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Time for a few posts just catching up on various things as 2016 (that was some year, eh?) draws to an end.

First up, my return to writing comics. A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of writing a Rogue Trooper comic for IDW – still easy to get the collected edition, should you be so inclined (e.g. Amazon US or Amazon UK).

highlander-1-francavillaThat was a huge amount of fun, but now I have the even greater pleasure of writing a Highlander comic, again for IDW. You know Highlander, right? 1980s movie: immortals, swords, a Queen soundtrack. 80s awesomeness, really.

I’ve got to say, writing comics is intensely enjoyable after having spent so much time over the last few years working away at novel-length prose. The collaborative aspect of it – writer, editor, artist, colorist, letterer teaming up and trying steer the ship to a destination everyone can enjoy and be proud of – makes it a profoundly different writing experience. And it causes my e-mail traffic to increase by a factor of ten, easily, which makes me feel important. So that’s good.

The artist for Highlander is Andrea Mutti, and he’s doing an amazing job. Which is high praise, because it’s not an easy job I’ve given him. This is Highlander – immortals battling throughout history – so of course the story I’m telling spans a looooong time; different periods, different looks, different styles. It’s a direct prequel to the original movie, so any fans of that celebration of immortal mayhem should definitely check it out. The first issue’ll hit the shelves of comic book stores, and digital comics vendors, in February 2017, sporting a very fine cover – as you can see up above – by comic artist legend Francesco Francavilla.

You can pre-order it right now, though, at your local comic shop – and if you do you might be able to snag yourself a copy with the special subscription variant cover by Claudia Gironi:Highlander -1-cover-Claudia Gironi

Cool, no? Correct answer is ‘Yes, Brian. Cool.’

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The Free is not the only book I’ve got out this autumn, you know. Oh, no. The Free‘s just my October book; my September book (i.e. this very month!) is a handsome collected edition of the comic I wrote earlier this year: Rogue Trooper: Last Man Standing.

I’m quite proud of it, to be honest. Future war, lone warrior, talking gun, conspiracies and chaos. How can that not sound like fun to any right-thinking reader?

RT-Vol1-cover-gif

You can get it in paper-and-ink form or e-form alike, and if you’re tempted but need a little help taking that all important next step of ordering the thing, here’s a nice succinct five star review from bigcomicpage.com to do the helping.

Here it is on Wordery, look (I know the cover’s different, but that’s it, honestly). I really am being helpful today. I might need to go have a little lie down.

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Here’s some stuff I’ve harvested from around the web of late:

The Nerdist Podcast put out a couple of interesting/fun interviews that caught my ear: Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, talking about the comics and the movies; David J. Peterson, language guy, talking about inventing languages (including for Game of Thrones) and various real-language stuff.

Rio 2 has been all over cinema screens around the world lately. Here’s the real parrot it’s based on, Spix’s macaw:

Very pretty, no? Really quite beautiful in fact, if you ask me. But not as widespread as Rio 2, that parrot. In fact, it’s extinct in the wild as far as anyone can tell. Has been for some time. Good job, humanity. (And yes, I know the whole extinct in the wild thing is kind of a central plot point in the movies, but I still find the whole ‘let’s make fun movies and a bajillion dollars based on this’ thing a bit weird, even if it’s sort of well-intentioned.)

Amazon took over Comixology, the biggest purveyor of digital comics, to absolutely nobody’s surprise. I can’t begin to tell you how despondent the big river’s acquisition avalanche makes me. They’re a fine and clever company, I know; I use their excellent services now and again. But it’s in precisely no-one‘s long-term interest (except their own, of course) the way they’re hoovering up competitors and add-ons that incrementally turn them into a leviathan of truly leviathanic proportions. If you want to buy books online, take a look at Wordery. Good prices, good service, free delivery worldwide.

Talking of comics, I thought I’d take a moment to point out my favourite comic produced by IDW Publishing, the good folks who put out the Rogue Trooper comic what I have been writting. Locke & Key is an inspired, beautifully crafted and beautifully illustrated dark fantasy/horror comic from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Complex and intriguing, it’s loaded with terrific character writing, clever world-building and eye-popping set-piece action. Give it a try (at Wordery, of course).

