July 2020: New Frontiers

Hey folks,

It feels like I have a lot more to write about this month – there’s definitely been more going on creatively in July than in previous months, but I’ll try to keep it brief nonetheless.

The Usual

The BIG NEWS this month is, of course, that Brigantia #2 is now live on Kickstarter! We reached our funding target (which was intentionally low, to cover the cost of printing the comic & rewards and the postage) in two and a half hours and we’re currently sitting at 224% funded after 4 days, which is incredible. I’m targeting one stretch goal (at ยฃ2000) and anything we raise beyond that will go straight into the production pot for the next issue.

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-issue-2-the-comic

I mentioned this briefly on a Twitter live stream after it went live, but – I know it’s not the point of running a Kickstarter campaign, but it’s always a huge boost to self-confidence. If you’ve put in the legwork, you get loads of people posting lovely things about you and your work and spreading the word, and it really makes the hours you’ve spent slaving over the project worth it! In this instance it’s truly heartening to see how much people respond to Brigantia – I’m very proud of her as a character, and it’s great to see that others are excited to see more of her adventures.

The Record

*Rewrites on Brigantia #3 completed (10 pages)
*6 pages written for a publisher’s talent search competition
*Plotting out a structure/page-by-page breakdown for issue #2 of SPACE COWBOYS
*Wrote up a one-page pitch for an anthology

It’s been quite a productive one! I definitely feel like I have a few more irons in the fire than I did this time last month, or two months ago – getting Brigantia out of the way and onto Kickstarter was a weight off my mind, and there’s been a little bit of movement on another project which is heading for the dread world of pitching. Outside of comics, I’ve been quite productive on the music front as well – the final backer reward for The Black Rubric (a song written by the band) is finished and I sent it to the backer last week, and I’ve also been mixing another track for an OCRemix album (going for a very heavy doom sound this time). I also got together with the Powerhouse crew for a socially-distanced, outdoor acoustic practice a few evenings back:

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy playing live music with other people – this was our first time playing together in 6+ months and it felt very comfortable! We’ll probably do some more of these to keep ourselves fresh until more restrictions are lifted and we can get back in the practice room for real.

The Tunes

It’s been a good month for new music! This month’s list starts off with something that Spotify served up for me, a jazzy/metal instrumental piece by Fata Morgana, then goes into a new track from The Ocean (possibly my no. 1 favourite band?) Their last album, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, was more of a grower than it’s precursor Pelagial, but it still contains some fantastic, heavy, uplifting tracks and I’m excited for more from them. After that things go a lot mellower, starting with the absolute earworm that is Husavik (My Hometown) from the recent Eurovision movie (‘The Story of Fire Saga’). If you’re at all familiar with Eurovision, I’d highly recommend it – it’s clearly been made by people who love the whole competition and are poking fun at it in good humour, and this song is a perfect Eurovision power ballad! Following that we have my personal favourite track from Frozen II – we watched the “Making Of” documentary for the movie that went up on Disney+ this month because I find that sort of thing fascinating, and I was struck by how much they struggled with the story – with something that polished and high-budget, it’s easy to assume that the story was the easiest part to iron out, but they clearly had trouble trying to get to the message they wanted to tell with it. Jennifer Lee (the co-director and main writer) remains an inspiration!

A couple of tracks of synthwave are next – Boucle Infinie have put out probably the best synthwave album I’ve heard, and I really dig the sound on this Lena Raine album. Wolfhand have a kind of dark, atmospheric Wild West sound that I find very enjoyable, and Firewatch had an extremely understated soundtrack that really holds up well on a proper listen. The new Taylor Swift album was a total surprise, and blew me away – she’s always been a highly competent songwriter and singer, but some of the songs on this album are truly phenomenal. This is my personal highlight – I’m a big fan of Bon Iver (particularly his self-titled album) so when I saw that they were collaborating I couldn’t wait to hear it. It’s powerful, majestic and tinged with sadness, and I listened to it about 4 times in a row on the day the album dropped..! The last track on here represents the videogame which has devoured a lot of my spare time this month – Ghost of Tsushima, an open-world samurai game on PS4. While it does fall into some of the obvious tropes of Western-made open-world games, the combat is a delight and it’s a breathtakingly gorgeous world to explore – plus the soundtrack is full of traditional Japanese instruments which really add to the atmosphere.

