to reach that point yet. In fact, the one time so far that the comic has really pushed the issue – with a pure black page, lit only by the refrain “We’re all going to die” – it came from the gods’ music. (The two-page sequence being, as far as I can tell, a particularly abstract way of depicting the trance-like state of a perfect gig.) It’s a performance, and it’s the message Baphomet and the Morrigan choose to send to the outside world. So it’s probably telling that the sequence ends with three more words, lighting the darkness and breaking the rhythm: “But not yet.” Won’t Somebody Think of the Grown-Ups? The Wicked + The Divine is a series with its eye fixed firmly on the young. Laura, our entry point into the story, is 17. The gods and goddesses are, at most, in their early 20s. Apart from the elderly and possibly immortal Ananke, the only major character that could rent a car in the US is Cassandra, who is old enough to have a Masters degree, but young enough to still be annoyed about her student loans. That said, one group of adults is very conspicuous in their absence – the parents. Laura’s parents are both seen and heard, and her interactions with them root her as a ‘normal’ figure caught up in the supernatural events of the Recurrence. In issue #2 we are presented with a portrait of their normality, as the family sits around the television watching Baal’s interview. Laura’s father gently prods at his daughter’s affection for the gods, her mother prevents it escalating beyond good-natured familial banter. In issue #3, we see the consequences of Laura being caught (quite literally) at the Morrigan’s gig, and the ensuing row, again a picture of normal teenage life.In contrast, we have the parents of the gods. Amaterasu is 17, Lucifer maybe a couple of years older. Minerva is only 12. It’s common knowledge that the gods live for a maximum of two years after they are awoken. Where are their mortal parents, lamenting their childrens’ inevitable early deaths? Or, given that we’re also dealing with pop stars and the modern cults of celebrity, where are the parents desperately trying to edge their way into their child’s spotlight, barely acknowledging their foretold doom? Granted, we’ve only had three issues, and the plot has been moving at a fair tick, but we’ve already had our attention drawn to the empty seats at the family table. Lucifer’s parents (or rather the parents of the girl who became Lucifer) are twice referenced. First in Cassandra’s interview, where she conjures a picture of Luci discovering Bowie in her parents’ “embarrassingly retro record collection”, and then again when Luci regales Laura with the tale of her transformation into a god, while her parents “were out at some awful Britpop covers band”. If her parents are at the court hearing in […]
I should have known the second he walked into my office – he was trouble. Tim Maytom, legs made for dancing and a collection of Los Campesinos! t-shirts that just wouldn’t quit. “Mr Spencer,” he cooed, twirling one lock of that beautiful dark hair. “I’ve got something you might be interested in. “I’m taking part in a ‘Blogtour’, a kind of chain-letter of blogging, where you pass on the format of the blogpost to a couple of writers you follow, and so on – basically talking about their writing process and what they’re currently working on.”It sounded like a perfect chance to talk about myself. Almost too perfect. Looking into those big bubblegum eyes of his, how could I say no?Tim had real projects to talk about. He’s putting together something called a ‘role-playing-game’. Me? I just sit here in my pants and blog. What the hell do I have to talk about?Like I said – Tim was trouble. What Am I Working On? As my life becomes increasingly crammed, my main project is writing about even a fraction of the things that tickle my brain – a particularly fine chorus, the story being drummed out on a pub table with two fistfuls of Netrunner cards, the way London on a foggy day reminds me of mid-00s games with the draw distance turned way down so my computer stood a chance at running them. Most of the time, that’s this blog, which was always intended as a way of trying things out, a release valve where I don’t have to worry about money or readers. Or, if I want to worry about those things, through my day job at Mobile Marketing Magazine – which, in spite of its b2b focus and incredibly specific name, occasionally hands me an incredibly wide remit – or through freelance work, which I’m constantly vowing to carve out more time for. I have actually got a little something in the back pocket, which I’m still trying to work out the whats and hows of. I can’t really talk about that yet, at least on here. Ask me about it in a pub, and you’ll get so many details and questions and stray thoughts you’ll regret ever asking. How Does My Work Differ From Others In My Genre? The idea that all criticism is