Luke Skywalker, My Hero

When I was a kid, my hero was Luke Skywalker.

I realise that’s not the most fashionable thing to say. For most people it’s Han Solo, the dashing rogue that gets the princess, but, as a child in the ’80s, that never resonated with me. For me, Luke embodied the hero that I dreamed of being.

He was everyone that’s ever longed to find their place in the universe, who was sure they were meant for something greater. He finds out that he’s not just like everyone else, he’s special. He matters and can change everything.

To me that, and a lot of others, that was what I longed for too. To be taken out of the mundanity of life and find that I mattered too. I could live vicariously as Luke discovered the potential that was always in him.

As the films progress, Luke faces the darkness in himself, and the revelation that he’s been lied to, just like all children. In the end, the good prevails. Luke breaks from his past and the expectations on him, and becomes his own man, symbolically burning his own father, which allows him to move on. He really was the hope for the future.

That’s where we left him. In my head, he went on to have hundreds of adventures, making his mark on the universe. He was a giant metaphor for everything I hoped that I’d be able to be when I grew up, free and able to carve out his own destiny. The future was whatever I wanted it to be.

But now we have an ending. The Last Jedi shows where Luke went, and what happened next. He withdrew from life, never quite living up to his potential. He faced setbacks, and wasn’t able to overcome them. It’s not unfair to say that wasn’t popular with everyone.

For me, it showed the disillusionment with life and the idea of lost dreams that so many people feel. When we left Luke at the end if Return of the Jedi, he had the universe at his feet. He could be anything, do anything. Sadly, life doesn’t always work like that.

It’s tempting to see Luke’s retreat as a downbeat commentary on adulthood, on the failure and despair at the sense of wasted potential tghat so many feel, but to me the real story is in his redemption. He slowly realises that he still matters, that all of his potential is still there.

Luke’s story shows us that it’s never too late. No matter how much we may feel we’ve failed, or not achieved everything we wanted, it’s never too late to make that one final stand and show the universe what you’re capable of.

As Luke stands in front of the twin suns one last time, he comes full circle, back to when we first met him all those years ago on Tatooine. He’s become a man that the boy who longed for adventure would be proud of. As he leaves the stage, it’s with the knowledge that, in the end, he mattered.

And with that, Luke Skywalker is still my hero.

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Mars City Limits

Several years ago, not long after Longship was completed, I started talking to my collaborator and partner in crime Rebecca Teall about what we could do next. I had a few ideas, bounced a few off her, and we settled on something that was called, at the time, Desolate Landscapes.

It’s an idea that I’d had for a very long time, set on Mars in a city of robots, fashioned by humanity, who have become self determining and independent. Instead of looking at the top end of this society, however, the story focuses on one robot at the bottom of the ladder, his obsolence built in and almost impossible to overcome.

Becs liked it, and set about giving it a unique look that surpassed anything I could have hoped for. It was looking good, but then life happened, in a way I’ll probably write about some other time. Unfortunately that led to it being put on hold, for much longer than I think either of us expected. It still isn’t complete, but, thankfully, we’re getting back on track now.

So here’s the first chapter of what is now called Mars City Limits, to be found here, and Becs’ own commentary here. We hope you like it, and promise to finish it sometime in the near future.

(At this point, there isn’t a publisher attached. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to change that and get it into print once it’s finished.)

Down in a hole

In the wake of the news about Chester Bennington, I’m seeing a lot of people encouraging people to speak up and ask for help if they’re depressed. Which is great. We absolutely should try to create an atmosphere where people feel that they can talk if they want to.
But here’s the thing. When you’re down in the pit of depression, you often can’t ask for help, or tell people how bad things are. You may know intellectually that there are people you can talk to, but the part of you hates youself and can’t see tomorrow tells you otherwise. You may want to speak up, but you almost physically can’t.
That’s why, as much as we need to feel able to speak up, we need people to talk to us. Ask if we’re okay, let us know that you’re there. It’s a small thing that can make so much of a difference. If you see someone drowning, you don’t wait for them to ask for help, you jump in the water.
I’ve suffered from depression most of life, and was recently diagnosed as bipolar. There’ve been times, like now, when I’ve been comfortable talking about it, but there’ve been far too many times when I’ve disappeared inside myself, convincing myself that no-one wants to know what’s in my head. That’s when a simple ‘Hey, are you doing okay? You’ve been a bit quiet lately’ would go a long way.
It’s no panacea, no magic cure, but it’s a step in the right direction. If you see me, or someone like me, drowning, through out a lifeline and pull us back to shore.

