Lord Horror

Posted: 1st July 2017 by Christian in Blog

So there’s some interesting ‘free speech’ discussion in comics right now. I find the notion of art hostage to politics suspicious. Let me tell you a story that might illustrate a point. Just a quick one.

In the 1980s, Savoy Books were a store and publisher who’d survived 60s New Wave of Science Fiction. If you like Ballard and Moorcock, early champions. They published a book called Lord Horror, and a spin off called Meng and Ecker.

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Lord Horror, and for space, I’m going to include disparate works here, is obscene. Horror exists in a hallucinated WWII. He’s loosely based on Lord Haw Haw, a British born Nazi propagandist who used to make pro Nazi speeches on pirate radio. Reborn as a switchblade punk nightmare of thigh highs and razors.

Horror exists, as I said, in hallucination. He stalks the streets of London, stabbing Jews, eating Jews, fearing the blacks and the gypsies and all the rest. It is bloodthirsty and cruel. Meng and Ecker are rapist mutants, obscene and vicious. It is dealing with the unthinkable horror and vileness of Nazis by being vile and horrific. Death and pain and cruelty are the currency of this world. A world where fascism has its way.

And then. John Coulthart took over the art and did the graphic novel ‘Reverbstorm’. A staggering work, not only did this announce Coulthart as a new master of fanastic and dark illustration, it became an incredible story. Modernism itself, the imaginary life of Europe before WWII and the Nazis haunts horror. Jazz music, pre superhero comics, James Joyce, more and more are used. It becomes the peer of Mirbeau, de Sade, Lautreamont. This is not the clever fictions of Deighton or the considered grief of Bellows. This is a primal howl of sickness and despair at fascism, written as it began to live again. Only a witless fool could think this obscene! You don’t have to like it. It is strong beer indeed.

Dark and terrible and austere but not obscene! Only the philistine or censor could do aught but respect it.

Meet Chief Constable James Anderton.

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

by Sefton Samuels, bromide fibre print, 1983

Anderton was basically that copper from The Wicker Man. An uptight and dangerous Christian moralist. Anti gay, anti black, anti worker. Anti child. Just… the very image of a Tory Catholic. He was very keen on things like blasphemy laws and had no time for free speech.

He had Savoy raided over and over. Copies of Horror seized. Britton, the writer, gave Lord Horror a speech in which the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ was replaced with ‘Jew’. Britton did time over that. They put him in jail. Meng and Ecker, banned in ’92.

Now, imagine in this day and this age, that kind of a book being published. Imagine a book which starred a punked out sexy Nazi hunting Jews and fighting off the forces of the Allies. Imagine a comic clearly outrageous by our own politics and the rise of the Right again, again, again! Dismiss a book if you like. Misunderstand it. Be disgusted by it. True art isn’t so easily digested. They’re not all Pixar and they don’t all fit into childish heuristics like “punch up, punch down.” This is the world, guys. It’s never that simple.

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We owe it to ourselves to not kick out against art. We owe it to artists to give us truth as they see it and that is all we owe them. But we must greet them in good faith. Art cannot be made safe and it cannot be made to fit in with the now and we must not ever try to muzzle it. You don’t have to like works like Lord Horror but by God, we are obliged to protect it.

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New novel

Posted: 20th March 2017 by Christian in Blog

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Ten Signs You’re In A Toxic Relationship!

Posted: 2nd February 2017 by Christian in Blog

1 . He is made of poison.

Girls, if that saliva is green and bubbling, don’t kiss him, you’ll die from poison! To say nothing of his corrosive sweat!


2. His palms are hairy, his index finger is longer than middle, and there’s a pentagram there.

Kween, he a werewolf! You just know he’ll chase you along a moor one day and you ain’t no Buffy LOL! But for serious, run. He’ll rip your apart.

3. He’s said the phrase ‘Guards, seize him!’

Does he have a big read cloak? A crown! He’s the prophecied master of the Eastern Dark! Don’t get with that!

4. You can taste human meat on his breath.

Lady, he’s a cannibal and even if he eats you the good way now, one day he’ll straight eat you! He can probably cook though so time that break up! ROFLMAO (help me)


5. You saw him peel of his skin and he had scales underneath.

Grrrl – he’s a lizard man and he lives under the earth and controls Jewish banking! In conjunction with the Annunaki, he’s got plans to make destructive weapons from the human soul and overthrow God!