autobiography is hardly a new one. But looking back over my last dozen or so posts, it’s the overwhelming theme. Sometimes I’ll reminisce about how I consumed something – listening to The Juan Maclean in a drained bathtub or my first and only foray into Nidhogg multiplayer, crowded around a laptop at 3am – and hope it gives some context about how Other times, that aspect will only really be clear in hindsight. As much ‘I’ as there was in my post about trying to play GTA V without killing anyone, I didn’t realise until afterwards how much it’s about me trying to work out what it means to say I’m a pacifist, while being in love with violent art. My post on Rogue Legacy was actually a fairly straight review, but I remember giving it a final polish while visiting my parents and thinking, oh, this is about me and them. Occasionally, I’ll just drop all pretence and just outright talk about me. To explain how much I enjoyed Hearthstone, I had to talk about all the baggage that came with it, and that ends up with me telling stories about being ashamed of certain aspects of my personality. All that might not make be particularly unique, but it keeps me as honest as I can be, and it’s why I… oh, hang on. Why Do I Write What I Do? Because it’s unavoidable? If I read/play/watch/listen to/think about something that really grabs me, shortly afterwards, these chunks of phrases will start to appear in my mind, unsummoned. The words float there, editing themselves, until I do something about it. By writing them down, I’m able to think of this as a gift, rather than a mental illness. In that Hearthstone post, I wrote about running around in my grandparents’ garden as a kid after gobbling down a few dozen pages of fantasy. I had to act out battles with a line prop and hold conversations with myself and jump the hell around because the fiction I was interacting with was too big in my brain just to let it sit there. Also: that’s a realisation I came to because I wrote about it. As I alluded to in the last answer, doing this is the nearest thing to therapy I can afford. Writing is catharsis, obviously, and that’s as true for how much I dig this comic/game/film/record/whatever as it is for the big stuff. How Does Your Writing Process Work? By pulling together a lot of notes. When those chunks of paragraphs appear in my head, I try to get them tethered down into a Word doc as quickly as possible. (Sometimes I’ll lose one of them, and it hurts. This weekend, out of nowhere, my brain started rewriting the final two paragraphs of my recent blog on Hearthstone, which I thought ended a little messily. This was a revelation. Suddenly I knew how to tie together all those ideas and memories in a way that made total sense, was more true to the game and what I was trying to say. But I was on holiday in Leeds, without access to a keyboard, and frankly I spent a lot of the time drinking heavily. It’s not there anymore, but I can feel the phantom of it.) Then, I wait until I’ve got about double the sensible wordcount, and start chipping away at it. As I expand the fragments into whole segments, I’ll liberally deploy “???” placeholders where I can’t think of the exact right phrase yet. Once the whole thing is in rough sentences, I’ll copy-and-paste bits around until a shape starts to present itself. These days, this last stage (what most people would actually call the writing) happens a lot […]
Happy New Year! A quick break from the Play Off tournament – which will be back shortly, narrowing the contenders for Track of the Year from 16 down to our four semi-finalists – for a guest contribution from the ever-lovin’ Tim Maytom. This is the fourth time Tim has shared his Person of the Year on this site. His previous picks have all tended towards comedy – Pete Holmes, Amy Poehler and Donald Glover – but this year, he’s talking comics of a completely different kind. Enough preamble. Let’s find out who takes home 2013’s Person of the Year. The good thing about making the rules is that you can decide when to break them. That’s something I think this year’s choice for Person of the Year represents, and so in that spirit, I’m breaking my own rules and declaring a joint selection. