I couldn’t have been the only person to notice that, could I?
Nothin’ to see here. Off you go.
Posted by BigWords on November 26, 2013
I couldn’t have been the only person to notice that, could I?
Posted by BigWords on November 9, 2013
People say that you can tell a lot about a society from its treatment of animals, but I’ll wager that a better gauge of a society’s standing is by looking at the celebrities de rigueur. Go look at the covers of this month’s magazines – take your time poring over the glossy, airbrushed covers, often overlaid with impenetrable acronyms such as HIMYM and TOWIE, as if by speaking in Tweets they are going to appear fashionable rather than desperate and pathetic. I would offer to buy the publishers of such atrocities a dictionary, but I’m not entirely sure that some of the authors of those lines would know what to do with one. Seeing the dull, vacant eyes of our “national obsessions” staring out of the magazine racks like women in the windows of Amsterdam brothels, my first feeling is one of pity. Then embarrassment on their behalf.
One of the major problems, when standing staring at those magazines, is that nothing stands out. Magazines have becomes clones of each other, with no originator to follow. Pod-people publications; uniform in appearance. It is no surprise that some people are moaning and griping about slipping sales. When standards slip, sales slip. It is almost an inevitability that random purchases aren’t going to be followed up by regular purchase or (as some are praying for) a subscription, just by looking at the covers. If the highest level of “celebrity” you can bag is some non-entity, fart in the wind who will be an unknown in a couple of years time, then maybe, just maybe, it is time to throw your hands in the air and say “fuck it, run the pic of the two-headed cat.” Or anything. To make a statement with covers beyond “we are shallow and unimaginative.”
So, the covers. I can’t say that I recognize the majority of faces. The anorexic blondes all look the same to me, and even the male “celebrities” are becoming rather alike. The days of stars with character in their faces… Tura Satana, Theda Bara, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson… even that old louche Sinatra – those days are gone and buried. We have pod-people personalities posing for pod-people publications, and nobody seems to find the mundanity of it all bothersome. It is a different age – these people aren’t distant icons. They aren’t mysterious, nor (in a great swathe of cases) all that interesting. The faces on at least two covers are people whom I could easily imagine tweeting about their bowel movements, which removes any incentive to read what comes out of their mouths.
Warhol got it wrong – we aren’t going to witness masses of people attain fifteen minutes of fame. What we are witnessing, at this present moment, is the slow death of celebrity culture. People wrung out like sponges, every moment of their lives scrutinized, then discarded once they have seeped out every last detail of their personal lives.
The covers I commissioned for the monthly were in gouache. There is something about great paintings which speaks volumes, and I have always had an affinity for the boldness that a painted cover brings. You can strip away so much of the ornamentation which is expected, retaining the essence of identity through subtler means. I don’t think I asked for any major alterations – I know that on one painting I suggested that the sky ought to be two shades darker, though that is hardly the most extravagant of demands. Despite everything that happened after, and all the negatives which went with losing the title, I still have those on my wall. Not the cheapest paintings ever purchased, all things thrown into the cost, but much more satisfying to look at than a nondescript photograph.
And on celebrity again, for a moment – I spent a little time putting together a list of names of people I found interesting enough to warrant running features on, but the first thirty names (the choices which I would have ran first) met with blank stares from nearly everyone. I nixed the idea, desperate to keep from turning the open-to-all nature of the title into a closed-off community of geeks with long memories. One of these days, when there’s less possibility of things going completely tits-up, I’ll come back to some of that material, which I still think has the potential to do interesting things. At the very least I would love to see some of the daguerreotypes preserved in print, as a few of them are starting to look very sorry for themselves indeed.
Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
of the same kind; alike: consisting of parts all of the same kind.
While I am on the topic of the contents, I may as well share a little of what I have tired of in most current – and, for that matter, past – publications. The very word “magazine” carries with it the suggestion of a range of disparate topics, spread over various styles and with conflicting views on display, but this is only so because most magazines are abysmally conceived. The lack of focus in any issue of a regularly-published magazine is one of the reasons which keep them from achieving greater things, bogging overall quality down in a miasma of hopeless confusion. Special issues, dedicated to a single idea, are better examples of what magazines should be aiming for, but these can be… well, I ain’t gonna be pushing any single magazine as a paragon of quality.
