June 2021: Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Howdy, folks!

Time has once again crept up on me, and I find myself writing this newsletter on the last day of the month. Still, there’s something to be said for spontaneity, right?

The Usual

It’s been a remarkably chilled month, even considering everything that’s been going on. I lost much of last week to some kind of horrible throat infection that completely halted my momentum, but I’m getting back on the horse now (and by “horse”, I mean various bits and pieces of home improvement and constantly refreshing the Kickstarter.)

Speaking of: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-volume-1


We smashed the funding goal of £3k in around a week, which is wild, and now I can dabble my toes into the “possible stretch goal” waters. I’ve emailed the printer about one idea which might be feasible, so we’ll see – it’s a balancing act between producing something cool and losing a ton of money because you went too far with the stretch goals! I’m mostly extremely relieved that I can relax a bit and don’t have to spend every 10 minutes refreshing the Kickstarter dashboard worrying about whether we’ll reach the target…

The Record

*7 pages written for my Big Hype Vol. 2 story (with Rosie Packwood)

Not done a great deal of writing, since Kickstarter promo/illness/a constant, gnawing sense of anxiety and dread aren’t really conducive to productivity. That said, I’m slowly getting through the first draft of this Big Hype story and looking forward to the point that I can edit it into something that’s actually… y’know, good.

The Tunes

Real mixed bag this month of tunes, but nothing too surprising or left-field for me. We kick things off with Tortoise, a Spotify discovery that I enjoyed grooving along to one slow afternoon working from home; after that it’s into BIG ATMOSPHERE territory with Sojourner and Unreqvited, both favourites of mine. They both have big Summoning vibes, which is a good thing since there are a number of Summoning tracks that play on repeat in my head every time I’m out for a walk in the countryside! Noctule (a Skyrim-themed solo project by the vocalist of the incredible Svalbard) kick off a bit of a “heavy metal inspired by videogames” trilogy; they’re waving the black metal flag, followed by the more thrashy/glitchy sounds of Cara Neir and the bludgeoning Dark Souls-inspired death metal of Firelink. I’ve been on an Iron Maiden kick this month, and trying not think about Bruce Dickinson being an avowed Brexit supporter – he didn’t help by going on the news last week to complain about how Brexit has screwed up the creative industries (I’ll take “things that were obvious to everyone with a brain” for $800, Alex…) That said, Ghost of the Navigator still slaps. Botanist were part of my soundtrack for a very long drive down to see my parents/nephews which was very overdue, while this Leprous track was a pleasing Spotify discovery in the last couple of days. Lastly, how about a lovely jazz band rendition of one of the most relaxing videogame songs there is, Village of Dali from Final Fantasy IX? Sit back and let the sunshine vibes wash over you!

The Links

Look, we’re in the Kickstarter mines this month, okay? Don’t miss these comics Kickstarters, all run by wonderful people and all deserving of your support.
Sidequest #3: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sidequestcomic1/sidequest-3
Candles: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/castironbooks/candles-book
Filth & Grammar by Shelly Bond: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sxbond/filth-and-grammar

And for something a little different, here’s the most recent instalment of a “good news” newsletter I’m subscribed to which always brightens my day. It’s full of stories that highlight wins in the fight against climate change, public health, and otherwise making the world a better and more equitable place – because it’s good to be reminded that a lot of people are fighting hard to improve life on this planet, and it’s not all bad news all the time. Can’t recommend subscribing to these guys enough: https://futurecrunch.com/good-news-18th-june-2021/


That’s all for now – have a great rest-of-week and weekend, check out the links and enjoy the tunes!

All the best,
Chris

May 2021: Sun’s Out, Guns Out

Howdy, folks! It’s finally starting to feel like summer, and I have plenty of reasons for optimism so this month’s update will be a little chirpier than previous months…

The Usual

It’s amazing how much can change in the span of a few weeks. All the complicated legal/house stuff I was dealing with is now (as of last Friday), by and large, resolved – there’s still plenty of work that needs doing in the house but my partner and I will have full control of that by this time next week and can tackle it at our own pace. It’s no exaggeration to say that my mental health is vastly improving, and coinciding with some lockdown restrictions being eased over here in the UK means that brighter times appear to be ahead – even though I still intend to be cautious (no pub drinks for the time being!)

Work/comics-wise – I’m pushing the start date for the Brigantia Vol. 1 Kickstarter back a little bit because I want to be sure that we have all the art we need to run a really strong campaign. Harriet’s completed the preview pages, and I posted a snippet from those on Twitter not too long ago – she’s also working on the cover at the moment, and that’s a must-have (the only campaign I’ve ever run without having a finished cover failed, and I’m too superstitious to see that as anything other than a sign!)

Remember to sign up at the campaign pre-launch page so you get a notification from Kickstarter! I’ll be breaking my once-monthly rule to fire out an email blast when the launch date is locked in, and another when we actually go live – a strong start is going to be absolutely critical to our chances of success, given that the total for this campaign is a lot higher than the last issue: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-volume-1

While I’m on the topic of Kickstarter comics, I also wanted to shout out one that will be launching soon (on June 3rd, to be precise) – Sagas of the Shield Maiden Book Two. The writer behind this project, Asa Wheatley, has pulled together a great collection of talented artists for more tales of his red-haired Viking Shield Maiden – I’m going to be backing this one as soon as it hits because it’s 100% my jam (and you’ll see exactly how much praise I have for it on the campaign page!)