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction are both comic writers who have had great years. They have worked within the system of the ‘Big Two’ comic companies to craft superhero stories that resonate on a personal level and go beyond folks in tight costumes punching each other (not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional spandex fistfight), as well as producing creator owned books that have pushed themselves, and the medium, into telling new types of stories. They are deft practitioners of social media, using their Twitter/Tumblr/whatever presence to interact with fans and build a sense of community among like-minded readers. They are everything a modern comic writer should be. They also happen to be married to each other. Let’s consider Kelly Sue DeConnick first. Having risen up through manga translation and the odd issue and mini-series at Marvel, Kelly Sue earned the job of relaunching Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel in July 2012. Danvers, previously Ms Marvel, was a character that Marvel had slowly been raising the profile of, clearly aware of their lack of a female superhero able to support her own series à la Wonder Woman. Ms Marvel was a natural choice, and with Kelly Sue’s relaunch, she finally took the name Captain. Like so many female superheroes, Danvers’ origin was tied to a male hero, the original Captain Marvel, but by taking on the mantle as her own, both the character and Marvel themselves were making the statement that this was no longer a spin-off, distaff companion to another hero. She had inherited his name, and so was his equal. The series proceeded to build upon the ideas of legacy, exploring the world of female aviators while Carol adventured through time and fought monsters and villains across the globe. DeConnick built a wonderful supporting cast for Carol, using established characters from her previous solo series and introducing new ones, and in one of the most exciting developments, this year it was revealed that the Ms Marvel title would relaunch with a young hero inspired by Carol’s exploits. There is a long and embarrassing history in comic books of female heroes all being based on existing male characters – Batwoman, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc – and while many of these characters have had fantastic stories written about them that treated them as well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, that initial secondary nature hangs over them. Just as Carol Danvers had shed that idea by truly embracing her position as Captain Marvel, the new Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, is unique for being one of the few female heroes inspired by another female character. As many of 2013’s Year in Review-style articles will tell you, we seem to be part of an exciting time for feminism, and bringing the idea of female role models, mentoring and friendship to the fore in this way is just one of the methods DeConnick has employed to create a modern feminist hero in Captain Marvel. The book is full of interesting, conflicted woman who feel real, and who deal with issues that all readers can relate to (albeit in the magnified, larger-than-life way that superhero comics tend to use). This deeply integrated feminism has created a huge and devoted fanbase online, the Carol Corps, who read, write, draw, craft and cosplay to support their hero. Captain Marvel is relaunching with a new #1 in 2014 and I can’t wait to see where DeConnick sends Danvers next. DeConnick’s other big project this year was a creator owned one, a mythical Western horror series called Pretty Deadly she made with Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles. Pretty Deadly is well removed from Captain Marvel‘s primary coloured exploits, for although Carol Danvers is a complex, rounded character, there’s no denying she’s a hero. As befits its genre roots, there are no obvious heroes in Pretty Deadly. Instead, there’s Johnny, the nihilistic coward, languishing in a prostitute’s bed with a bruised ego; Fox, the blind wanderer with a dark secret; Ginny, the daughter of Death, a skull-faced avenger loosed on the world. Pretty Deadly is different to almost everything out there at the moment, a lyrical folkloric tale that entrances and disturbs in equal measure. Rios’ beautiful fluid art and inspired layouts combine perfectly with the tone DeConnick creates, giving everything an otherworldly, dream-like feel. Each issue begins with the framing story, as the tale of Deathface Ginny to told between a butterfly and a skeletal rabbit, and the first issue was largely taken up with a gorgeously relayed song describing Ginny’s origins. These stylistic choices feel like acts of faith, asking people to get on board with the book’s atmosphere, accept the world the team is weaving that is so different to most other comics. I’m sure there were a fair few people who never got past the song of Death’s daughter locked in a tower, but those of us who gave the book a chance became utterly bewitched by the story being told. Pretty Deadly is DeConnick’s first creator-owned series, and that she has chosen such a bold, unique story, clearly born of her passions and executed in such a confident way speaks volumes about her as a […]