Quite proud of this screenshot I took during an intense, moon-lit duel..!

Thanks for reading, check out the Brigantia #2 campaign and pledge if you’re interested, and take care!

All the best,

Chris

June 2020: The Hell-Year

Hey everybody,

The Usual

We live in interesting times, huh? It’s been one hell of a month, both in the world at large (continuing and justified civil unrest, governments attempting to re-open despite the coronavirus pandemic still being at large) and within our comics scene. In case anyone reading isn’t aware: a number of previously well-regarded men within the comics scene (including Cameron Stewart and Warren Ellis) have been outed as having previously manipulated and abused women throughout their careers, and those women have come forward to share their stories.

It’s easy to call it “Comics’ #MeToo moment”, but that disguises the fact that comics has had a problem with this stuff for years – Eddie Berganza was a noted creep at least 10 years ago, and the response from DC editorial was to just move him to another office so that women wouldn’t have to interact him (but didn’t fire him, of course). I’ve seen a lot of despair, a lot of heartbreak, and a whole lot of anger over the last month, and I completely understand all of it – comics are wonderful, and there’s something about the art form that engenders passion, so it’s heart-wrenching to read stories of younger creators being scarred for life and giving up their attempts to make a career in comics because of the actions of predatory men.

I want to talk about the anger, though: anger can be useful. Anger can be an engine for change. If we’re angry enough about men getting away with this kind of behaviour, we can get angry enough to do something. My very good friend Jennie Gyllblad has already set up (with some other friends) an Association of Comic Creators which I’m a proud member of, with the goal of providing a first step towards comics unionisation – a supportive place for creators to tackle the negative behaviours in our industry and band together. However, I think the lion’s share of the work here needs to rest on the men in our industry (myself included) – we need to call out dickish, misogynist behaviour whenever we see it, especially from people that we call friends, and we need to push for a more diverse industry in our hiring and collaborative practices. We need to burn down the old, patriarchal way that the industry is run and make it more welcoming to women, to non-binary folks, to LGBTQ+ creators, to creators of colour – to the rest of the world that isn’t comprised of white, cis men, basically.

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s essential if we want comics to keep getting better. Let’s get to work.

The Record

*Rewrites on SPACE COWBOYS issue #1 completed (10 pages), further edits given by Claire
*Rewrites begun on BRIGANTIA #3, 22 pages rewritten – 10 to go
*2 one-page scripts written for pitching to an anthology

Much more productive on the writing front this month! I’ve been getting the Kickstarter page ready for BRIGANTIA #2, and that spurred me into a massive rewrite of issue #3 and a re-structure of the rest of the series – the goal is to have issues #1-#3 wrap up in a little mini-arc that we can collect into a “trade paperback” which will run around 108 pages (three 32-page issues, plus covers and extra content) before embarking on issues #4 through #6. That meant I needed a way to bring forward some of the cool stuff I previously had in issue #4 and work it into #3 – I’m around halfway through the issue now and I think it’s going to work a lot better.

Speaking of BRIGANTIA #2…

The preview link for the BRIGANTIA #2 Kickstarter campaign is now live, and I put together the short video above to get people excited. Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-issue-2-the-comic

Please do check it out, click the button to be notified when we launch (on the 28th of July!) and spread the word. I’m very excited to finally get this issue out into the world – Harriet’s done an incredible job on her pages, Aditya’s lettering is stunning (as always) and I think the whole issue looks gorgeous.