One last note for this section, on a more downbeat topic – this month, Dave Evans (a.k.a Bolt-01) of Futurequake and Zarjaz fame, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I was more of a passing acquaintance of Dave’s – he lettered some of my very first forays into comics (in Owen Watts’ Psychedelic Journal anthologies), and also graciously gave me my first taste of published comics by running my story ‘Loan Sharks’ in an issue of Futurequake (with future artistic superstar Joe Palmer, who’s now being published by Image!), but I wouldn’t call myself one of his close and personal friends. However, I am very good friends with Owen, and seeing the impact that Dave’s death has had on Owen (as well as tons of other people in the UK comics scene) has really hammered home just how much of a beloved guy Dave was. His absence will be keenly felt for years to come. If you have the means and want to help his family give him a good send-off, there’s a JustGiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/rememberdave


The Record

*This month I have written precisely zero pages, and that’s okay!

Finding the headspace to concentrate on any projects has been extraordinarily difficult of late – I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start wrestling my way out of the creative doldrums now that I’ve cleared some of the life admin, but at the same time, I don’t want to overload myself. I already have the Brigantia Kickstarter launch coming up (which will consume me with stress for a full 30 days) and then the accompanying fulfilment of that campaign, plus some of my musical endeavours are starting to wind back up now that band practices have become a viable option again. I’m waiting to hear back about a couple of anthology pitches, and if those get accepted that’ll give me scripts to work on, but I need to be realistic about what I can actually afford to get made at this point in time.


The Tunes

As usual, it’s quite a mixed bag this month – I think there’s a good mix of new (to me) tracks and old favourites. Let’s dive in!

First up is probably the best song that Judas Priest have ever written (feel free to argue with me, but you’d best come armed!) If you don’t feel the urge to raise your claws to the sky and scream “HELLRIDER!!” along with the chorus then you might be dead… next up is Violet Cold, a predominantly black metal one-man project from Azerbaijan. This is from their new album, which was intentionally designed to piss off any fashy right-wing types who want to claim the band as their own – the cover art makes it very clear where the creator Emin Guliyev stands on issues of LGBT and human rights. After that we have another explicitly anti-fash BM band, Dawn Ray’d – their last album was a triumph and this new song is more of that good stuff! Heretical Sect were a Spotify discovery for me and a very good one – we’re going heavy on anti-fash/progressive/left wing BM this month, apparently. Lustmord w/ Karin Park is a collaboration I found out about via the Roadburn Redux festival – deep atmospheres with soaring, ethereal vocals, very useful for concentration. Next up, you might recognise this Washed Out track as the intro to the wonderful TV show Portlandia, but the full song is excellent in its own right. WagakkiBand are basically designed for me to like them – Japanese folk rock with traditional instruments and band photos like this? Love it. 3 have a very unhelpful name if you’re searching for them online, but this album is very well-crafted prog metal with soaring, pop music-esque vocals. I also remain convinced that this song’s concept is a nod to a series of fantasy books from my youth, the Death Gate saga (which featured a serpentine race of baddies that could shapeshift!) VOLA are a new discovery, and this is from their newest album which is extremely good – the lyric “I could leave this house, but I won’t” stuck with me this month for obvious reasons! And lastly, some classic Bob Dylan – I’m not a massive Dylan fan (never been able to get over a live recording of “Like A Rolling Stone” which highlighted his complete inability to sing) but this is a classic for a reason, and reflects my current mood.


The Links

Let’s start this section off with something that’s heavy, but must-read: a Vox feature on the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre https://www.vox.com/22456481/tulsa-race-massacre

I know I mentioned it above, but: don’t miss out on Sagas of the Shield Maiden Book Two: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/asawheatley/sagas-of-the-shield-maiden-book-two

It’s an old article, but I can’t be the only person who saw this photo and went “Abin… Abin Sur??” https://www.wired.com/2017/01/bright-green-meteor-lights-mountains-india/


That’s all for this month – thanks for reading, hit the Brigantia Kickstarter link if you haven’t already and I hope you get to enjoy some good weather where you are!

All the best,

Chris

April 2021: A Towering Pile

Howdy, folks!

The Usual

My pile of “life admin” feels like it’s reached an almost overwhelming level these past few weeks – I won’t bore you with the detail, but I’ve got far too many bits of paperwork to sign, far too many money things to juggle and far too much anxiety over it all. Just need to keep on chugging!

That aside, I also have a rather nice ANNOUNCEMENT to make:

Brigantia Vol. 1 is coming your way in June (exact date TBD!) Collecting issues #1, #2 and the new issue #3 as a chunky 128-page graphic novel stuffed with bonus content!

I’ve been pushing the boat out for this to try and make it into something special – here’s the murderer’s row of talent who’ll be getting involved:
Issue #3 art by Harriet Moulton and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou!
Pin-ups by Chris Wildgoose, Will Kirkby, Rosie Packwood & Elijah Johnson/JP Jordan!
An exclusive limited edition bookplate by co-creator Melissa Trender!
Foreword by Nimue Brown (Hopeless, Maine and tons of books on druidry/paganism)!

Those pin-ups will also be available as reward prints on the campaign, so you can pledge for as many as you like – it’s so exciting seeing other artists’ takes on Brigantia and the rest of the cast, and I’m thrilled to properly share them! We’ll be running some Early Bird tiers as well – ideally, I wanted the option to send you folks (and people who’ve previously bought copies of Brigantia #1 or #2) a discount code so you could get hold of the collected volume at a cheaper price, but Kickstarter doesn’t have that functionality and if I set up a specific tier for previous Brigantia backers I’d have no good way of stopping all and sundry from taking advantage of it.