6. He’s eight feel tall, biomechanical, and has two sets of jaws.

Sista, your man is a xenomorph! You don’t want to mess wif no horrifying assemblage of fear producing elements in one body! Only room for one set of eggs in yo body and they ain’t his! Also, when that dating profile don’t match, you know something ain’t right!

7. He’s twenty feet tall and hates the sun.

We all know we like a tall man but a giant who has sworn to destroy the very concept of light and drown the earth in perpetual darkness? We can’t get down with that.

8. He is a shark

He is a shark!

9. You notice weird strings from his body, which is wood.

Come on, girlfriend! A creepy human sized marionette controlled by an invisible puppeteer made from a wood which is uncannily close to, but not exactly the same as, the texture of human flesh? Who’s spasmodic jerking motions are ineluctably sinister? We all like a woody (aw yiss!) but his urge to transform you into a half-alive doll shrieking forever inside your own lacquered skin just ain’t worth it!

10. He owns a black carriage and the local girls hide when it arrives in the village.

If he took all them other girls up to his castle and then weird blue light spilled from the windows and the girls were never seen again, but you can hear their pitiful weeping on moonless nights, he a playa. And possibly offering women up to The Unclean One for eternal life, or doing some wack ass experiments on the human soul. You can hit it, but you got to know he’ll quit it.

Right, Buzzfeed, employ me.

Ripping Yarns

Posted: 24th January 2017 by Christian in Blog

So then it was 1330 and Jeanne married Olivier de Clisson. This story is about her.

It was her third marriage since she was 12. They had five children. One of them was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’, so you know this is a good one.
There’s two wars you need to know about. The Hundred Years war is a long, long, series of war between France and England. These cats did *not* get on. And the Breton War of Succession.

Modern day France used to be a series of related but culturally separate series of kingdoms. One was Brittany (Breton) and it was very strategically useful in the war between France, a smaller country than now, and England. They were subject to France but were trying to get out from under. (Its actually hella more complicated and I don’t understand it all. Brittany, France, fighting. Ok?)

In 1342, England captured Oliver’s city. He is captured and ransomed back for suprisingly cheap. Nobles were rarely killed in battle. This cheap ransom makes people suspicious he was actually a traitor. A guy called Charles De Blois especially thought that.

Remember that name.

Anyway, not long after that, Brittany and France reached truce.
A great joust was declared to celebrate. Just like in that telly show ‘Tits Out For Dragons!’ Only problem was, it was a trap. Olivier was found guilty of being in league with England and his head was chopped off and mounted in front of a castle.

It was bullshit. It was weird he was hostaged cheaply but not a sure sign of treachery. 14 other Breton lords got the chop. It was the King of France being a dick. It was a show trial to cow Brittany. Probably Charles De Blois being a dick too.

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Jeanne knew this. So she took her children to see her husband’s severed head. She told them that their father’s murder was a savage act of cowardice and betrayal and they would have their revenge.
One kid was nicknamed ‘The Butcher’, remember?

I *told* you this was going to be good.

So Jeanne goes back to her holdings and has a sale. She sells everything off. And with that cash she pays up fighting men. She raises an army.And hunts down every motherfucking Frenchman she can find in Brittany. She cons her way into one castle. When the drawbridge goes down, her men attack. They kill everyone in it.

Except for one man. One man goes free to tell what happened. And why.
She then sacks another castle and does the same thing. One man to testify. This second castle belonged to a vassal of one Charles de Blois.
She was looking for the man who she blamed for he husband’s death, the pious, self-mortifying weirdo, de Blois.

The King of France couldn’t lose two castles. This was a Deal. And so he dispatched armies looking for this renegade army. They couldn’t fight the King’s armies on land so they took to the sea. Pirates. They’d raid ships.

And leave one survivor.

Jeanne served on these ships. She was there.

Eventually they were found by the French navies and largely her fleet was destroyed. Jeanne and her kids got in a rowboat and made it to England. A five day trip without food. In the cold. One of her sons died.

Jeanne was able to get audience with the King of England as asked for money for ships, for men. England was happy to give it to her.
So she bought herself three warships. She painted them black. She had the sails made in red. She named her flagship ‘My Revenge.’ What a sight that must have been. Red sails coming out of the sun…

She never found de Blois, contrary to all rules of drama, who was actually captured by an English lord during this period. Perhaps she never knew. But she kept herself busy by killing as many as 3000 French.
This is where her son, an enthusiastic marine, got his nickname. Oliver the Butcher.

