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Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. My name's Warren Ellis, and you subscribed to this list on purpose.

I'm not completely present this week.  Working on INJECTION, a TV Project I Cannot Name Or Codename, the thing that "El Pantera" has become, a short story, three other things, and an idea that's been growing in the back of my head for the last several weeks. Next week is looking worse, in terms of workload.

That brain-lump of a growing idea is particularly annoying, as it comes with a whole bunch of required tools and methods. It's a comics thing. And, immediately, even for some of the people who read this newsletter, that comes with issues.

Comics are pictures you read and words you look at, and pictures you look at and words you read, and, hell, not everybody is wired to parse two elements in two different ways each and then put them all together. Words in comics are a graphic element as well as reading text - many slavishly faithful comics adaptations don't translate into film, for instance, because the dialogue has to work as a graphic in juxtaposition with the image and isn't necessarily designed to be read out loud. 

And -- and this is arguable for some comics, but - on the whole, comics have less information per page than books. Books are extremely lo-fi media that require complete immersion to extract the experience, but the nature of the media is that there's a lot of information on each page. Comics require immersion too - in McLuhan's terms, they too are a "cool" medium, demanding active participation to resolve them. But a page of comics does less work than a page of books.  I've been thinking about this ever since I came back to comics sort-of-full-time since writing GUN MACHINE.

The other thing about "cool" media is that they are seen to require familiarity with "genre conventions" in order to work. 

And that and the information-load thing are, I think, what's been especially bugging me over the last week. 

I had occasion, at the top of the week, to write an introduction to a new graphic novel by Jim Starlin, who entered the commercial comics field in the 1970s with some darkly psychedelic post-Kirby post-Ditko books for Marvel Comics.  Looking over that early work again - especially WARLOCK - I was struck by all the tricks he was performing to jam as much as he could into nineteen-page instalments. 

(Creators in this period in commercial comics didn't really use the tools for anything you'd recognise as nuance or subtlety - part of the "decompression" movement at the turn of the century was about being able to get at the meat between the beats of the plot, let the pages breathe and give spectacle the time and space it needed to impact the reader -- taking this kind of storytelling and exploding it outwards to reveal the notes between the notes.)

In this same week, I happened to look at a comics series called WE CAN NEVER GO HOME by Kindlon, Rosenberg and Hood, and one called WELCOME BACK by Sebela/Sawyer/Roe, both of which (and particularly the former) are doing a little more than dabbling in trying to inculcate more density into the page. I happened to pick a couple of French albums off the shelf to flick through this week, and re-read some of my LUTHER ARKWRIGHT omnibus while moving some books at the end of the week, and by Saturday figured that the universe was trying to tell me something.

You know what else?  A news story where Stan Lee said his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he couldn't read comics any more. And my first reaction was, yes, it can be bloody hard now -- my eyes are definitely not the pure 20/20 they were, but comics lettering definitely got smaller. Which led me to - linework is finer, too. Because printing got better, so digital lettering could be smaller and remain legible.

All of which found me bringing up my digital copy of FROM HELL and cursing the lettering because that shit is really hard to read on a screen apparently. (Not Eddie's fault, obviously.)  And then opening BUILDING STORIES and learning that I still will need to buy glasses to be able to read parts of that damned thing. And reading Dash Shaw again, and thinking about Krystyne Kryttre's scraperboard comics from back in the day.

The idea?  Oh, I have the idea.  This is the part that comes next. Thinking about the tools and the methods and the things I want to say about the world and in and about the form.  It could be years before anytning gets written and an artist gets fooled into drawing it and it gets committed to print.

Look at how terrible my working process is.  Why are you even reading this? I look forward to your contemptuous unsubscriptions.

I'm starting to miss writing prose full-time. It's starting to seem simpler. (It's not.)


++ Joe Hill

Joe is the author of many fine books and stories, including HORNS, which was made into a fun film starring Daniel Radcliffe. I'm sure you all know him and his work -- you may be most familiar with his popular and acclaimed comics series LOCKE AND KEY. He's an acquaintance of several years' standing, so I imposed three questions about writing on him, and he responded marvellously:

I seem to remember that you write your novels in longhand drafts these days.  Do you work to a plan or outline, or are you writing the book to find out what it is and where it wants to go?

Long answer here... My stock reply is that outlines are the tools of the devil. Here's the more thoughtful response: I have a distrust of outlines, because they're the work of the scheming conscious mind, and I think all the big machinery is down at the level of the unconscious. Why work with a leaking, rickety prop engine when you've got twin jet turbines at your disposal? When I go to work on a story, I have a concept, and I'm in search of some characters who would be fun to spend time with, and who might explore my idea in unexpected ways. Once I find a character with an authentic, unique voice, and an authentic, unique way of feeling and thinking, I don't need an outline. I can trust them to respond to any situation in the way that only they would.