Between his blog, his mix CDs, and his all-round lovableness, Tim ‘Trivia Lad’ Maytom is my pick for Person of the Year, every year. Fortunately for you, he’s too modest to write a thousand words on himself, and always seems to have his own opinion on the matter anyway. His Person of the Year has been a fixture on this site for three years now, and in past years has talked up Amy Poehler and Donald Glover… But who will it be this time? Let’s find out. Once again, my choice for Person of the Year revolves around someone from the world of comedy, but as this year’s choice would say, comedy is a ministry, and it can have a tremendous impact on how we view the world. Pete Holmes is an American stand-up comedian, and a very funny one at that. His album, Impregnated with Wonder, is filled with brilliant observations and manages to combine a whimsical sense of fun with real human honesty. He’s appeared on various talk shows and Comedy Central specials, and this year recorded some pilot episodes of a talk show that would follow Conan O’Brien’s show on TBS (this hasn’t aired yet, and is still waiting for confirmation over whether it’s been picked up, but is still an impressive achievement), but the real reason he’s my Person of the Year is for his podcast on the Nerdist network, You Made It Weird. “I’m thinking about getting off of Facebook and Twitter, all of that, and just signing up for a service that every 30 minutes texts me the phrase ‘You’re Not Alone’.” You Made It Weird started out with a very loose interview format that revolved around “weird things” Holmes knew about the guests, who tended to be other comedians from the LA comedy scene, but evolved very quickly into a more wide-ranging discussion that tended to focus on three areas: comedy, sex and God. The guests interviewed Holmes as much as he interviewed them and his honesty about various aspects of his life, from his youth as an evangelical Christian to his experiments with becoming a “[physical intimacy] person”, via his divorce from his wife, is both rare and infectious. We live in an age when everything we do is shared on the internet, which creates an odd mix of openness and image management in most people. Holmes bypasses this by moving beyond the 140-character limit and getting into deeper conversations that last long enough to find recurring themes and patterns in people’s lives (the average episode length is about 90 minutes and longer episodes get up to two-and-a-half hours). He is remarkably unguarded in how he presents his thoughts, and this in turn encourages his guests to be the same. “This is a weird little part of your life, isn’t it? Feels like we’re snowed in together. There’s only one bathroom and there’s so many of us! ‘What do we do? Put on a show! Beats getting to know each other, right?’ It sure does.” Holmes’ approach to religion and spirituality follows the same approach as his discussions of his personal life – honest and infinitely curious. His guests span from the strongly atheist to the deeply spiritual (his talk with Duncan Trussell gets into some truly esoteric areas) and Holmes himself claims that he can believe everything from a godless universe to one where every action has meaning and purpose. There’s a very open-minded, non-judgemental approach to talking about faith, and a profound acceptance that not really knowing the truth is inevitable, but thinking about these ideas is important. The ultimate strength of the podcast, and by extension Holmes’ comedy, is that you are listening to someone smart who has accepted that he doesn’t have all the answers about faith, relationships and life explore these issues with equally smart people, all of whom happen to be hilarious. I listen to a great number of podcasts at work and You Made It Weird is the one that gets me the most funny looks for suddenly bursting into giggles. The weightiest subjects are always going to be the most fertile ground for comedy, and Holmes isn’t afraid to dig into the most profound questions there are. He has a child-like glee and enthusiasm for the strangeness that reveals itself when people start opening up about what really drives them and what’s important to them, and it results in some achingly funny but deeply thoughtful conversations.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here – Project 52’s little podcasty brother, in which the six ‘second wave’ titles of DC’s New 52 are discussed at length. Recorded in an underground bunker at some point back around the beginning of time, the podcast gathers together five of comicdom’s finest minds – Compére extraordinaire, Robin Harman, smooth of voice and shaggy of beard. The virtuous Tim Maytom, good and fair. Brett Canny, drawing from each of the seven gods whose names make up his word of power. Michael Eckett, with hair of silk and fist of iron. And hired idiot Alex Spencer. In the hot forge of debate, these five personalities became one and, lo, the 52 Pick Up podcast was born, strong as adamantium and lengthy as fifty-eight of your Imperial minutes. Doesn’t that sound magical? Doesn’t that sound like something you’d like to hear take place? Well, now you can – using the embedded widgety chap below, or by right-clicking here to download and take on your merry way.