In time, the King of France died and Jeanne was getting on. She raided and reaved for six more years before marrying and settling in England.
Oliver would be there at the battle in which de Blois died, though. And he would go on to a bloody career, rising high. An ally would remark ‘By God I see why they call you Butcher’, after he personally killed 15 prisoners.

What must it be like, I wonder… to get a revenge as complete as Jeanne de Clisson. To have literally washed the seas in your enemy’s blood…

Next up,Joanna of Flanders, the fearsome general who destroyed the House of de Blois.

If you liked this, humorless commie posts at twitter: @mrchristianread

Penny Dreadful.

Posted: 23rd June 2016 by Christian in Blog

So, Penny Dreadful.
Spoilers to follow so, sling your hook if you’re soft.

I thought it ended up…
OK.

Clearly, it was rushed to the end. When you’ve got a two season prophecy and it doesn’t really play out, something’s gone a bit wrong.
And there were wheels spun. Bride of Frankenstein’s bacchante revolution went nowhere and ended anti-climatic.

The Monster remained the weak link of the show. If it was me, I’d have had Dracula go ‘you’re not really undead. Now I will pick on you.’ We’ve already seen the Monster smack the shit out of other monsters. Let’s have an undead war on the streets!

The Gothic Western is, I’m sure you’ll not be shocked, a great favourite of mine. Family secrets, ancient sins. Physical isolation and desolation. Great stuff. Thought that stuff popped. Plus it lead us to werewolves vs vampires in Chinatown, so who can complain?

I thought the ending was… I dunno. It certainly needed a rethink. Her dying I’m fine with. It’s a good place to end the show. But the main theme of Penny Dreadful is shaking hands with your monsters. For her to emphatically deny that part of herself? Ending religiously in a show that’s had no use for God? Didn’t buy it all.

Let her go in a monstrous battle of her evil self versus the carnal predator Dracula, who lied and manipulated her!

But… oh well.

I shall miss the show terribly. The aberrant sex, the amazing costume, the brilliant, brilliant set design, taking fine actors and letting them act. The signifying characters. The morbidity and cruelty and all the rest.

But most importantly, and this *is* important, Penny Dreadful wasn’t modern. While it wasn’t strictly historical, it never made the mistakes lots of shows like that do. Making conspicuously non-racist characters, for example, to gain sympathy, is a trick they always pull. I hate that. People were different. It’s part of what gives historical stories their power. Penny Dreadful never lost sight that the Victorians were a morbid bunch, with neuroses throbbing, throbbing underneath it all.

And if it failed to cross the finish line, well, at least it had one, right Deadwood fans?

We can only hope that the next time someone gets their gothic horror/supernatural adventure show on, they can learn. And pray they are as ambitious and daring as Penny Dreadful.

NEW NOVEL TIME!

Posted: 7th June 2016 by Christian in Blog

New novel is out!

Ghost City! Third of the Lark Case Files.

You can purchase it directly from the publisher here! Click this one!

If that’s not working for you, you can click here for amazon!

And if for some reason none of that works out for you, give Smashwords a try!

If you’re interested, my novels are all Lark Case Files. Five book series. Book one is Black City, book two is Devil City.

You can also poke around those sites to find my graphic novels, if you’re brave and determined.

I hope you enjoy them.

As for me, let’s celebrate a new book the traditional way…

booze

Posted: 2nd June 2016 by Christian in Blog

Composition

Posted: 8th May 2016 by Christian in Blog

I’ve gotten a bit interested in this. Regard last post.

Poe wrote a remarkable bit of criticism in 1848 called The Philosophy of Composition. Good piece and if you’re a writer or a critic, yes, even a game journo, you’d be well-served reading it.

But talking about aesthetics of game, there’s a few of Poe’s points to focus on.

Firstly, the ending. Know it and work towards it. I live by this rule. Stories don’t need a point to them but if they do, the ending is the whole of one. In games, this means all art, all systems, all of that, needs to really hone in on those final minutes of gameplay. Something like Mass Effect 3 falls apart at the end because of a gimmicky finale. Something like KOTOR works because you’ll need game-taught skills to beat that jawless bastard. As a narrative, one pulls nonsense out of it’s arse, one is a showdown with a man who’s jealousy and fear of you turned him mental.

Which is more dramatic?