The alternative, then, is that you’ll all find out exactly when the campaign launches well ahead of the wider world, and armed with that knowledge you’ll hopefully be able to snap up the Early Bird rewards for a discounted copy of the book. I’ve really been agonising about this – I know a lot of people are happy to buy single issues of an ongoing comic and then buy the trade as well, but I feel a bit bad trying to get people to buy the same issues again (in a different format!) The reason I’m jumping straight to a trade now is because it feels to me like there’s a diminishing market for indie single issues on Kickstarter (unless you’re a big moneybags publisher who can already afford to make the comic and just want to use KS for a soft launch, but I digress…), and there’s a solid midpoint in the story which feels like a great “end of volume 1” cliffhanger to me. Plus, purely for selfish reasons – I’d love to have a collected trade of one of my stories! If any of you have questions about the decision to go straight to a trade please do fire them my way, I’m happy to try and answer them.

Anyway, to break up all that text, here’s a very sneaky peek at one of Harriet’s costume designs for issue #3, fresh out of the oven:

The Record

*Pitches for two anthologies worked on – one submitted

Very little actual scripting this month, due to the aforementioned towering pile – it’s been a pitches month! I’ve put something together with Rosie Packwood for the second volume of the Big Hype Comics anthology which I’m excited about, and working on another one with Jamie Keys for a different anthology. I’d love to try and improve my “hit rate” for anthologies – I’ve been rejected for a lot of the ones I’ve gone for recently, and it always batters my self-confidence, so it’d be nice to get into either of these.

The other projects on my list are very much on hold until I can wrestle my way back on top of life! Watch this space, I guess?

The Tunes

My tracklisting this month was arranged purely for aesthetic reasons and I’m not sorry – short song titles at the start, long song titles in the middle and short at the end so it’s a nice sharp bell curve!

We start off with a new track by KAUAN, one of my best Spotify finds – gentle, icy and spacious. After that it’s the opener of my favourite band’s newest album – Triassic by The Ocean. They did a pre-recorded performance of this album at the Roadburn Redux festival earlier this month which was absolutely transcendent – I just can’t say enough good things about this band! Age of Aquarius by Villagers of Ioannina City (what a band name!) is another Spotify find – great proggy metal with some neat riffs. Alien Lip Reading by Hail Spirit Noir makes great use of what sounds like a theremin amongst the black metal shrieks. IOTUNN were recommended by a friend and I’m digging them – cosmic-sounding death metal, yes please. Godspeed! You Black Emperor are a band that I’ve never invested time in, despite knowing a lot of people who are into them – I enjoyed their newest album, so looking forward to diving into the rest of their discography. The Picturebooks did a collaboration with Neil Fallon of Clutch recently, which is how I found them – this is just good old-fashioned blues rock. Mindforce play no-frills thrash metal, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered! Kvelertak are another band I’ve never really put time into, but this is fun – reminds me a little of Volbeat. And lastly, reversing the upbeat tone completely is Body Void – grimy, heavy doom metal which sounds like dying. Please enjoy 😎

The Links

New section this month – here are some Kickstarter campaigns you should check out and some articles I’ve enjoyed:
Alex Automatic Vol. 1: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/frasercampbell/alex-automatic-volume-one-trade-paperback
Lad (Issue #3): https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/umar-ditta/lad-the-homecoming-issue-3
Ancient Egyptian discoveries: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/archaeology-discovery-saqqara-ancient-egypt-b1835760.html?amp
Thoughts on comics criticism by Ritesh Babu: https://comfortfoodcomics.com/2021/04/08/the-trouble-with-easy-criticism-by-ritesh-babu/

That’s all for now – I’ll sign off before this gets any longer. Thanks for reading, and keep your eyes peeled for more on Brigantia Vol. 1!

All the best,

Chris

March 2021: One Year On

Feels like we’ve been here before, huh? Jokes aside, it might just be that we’ve started to get some actual sunshine over here on Hell Island but it’s starting to feel like things are changing for the better. My partner’s had a first dose of the vaccine (I’m still waiting for mine), people are starting to book gigs/cons/events for later in the year… I sincerely hope this isn’t the false ending you get in most JRPGS, where the heroes think they’ve saved the day and then it turns out there’s another evil villain (a COVID mutant strain, perhaps?) who’s been pulling the strings all along.

The Usual

Had a bit of a wobble this month – I spent several days bashing my head against an idea-wall trying to get some juice to leak out (in the form of pitch ideas for an anthology), and was convinced they were all terrible. Thankfully, I sent them to the artist and she loved the one at the top of my list, which went a long way towards quieting the little shit-goblin who sits in the back of my brain telling me I’ll never amount to anything..! It’s also helped reading through a detailed account of the development/filming/release of the Star Wars original trilogy (a.k.a three of my absolute favourite stories) in a book we picked up in a Taschen sale – so much changed between the script drafts and what we see on screen. The earlier drafts had some truly ropy/terrible parts, which I found heartening – even something as iconic and successful as Star Wars had to be wrestled into existence, and it’s not easy for anyone.

As a sign of the aforementioned hopeful return to normality, I’m very pleased to share that I’ll be exhibiting at Thought Bubble this November (assuming it goes ahead)!

I’ll be doing it under my own name (rather than as Prof Elemental Comics or as Brigantia) this time, which is a little nerve-wracking, but hey ho. New business cards/banner are probably a plan..!

