Time for some Moving Pictures on a Friday and for no particular reason, I thought we’d all just spare a couple of minutes to admire Scotland. I mean, I do that all the time since it’s where I’m from and where I live, but the rest of you just get a couple of minutes …

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As some folks may have heard, I wrote another book. And the good folk at Orbit are going to publish it this year!

That pile of paper there is the proofs for The Free – a stand-alone fantasy novel coming out in a bookshop or digital venue near you this October. The proofs are the last stage before the whole thing is kind of locked down, so I spent a fair few hours not long ago reading every single word of the thing all over again. Line by line, sentence by sentence, hunting for mistakes, typos, embarrassments, all that sort of thing.

It’s a strange experience for me, this bit of the writing/publishing process. Once a book (or story, or comic) of mine is published, I’m profoundly disinclined to ever read it, not even a little bit of it, again. It’s finished and I can’t change it and all I’m likely to see if I read it again is stuff I wish I could change. Reading and correcting proofs is kind of half-way into that territory – it’s too late to make big changes – but still embedded in the revising process to some extent, because little tweaks are possible. So I’m at ease with it, in a way I’m not at ease with re-reading the finished, published novel. Kind of like it, in fact, because once you get to this point you know you’re pretty much done. This thing’s happening. This book’s going to be for real soon.

In fact, The Free is going to be for real on or about October 14th. Not all that soon, I know, but it’s avilable for pre-order on all the usual online sites. If you’re at all inclined to do such a thing, pre-ordering is helpful and encouraging so you get my (impersonal, anonymous) gratitude if you take the plunge. I don’t think you’ll regret it – I’ve read The Free quite recently, after all, and I didn’t think it was bad. All nearly 450 pages of it.

The book’s right there waiting for your anticipatory support on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, Barnes & Noble etc. (But sadly not yet my personal preference these days – now that Amazon has bought up virtually every other independent online vendor – Wordery, which is a newish UK-based site that does free worldwide shipping. So you can’t pre-order The Free there yet, as far as I can see, but why not bookmark or sign up with Wordery.com and try it out sometime? Competition is a good thing, and boy does Amazon need some competition).

More to come about The Free in coming weeks and months, of course. For now, though, here’s the start of the contents because … well, why not?

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Couple of movies I’ve Netflixed recently:

Grabbers is an Irish horror-comedy from a couple of years back. A remote island – so remote it’s only got one pub – is under attack by tentacled alien monsters, and the only hope the motley and rather dishevelled locals have of surviving the stormy night is getting drunk and staying that way. Sounds ridiculous, and it is, but I thought the movie did a remarkably good job of selling the bonkers premise, thanks to a decent script that doesn’t try to get too clever, some good actors and special effects (i.e. monsters) that are jolly respectable given the miserly budget I assume everyone was working with.

For the first half of the movie the humour’s fairly gentle, the pace quite measured and the atmosphere one of understated disquiet. Not entirely surprising that things get a bit broader and louder in the second half, as the monsters start hamming it up and the alcohol starts flowing in profuse quantities. It’s fun, though. If you fancy something a bit different, a pleasant way of passing a little time, you could do a lot worse than give Grabbers a try.

It’s better than the following trailer makes it look, if you ask me.

The Hunter is based on one of my favourite books. Always a bit of a lottery, that kind of situation. The novel, by Julia Leigh, is a strange, sparse, haunting story about a man hunting the last Tasmanian Tiger in the world. It’s a powerful evocation of not only natural but also spiritual, psychological wildernesses, all the more impressive for being a very short book, written in very simple, stripped down prose.

So did this story I so like survive translation to the screen? Kind of. Bits of it did. Tasmania is beautiful and wild. Willem Dafoe’s watchable as ever in the title role. The mood is – for most of the film – a very effective replication of the book: quiet, sometimes tense, with a steady undercurrent of otherness and wrongness. It never feels as though anything good can come of what’s going on, and sure enough it doesn’t.

They changed the climax. I knew they would. The book has an uncompromising, challenging last quarter that makes irrefutable sense in terms of what has gone before. The movie keeps bits of it, and bits of its bleak inevitability, but tweaks them and re-interprets them and changes some other bits radically. I didn’t find the end result as satisfying as the book’s ending – it feels as though the film-makers found a way to compromise and complicate what was previously uncompromised and uncomplicated in its hard-edged simplicity – but for all I know it might work perfectly well if you haven’t read the original novel.

Anyway, on the whole The Hunter is a good and effective adaptation of a terrific, and very unusual, book. Worth a try if you’re in the mood for something bleak and thoughtful with a powerful dose of spectacular scenery and trackless wilderness. Maybe read the book afterwards, though. That’s the real deal.