There are titles I like, for various reasons. I’ve never though that they went all-out, went completely to the core of the matter at hand. If something is worth doing well, it is worth going all in. The hand behind a title should be throwing all available energy into the compilation of material, so that nothing is left in doubt about the competence of the people behind the work. The magazines which I had sitting for people to look at – to see how the idea and the execution left a space of nebulous degrees – were a haphazard lot, gathered over the years, and kept due to their coming so very, very close to being great. Which brings me to the strata of magazines which I had pondered at numerous times, and codified into four groups.
General magazines of low focus.
General magazines of high focus.
Specialist magazines of low focus.
Specialist magazines of high focus.
None of those categories describe the quality of the contents, but merely explain what is within the pages. Additionally, it doesn’t cover runs of titles, but must be undertaken on an issue by issue basis. Splitting markets into two main groups (general and specialist) goes to the market a title is aiming for, with specialist covering automobiles, computer games, sport, yachting… It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, as long as there is a particular niche which can be identified immediately. General is different, and more complicated to deal with. I threw everything else in there precisely because it is pointless to discuss fashion magazines, television listings titles and other things. It is all the same. Vogue or Radio Times, the mixed nature of what is within the pages immediately places those in low focus, and I have little interest in those titles.
Yeah. There’s the qualifier to the two main groupings. High and low focus. That is simpler to get to grips with, and it is the very thing I instilled in everyone who took the time to get to grips with what I was doing. Now, even though these posts as “why the hell not, lets get everything out in the open” I still feel a bit uncomfortable picking on titles, or those involved with them. Folks working on magazines are, overall, intelligent and creative. It is the fault of companies publishing magazines that there has been so little movement in the medium since… IDK, the 1940s? 1950s? Even Wired has elements which could have been bodged together way back in the 70s. The bigger the company, the smaller the motivation to be spectacular. Think of it in terms of sports – those giant guys in the World’s Strongest Man competitions versus the lithe athletes running at great speed, or gymnasts.
Not that small companies are inherently better. You get your money regularly, and a degree of (irrelevant) kudos for snagging a gig at one of the big companies, even if the work you produce is unmitigated shit. Wow, I’m back to talking about FHM again. Weird… Anyways. *cough*
There’s a Dark Side Magazine special which is entirely about zombies. This is focus. And tight focus, at that. It is far from perfect, and has a few head-scratchers in the text, but it ain’t the worst thing I have ever read. The regular title suffered greatly from its’ low focus on so many aspects of “horror” (articles on things which were horrific to watch don’t count as horror. Just sayin’) that I rarely encouraged people to read it. Instead, I have always cited Samhain as being the single best magazine of horror ever published. Yes, it was butt-ugly at times, but it had the best articles, and John really, really did try to do something with it. I’ll ignore Fangoria, as… Well, I simply like to ignore that title as much as possible.
And yeah, I realize that I am talking about specific titles now. Guess I really don’t care. *shrugs*
About Fangoria, specifically – there was (is?) a trend that saw articles split in two, with the odd page, or part of a page, presented much farther back into the issue than necessary. In order to read some of the pieces, there was (is?) the need to flip past thirty or so pages to get to the final few sentences. It is lazy and incompetent design work, and something which should never be seen in a “professional” magazine. Not that I think it is very professional anyway. And of Dark Side, the most irritating and (still) unexplained decision – so few of the numerous photographs presented in the title were captioned that it was always an annoyance to read. Most images in features obtained some explanation beneath their presentation, but the letters page? Ugh.
Focus. That’s what I’m talking about, so I should be doing it.
Focus is all about keeping a single thread of thought throughout the span of the issue. And it isn’t necessarily the obvious thought. In the most simplified form, it is the grouping of facts on a single page – fifty things about Christmas, or about Halloween, or… anything, really. When the entire raison d’être is a single event, or place, or person, there is a feeling of comfort in reading – which can be spoiled entirely by a single out-of-place element. Taking this to an extreme, molding an entire issue around the fewest pieces, is something which is incredibly powerful. This is something which hasn’t been attempted to a great degree, and I can see some of the arguments against it, but most arguments hinge on tradition. Fuck tradition. Tradition is as good as astrology when it comes to predictions.