“the choice of impression” is another important one. What are you trying to do with this game? In Darkest Dungeon, it’s about creating a game where the heroic tropes of a fantastic adventure are ignored for psychological realism. It’s hugely great so far. Dishonoured is a mediocre cover shooter but it’s also hugely fun because they didn’t let anything get in the way of being an old-fashioned Men’s Own adventure with escapes and chases.

Dragon Age II sells itself as being an emotional rollercoaster but… ‘my brother died!’ never really affects the lead. It’s just a… let me check Robert McKee, an Inciting Incident.

Finally, tone. Quake was a technical triumph but it’s tone is ‘here are horrifying monsters from beyond space and time. But they’re easy to kill, so don’t sweat it’. But Half-Life, the first one, it positions you as a regular Joe. You don’t load up on space guns. You never feel awesomely powerful.

This is the reason Survival Horror is so good and Fatal Frame may be the scariest game ever. Any, any, break in tone in a game like that and it’s over. Movies break up scares with laughs because you simply can’t be tense for two whole hours. Games you move in and out. If it gets too scary you pop out for a smoke. Drop tension too long and you’re back at square one.

But something like Sunless Sea is tense because you don’t know what’s coming but you know it’ll be creepy. But at the same time it’s Gaiman-esque NeoVictoriana. Charm and quirk are built in. Two effects, one tone.

Now, I didn’t rate Amenesia that highly because it breaks tone all the time. Trapped in a vast madhouse, haunted by creatures you can’t appreciably fight. And they scream lurid sexual threats at you.
It’s a totally different kind of fear. No one wants to be bummed by a jawless ghoul but that’s an entire set of worries. If you gave a Xenomorph a chainsaw, it would be stupid, not scary.

Monstrum is you locked in a ship with a beastie after you. The ship is a maze. You can’t fight the beastie. One of them can lock doors with it’s mind. Herd you. It is terrifying and exactly the point I stopped playing Monstrum.

It’s not even that visually scary. But what it means for you as a player? Gah.

Part of why games can be frustrating for a writer is because games go through dozens and dozens of revisions. Too many. And they can be constructed after the fact. ‘We liked the bit with the wolves, but we’ve changed the setting to an irradiated desert. But keep the wolves.’

But wolves are creatures of ice, of winter. The cultural myth is surrounded in the snow. Stalked through woods. The tone of the encounters is different.

And while SF and fantasy can blend seamlessly, I’m never one for robots and wizards on the same screen. They don’t complement each other. They raise two different sets of generic expectation in competition with each other.
So keeping in mind, endings with meaning, success that’s measured by how well a game hit it’s own bar, and tone, how do games you like look now?

Alls I know is, Planescape: Torment is still number 1!!!1!

Posted: 8th May 2016 by Christian in Blog

I’ve gotten a bit interested in this. Regard last post.

Poe wrote a remarkable bit of criticism in 1848 called The Philosophy of Composition. Good piece and if you’re a writer or a critic, yes, even a game journo, you’d be well-served reading it.

But talking about aesthetics of game, there’s a few thing to focus on.

Firstly, the ending. Know it and work towards it. I live by this rule. Stories don’t need a point to them but if they do, the ending is the whole of one. In games, this means all art, all systems, all of that, needs to really hone in on those final minutes of gameplay. Something like Mass Effect 3 falls apart at the end because of a gimmicky finale. Something like KOTOR works because you’ll need skills to beat that jawless bastard. As a narrative, one pulls nonsense out of it’s arse, one is a showdown with a man who’s jealousy and fear of you turned him mental.

Which is more dramatic?

“the choice of impression” is another important one. What are you trying to do with this game? Is Darkest Dungeon, it’s about creating a game where the heroic tropes of a fantastic adventure are ignored for psychological realism. It’s hugely great so far. Dishonoured is a mediocre cover shooter but it’s also hugely fun because they didn’t let anything get in the way of being an old-fashioned Men’s Own adventure with escapes and chases.

Dragon Age II sells itself as being an emotional rollercoaster but… ‘my brother died!’ never really affects the lead. It’s just a… let me check Robert McKee, an Inciting Incident.

Finally, tone. Quake was a technical triumph but it’s tone is ‘here are horrifying monsters from beyond space and time. But they’re easy to kill, so don’t sweat it. But Half-Life, the first one, it positions you as a regular Joe. You don’t load up on space guns. You never feel awesomely powerful.