In HEART-SHAPED BOX, my faded heavy metal musician, Judas Coyne, buys a supposedly haunted suit online. It turns out the ghost attached to the suit is very real and very bad. And my hero hits upon the idea to sell the suit off to one of his fans. He doesn't care that the ghost will probably eat this poor, clueless fan for breakfast, as long as Jude himself survives. It was a deliriously ruthless moment and I never would've found my way to it by outline. I just never would've thought of it. I needed my main character, Jude, to think of it for me.

All that said: every story is its own unique puzzle, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. When you write a screenplay, you work from an outline as a matter of course, because to even get to the stage of writing a script, you had to sell a detailed scene-by-scene treatment. I once wrote a weirdly over-engineered story for LOCKE & KEY called "Beyond Repair," and before I started on the script, I made a chart. Actually I needed to make the chart three times to get it right.

When you work in collaboration, you outline as well, so you don't cross each other up. If we ever write that story we were talking about a couple years ago, we'd have to outline. But maybe in that case, the fun of having a co-inventor outweighs the problem of writing to diagram.

When you're in a book, do you aim for a daily word count (how many?) and walk away when you hit it, or do you just see where the day takes you?

I shoot for between 1,000 and 2,000 words, always.

That last answer was so long, I figured I better prove I'm not trying to get my 2,000 words here.

I have this theory that a lot of writers have a bucket list of genres or styles they want to try at some point. Can you name one, or do you think differently in this regard?

I'd love to write a thriller for Charles Ardai, the publisher of Hard Case Crime. They do a line of paperback originals that look like the faintly sleazy hardboiled crime novels of the 1950s and early 60s. That would be cool.

The next novel, THE FIREMAN, is SF twisted to the goals of horror fiction. But the very next novel after FIREMAN will probably be this thing called GUNPOWDER, which is a more classical breed of science-fiction: space-ships and different worlds.

I have an idea for a fractured novel of the sort David Mitchell is best known for (confession: I'm not anywhere near as gifted or as capable as Mitchell - I just look at him as a useful ideal). It feels like it might be hard work, but maybe sometimes it ought to be hard.

I'm taking time off from comics at the moment, but I also hope at some point down the road to take a year and be nothing but a comic book writer. I'd do a creator-owned title for myself, a licensed character for Marvel, and a licensed character for DC/Vertigo. I've never had to carry three titles at once, something a lot of (bearded, English) writers seem to manage pretty capably. I have anxieties about not being able to keep up, or not managing to do work at the standard I aim for, but probably anything worth doing ought to make you a little anxious.

Pre-order THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill  (UK) (US)



Currently reading THE RUSSIAN COSMISTS by George Young.

Russian Cosmism, a highly controversial and oxymoronic blend of activist speculation, futuristic traditionalism, religious science, exoteric esotericism, utopian pragmatism, idealistic materialism—higher magic partnered to higher mathematics.

if a narrower and more specific label is necessary, one I would propose, if it were not such a mouthful, would be “exoteric thaumaturgy”—wonderworking...

"Rediscovered" relatively recently, the story of Cosmism, its outsider thinkers and its weird connections to the arts is proving absolutely fascinating. Another connection that's making me smile is that between science and folklore, technology and alchemy. For obvious reasons, if you've been reading me at all over the last few years (or reading the CUNNING PLANS ebook). The core concept of original Cosmism, the Fedorov seed, is the "Common Project" of resurrecting everybody who has died, ever, right back to the first human.

Turkestan, the vast territory both joining and separating Russia and China, a sparsely inhabited wasteland dominated by the Pamir mountains and the surrounding desert, became in Fedorov’s thought a major focal point for the task of regulating nature and resurrecting the dead. Formerly, Fedorov learned, the wasteland had been fertile and inhabited and, according to local legend, was even the site of the original Eden. Only man’s failure to regulate nature had permitted the former paradise to become an uninhabitable wasteland. Legend held that the bones of Adam, the father of all fathers, were buried somewhere in these desolate mountains. And, as Fedorov once wrote to Kozhevnikov, the landscape of the Pamir region reminded him of a “pyramid of skulls.”

"The father of all fathers" thing is relevant to the broader text, as is the Christian overtone: there's Masonry and Rosicrusianism all mixed up in what is basically a patricentric nationalistic occult secret society of intellectuals intent on fusing science and religion to become, I believe, in someone else's phrase, the true companions of God.

Nothing will be remote when in the integrated totality of worlds we shall see the integrated totality of all past generations.

It's Weird History and also a completely enthralling philosophical deconstruction. Very much recommended.



Interview at The Outhousers about INJECTION #6:

Telling you what the story is about is telling you how to read it, which is very bad and we're not supposed to do that. Once a story's out in the world, writers need to accept that readers will enter and interpret it in a dozen different ways, and we're not supposed to stand up in our prams and tell you that you're reading it wrong. (We just write your names down in a notebook, and will deal with you later.)





A short one this week - I need to wrap this up and get back to various jobs while imagining what other human beings and the outside world look like. A bit stir-crazy. Hermitage has its rough moments. But we get over them, right? You're going to have a better week. I'll see you next Sunday.

-- W