I used small facts at the top of each page in order to bind the more obviously unconnected pages. Unlike every other title which has done this, I made sure that there was a common element running the length of the magazine – for the first issue, that subject was firsts. The “first” examples also had to tie in to what was the main focus of each page – a greater feat than you might imagine. Also, the big difference fro what others were doing with the idea was that each of the facts ran to three lines of text rather than one line of large text, and most had a web address at the end so that people could learn more about what was given in brief. I trusted the intelligence of readers enough to use more complicated language in these small snippets of text.
Keeping an idea, whatever that idea may be (as long as it ties the title together) present from the opening salvo through to the final pages is one of the most satisfying things to see actually working. Properly working. Not half-assed, throw-any-fact-on-the-page style. Gods, this is going to make me horribly depressed if I have to point out all of the things I had to watch get ripped from my grasp…
Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
Putting together the first issue of anything is exciting and awful at the same time. There are things you know you have to somehow include even of you don’t want them there, and there are other things you know you are never going to get to sit well on the page, no matter how hard you try. I settled on 76 pages as being the absolute minimum number of pages I would need per issue, mostly because that gave enough room for the kipple – both in-house ads and those which paid. From this set length, I began breaking the first issue into twelve distinct sections. The speed of each of the sections was paced out (open slow, build, big moment, slow, build, moment, wash and repeat) so that everyone could get an idea of what content was needed.
The content. That lifeblood of a magazine – words. I had a dozen or so people in mind, people who could tailor themselves to the largest audience without going middle of the road, who could appeal to a wide variety of individuals while retaining the essential themness which was critical to their writing. I threw down cash in front of receiving most of the material I wanted (which is always a good way of getting what you want) and made sure the pay was at least comparable with other titles, if not better. By the end of the third month of pre-production I had three serials and a clutch of short stories which were – IMHO – fucking awesome. Really outstanding. With those in hand, the detailed layouts were begun in earnest.
I was never enough of a traditionalist to respect the formal layouts (two or three columns being the standard), nor the largely-accepted “rule” that a block of text had to be set in the same font at the same strength for legibility. The trouble with following what has been done for so long is that there is no room to play. I had slanted columns, quotations in bold (and slightly larger than surrounding text), and used blocks of text in shapes for a couple of the pages. There was a real attempt to steer well clear of what everybody else was doing, or might in the future do. It was during the setting out of, I think, a piece on the history of New York that I had the first shift away from clean, detailed layouts.
There’s a whole range of magazines which pioneered behind-the-text illustrations – a beautiful glossy which was published during the coronation of Elizabeth II is the one which I latched onto as a perfect example of neatly circumnavigating the problems of legibility which has plagued modern titles. Using images which contain large spaces around the central image (sky, plain walls, water and white tablecloths are all perfect for this) gives room for text, while retaining the mixture of image and words. As a smart guy once (possibly) said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” There’s no reason that picking up on bygone ideas has to be a slavish devotion to what has gone before, and I went to town on the six pages which were going to have this feel.
Using an ancient, crumbling map procured from a private collection in Germany, I set about crafting the background to the page. The map was spotted with brown marks, had holes where there should have been information, and was so fragile that repairing it would have probably been beyond even the most skilled restorer. It was something I wanted desperately to use, despite these obstacles. Using two sheets of plastic, the map was carefully sandwiched so it could be photographed in the best quality possible. I used a few of the same people who had done image restoration on the grimoires I used in the creation of Boahi. The technique used to get images from those print-ready was rough, brutal and makeshift. It resulted in smaller images than I had expected, but the possibility of a more refined way to achieve the quality – and size – needed was put to me.
I desaturated the image to remove the brown-ness which was making the page appear muddy, and gradually increased a yellow tint on the map. It looked wonderful, and allowed some interesting slanted text. This was the process I used through other features and stories – looking for things which were tucked away in collections or completely forgotten, and setting out to bring them to light. There was so much uncovered – sketches, paintings and etchings, maps and blueprints, even the odd letter – that I figure I could have ran the history section for sixteen months or so without having to think about looking for more material. There was to be something else which would replace that aspect of the title, but while I was busy discovering interesting oddities I didn’t consider that the instruction was one which implied other concerns at work.