The Record

• 22 pages redrafted for SPACE COWBOYS #3, following editorial feedback
• Outline/pitch written for an anthology submission
• 12 pages edited/redrafted for a horror short
• Lettering: 6 pages lettered, design work done for Prof Elemental’s NEMESIS

Not a lot of “new” pages written this month, but I’m feeling fairly good about the progress. With 3 issues out of 6 written, and a loose roadmap for where I want the rest of the story to go, it might be time to approach an artist for SPACE COWBOYS (currently mulling over an actual title – DIADEM is the current front-runner, even if it maintains my streak of one-word titles for things…) That’s a whole different kettle of fish, because finding the right collaborators for a story is so important – everyone brings their own visual sensibility and ideas to the project, and this one will require some fairly involved visuals and design work. Plus, contacting an artist and asking if they want to work with you is truly nerve-wracking (at least for me) – it’s like asking someone vastly cooler/prettier/smarter than you on a (potentially very long and involved) date 😬

The Tunes

Gradual progression from lighter sounds to heavier on this month’s playlist, because I like to lure people in with smooth synths before dropping the screechy vocals 😎 We kick things off with a lovely instrumental version of a track by KAUAN – the original from 2017 is a beautiful album and well worth checking out. Next up is Steve Aoki with a remix of “Making of Cyborg” from the original Ghost in the Shell – the recent live action movie had plenty of problems, but I still enjoyed it as a visual/aural feast. Daft Punk were (goddamnit) a hugely important band for me, since I loved their music even when I was in the grip of my “only heavy metal, 24/7” bullshit elitist phase. They were just that good! I got emotional watching their “breakup” video earlier in the month, and the ending of this track was an utterly transcendent, heartbreaking and beautiful soundtrack for it. Gunship are a band I somehow hadn’t heard before this month, despite my propensity for synthwave – plug me into the cybernet and let’s fuckin go!!

Next track is where things gradually start to get turnt, with Emma Ruth Rundle/Thou bringing some atmospheric heaviness before we plunge into a new piece from Genghis Tron (an excellent grindcore/glitchy electronica band who defy categorisation) – their last album Board Up the House was phenomenal, so I’m hyped to dig into the new release! Frozen Lakes on Mars is one of my favourite Ihsahn tracks and ties neatly into my writing mindset this month (specifically the Space Cowboys redrafts). Onmyo-za are a new discovery and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard them sooner. From Encyclopedia Metallum: “Onmyo-za’s image and concept are based on Japan’s Heian Period (aka Japan’s Renaissance) that dates back to the tenth century CE.” PUMP THIS JAPANESE HISTORY METAL INTO MY VEINS! Feral Light were a fortuitous Spotify discovery for some atmospheric BM, and we close off this month’s list with one metal icon (Chuck Schuldiner of Death) covering another (Rob Halford and Judas Priest). He is half man and half machine!

That’s all for this month – I hope we’re clawing our way to some semblance of normality, and that we can use the lessons of the last year to force our elected officials into truly changing society for the better. Fingers crossed, eh?

All the best,
Chris

February 2021: Vitality of Thought

Hey folks,

Once again, the end of February crept up on me out of nowhere – I thought I had a couple of extra days to write this post! Let’s get into it.

The Usual

I’ve had something rattling around in my brain this month that I wanted to dig into here – inspired partly by some of the discourse on Comics Twitter™, and compounded by having spent a chunk of the month wrestling with writer’s block.

I’ve spent a lot of my “brain-idle” time this month dwelling on the question of why I enjoy writing stories. Not in a particularly negative way, but just out of curiosity – what’s my reason for creating characters, worlds and narratives? What does that energy expenditure mean? It feels very much like there’s a constant tug-of-war between the impetus to write stories which are “meaningful” and “important” and the desire to write what I’m passionate about. In some cases, those two things can co-exist, but often I’m reminded that the stories I most want to tell aren’t “important” or “vital”, and aren’t exactly a new and unique vision.

There’s an easy answer to this, which is that every story someone creates is unique to some degree because it’s informed by who they are as a person – how they grew up, how they staple words together, what life and upbringing they’ve had. But I don’t personally find that answer all that helpful, especially when I routinely see discussion about how stories (and the comics medium in particular) should be used to tell stories that nobody has seen before, in a way that’s never been done before. The implication (at least in my mind) is that since there are a lot of other people like me, I should strive to find experimental or downright weird methods of storytelling in order to stand out.

Don’t get me wrong – experimental storytelling can be great, and I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody not to get weird with their writing. But my personal interest is less in pushing the boundaries of the form and more in clarity – I want to tell stories which will stick with people, move and inspire them, and for me that means focusing more on content and less on the form itself. My main hope is that after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, I’ll leave behind something more concrete than just memories, and I don’t need to push myself into a writing style I’m not comfortable with to achieve that.

The Record

*1 page of SENGOKU written
*SPACE COWBOYS issue #2 redrafted
*Notes/basic story summary for THE BLACK RUBRIC sequel
*Two pitches submitted to an anthology
*Lettering work – 12 pages of Professor Elemental: NEMESIS lettered

I’ve taken a little break from SENGOKU writing this month – the first scene is scripted, but I’ve been reconsidering my approach to the “voice” of the protagonist. Rather than the first-person captions I would normally default to, I’d like to try something which is stylistically a bit closer to the incredible series Lone Wolf and Cub (by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima). It’ll mean letting the artwork do a lot more of the storytelling, but I think it’ll make for a stronger result.

SPACE COWBOYS #2 has been redrafted based on Claire’s feedback, and next up is issue #3. I can’t overstate the positives of working with a good editor – Claire’s great at pushing me not to take the lazy/easy approach and to really find the dialogue/ideas which will make this story stand out. I’ve even drawn some location maps/reference sketches for this one so hopefully it’ll make life easier for the artist!

I really had fun making THE BLACK RUBRIC with Katie Fleming, so I’ve been idly toying with the idea of doing a longer (maybe 50/60 pages or so?) sequel since we wrapped up the Kickstarter and launched it. Earlier this month, I hit on what the central premise of the sequel could be – as well as still being a loving spoof of black metal, I think I can see an angle to make it about creative burnout and the struggles of artist desire vs. fan expectation. If that sounds rather more serious than the last issue, don’t worry – I’m still determined to make it funny!