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Rogue Trooper #2, written by some bloke called Brian Ruckley, will be in your local comic shop and available for digital reading at comixology.com tomorrow. Huzzah! (You can even read the first few pages of it for free in a preview, here for example).

To celebrate, I’m giving away signed copies of Rogue Trooper #1 over on the Winterbirth fan page on Facebook. If you’d like to be in with a chance of getting your hands on one, all you need to do is head over to the Winterbirth page, go to the post that starts SIGNED COMIC GIVEAWAY and follow the entirely idiot-proof instructions.

If there are more entrants than available copies, I’ll pick a winner next Monday.

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… kind of fun. First time I’d been to one of these ‘pop culture’ shows that are sprouting up all over the place now, mixing celebs from film/TV/Sports with bits of toys, comics, all sorts of odds and ends. First time Newcastle had had one too, I think, and the level of interest seemed to have caught the organisers a bit by surprise, so there were biiig queues (at least on the Saturday, I gather it was all more or less under control by the time Sunday came around).

Anyway, I had a good time. Was great to meet Alberto Ponticelli in the flesh and spend a pleasant few hours hanging out with him. Talked to a few folks about Rogue Trooper, signed a lot of copies of the first issue. Got my own, unique copy as a souvenir, signed by me, Alberto and Courtney, the very nice lady from the convention crew who patiently sat with us for the whole day:

All the usual sort of stuff was going on …

… but a few personal highlights/impressions:

  • seeing a Rorschach cosplayer wandering around all day holding a can of baked beans (you’d have to have read Watchmen to get that …)
  • having lunch in the secret guests’ facilities while sitting next to Frank Bruno (you’d have to be a Brit of a certain age, or a serious boxing fan, to get that), and realising he really is as big as he always looked, and he really does have the deeeepest voice ever heard on the surface of the planet
  • watching (and filming, but that didn’t work) Alberto do a Rogue Trooper sketch in three minutes flat – which he then gave to me, because he’s nice like that:

  • being Judged (inexplicably, I was released without charge) …

  • realising I have never, not once in my life, been as much of a fan of any piece of entertainment, or brand, or celebrity, as many of the attendees were. Not being sure whether that was a good thing or bad; but knowing I didn’t regret it for one second.
  • coming out of the ‘celeb’ toilets just as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 was going in, and thinking ‘Huh. Isn’t it funny how life turns out?’
  • being generally very struck by how extremely pleasant and patient and accommodating all the celebs were in dealing with their fans, no matter how big or small their celebritude was (and then overhearing one of them – who shall remain nameless – at the train station after the show telling someone it had been a ‘terrible, terrible madhouse’, and feeling some sympathy. Can’t be that easy, doing what they do at these shows and smiling, being utterly professional, all the way through it.)
  • giving Alberto a sustained and detailed introduction to the correct use of the word ‘Cheers’ in colloquial English (I think he got the hang of it, since he’s using it in his e-mails to me now …)

But you know what the best bit of the whole day was? It was the most striking, most obvious example of something that happened several times: people deriving enormous pleasure from their experience of being at the show. And even though this instance only involved me somewhat indirectly, it was immensely enjoyable to sit there and watch it happen.

A guy came wandering past, saw me and Alberto sitting there and came over to see what was what. He was after a copy of Rogue Trooper, but then he discovered Alberto’s small portfolio of original art pages for sale, and I could see his eyes lighting up in something approaching disbelief. To cut a long story short, this guy eventually (after queueing at a cash machine for about half an hour, spending another fifteen minutes trying to decide) bought a page of original Ponticelli comic art, and he was as happy as a happy person could be.

He said something along the lines of ‘You’ve made my day, I never in my life thought I’d own something like this’, and he absolutely meant it, and he was absolutely delighted. It was great. And it was kind of the point of the whole show, really. Whyever they came, whoever they wanted to see, I guess pretty much everyone who was there was just looking for that moment when they’d think to themselves ‘This is awesome. I never imagined …’

And although, on some really quite profound level I don’t get, can’t share in and indeed find a little dispiriting this whole celebrity culture, this idolisation of actors and characters and shows and films and fictions, this longing to be part of something, there’s no denying the happiness that was abroad in Newcastle on Saturday. And there’s no denying it was infectious.

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I’ve got a post up at SF Signal, about the experience of switching (temporarily! – I do still have a new novel coming out this October, after all!) from prose to comics writing: What Happens When A Novelist Tries To Write A Comic?. Do go check it out if you’re interested.