And here’s one of my favourite blogs, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here before: Abandoned Scotland. An exploration of ruined, forgotten, derelict Scotland that’s kind of hynoptically fascinating if you ask me. Stuff that’s hidden in plain sight, overlooked and disregarded, comes alive when you pay close attention to it. Investigate it. The most grungy and crumbly places and buildings become kind of beautiful. The Abandoned Scotland YouTube channel is a goldmine of strange discoveries. Don’t suppose this is exactly how the Scottish Tourist Board wants the world to see Scotland, but as a resident it’s all simultaneously familiar and surprising. Great stuff.

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A good while back, I did a post here pontificating about how the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ was not a particularly good query to fire at a writer.

This is the sequel to that post, in which I answer the question in question. Just thought it’d be fun. Might also help to illustrate my case that ideas are the easy bit, coming as they do from everywhere, all the time, unpredictably.

So, here’s where the idea for every piece of fiction I’ve sold came from, in chronological order of publication.

Farm Animal, my first published story, appeared in the UK’s venerable sf magazine Interzone a long, long time ago. It has a unique, and unusually simple, origin in the context of my fiction output: it’s loosely based on a dream I had. It was a kind of creepy, not very nice, dream so we won’t go into any more details except to say it involved a human-pig hybrid. The hard bit, as ever, was turning that seed into a narrative of some sort, and in the process the story became about the transformation of a human into a pig. (Sidenote: I remember being quite pleased with myself, at that presumptuous age, for coming up with a title that reverses Animal Farm, in which pigs transform into humans, just as my story reverses that transformation. Doesn’t seem quite so clever now.)

Gibbons, my second published story, appeared in another UK magazine: The Third Alternative – still going, under the new title Black Static. Its origin is also unique in this list, in that it comes from my own direct, personal experience. In my early twenties I spent three months in Borneo, finding, following and sound-recording gibbons in a remote part of the rainforest. In hindsight, as you might expect, it was a powerful, rather formative experience in various ways (including career-wise, since it would later result in me getting a job that sent me to many other unusual, out of the way bits of the world), though at the time – as with many such experiences – I didn’t fully appreciate its significance. What did imprint itself on my mind even then, though, was the potent atmosphere and character of the place. It took years for the story that gave voice to my impressions of the Bornean rainforest to take shape, but Gibbons was the eventual result.

Winterbirth, and the Godless World trilogy of which it is the first part, has a messy kind of idea-origin. I knew I wanted to try writing novels, and I was instinctively interested in the possibility of a fantasy trilogy. I needed an imaginative nudge of some sort to get the process of world, character and story development going, and it came from the TV, in a way. This was way back when the Balkans, and the former Yugoslavia in particular, were in post-Communist meltdown and filling our TV screens and newspapers with stories and images of horrendous and cruel violence. Because I was even then a history nerd, I knew a lot of what was happening was the indirect fruit of bitter rivalries, enmities and events that went back many, many hundreds of years, and I was struck by the thought that it might be interesting to write about a fantasy world similarly torn apart by long-suppressed, half-hidden enmities that were somehow allowed to re-emerge.

Now, that initial idea got considerably complicated and diluted by the aforementioned process of world, character and story development. It provided the impetus for the process, but was itself changed and elaborated by it. Such things happen, once you get into the flow of turning a small spark into a fully fledged fire. But that’s what ideas are for really: they start the process, but unlike a chemical catalyst, they don’t have to survive that process unchanged.

Beyond the Reach of His Gods is a short story that appeared in the anthology Rage of the Behemoth, from Rogue Blades Entertainment. Much to my delight, it’s since been reprinted in the excellent online magazine Lightspeed, so you can read the whole thing for free over there if you like. This was the first time I’d been invited/commissioned to write a story for an anthology, and the brief was highly specific: heroic fantasy involving a giant monster set in one of several specific environments. I had no pre-existing ideas that fitted the bill (hardly surprising!), so the idea for this story had to be kind of ‘forced’. Except it came to me very easily, very quickly and very completely. I’ve no idea how that happens, but now and again it does: I just looked at the brief, thought about it for a bit, and the setting, characters, monster and the basic skeleton of the plot just turned up in my head. Very nice, and forunate really, since I would probably have turned down the invitation had things not bubbled up so easily, and had the story they suggested not struck me as being fun to write.