Despite being the originator and driving force behind the strangeness, I was only spending three or four hours a day working on the title. Jobs were portioned off to the people best suited for the tasks at hand. If notes were needed, I would supply them, or if major alterations were required I would spend a while explaining exactly what I wanted to see. The concept behind this was simple – the people I had selected were smart and unconventional, and had a sense that they were at the very edge of what was possible. They needed the push to take chances which would have been shot down in flames anywhere else – text printed backwards, upside down and at odd angles, references to things left unexplained so they could be picked up on in later issues… the freedom to just plain go nuts.
The hope was that they would go on to do amazing things on their own. To fully appreciate just how much they could accomplish if the reins were loosened.
My section on history was the first of the elements which was cut. Despite being, supposedly, in charge of things, I had to tow the line on certain aspects of what was included. Someone, probably in middle management (where all the stupidest ideas and comments in the world originate), had done a quick and entirely unscientific study of people, determining that the average reader was uninterested in history. I threw together a quick list of important works from the 90s and 00s which hinged upon a basic understanding of history, but it wasn’t to be. My first encounter with restrictions on content had been a messy, expensive, and futile battle which lingered on in the subtext of correspondence for weeks.
Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
Gauche as it may be, I’m going to be talking about money. This is important, as in order to gauge the magnitude of my irritation and frustration such things are central.
When it became clear that Boahi was, for the time being at least, not going to generate the return which I was counting on, I looked to a couple of other things which were in various stages of completion. I hurried to get the London Tales novellas into shape, completing Stat Nominis Umbra, Beneath Watchful Eyes and Decus Et Tutamen, which formed the introduction of the main characters and set up the ongoing antagonists for the first group of stories. I was pulling in a little money, but I needed to get something regular. I had enough savings to allow me the luxury of picking what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to bleed off too much from that.
Oh, the irony.
Last year I was looking for property. A place which would not only serve as a permanent home rather than skipping from hotel to hotel, from B&B to B&B, but also as a location from which I could properly catalogue my collection of books, comics and magazines. I also had the notion of using a proportion of the space as a studio, so I was concentrating on spaces which hadn’t been touched in years – warehouses and the like. My budget was just over two hundred thousand, which would give me a little cash left over to make the property liveable. I was burning through a grand a week at one point, and the need for a base from which to operate from was beginning to show. I carried around folders of notes and a battered laptop, writing when I could.
This is the point at which I was awaiting word back on money I was owed. I figured that, between savings and the money which was going to turn up eventually, the immediate income problem was nothing to worry about. Things were okay. In the midst of the increasingly annoying lack of progress in disentangling some of what had been locked out by the disappearance of the quarterly, the question of income was raised by an unexpected source. There are people who appear at just the right time, that their presence feels somehow to be a gift from the gods. They turn up like an answer from the gods. Unfortunately, in this case, that god was Mithras, and the sonuvabitch wanted his blood feast.
A few emails here, a few emails there, and soon enough I was given an opportunity to keep alive an ember, however small, of the quarterly.
Before I go any further, I want to explain just how different Boahi, and the philosophy of the title, was to anything else (even the titles which stole bits and pieces of it later). Every photograph I included was either to be one which had never been published before, or had never been published before in an English-language publication. The art followed suit. All of the stories were commissioned for the title, and at no point did I skimp on production. It would have been easy to use a font which other magazines were utilizing, but I went and got myself three nifty custom jobs, complete with ligatures (a few of which I didn’t expect), logographs, small caps, currency symbols… all three typefaces done in various weights. There were about half a dozen images thrown in with those, but I’ve never got around to playing with the fleurons or border ornamentation.
Each page was put together with care that images took up no more than necessary of the available space, and box-out elements were given their own pages rather than being crammed into a corner of the main features. On these pages I relaxed the image percentage rule, though I made sure to add in extensive credits for every image – something which nearly all of the major magazines are failing at. So much time was spent on the visual style and weight of content that it was always obvious to me that it wasn’t going to make me any money, but I had hoped to claw back some of what I had put into it. When you go wild on the quality, the financial end of the title will always come second.
All in, the first issue racked up somewhere in the region of seventy thousand in costs. Which isn’t counting the forty which got tied up with the printer, but that is an entirely other thing.
Back to the email conversation – Over the course of a couple of weeks, during which I discussed various possibilities (and my love of pulp magazines) and handed over a few pages from that great doomed experiment, I was offered a small corner in which to do whatever I wanted. I could package things to my heart’s content. Whatever I wanted to do, on the condition that it was published through the company in question. It was a sweet deal, though it meant that there would be no up-front payments. There are few greater incentives than being allowed to go wild on the layouts and content – even if it meant that the magazines I would be creating were tied to another publisher, they would have style.