Enough about what I think about things, though. It occurred to me I’ve got a chance here to do something I’ve not done in a looong time, so for nostalgic reasons as much as anything, here comes … A Review Round-Up!

What some folks have made of Rogue Trooper #1:

‘Rogue Trooper is off to a killer start and I can’t wait for more.’ IGN

‘This comic nails the atmosphere of the world and the voice of the title character.’ Adventures in Poor Taste

‘Checks all the first issue boxes while still giving you a great story.’ Comic Book Therapy

‘We have a winner here.’ Comic Bastards

‘This is an impressive opening issue for the series.’ Unleash the Fanboy

‘Well worth adding to your pull list. Final score: 8 out of 10.’ Rhymes With Geek

‘A great piece of apocalyptic pulp.’ Flickering Myth

All of which is very nice. If you haven’t already, there’s still time to pick up the first issue at your local comic shop ( if you have one), or at comixology if you don’t (where I’ve just noticed, in the course of finding that link, that it appears to be piling up 5 star reviews, which is also very nice).

Thanks to anyone and everyone who’s said nice things about this first issue, wherever they’ve said them.

Now I must go and do some preparation for my first trip to a convention in a while: Me and the Rogue Trooper artist, Alberto Ponticelli, will be at Newcastle Film and Comic Con tomorrow, Saturday 8th March, where I believe we may both be doing such things as signing stuff and talking about stuff. If by any chance you’re there, do say hello. Neither me nor Alberto will bite. Probably.

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There’s no shortage of things different about writing a comic compared to writing a novel. Heaps of them. One is that Wednesday suddenly becomes the most important day of the week. Comics fans already know this, of course. For everyone else, I should perhaps explain that Wednesday is … New Comics Day!

Yes, by ancient and noble tradition, comics show up in shops and online in highly regimented fashion, every Wednesday. This particular Wednesday is the one on which my first attempt at writing a comic reaches places the public can get it. Rogue Trooper #1 has been released into the wild.

Available now (today!) in your local comic shop, online at Comixology and probably elsewhere in the digital universe (but when I buy digital comics, I get them from comixology, so to be honest I don’t really know how it works elsewhere).

I may only be a novice at this comics writing thing but Alberto Ponticelli and Steve Downer, the artist and colourist, know exactly what they’re doing in this medium, and they’ve created a very good-looking book imho. Can’t beat having experienced collaborators to keep you afloat as you learn to swim.

You’d be doing me a solid (is that what the kids say nowadays? Or was that years ago?) if you gave Rogue Trooper #1 a try …

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I Grew A Beard

Hard to say why, exactly. Impulse. Because I can. Idle curiosity.

It is, I fear, not a very convincing beard. Insufficient density. Lack of uniformity. Needs tending in some way, obviously, but I’m not sure I was signing on for tending when I began this experiment. Certainly not for the nurturing that looks to be required if a pleasing effect is going to be produced.

Funny how I’ve got a pair of discrete white/grey chin tufts showing through, though. The whole thing’s a subtly different colour than my head hair, too.

So, a possibly failed experiment (though kind of fun). What do we think? Beard good, beard bad? You decide! Actually, no: I decide. My face, my responsibility to take the weighty decision.

Made me wonder, though: should every man for whom such a thing is an option grow their beard out a bit at least once in their life? Just on principle? It’s there, waiting to be expressed, a part of you. If you never let it come out to play, not even once, there’s an aspect of you that you’ll never see or know.

Maybe not. It’s just a scrappy strew of hair, after all.

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Newcastle Film and Comic Con runs Sat 8th and Sun 9th March. I’ll be there on the Saturday, in my capacity as writer of Rogue Trooper – issue #1 of which will, I think, be out in the world (in comic shops and digital sales-places) this very Wednesday. I believe signing and panelling may be involved during my day-trip to Newcastle, so do say hello if you happen to be there.

A probably rather greater incentive to say hello is that my rather talented collaborator on the comic, the artist Alberto Ponticelli, will be at the con on both days, signing Rogue Trooper #1. He’s created a rather splendid variant cover for the first issue, specifically for this and other Showmasters shows in the UK. Obviously, since he’s the interior artist, of all the covers so far done for the series, this is the one that most closely replicates the look and vibe of what lurks within.

Got to say, I’m kind of looking forward to the show. Partly because it’s my first chance to actually meet Alberto in the flesh; partly because I’ve never previously been – in any capacity – to one of these big ‘pop culture’ conventions that have kind of taken off around the world in the last few years. I’m curious, you know? I’ll take my camera, report back here on my impressions.

Incidentally, you can get a sneak peek at Rogue Trooper #1 – the first seven pages – over at comicbookresources right now.