The Tunes

The playlist is a pretty long one this month! As usual, it’s a fairly even mix of stuff that’s new to me and more familiar tracks; Together to the Stars were recommended by a friend and this is a great slab of atmospheric black metal with plenty of melody to keep things interesting. Tides From Nebula make what I can only describe as… synthy post-metal? They (along with Harakiri for the Sky) have a knack for BIG RIFFS and soaring choruses which I’m particularly into. Wormwitch and Tribulation are both in catchier, head-banging territory – not quite black’n’roll, but they know their way around a groove. Palehorse/Palerider are a new discovery, and I’d highly recommend the full album this track is from – it’s like doomy, gloomy, darkness-soaked cowboy music with a metallic edge. Blood Ceremony are one of my favourites – hints of Jethro Tull but modern, more witchy, and fronted by an incredibly talented flautist/organist/singer Alia O’Brien who I’m a little bit in love with. Of Monsters and Men are a pop recommendation from the same friend who directed me to the first track on this playlist (because only listening to one kind of music is boring) and I really enjoyed this song – any act that sounds similar to Chvrches is a winner in my book. Next up is the most pristine rendition of Aerith’s Theme (technically called ‘Flowers Blooming in The Church’) I’ve heard, from the FFVII Remake Soundtrack – this song always makes me emotional because it’s so delicate and sad and hopeful, all at the same time. Lastly, please enjoy 9 minutes of ancient Egyptian/desert temple atmosphere from Karl Sanders, also known as the guitarist of brutal/technical death metal band Nile – his solo project sounds nothing like his day job and it’s a nice, chilled end to the list!

And that’s all from me – the sun is shining for what seems like the first time in months, vaccinations are happening and I might actually be able to play some live shows towards the end of the year. How’s that for something to look forward to, eh?

All the best,

Chris

January 2021: Vitamin Tree

Hey folks,

I know I fell prey to thinking that at midnight on December 31st, 2020 would turn into a pumpkin and we’d all get our lives back… as unrealistic as that was. Nice of 2021 not to slow down much, eh? Let’s get into it.

The Usual

Since we’re in month 216 (or so it seems) of lockdown and still paying the price of our government tacitly encouraging people to socialise over the Christmas break (before changing their minds at the very last second), there haven’t been many of the usual markers that I rely on to emphasise that one year is changing into the next – usually there’s a tangible feeling of “newness” in the air, a sense of possibility in the year ahead. This year, thanks to the continuing uncertainty of COVID, the only sense of possibility is a hope that maybe this year won’t be as bad as last year was. Still, I’m trying to stay positive and keep inching forwards with project progress.

Part of maintaining that positive mindset has been making the time to venture outdoors (safely and alone) and soak in some greenery – whether it’s pseudo-science or a real thing, there’s something about going for a forest wander that really chases away the brain-weasels. Yesterday I had a nice walk around Wyming Brook on the outskirts of Sheffield, somewhere I’ve never been before, and spent most of it just gawping at the scenery and whipping out my phone to take pictures every 30 seconds:

There’s Uruk-Hai in these hills…

It was truly delightful and I’d strongly recommend soaking up some ‘vitamin tree’ if you have the ability to – absolutely beats staring at the same four walls all week and weekend!

The Record

*8 pages of SENGOKU written
*SPACE COWBOYS issues #2 and #3 sent to my wonderful editor Claire Napier for her input and suggestions – next step is redrafting
*HOCKEYTOWN pitch document mostly finished
*Lettering work – 4 pages of Professor Elemental: NEMESIS lettered

I’ve finally broken ground on SENGOKU and actually started writing – I’m taking a much more detail-oriented approach for this script than I have done before, because it’s important to me that I don’t fall prey to the mistakes that are present in a lot of stories told about Japan/Japanese culture by Westerners. I’m linking in tons of visual reference for each scene, and my intent once the first draft is written is to work with a Japanese sensitivity reader who can tell me whether there’s anything glaringly obvious that I’ve missed. The result (of course) is that it’s going to take me a lot longer to write, but it’s not as though I have a deadline!

SPACE COWBOYS (still a working title, I really need to come up with something better) is still trucking along too – since Claire’s happy with the shape of the story thus far I need to start a) firming up exactly where I want to go with the remaining three issues (since my previous draft outline doesn’t quite match up to the story we’re now telling) and b) thinking about reaching out to some artists and putting together a pitch for it! I have a couple of people in mind, but as with everything, it’ll depend entirely on whether they’re interested in the story. Fingers crossed!

The pitch document for HOCKEYTOWN is basically a chunky Powerpoint which contains bits of artwork from the pages that are done so far, the story synopsis, a detailed breakdown of the story and an explanation of why we think it’s a comic worth publishing. The pages (once they’re coloured and lettered) will be stored in a Dropbox and accessible via a link on the pitch document. I’ve never pitched anything before (I’m using a template that another writer shared online) so I have no idea if it’s any good, but hopefully it presents the story in the best possible light.