Flint was another short story for an anthology – Speculative Horizons, from Subterranean Press, edited by Patrick St-Denis. Again, I was asked if I would contribute, but this time there were no prescriptions regarding subject matter or even specific genre. So I pulled out a partially developed idea I’d been keeping on a mental shelf for ages, and used this as the opportunity to turn it into an actual story. That idea had its roots in my non-fiction reading: books like The Golden Bough, After The Ice and Shamanism. In learning and thinking about early magical beliefs, hunter-gatherer societies and the deep, deep past of human society and imagination, it struck me that a Stone-Age shaman would make an interesting central character for some kind of story. I knew very early on that his name would be Flint, but much of the detail of his adventures only got filled in when Patrick asked me if I fancied writing a story for his anthology …

The Edinburgh Dead has a very clear and fairly simple idea-origin. Having grown up in Edinburgh, and living there again now after a good few years away, I know a lot about its history and geography. Mind you, even people who’ve never been here have heard of Burke & Hare, the infamous baddies who murdered a lot of people so that they could sell their corpses to lecturers for dissection in anatomy classes in the early 19th century. For whatever reason, one day while musing on Edinburgh’s rich and complicated history, I just asked myself: ‘What if there were other people around back then, who wanted corpses for a different kind of experiment?’. From that question, after a good deal of research and the addition of a good many other influences, the whole novel emerged. And, inevitably, Burke and Hare stayed in the mix as characters in the story.

Rogue Trooper, the comic I’m writing for IDW (first issue in comic shops and on Comixology on Feb 26th!), is a different kettle of fish, idea-wise. This is a pre-existing character and milieu that I was asked to re-imagine. So the ideas required are of a different kind: what games can I play, what details can I add or subtract, what themes can I develop, with this already-established character? Those kind of ideas just come from looking at what’s there already, thinking back or re-visiting all the previous Rogue Trooper stories I read as a youth, applying my personal instincts as a writer to the property. To be honest, lots and lots of possibilities presented themselves to me as soon as I became aware of the opportunity, so it wasn’t too difficult. When someone else has done the hard work of creating a strong character, setting and framework, riffing on it is pretty straightforward (at least in terms of ideas, if not execution; believe me, I can now say from personal experience that writing comics is not straightforward or effortless!).

The Free will be published this October by Orbit, and it’s kind of fitting that it comes last on this list because in one sense it’s an extreme example on the original idea front. This book, alone of all the fictions on this list, has shed its originating idea like a snake shedding a skin. Literally no trace of the idea to which it can trace its roots remains in the novel that will be published. Weird, huh? Anyway, one day – or night, I think perhaps I was trying to go to sleep – a scene just popped into my head. In an underground cavern, someone discovers a prisoner, trapped in a huge cage. That was it. This was way back when I was still writing the Godless World trilogy. I had half a notion I might try writing another trilogy after I was finished with that one (a notion I soon thought better of!), and that single, unformed scene became the seed from which I gradually grew the outline of a whole plot, world, magic system, characters – I didn’t have a full trilogy worked out in detail, but I had a lot of stuff churning around in my head.

Except, I wrote The Edinburgh Dead instead. But the story-stuff that had sprung from that single imagined scene kept stewing in my thinking parts, and kept changing. In the plot I’d loosely imagined, there were a set of secondary characters – mercenaries – who struck me as interesting. To cut a long story short, I ended up pitching an idea focused upon them to the publisher as a stand-alone novel. The Free. The world in which they operate is not the one I dreamed up for that trilogy; the magic system is utterly different; there’s not a single character who has survived from my earlier musings into the text of the The Free; at no point does anyone even go underground, let alone discover a subterranean chamber with a caged prisoner in it. (But who’s to say what might happen, should I ever write any more stories about The Free?)

So there you are. I get my ideas from dreams, from personal experiences, from current affairs, from history, from commissions, from non-fiction books, from other people’s creations, from random scenes popping into my head. And I could add, in respect of fictions I’ve thought about or am currently pondering, which may or may not ever see the light of day: I also get them from idle reflections on the under-use of particular mythical creatures in fiction, consciously setting myself the challenge of coming up with an idea for a TV/radio series, writing tasks based on a single word set by tutors on a short course I did many years ago, looking at maps, etc. etc.

All seems clear enough. Question answered.

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