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My podcast listening is spiralling out of control. I spend so much time with stuff plugged into my ears I’m worried it might just kind of merge with my flesh and become a permanent fixture. It occurred to me the other day that if I added together all the time I spend reading, watching TV/film and internetting, it would fall some way short of the time I spend with someone podcasting into my ear. Thus, podcasts have officially become my primary source of entertainment and information. Weird.

As some might remember, I’m mystified why everyone in the world isn’t similarly addicted, and every so often do my best here to provide gateway drugs for those who haven’t yet acquired the podcast habit.

As I’m about to become a published comics writer (next week, I believe!), I thought it was about time I spread some love around one of my favourite categories of listening: comics podcasts! (And by ‘comics’, I mean word and pictures combining to tell stories, obviously; not people telling jokes and being funny).

I listen to too much comics stuff to get into it all here, so I offer just a sample: seven of the podcasts I regularly consume. With my ears.

ifanboy. Gets listed first because it was the first I really latched on to, years ago. Every week, like clockwork, there’s a ‘Pick of the Week’ episode in which the three hosts talk about a selection of the week’s new comics, answer reader questions etc. It’s tight, structured, pacy, with fairly high production values. Pretty polished as podcasts go, and I do appreciate a bit of polish now and again. Tends to be focused on the biggest publishers and relatively ‘mainstream’ comics, but the hosts have pretty diverse tastes and open minds so all kinds of stuff turns up over time.

House to Astonish. A British podcast (Scottish, in fact!) Yay, go us! Anyway, I like the Britishness of it, which heavily colours the tone and references and humour even though the subject matter is American comics. Another very structured offering, with a consistent format covering comics-related news, discussion of forthcoming comics, reviews of current comics etc. Accessible and fun, imho.

Wait, What?. Now we’re getting into the slightly more deep cut, idiosyncratic realm of comics podcasting, and with it possibly my favourite on this list. Every fortnight (approximately, theoretically), Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan deliver 2hrs+ of digressive, detailed comics-related talk that covers a very wide territory: superheroes, small press, manga, movies, beards, waffles, the weather … and so on. There are occasional rants and conspiracy theories about what’s going on in the industry or inside creator’s heads, nostalgic love-ins for old comics, technical snafus, all sorts of stuff. As with many of the best podcasts, the magic ingredient is the natural chemistry between the hosts which – again, as with many of the best podcasts – you only really come to fully appreciate and recognise after you’ve listened to a few episodes.

11 O’clock Comics. This one took me longer than most to get my head around, get onto the right wavelength etc. Four guys talking about comics and comics-related stuff for at least two hours once a week, every week. They drink, the conversation wanders around, they sometimes stray into rather NSFW territory. The range of comics discussed is pretty enormous, and quite a bit of what gets talked about doesn’t particularly interest me, but it’s talked about with such enthusiasm I stay thoroughly engaged. These guys read a lot of comics, like a lot of comics and like each other, and it shows.

Let’s Talk Comics. (That link is a horrendously slow loader, by the way, but it’ll get there in the end if you give it time – or you could just google the name or whatever). A newish kid on the podcasting block, and I’m already utterly hooked. Unlike the previous listings, this is an interview show, but it’s the kind of interview show you can absolutely only get in podcasts: extended, detailed, conversational. Some of the biggest names in the US comics industry (mostly writers and artists) talk at length and frankly about how they got into the business, how they do what they do, why they do what they do. It’s fascinating, and illuminating. Mostly has the form of what I’d call ‘narrative interview’, in that the talk is largely structured around the progress of the interviewee’s career.

Stuff Said. Another interview show. Another fascinating listen. The discussions tend to be a little bit more wide-ranging, a little less ‘narrative’ driven. Sometimes gets into such minute detail about aspects of the comics-making craft, the history of the industry, the thinking of the interviewee that I wonder if I must be far more of a comics nerd than I realised to enjoy it as much as I do. The truth is, though – and this is kind of the key to my whole podcast addiction – I find it endlessly interesting and enjoyable to listen to articulate people talk in detail about a subject, almost any subject, they care about and know inside out.

Decompressed. An irregular podcast that’s another interview show, but this time it’s a comics writer (Kieron Gillen) interviewing other comics professionals – often writers, occasionally artists – and most of the episodes focus on a single issue of a comic, trying to unpick what’s being done, and why, from a craft point of view. Always interesting to hear two professionals talking about what they do, don’t you think? Well, I suppose it depends on the professionals, but in this case lots of interesting stuff comes up.

Conclusion from all this? I listen to too many podcasts. There’s no getting away from it. It’s possible I need help.

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