Brexit

That light you see is the sun finally setting over Britain. No longer Great, no longer United, just another land filled with petty nationalism and fear.

I’m trying my best to be optimistic and upbeat about everything but I’m struggling. Some people seem to think they’ve got their country back; I’ve lost mine. The shared narrative of the the British Nation has fractured, and I don’t think it can be put back together.

Maybe we’ll get something different, something good when this eventually settles down. Maybe it will even be for the best. It’ll never be what we had, though.

I want to be wrong and keep the Britain that I’ve mythologised in my head alive. Sadly I’m starting to wonder if it ever existed.

Too Many Relaunches?

Many years ago I sat and plotted out the first couple of years of a superhero universe. I never really did much with it, but I was always quite pleased with the publishing structure that I came up with. Given the current penchant for seemingly random reboots and relaunches, I thought I’d have a look at it again.

When I came up with it, I recognised that the ongoing series was a dying concept, with many of the new series that get launched struggling to get beyond twelve issues. I also recognised that the rise of event comics was slowly coming to dominate the superhero industry, and wasn’t handled as efficiently as it could be.

My first change from traditional publishing was to move towards a seasonal format, with series running for eight months a year. They could be made up of eight issues, or as many as sixteen, depending on popularity. They’d have the advantage of a new number 1 each season, as well as an easy way to drop and launch new titles each season.

That leaves four months each year, which I proposed to use solely for events. It gives plenty of time to run an a bi-weekly eight issue event with tie ins. The previous season can dovetail into it, and the new season would launch out of it. It would elegant and non-confusing, offering an annual jumping on point.

This would be the core of the universe. There’s space to publish limited series, one shots and annuals, and good length runs for collection purposes. It allows readers to see something other than the chaotic sprawl that we have at the moment with ongoing plots disrupted by events.

There are flaws, certainly. A poorly recieved event could tank four month’s worth of sales without the inertia of ongoing tie-ins, but there are risks with any event.

This a direction that I’d love to see the superhero industry take, one that recognises how much it has changed in the last decade or two. There’d be a new number one every year, without as much confusion as there is now. It would allow books to be retired for a season or two before being relaunched without seeming to be a failure.

Most importantly, it’d be friendly to both old and new readers. It’d be accessible but still rewarding to longterm fans. Which is surely what everyone wants.

Another Blue Monday

I woke up this morning to find that it’s Blue Monday. Apparently we all have an excuse for being depressed today. Which is nice. I don’t get an excuse any other day of the year.

I’ve watched news stories on how to beat the winter blues. I’ve found out about a Museum of Happiness, complete with mindfulness colouring. I’ve seen that the way to beat Blue Monday is to book a holiday, thanks to a series of ads on twitter.

For one day the world is concerned about how we can be happy. It’s a nice, friendly, fluffy day to make us all feel better. We can all get through this, is the message.

And then tomorrow we’re all on our own again.

For those of us with depression, every day is potentially Blue Monday. The only difference is that we don’t get a nice, simple reason for why we feel so down. We can’t say ‘it’s okay, it’s Blue Monday’ and laugh it off while playing with crayons.

In some ways it’s nice to see some discussion about depression. It’s been getting more traction as an issue in recent years, but can still quite often feel like you’re shouting into the abyss.

Depression is an incredibly hard thing to talk about. If you suffer from depression, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to it. As a society we’re still very uncomfortable with issues surrounding mental health. Talking about it can feel like drawing a target on yourself.

We need to talk about it, though. Statistically we all know someone with depression, and many of those people suffer in silence. Sometimes they may not want to talk about it, but often they do, they just don’t know how. We should let them know that they can. We need a society where telling someone that you suffer from depression isn’t met with an awkward silence and a sense of judgement.

So, this Blue Monday, take the time to talk to your friends. Let them know that you’re there for them, and that you won’t judge them if they have problems. But don’t stop there. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

Depression lasts longer than a day. Sometimes it feels like it’ll never go away. Be there for someone today and reassure them that tomorrow will always be better.

Too many ideas.

I should be working on the third draft of a novel right now. Well, I should be doing that and finishing the dialogue for a graphic novel too. These things have been hanging over me for far too long, taunting me, daring me to finsh them. That’s normally enough to actually spur me into action.

Not this time though. No, this time my brain has decided that it wants to write something entirely different. I can normally work around that. I quite often end up putting together a short story or two while I’m working on a larger project. This time, however, an entirely unrelated novel has popped into my mind, almost fully formed.