The Tunes

This month’s playlist follows a fairly straightforward progression from heavier stuff to lighter, commencing with the mighty Earth – Zé Burnay (@Ze_Burnay on Twitter, a phenomenal artist) mentioned this album a while back and it reminded me that I haven’t heard it in far too long. After that we have one of my personal favourite Children of Bodom songs – their singer/guitarist Alexi Laiho passed away this month at the too-young age of 41. I spent most of my teenage years trying to learn how to play his songs, and almost as much time lusting after his signature guitar on the ESP Japan website – this one hurt, but I know he’d been suffering from ill-health for a while and I hope he’s partying up a storm on the other side. Next up are a couple of tracks fed to me by the Spotify algorithm by Countless Skies and Green Carnation, and after that we’re taking a brief diversion into Tolkien-inspired metal (in the vein of the mighty Summoning) with Moongates Guardian. I have a real soft spot for this kind of super-atmospheric, not particularly heavy metal with tons of keyboards! After that, the final “metal” track on the playlist belongs to Elder, whose album art really caught my eye before their proggy doom metal impressed my ears. The “cool-down” section of the playlist starts with some Eastern-inspired trip-hop courtesy of Xori, then a song which I already recognised despite never having listened to it before – the opening part of ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’ by Penguin Cafe Orchestra was used in a TV ad campaign for a telecoms company for years so it was weird to have it pop up halfway through the album! Finally, the playlist closes out with some wintry acoustic music as a nod to the blizzards we’ve been having semi-regularly over here – TPR with a mournful piano rendition of a track from Final Fantasy 7, and Myrkur with a new haunting folk single that builds on last year’s incredible Folkesange.

That’s all for this month – congrats on making it through January, the days are only going to get longer and warmer from here on out!

All the best,

Chris

December 2020: Hell of a Year

Hey folks,

As you might have guessed, this month’s update will be a little different – less about this month in particular, and more of a retrospective on what’s been a very strange and challenging year. Enjoy!


The (Un)usual

One thing I’m keen to do is reflect on what I’ve accomplished this year, in order to stave off the feelings of negativity that I tend to fall prey to every December. I’m certain others have this problem too – I constantly feel like I haven’t achieved enough, and that my time to build some kind of creative career is running out. Social media is a big part of that problem – following people who make a career from writing and therefore spend their days working makes me feel like I should do more after work/on the weekends, but that way lies burnout and misery. I know I have a problem with judging my own output harshly against my perception of what friends and peers are doing – I very often fall into the trap of thinking “they’re writing more than me, they’re writing better than me, etc.”

Thanks, Skeletor.

So, in an attempt to (at least temporarily) vanquish those demons and end the year on a positive, here’s what I managed to do this year:

  • Ran two successful Kickstarter campaigns (for THE BLACK RUBRIC and BRIGANTIA #2) and fulfilled both before the end of this year
  • Completed scripting for HOCKEYTOWN; 10 pages drawn by R.M Olson for the pitch
  • 12 pages of SPACE COWBOYS #1 scripted, along with issues #2 and #3 (22 pages each)
  • 16 pages of PROF ELEMENTAL: NEMESIS scripted – 7 pages lettered
  • 2 pages scripted for TALES FROM THE QUARANTINE
  • 10 pages of BRIGANTIA #3 redrafted – issues #4-#6 plotted out in detail
  • 68 pages outlined for a new project, SENGOKU
  • Detailed synopsis written for another new project, STEEL KNIGHTS
  • On the music front: wrote and recorded all instruments and vocals for a 4-track black metal demo to tie in with THE BLACK RUBRIC

Not too bad, huh? I might have only actually fully scripted somewhere around 80 pages this year but I’m giving myself a pass on that considering all the everything else that happened. I’m not setting myself any kind of hard goal for next year (“I must achieve X or Y”, for example) because, quite frankly, I don’t know what next year has in store (either personally or professionally) and I don’t want to reflect back in 2021 and feel like I failed. I’ll just keep trying to make good comics, and hopefully convince folks to give me a bigger platform from which to do so!


The Tunes

This month’s playlist is, as you might have guessed, a retrospective one – my top track from each monthly playlist that I’ve done this year, 12 tracks in total. As usual, it’s a pretty wide-ranging collection – from shimmering, beautiful Danish folk (Myrkur) to Canadian alternative rock (The Tragically Hip) through socially and politically vital hip-hop (Run the Jewels) and atmospheric black metal (Svalbard) before closing with a suitably grim and nihilistic track by Anaal Nathrakh. If there’s a common theme running throughout, I think it’s about striving to remember all the things that connect us – this year has been extremely taxing, and being stuck indoors unable to really socialise beyond the glitching fuzziness of a laptop screen has been difficult for all of us. I’m a proud introvert, and even I’ve missed goofing around at band practices, hanging out with friends at gigs, socials in the pub and semi-regular movie nights. Humans are social creatures, so when that social contact is ripped away, it can be tough to cope – and seeing our elected officials failing us time and again doesn’t make it any easier. Stay strong, reach out to friends and tell them how much you’ve appreciated them this year, and do what you can to stay connected – I’m hopeful that 2021 won’t be too old before we’re able to get back to a semblance of normality, even if the world will never quite be the same again.

Thanks for reading – I hope you all had the chance for a break over the holiday period, and let’s tackle 2021 together!

All the best,
Chris

November 2020: Winter’s Grasp

Hey folks,

It’s (somehow) almost December as this extremely odd and taxing year draws to a close, and I’ve somehow managed to do an update every month – giving myself a pat on the back for that! Tuck in:

The Usual

It’s been a pretty eventful month, despite the lockdown! Midway through November was Thought Bubble, which despite being digital-only was still a blast – I’m not naturally comfortable with the kind of online presence that’s required to fully participate in digital cons, but despite the weirdness of being sat in my little studio for the majority of the weekend it definitely managed to capture some of the Thought Bubble vibe. I had a great chat with Harriet (the artist on Brigantia) on the Sunday which you can check out at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/802879033 if you fancy learning a bit more about issue #2 and our plans for #3 and beyond, and the party on Saturday night was a lot of fun and executed brilliantly by partymeister Kieron Gillen – it was EXTREMELY 2020, with a muted Zoom meeting linking up with a shared Spotify playlist so we could all boogie to the same tunes, see each other’s faces and chat away in text, but it damn well worked.