This is the reason Survival Horror is so good and Fatal Frame may be the scariest game ever. Any, any, break in tone in a game like that and it’s over. Movies break up scares with laughs because you simply can’t be tense for two whole hours. Games you move in and out. If it gets too scary you pop out for a smoke. Drop tension too long and you’re back at square one.

But something like Sunless Sea is tense because you don’t know what’s coming but you know it’ll be creepy. But at the same time it’s Gaiman-esque NeoVictoriana. Charm and quirk are built in.
Now, I didn’t rate Amenesia that highly because it breaks tone all the time. Trapped in a vast madhouse, haunted by creatures you can’t appreciably fight. And they scream lurid sexual threats at you.
It’s a totally different kind of fear. No one wants to be bummed by a jawless ghoul but that’s an entire set of fears. If you gave a Xenomorph a chainsaw, it would be stupid, not scary.

Monstrum is you locked in a ship with a beastie after you. The ship is a maze. You can’t fight the beastie. One of them can -lock doors- with it’s mind. It is terrifying and exactly the point I stopped playing Monstrum.

beast

It’s not even a visually scary beast. It’s what it does.

Part of why games can be frustrating for a writer is because games go through dozens and dozens of revisions. Too many. And they can be constructed after the fact. ‘We liked the bit with the wolves, but we’ve changed the setting to an irradiated desert. But keep the wolves.’

But wolves are creatures of snow, of winter. The cultural myth is surrounded in the snow. Stalked through woods. The tone of the encounters is different.

And while SF and fantasy can blend seamlessly, I’m never one for robots and wizards on the same screen. They don’t complement each other. They raised too different sets of generic expectation.
So keeping in mind, endings with meaning, success that’s measured by how well a game hit it’s own bar, and tone, how do games you like look now?

Alls I know is, Planescape: Torment is still number 1!!!1!

Aesthetics

Posted: 8th May 2016 by Christian in Blog

Aesthetics is, simply put, studying beauty. How do we make something affecting?

I am playing a game called Darkest Dungeons. It’s a roguelike game. This has many meanings but for now, it means a game you can lose. Most games investing in your being able to finish but not this. It’s hard and frustrating and I’m not even sure I’m liking it.

But I’m sticking around because it’s a tour de force of creepy aesthetics.
You are called in by a relative to examine your ancestral seat. The uncle dude, of a bored and ‘imperious’ family, dug beneath the house and found a door to somewhere terrible. All in a shifting, historical uncertain zone. Now, beneath the manor, gribblies lurk. That’s the set-up to a thousand games. Tellingly, this is communicated to you by the most Gothic literary technique of all: framing story.

And Gothic this is.

Contributing superior writing. For some, purple, but for any fan of Old Weird like Ashton-Smith, you’ll like it. If you’ve ever read any Gothic literature, either you prose that way or you’re putting the book down.

Game writing, my day job, is often to first thing to disintegrate in dev processes. Fair enough too, it’s easy to redo and cheap.
But writing is a primary method of generating an aesthetic.

‘Screw you, dickbag!’ screams one game.
‘Damn your eyes, you knave!’
Same meaning, the aesthetic difference is obvious.
‘The 3.22 mili pulse rifle shoots flechette mercury tipped tracer at a velocity of mach 2.’
‘This gun is rad!’

darkest-dungeon-

Writing will take you partway. But this game has a clever, insidious design technique that absolutely reinforces the fine writing.
Your hired squad of plague doctors, highwaymen, religious zealots, knights and occultists… they can’t always shake off what they’ve seen. Caught in darkness, you can go mad. Take too much damage, become afraid. Healing isn’t so simple as other games and you’ll find yourself hard pressed to keep up with damage.

It doesn’t feel like an adventure. It feels like what it’s supposed to be, dangerous. And it feels like how your characters would experience it*. Harrowing, stressful, sometimes even oppressively grim. Now and again, your characters are simply beyond saving and you feel dread as death ticks ever closer.

It’s… quite a remarkable achievement for an indie game made for 300K. Which is ok, but still budget. The art assets and lack of music are noticeable and I’d have chose a slightly less cartoony style.

If you are interested in how to create an emotional, -artist-, experience in gaming, if you are interested in unity of effect** and how to create an aesthetic… play this.

Enclicken to purchase and enrich indie confraternity!

http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

*The gulf between what your experience and your character experiences is something games seem to be getting interested in.
** Unity of effect is something Poe talked about, significantly.