About that… Take a quick look at the magazines on sale right now. Goddamn, are they ever the ugliest things ever published. I will never understand the theory behind the red and white color scheme which infects so many covers. When I see a title with a splash of black, with that lurid red across the top, and invariable against a white background, I can’t help but feel my stomach lurch. It is impossible to take a title seriously if nobody working on the thing has the notion to point out that the cover is an important aspect in attracting casual readers. It is bad enough that the majority of titles have succumbed to the idea that photographs make for good covers.
One thing I removed completely from the first issue of the monthly, which still makes me smile thinking on it, is the obnoxious “next issue” spread. I hate those two-page ads. They are self-congratulatory and pointless. Yes, we know there’s another issue next month. Readers aren’t stupid. Those merely raise the question of how smart the magazines think their readers are – are they so idiotic that they will assume that they are reading the final issue should that “feature” be omitted? Do they really require their hand to be held through the entirety of the issue?
I wrote up a list of these annoyances waaaay back – every aspect of magazines are well-enough understood by even the most flippant of casual readers that some liberties can be taken in the layout. People will accept the lack of some things, need others (page numbers are essential, even if some have omitted them in recent years), and a degree of feedback – not only in the form of readers’ letters, but in more subtle ways throughout the length of an issue – are something which has been forgotten by too many people.
I have the feeling that, should this post continue, a diatribe against FHM may appear. Best I cut this short while I have the opportunity.
Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
When I say “chest pains”, some people get the bullshit Hollywood thing of actors clutching their chest and slowly dropping to the ground. That depiction of pain is completely laughable, and not the best thing to be thinking of when I mention my ‘moments’. So yeah – welcome to the blunt, harsh truth.
I’ve had chest pains of one description or another since I was fourteen. I was bull-headed enough as a kid that I could overlook these minor inconveniences, but I was aware of the talk among my relatives about my grandfather’s numerous heart attacks throughout his twenties and thirties. As a teenager, thoughts of what might happen a decade hence aren’t at the top of things to be concerned about, despite the giant neon sign I was faced with. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect – a simple enough thing to get fixed, and an operation which has been on hold ever since. Until the point when I carve out enough time to go get sorted out, the continuing presence of chest pain is something which just is.
What I face can range from moments to closer to an hour, but the average length of the moments is about forty-five minutes. That’s three quarters of an hour spent on the floor, my heart pounding, each beat bringing a fresh wave of pain across my chest – and it isn’t just the chest pain itself. Movement is impossible when trying to shift brings more agony. My collar-bone aches during these moments of pain, as if there has been an injury – my shoulders and arms have the feel of having done a hard day’s work, even if all I have been doing is sitting. The deep weariness of muscles having been put to task.
Here’s a little hint for people wanting to write convincingly about chest pain – the feeling of a single finger pressing against flesh. This lasts for a while after each of the attacks, and isn’t in a place which would automatically suggest (to me, at any rate) anything heart-related. About two inches above the left nipple, and near an inch towards the middle of my chest, the point of pressure is an all-too-long-lasting reminder that I shouldn’t be taking this so lightly. It is difficult to describe much of the other things which come with these attacks. Y’know when you turn your head just a bit too quickly, and that burning sensation in your neck comes on? That feeling, or something close to it, lingers in the chest.
Breathing was difficult in those moments. I have, over the years, come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is get on my knees, head pressed against the floor, and keep the heel of my hand tight against my chest. Counting helps, though I have had to go from merely counting up to a hundred to more complex ways to keep my mind occupied. I’ve been multiplying in my head to try and keep the pain from being all that is in my consciousness, not that it does much aside from keep me from being entirely at the mercy of the pain.
Those who already know of this – in part, or more – have been told not to worry. It ain’t so bad, and others have a lot worse to go though. The one thing I have held to, for some time now, is that these attacks are only a problem four or five times a year. Which was true. For the last year and a half or so, however, this has been creeping up on me once or twice a month. When people have complained about me not returning emails promptly, when they know that I have been dealing with crappy internet, I get annoyed. When they are told of health problems, and yet persist in their insistence that I should be able to get back to them, I can’t help thinking that something is seriously wrong with them.