Winter is (despite the cold) probably my favourite season – there’s something very pleasing about crisp, cold, sunlit mornings and the prospect of snow/frost. I’m less fond of the torrential rain that we often get in the UK and the shortened days, but it’s easier to warm up (cosy jumpers, putting the fire on) than it is to cool down during a hot, sticky summer which helps me cope. Even if I’m not one of those people who gets EXTREMELY EXCITED about Christmas (I’m holding off any decorations until tomorrow, December 1st, because… come on, people), I do enjoy getting a chance to relax and I have the privilege of some extended time off at the end of the year. This year, I’ll be able to finish my day job on the 22nd and not log back in until the 4th of January – truly delightful!

The Record

*All 68 pages outlined for SENGOKU, a Japanese history/samurai project that I have in the pipeline and will get to when I have the time!
*Issues #4 – #6 of BRIGANTIA outlined – I had a structure but needed to revisit that after making some changes to issue #3, which was finalised and sent to Harriet a few months back
*Lettering work – 6 pages of the next Professor Elemental project, NEMESIS, lettered

Couple of different things going on this month – I’ve still been crap at actually sitting down and hammering out scripts, but I’ve managed to do some good planning work and thinking about the structure of a few stories. SENGOKU is one I’m very excited about – in case it’s not clear, I’ve been a big nerd about Japanese history for YEARS (in 6th Form college, my final history project was a 3000-word thesis on Christian missionary activity in Japan from just before the Edo period to post-Meiji Restoration) and this is my attempt to write a samurai story which takes my youthful love of “cool samurai shit” and tempers it with a more critical look at bushido and the weight of familial expectation. There’s a Japanese proverb, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”, which is often interpreted as a ruthless insistence on conformity – I want to examine how the desire to “stick up” and craft your own path would manifest in a samurai family in the period around and shortly after the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), an extremely unsettled time which shaped Japan for roughly the next 250 years.

Plus, it’s an excuse to write extremely deconstructed, widescreen fight scenes inspired by Kurosawa, Takashi Miike and Takahiko Inoue’s Vagabond, who wouldn’t want to do that? 😂

This month’s “outdoor writing” session took place on top of Mam Tor in the Peak District – it seemed appropriate to hammer out the shape of the second arc of Brigantia while standing on top of the remains of a 3000-year old hill fort most likely constructed by Celtic Britons! My hands were extremely cold by the time I’d finished, but I’m excited about where the story goes in those issues – we’ll cover a bunch of cool mythological stuff, and I think (hope) that it’ll build the story to a satisfying and epic conclusion.

I’ve mentioned the next Professor Elemental project here briefly before – it’s being drawn by the excellent Jamie Keys, coloured by the mighty Owen Watts and lettered by yours truly. We’re telling the Secret Origin of the Professor’s Nemesis – this is the first time we’ve done a comic tie-in to one of his albums that isn’t just a re-telling of the album, and I’m genuinely quite proud of how I was able to take the character prompt from the winner of the Nemesis competition and build that into a compelling and sympathetic villain for the Prof. He’s definitely not a one-dimensional bad guy! Here’s a sneak peek at one of the WIP pages and Jamie’s gorgeous artwork:

It’s a fun little 16-page story, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with people!

The Tunes

This month’s playlist swings quite dramatically between tracks I’ve loved for a while, new material and some lighter, fun ones – I’d apologise for the language on the final track but it doesn’t say anything I haven’t expressed myself on multiple occasions! First up is the fantastic Agalloch – this song is just a tour-de-force, and if you’re not familiar with Agalloch and enjoy it I’d highly recommend checking out the rest of their discography. Next are a couple of discoveries by Mogwai (who I somehow haven’t listened to before) and Bibio – both quite contemplative and laid-back. After that we’re back into metal territory with the excellent anti-fascist BM band Dawn Ray’d – I’ll always appreciate any band who make a point of stating that trans rights are human rights during their live sets, and it’s a delight to find a black metal band whose politics I don’t have to be wary of. Cairiss are fantastic, and I’m hoping they release more music soon – their lead singer has some of the most controlled and accomplished vocal skills I’ve ever seen/heard. Tribulation are great, bouncy af doom metal with an ear for a good hook – this is a new track, and I’m excited for the rest of the album. Next is a turn to the utterly ridiculous with Jay Diggs – I blame Dearbhla Kelly since she played this during her Thought Bubble set and I couldn’t stop laughing. We then get into “politics territory” with a great track by Wolverine from one of my go-to albums – the song is related to George W. Bush, but I think it can still apply. We follow that up with the triumphant Clutch – this song is an absolute banger, reflects my joy at the result of the recent election and I will always join in at full volume with these lines:

First thing that I’m gonna do is disclose all those U.F.O.S
Put Jimi Hendrix on the 20 dollar bill
And Bill Hicks on a five note
Hot damn! The democratic process
What a time to be alive
Oh, I’m ready to give the people what they want
And what they want is straight talk and no jive!

Last, but by no means least, please enjoy a minute and a half-long song about the current Prime Minister of the UK, an utterly contemptible human being!

And that’s all for this month – enjoy the tunes, try and find some time to wind down as we get closer to Christmas (we’ve already watched Die Hard 2: Die Harder to get into the spirit of things) and take care!

All the best,

Chris



October 2020: New Hope

Hey folks,

Happy Samhain/Halloween! I’ve managed to put together an actual update this month, so grab some sweeties or another seasonally-appropriate snack and enjoy.

