Strange Animals 18mar2020: Big Ideas

Hello from the end times, apparently. What about that CoVID-19, huh? Far out.

At this point, life hasn’t changed much for me, because I’ve worked from home for years now, and live in a perpetual state of self-quarantine. But I look outside, and India doesn’t seem to be taking it nearly as seriously it should, and when they are, they seem to be quaffing pints of cowpiss rather than setting up tests and, you know, actual medical treatments. It’s … stressful, I gotta admit. I have diabetic parents, and I have no idea how I can make sure they don’t get it. And if a lockdown happens, I’ll have to figure out how to keep them supplied for a bit.

Onwards and upwards, though. Or downwards, wherever the winds take us, I guess.

1. Notes

I finished reading Jerusalem! Or listening to it, mostly. It’s actually a lot easier a read than you might think – only Chapter 25, the Lucia Joyce chapter, is genuinely difficult, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The rest is … not a breeze, exactly, but a sumptuous, entertaining read, especially Book 2, “Mansoul”, which is a proper romp. If not Moore’s best work, it’s definitely his biggest, and most ambitious, and contains within it multiple entire works of brilliance.

I’ll talk more about this when it settles in – it was a 60-hour audiobook, and around 3 of those hours, I was playing and pausing and then following along in prose form, so it definitely took me more than that. In the outside world, it took me around six months, though, obviously I was reading other stuff, and taking breaks when it felt necessary to let the previous chapter settle in before I went on to the next. It’s a book I’ll be thinking about for a very long time, and I just know this isn’t going to be my only read of it.

As an aside, I am now an even bigger fan of Simon Vance than I was after Fire and Blood. He tackles the whole book with aplomb, whatever is thrown at him, and moves through accents and voices without ever feeling like he’s “acting”. Particular highlights were how he read Black Charlie’s chapter in an American accent laden with English slang, and how he slowed down and modulated his voice for the Lucia Joyce chapter. Even if you’ve read the book already, I recommend listening to Vance read it at least once.

Work-wise, I didn’t have anything new come out in the last couple of weeks (although I did have John Constantine: Hellblazer #4 release right before the previous edition and forgot to note it down there).

However, I had a couple of upcoming comics being announced that are very cool –

Firstly, I get to contribute to the Black Hammer universe by lettering the upcoming comic Barbalien: Red Planet, written by Jeff Lemire and Tate Brombal, drawn by Gabriel Hernández Walta and coloured by Jordie Bellaire. Here’s the write-up for it:

Mark Markz has found a comfortable life on Earth as both a decorated police officer and as the beloved superhero, Barbalien. But when Mark is suddenly thrust onto the frontlines of the AIDS crisis, his role as a cop raises doubts and he must now reckon with his own closeted sexuality. Growing tensions make balancing his disparate identities seem impossible – especially when a Martian enemy from his past hunts him down on Earth to take him home, dead or alive. Heroism, privilege, and complacency are all called into question, as Mark becomes more-and-more embroiled in the activism of the time and with the man leading its charge – the handsome and headstrong Miguel.

I said yes to this project for two reason: 1) It’s an unabashedly queer story, and set in a time that not a lot of people are familiar with, and 2) I love Walta’s work, and it’s a privilege to be lettering him. Here’s the cover to issue 1:

Second, something I’ve been working on for a while now has just been announcement. As you might know, hand-lettering Grafity’s Wall was a landmark for me, and it was a thrill to work on Ram and Anand on creating something special and unique. So now that we’re working on another book together – Blue in Green – I had to try hand-lettering again (I tried a few digital options, but they just seemed to suck all the energy out of the art). But this time, instead of working on paper, I decided to work out a hybrid process by which I’m drawing all the letters on my iPad Pro, and then combining that with the page in Photoshop, and then drawing the balloons there. I might do a process post about that here at some point – that’s what the newsletter’s for, isn’t it?

It’s going really well so far, and I know that with Blue in Green, Ram and Anand are going to blow your minds even more than they did with GW. This time, we’re joined by colourist John Pearson (artist on one of my other books – Blood Moon) and designer Tom Muller (my cohort from many previous books and currently masterminding the X-Men comics rebrand).

You can read more about in on the AV Club, and here’s the cover and the first few pages:

2. Letting Go

There’s a lot above this, so I think I’ll keep this bit short. Not every central essay needs to be a thousand words.

I just did something in my writing life that I hadn’t done for a while – I let go of an idea.