When my back became a problem, the chest pains weren’t at the forefront of my mind. I figured that I would only have one thing to deal with at a time, and put all notions of complications to the back of my mind. It wasn’t to be that way, of course. About three weeks after the initial jolt, along came the first chest pain I had to deal with in conjunction with my back being injured. I was stuck, lying on my back, on the floor, with the increasing pressure on my chest forcing me over on to my front. My ribs ached as I fought for breath, and I considered how it would play out if I did finally succumb to the combination of events. Morbid thoughts, dark little moments, come frequently, and I try my best to push them back.
It took nearly three hours, that time, before I could raise myself to a seated position. I was soaked with sweat, my entire body throbbing with one ache or another, and exhausted. Throughout everything else, I was never tempted to stop production of material for the quarterly, nor for the Database. It was during this time that I was pulling together things for the monthly, along with dealing with various official things. When claims that I stopped being available for things are mooted, I gotta point out – how the fuck did people expect me to devote my time to other things when I already had more to deal with than most people would have allowed themselves to get entangled in?
Over the last couple of years I have been thinking on a few things which seem to crop up again and again – in different forms, and from disparate groups – with the expectation that I could finally put to rest a few of the questions. The first, and most difficult to answer without going into all of what I have posted here, is the age old “what scares you?” I have often given glib answers; the flippant responses when pushed were the safety net. Speaking in front of rooms full of people doesn’t faze me, and great heights aren’t a problem. Being scared – being really scared – isn’t something, for me, which is ever external. The most frightened I have ever been has been due to the chest pain, and the inability to do anything immediate about it.
There is a suggestion that I overplayed not feeling up to some work. That I purposefully let people think I was going to write some things, and had no intention of doing so. That’s something I want to clear up here and now – everyone who I agreed to write material for, no matter how small the press, nor how little the money (if any) offered was, I really did attempt to keep up with the things I said I would do. Shit happens. When I wasn’t racked with pain, I was in a happy little world of painkillers. It is really difficult to keep a straight enough head to get anything done when you don’t know if you are gonna be able to do anything the next day. Time slips away.
It feels weird getting this out. I’ve previously tried, when asked, to brush over a lot of the things which I am putting in this post. Having it all out in the open feels strange, but it is going to make what is to come easier.
On to other things…
Posted by BigWords on November 8, 2013
Just before I went offline, I had only just managed to pay the final people who were owed money for their work on Boahi, the beautiful, insane quarterly. In order to do that, I sold the majority of my Golden Age comic collection, all of the footage and rights to Quiet (though the main character remains mine, being taken from a short story). Those actions leaves me with a 100% history of ensuring everyone has been paid for their work, which is more than can be said for larger operators, and something that had been playing on my mind since the loss of the title. I hate the thought that someone has done work and not received credit or financial recompense for their time and abilities, especially as much of what has been going on has been about that.
Things which came directly from the death of the title were a mixed bag; the satisfaction of having brought together the best material I could get my hands on, and working with amazing people, all jumbled up in the frustration of not seeing it finally in print. Circumstances meant that I had to sit back and watch as the rights to various elements expired, and numerous key elements – the layout of photographs in particular – were latched on to for other titles by people who were involved in assisting on various elements. The look and style which I spent a ridiculous amount of time tweaking was slowly being picked apart.
Then I got involved with a title which is the reason for this – and the previous – post. First things first, though…
When I finally decided to let all this into the open – spurred on by a repulsive, venomous, and unfortunately anonymous e-mail – I had thought about going on the attack, and settling a few scores. That seems to be both a rather a churlish move, and one which contains the possibility of hurting people who don’t deserve more pain. So this is all about the path from there to here. Throughout, I’ll refute some of the accusations which have been put to me, though some are so petty and stupid that I won’t bother with them. I’m writing this account because I want to, and not for any other reason.
Being in the middle of the quarterly circling the drain wasn’t the best time to set out on something large, but it – roughly – coincides with the website picking up pace. I started the Database around the time that the contents had been finalized, and sent the first (small and to the point) pdf file to Abby (and, IIRC, a couple of other people) to see if it was worth pursuing. The reactions I got back were enough to create a blog in which the first steps towards the eventual website were taken.