It’s one of those stories that wants to be written, and won’t go away until I’ve at least scribbled down the outline. It’s a good idea, one that I think I’ll enjoy writing. The problem is that it’s going to be a major commitment, when I really should be doing something else.

It’s not the worst problem in the world to have, but it’s frustrating. I’m hoping I can get the gist of it down and delay it for a month or two and still keep my enthusiasm for it. It’s something that I’d rather not end up in my graveyard of unfinished projects.

It would be nice to actually finish writing something some time soon though. I’m intending to get more in print this year than I managed last year. I’m not going to do that if I can’t actually focus, though.

My first comics love

I started reading US comics properly back in the ’90s. I have a healthy sense of nostalgia for the time, and look back fondly on a lot of the books. Getting into comics was an overwhelming experience, which was probably why I was drawn to the new titles, the ones without decades of history behind them, and nothing leapt out at me more than Marvel’s 2099 line.

It appealed to me on several levels. There was the sci-fi element, which I loved, and the dystopian setting, which appealed to my teenage self, especially since I’d just discovered William Gibson. The greatest pull, however, was the sense of being there at the start of something new. The 2099 line could be my Marvel Universe.

That was important. I didn’t have the weight of continuity crashing down on me, or the need to know the ins and out of character relationships. It was different, and it was mine. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever come to knowing how it must have felt discovering a whole universe from the start back in the silver age.

It wasn’t perfect. Some of the books barely scraped ‘average’, if I’m honest, but I bought them all. I lost myself in a place where I really could know everything that was going on, and read some truly memorable comics. Some, such as Warren Ellis’ Doom 2099 and Peter David’s Spiderman 2099 remain amongst the finest superhero comics I’ve ever read.

Like all good things, it didn’t last. The 2099 line was also my introduction to the internal politics of comic companies, and I mourned when the line was folded into a single book, before fizzling out. I attended the wake in 2099 Manifest Destiny, and I moved on.

There have been 2099 books since, indeed there’s one now, but they’ve never felt the same. The 2099 universe was my first great love in comics, and like all first loves, the reality never lives up to the memory. Now we pass each other amongst the racks and smile, remembering the good times we once had.

Marvel 2099 helped me get into comics, and I’ll always remember the line fondly. At the same time, I don’t mind that it’s gone. I just hope that there’s something out there now that in ten, fifteen years time someone like me will look back and on and think ‘that was where it all began’.

It’s important that’s there’s always something new. Something for the next generation to call their own. Something that they can have for themselves. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to last forever. Like Marvel 2099 for me, the memory lingers, a reminder of why I love comics.

An unexpected webcomic

I have a webcomic currently up and running with my regular partner-in-crime, Rebecca Teall, which can be found at http://celari.weebly.com. Go take a look at it, and then come back here so I can talk about it a bit.

(Incidentally, if you have trouble getting rid of the cookie disclaimer, try shrinking the window to get the scroll bar so you can close it, or try reading it on a mobile device. It’s a pain, but we know about it and are trying to fix it.)

Okay, I’m going to assume that you’ve read it now. It’s a bit of a departure from our previous collaborations, in more ways than one. Perhaps most obviously, it’s odder than anything we’ve done before. It’ll get odder as it goes, but will strangely make more sense the further into it you get. It’s that kind of thing.

The biggest departure, from my point of view anyway, is on the creative side as this wasn’t originally a comic script. Many years ago I wrote a series of short prose pieces, each in the region of around 500 words. I wrote the first one after it came to me in a dream, and they have a kind of dream-logic consistency to them. I hadn’t really thought of doing anything with them for years, until Rebecca asked if I had anything a bit odder that she could have a look at at. I sent them to her, she liked them and asked if she could illustrate them, and you can see the result for yourselves.

It’s not the way that I’d normally write a comic, and I’m fascinated by the results. Rebecca is making her own mark on the story, which will get incorporated into future chapters as I come to write them, affecting the overall direction of travel. I also normally write full-script, which makes this is the closest that I’ve come to working Marvel-style, and it’s interesting experience. As I think about future chapters, it already feels a lot more collaborative than some of our previous work.

I don’t actually know where the story is going. I lost many of the original stories a laptop or two ago, and can’t remember exactly what I had planned. I’m going to have to try emulate my younger self a little, which is going to be quite an experience. ┬áIt’s one I’m enjoying so far, although I do wish the younger me had been better at backing things up.

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