The Usual

Sitting down to write this month’s update definitely feels like less of a struggle than last month’s – we’ve managed to stabilise our living situation a little, and while there are still a lot of things to work through, I’ve been able to take a breath and relax more than I could last month. I haven’t done any substantial writing this month, so it’s mostly been about incremental progress on my current projects and laying down ideas for new things.

Given the state of this year, I don’t feel bad about giving myself some “time off” – I work full-time during the week, and that coupled with the uncertainty around the pandemic, the upcoming US election and everything else means that writing can feel like an insurmountable hill to climb when I’m already exhausted. There are two schools of thought here – one is that you should push through it and “just write”, even if you’re churning out crap that you’re unhappy with because at least it’s done; the other is that it’s okay to take a break and not force yourself into doing something that makes you angry and upset at your inability to smash words together. All things considered, I’m definitely in the latter camp at the moment!

The Record

*As noted above, no substantial page-count progress on anything
*However, I have smashed a few ideas together in my head for SPACE COWBOYS in order to try and figure out a way past the current blockage
*A sheaf of notes made for a 60-page graphic novella inspired by forest folklore, British myth and magic

I want to talk about the “forest folklore” idea a little first – last weekend I decided I’d been cooped up in the house for too long, so while the weather was lovely and crisp and autumnal, I headed out for a walk along Rivelin Valley, a beautiful forested area on the outskirts of Sheffield:

https://twitter.com/ChrisManji/status/1319939692519981058

I wasn’t planning to be inspired (it was mostly just about getting some fresh air and listening to the trees), but I’d been out about an hour when I started getting hit with a wave of ideas for a story that could smash together a lot of the British myths and legends I’ve grown up with – Robin Hood, the Green Knight of Arthurian legend, the primal magic of the deep forest. There were benches along the route so I sat down and tapped out a huge stream of consciousness – here are a few highlights:

-The mystery of English woodlands
-Robin Hood and his Merry Men as elemental force of nature
-Sprites, fairies, the fae – a Midsummer Night’s Dream
-The Green Man – a Knight of Arthurian times, unflinching protector of the woods
-What lurks in the forest? Take only memories, leave only footprints… or else
-A huge, lightning-sundered oak tree in the depths

Do not tread on the bluebells!
-An ur-forest – all woodlands in England link into the same otherworldly sylvan realm

I still need to make all this into some semblance of an actual story, but it’s been taking shape in my head, which is always a good sign!

In other project news, HOCKEYTOWN has moved firmly into the art stages, which means it’s now become a real thing that we can share with people. The team for the pitch is set – the incredible Russell Mark Olson is on interior art, with colours by Dearbhla Kelly and letters by Kerrie Smith, both immense talents. Hugo Boylan has been the editor on the project since the early stages of me writing it and continues to be a force of enthusiasm and encouragement. Here are Russell’s finished inks for the first page of the story, because I’m utterly in awe of his work:

Utterly stunning, right?

Character bios and turnarounds are done, I’ve been tackling the pitch document, and once Dearbhla and Kerrie have worked their magic on these pages we should be ready to put it all together and start actually approaching publishers. I’ll be honest – this is all new to me, since I’ve never pitched anything before, and it seems to be quite mysterious (with everybody having their own approach). As we go through this process I plan to share it through these newsletters in an attempt to demystify the “how do I pitch to a publisher” question, for my own benefit if nothing else!

The Tunes

This month’s playlist is a very chilled out one, by and large – soothing tunes have been a requirement. First up is a nice little drum interlude from Lord Almighty which sets the tone nicely, followed by a big chunk of space jam (a Spotify discovery) from Dallas Acid. TPR does beautiful, melancholy piano renditions of video game themes, and this is one of my favourite tracks from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker reimagined in a lovely fashion. Next up is a bit of classical from Hilary Hahn and Natalie Zhu which has been soundtracking some of my working afternoons, then a lovely new ambient track featuring Sigur Rós. After that we segue into more metal territory – new music from Liturgy (one of my favourites for their extremely avant-garde approach to black metal) and Zeal & Ardor (who have come out swinging with this EP, clearly inspired by this years Black Lives Matter protests and the continuing issue of police brutality in the US and across the world). Next up is long-song territory – a classic Summoning track inspired by me finally re-watching Lord of the Rings after having not seen them for years, new Pallbearer which is excellent, and finally a track from the new Ba’al album which dropped yesterday. Ba’al are a Sheffield band who I’m friends with, and they’ve outdone themselves with this album – it’s an absolute tour-de-force, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s in the mood for an album of extremely well-crafted post-black metal.

Enjoy the tunes and let me know if you have any other recommendations! I’m always interested in hearing new music.

All the best,

Chris

September 2020: It Gets Worse

It will genuinely be a short update this month, folks – I’m very stressed at the moment and have no time/energy to devote to anything in-depth. Writing has taken a backseat to the very real problem of finding somewhere new to live, and that stress is not conducive to creativity at all. I’m hopeful things will improve before the end of the year, but… let’s be realistic here!

The Tunes

Found some time to compile a playlist, however – a nice cross-section of my interests, I think! A chiptune opener by the fantastic Disasterpeace, followed by a couple of more laid-back tunes from new discovery Night Verses and the ever-reliable Ihsahn. After that it’s metal territory with sludge from 1782, an excellent Alice in Chains cover by Thou, an emotionally wraught track off Svalbard’s newest release and new music from the great Amiensus. Japanese folk metal from WagakkiBand serves as a bridge back to some more relaxed music – one of the themes I’ve heard the most from the great roguelike videogame Hades and a relaxing orchestral epilogue from Jóhann Jóhannson. I hope you enjoy!

All the best,

Chris