I mean, I do that all the time. I’ll have an idea over lunch, play with it for the whole afternoon and evening, try and come at it from different angles to see how it might make a story, and if the final thing just isn’t very engaging for me to write, I let go. If it sticks around in my head, I might come back to it later, but it’s just an idea, and ideas are not stories.

But this one was at least nine years old. It was a prose novel that I’d tried to write at least four times and always abandoned, but the idea had never left me, and I had been shaping it and refining it for a very long time. It was a whole book in my head, just one I was somehow not able to write.

And when I returned to writing on a more serious basis recently, I had to look at this past magnum opus, and ask myself, and answer honestly, if I really wanted to write this anymore.

It’s not a bad idea – in fact, it’s one of my best. It’s a book I’d read, for sure. But was it something I really wanted to write, or was I just holding on to it because I’d put so much work into it and didn’t like the idea of that work being wasted?

I came to the conclusion that it was the latter. So I wrote it down in my list of upcoming ideas I wanted to tackle, and then I struck it out, all dramatic-like.

And it was pretty fucking great to let go. It was a whole book I didn’t have to carry in my head anymore, and I could use that space for other stuff. I mean – that’s not how it literally works, you and I both know that, but now it isn’t something I need to remember.

It had always been my assumption that the reason I couldn’t write this book was that I needed to grow as a writer, that the idea was right for a future me who would come along. Turns out future me has different priorities. And now that I’ve changed into a writer that doesn’t want what past me wanted, it’s entirely possible that the germ of this book will come back in a few years, and I’ll go, hmm, I wonder how this would be a story, and another version of me could write a whole new, but very importantly, different, version of that idea. Or not. That’s fine.

I’m telling you this because I’m pretty sure most of us are carrying around stuff like that – something that excited us once, but we couldn’t figure it out, and now it’s just … baggage. I know artists who’ve been working their magna opera for years – sometimes seven years or a decade – and are neither able to finish and release it nor to just stop working on it. Or they’ve actually stopped working on it, but carry it around like a mental load everywhere – each of us with our “my book that I’ve been working on”.

And some of those need to be done at some point, sure. But other times, you need to shit or get off the pot.

3. Recommended Comic

The last comic that made me cry was All-Star Superman #6. It’s the Chronovore issue, with the future supersquad, and there’s this section, where Superman realises his father has died:

The first time I got to it, I had to put the book aside and get a hold of myself, and I still get a lump in my throat every time I come across it.

But literally no other comic has punched me in the gut like that, until Ice Cream Man #18. Ice Cream Man is a series by W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo and Chris O’Halloran that consists of single-issue horror stories tied together by the conceit of the “Ice Cream Man”, an entity that’s more of a tone than a character or concept.

Ice Cream Man #18, titled ‘Watch As It All Recedes’, doesn’t even really have a supernatural concept – not really. It’s about a man’s dementia manifesting itself as a gremlin, but at its root, it’s just a portrait of an imperfect family living through difficult times as the father goes through dementia, reflecting on his past with a mind that’s slowly taking that past away from him.

I don’t get autobiographical too often here, but if you’ve followed along for a while, you will know that my dad has had dementia and limited mobility for the last few years. It’s on my mind constantly, even when I’m not consciously thinking about it. In fact, SAWBONES, the graphic novel I wrote in basically a hot streak of three weeks, is based on what it’s like to live with someone who’s changed because of this kind of illness.

But it would’ve been too painful for me to write from the point of view of someone whose brain is betraying them like that. It’s tough enough watching my father go through it, without trying to put myself in his place for a sustained duration. I’m still learning how to plumb the depths of my emotions to write stories, and that’d be like jumping straight into the deep end, and I’m not ready for that. Handily, it feels like Prince and co. did that on my behalf.

The conceit of the captions is an immediately effective one, and right after I read page 1, I had to stop for a moment because I realised what I was going to be in for. And the rest of the book is just as carefully written and drawn, continually honing in to what’s important for every image.

Deniz and I often talk about what makes comics effective – and what sparse comics can do that dense comics cannot, and as he points out, Ice Cream Man is a great example of that. Prince and his team do a masterclass here on what you can do by stripping down the words and images and only putting in what absolutely needs to be there and nothing else.

‘Watch As It All Recedes’ is a comic that I’m genuinely thankful exists. My world would be poorer having not read it. Ice Cream Man #18 made me cry, and I can think of no higher compliment.

4. From the Commonplace Book

From this article about realtime extinction:

When animals die out, the last survivor is called an endling. It is a word of soft beauty, heartbreaking solitude, and chilling finality.

File under #life and #science.