There were maybe a few hundred annuals indexed in précis. No writer or artist credits, and certainly no information on comics. It was a strange document, with none of the artistic finesse which I normally attempt. Rather brutal in its’ approach to delivering the maximum amount of information across a limited amount of space. It was something I would find a new way of working in, and there were ideas which sprang from putting it together which would play out later. At this point I was also pulling apart the stupidly long version of London Tales to create a series of smaller stories, and cultivating my thoughts on something which will become evident soon enough anyways.
The quarterly wasn’t done in isolation – I pooled my people across the Database and another title to maximize the amount of material generated. The Database is creeping towards 7000 pages at the moment, and the other title… Well, that was the final straw. The other title was, if anything, the most radical departure for me since writing the first version of the Database. It was originally destined to be a story-based magazine, but I’m jumping ahead again…
Point is, things have never stopped. I like having projects running, and there was always something needing done.
Then things started to go wrong in a big way. A few drops of water can change everything… The ear infection – which I wrote about here somewhere – left me unable to continue work on writing music; the tinnitus was especially bad in extremes of low noise and high noise surroundings. It was annoying more than anything else, and drove me to distraction when I had gunk running down my neck, but after a course of yucky pills I found that my judgement of pitch and tone had been skewed. I was in the middle of adjusting the middle-section of the grand audio experiment when that hit. One more thing buried in the cemetery of dead projects.
Not that long after, I had to expend a lot of energy, money and time killing the sale of a DVD-rom, which contained material from years ago, which I wasn’t getting paid for. Had things gone differently in my interaction with those involved, I doubt I would have taken such a hard line. As happened, they told me to fuck off. I then made damn sure that they didn’t profit from their venture. There was the odd thing I had on the side (sending out short stories and the like), but most of my time was spent dealing with problems.
The engaged tone which was ever present in my left ear made focusing difficult. I was spending more hours each day pulling together documents for one thing and another, and dealing with lawyers is – at best – stressful. Dealing with lawyers when your brain is screaming to be released from your skull is a joy all of its own. Matters didn’t improve when I jolted my back. I’ve had a long time to ponder that injury, and I consider it – rightly or wrongly – to be a direct result of being so stressed, so tense, for so long. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have something on my plate, and it all finally caught up in that painful lesson.
There have been pauses in production of material, though I wouldn’t consider anything in the last decade to be an actual, honest-to-goodness break. No vacations to places, no days spent relaxing – there are some days when I considered taking off and doing something else. I know that it will probably come as a surprise to some, but the I miss the days when I was repairing, cleaning and upgrading computers from morning until night. It is so much less stressful, expensive and annoying than publishing. It was simple. Relaxing. Of course, what pushed me into that is back at the origins of this very blog, and wasn’t the easiest time either, but at least I didn’t have to deal individually with any idiots.
At some point in 2010, on the Absolute Write forum – most likely in the Cantina – I had been told to read women’s magazines. Don’t sneer at the thought. There are a lot of great writers doing serials for those titles, and there’s no shame in a guy reading great writing, whatever the intended audience. This was the push which led me to thinking seriously about the way in which narrative is presented, and the visual cues in packaging stories for readers. I set about making heavy notes on the titles I felt worked, and those which didn’t. I started collecting in a serious way, though always with one eye on doing something which didn’t have connections to my other interests.
I started scanning the pages I liked – a cool footer here, a beautiful boxed-out fact article there, and more than enough contents pages than anyone would ever need to have. Most of the titles which caught my interest were from the glorious period of 1925-1938, after the rougher story paper elements had been smoothed out, but before the slow death of style at the expense of money-saving reprints and awful, cheap art. The one thing which I was amazed at, more than the clever stories and glimpses of what was happening behind the scenes in editorials, was the covers. I’ve always been a sucker for fully-painted artwork, and in these titles I had found masters at work. Beautiful oil paintings, with depth that no photograph or line-art could hope to compete with.
From thinking “yeah, I’ll read some issues” to setting out on the path to creating a title which I could live with took almost eight months. But before I get to the magazine there’s something which I have largely avoided talking about. An omission which needs to be corrected if this is going to be as complete an account as possible.
Posted by BigWords on October 19, 2013
I’m not sure what I ought to post here. I don’t want to explain too much of what is going on (it’ll merely bore you to tears), but I am now officially offline. Please don’t stuff my e-mail full of messages – I can’t read whatever missives land there at the moment.
There was a moment where I considered using this post to do a whole lot of kicking against the things that went wrong; to lash out one final, furious salvo while I have the energy. Turns out, in a masterclass of irony, that I don’t have the energy to be angry, and I really can’t face the negativity that such a post would contain. I’m fed up. No – more than that, I am fed up and immensely frustrated, exhausted by the endless could-have-been thoughts, and ready to have a little peace and quiet. Nothing is going right, and it seems pointless to fight against things that are taking their own sweet time.
Crap. I had more to say. My mind is completely blank, and nothing seems to be jumping out as requiring an immediate surplus of profound statements.
Ah – the rise of mediocrity. I knew there was something important. See, with being offline I have the opportunity to speak to the creeping front of middle-of-the-road. It has already swarmed across No Man’s Land, and is fighting on all fronts across the UK. Nothing is safe, and nobody is immune from the lowest common denominator propaganda. Images are being broadcast into every home through the televisions you watch; newspapers, magazines and comics are fighting a losing battle against mediocrity, and film has already fallen in battle. This is it, people. The end is nigh.
The weapons are at your disposal, and I urge you to use them. Bring your A-game, and aim high. Push back the beige masses.
I’m wasting my time, aren’t I? You are going to continue watching insipid game shows, lapping up the canned laughter and enjoying the perma-tanned entities who pretend to have charisma. You are still going to buy the music created by committee, and read words which have no soul. Fuck it. I tried my best.
I’ll be back when I have more energy, and when thinking doesn’t hurt. The stomach ulcer – which has been quiet for a goodly time – has come back with a fury, and my leg hurts. I can’t be clever and engaging when I am constantly thinking about how the hell I can see myself through the night to the next day. It is well past time that I got things sorted out, and first among the things requiring attention is somewhere to live which doesn’t bring as many problems as it does solutions.
As always, I expect the readers of this blog to buck against the trend of “whatever is good enough” and be awesome. This is your mission. Keep being brilliant in my absence.
I will return.
Posted by BigWords on September 25, 2013
The On This Day main page is now available. Pages will be updated as and when I can get into the guts of the database (and one of these days I will share with you the hoops which I have to jump through to get to that information).
The Knowledge has also been tweaked, and there are a few new bits and pieces to make it more useful in the long run. A complete list of posters, pin-ups, free gifts and other goodies is in the planning…
Which, all told, makes for about 400 pages uploaded in the last week, or thereabouts.
I was hoping to stave off the next bit of news for as long as possible, but it seems that my plans have changed from under me yet again. See, the Database was originally intended to have a three-pronged strategy, with the website acting as the hub from which stand-alone books going into much more depth would be available. While the website is all about the hard facts, the plan was to have accompanying books containing trivia, photographs, interviews and other expansions on the basic data. Alongside that angle, there were plans in place to support the small press through a master page for the comic listings – the page being, at the moment, rather bare. It would have acted as advertising, as well as supporting amazing creators…
But “the best laid plans,” as the saying goes.
Firstly, the online shop never really materialized, and what few deals I had in place to keep things ticking over haven’t worked out as they were intended to, with a grand total of about a three hundred pounds coming in since the start of the year. For the greater part of the last seven or eight months, I have spent multiples of this on a weekly basis, and such a situation cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. My handful of researchers have moved on to greener pastures, and I have moved back into the Hell House for the moment to save on expenses. So tight is the belt having to be pulled, that there are no new comics arriving.
Here’s the rub – things don’t seem to be improving, and everything I attempt to get in line is going to take rather longer to come together than the Database needs. If you like what is already up, and if there is information that is particularly useful, then start saving pages (or, if you like, use something akin to HTTrack). I have no idea when the cash is finally going to run out, but I will be uploading as much as I have until the very end.
If anyone is interesting in sponsoring the website, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by BigWords on August 16, 2013
The British Comics Database is now pretty.
Mostly. There is still some tinkering to be done, but everyone seems happy with it at the moment, and I don’t have time to oversee things as I should.
Seriously, seriously awesome people.
I don’t often say this, and I know that I should, but the folks who are willing to spend time on my insane projects without questioning my sanity make me feel less conscious about the fact that so many of the things I had intended to spend the year doing have gone rather pear shaped.
As things stand, the website not being a mess is the sole achievement of the year.