Oh, one other thing – THE BLACK RUBRIC is now available on ComiXology right here. It’s always a thrill seeing one of my comics on ComiXology since it makes them feel more legitimate – if you backed it through the Kickstarter and enjoyed it, a positive review on there would be great (although I think you have to buy the comic on ComiXology to review it, so… entirely up to you!)

This month’s playlist starts off with a few tracks that I think encapsulate the protests which are still ongoing against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter. The new Run The Jewels is genuinely incredible, and this track blew me away – particularly this part of Killer Mike’s second verse, drawing on every ounce of his fury at the American police state:

‘And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free
And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me
Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”‘

From there, it’s Childish Gambino‘s undeniable ‘This is America’ (still one of the most powerful videos I’ve ever seen), then a fantastic cover of ‘Strange Fruit’ by Oceans of Slumber. Their frontwoman Cammie Gilbert has one of the best voices in metal – I saw them at Damnation Festival 2016 and she blew me away. Next up is a slab of big, atmospheric BM by Vukari, a long-time favourite by the Mad Capsule Markets (one of my absolute favourite bands as a teen, their discography is FINALLY on Spotify and I couldn’t be happier), a couple of chiptune/vaporwave tracks that I’ve been writing to and closing out with an extended Japanese folk tune (played on koto, shakuhachi and shamisen) which is a soothing banger.

As ever, enjoy the playlist, sign up for a Brigantia #2 campaign notification and I’ll try to be less wordy next month..!

All the best,

Chris

May 2020: Banished From the Light

Hey everybody,

The Usual

What’s it like to go outdoors and feel the sun and wind on your face? I barely remember any more…

Joking aside (I’m responsible for walking my very good dog Tia once a day so I have been outdoors, albeit keeping a very safe distance from everyone), the world might be completely different to the start of the year but for me at least, it’s starting to feel like a new normal. At some point I’m sure it’ll get back to “business as usual” with people being able to go out and socialise, but I think it’ll take us all a while to get comfortable with hugging our friends.

Here is Tia, who is a very good girl.

I’m going to try and avoid getting on a soapbox on this topic (because nobody needs to hear from me on it) but I’ve been watching the protests in America over the last few days following the murder of George Floyd by police, and it’s been very hard to stomach the extent of the police brutality on show. Do what you can, amplify the voices of black people speaking out and try to educate yourself on your own innate prejudices – it’s not just in America, in Britain as well a staggering number of us (myself included) benefit from white privilege and we need to recognise and try to make up for that. #BlackLivesMatter

Anyway, here’s the record for this month:
*Begun rewrites on issue #1 of SPACE COWBOYS following editorial feedback – first 12 pages amended

Again, I’ve not done a huge amount of writing this month – I’ve been back to full-time working from home – but I’ve had some progress in other areas. At the time of writing, I’m just waiting on the last batch of BLACK RUBRIC rewards (t-shirts and patches) to arrive at my house so I can start posting out everybody’s stuff; I’ve been in touch with a potential (fantastic) artist for HOCKEYTOWN; and the aforementioned rewrites.

SPACE COWBOYS is (hopefully) going to be a very emotional sci-fi story, so I’m spending a lot more time on character backgrounds and how the cast relate to each other than I perhaps have done previously. It’s drawing from some of the HEAVY FEELS I’ve had in recent memory and marrying that with a hopeful sci-fi story, so hopefully that emotion will come through when it’s done. Claire (Napier) has given me some fantastic feedback on the first draft of issue #1, so I’m tightening that up (4 unnecessary pages chopped out already..!) and will then use it as a springboard to firm up and write the rest of the story.

One more bit of admin – I’ve finally set up a functional shop on my website, so every comic I currently have print copies of (Brigantia #1, Unusual Tales #1 and The Black Rubric) is now available at https://chrismole.bigcartel.com/. Please do go there and avail yourself of my wares if you’d like to/are able! We’ll be launching the Kickstarter for Brigantia #2 in a couple of months and there’ll be a catch-up tier for copies of #1 on there, but if patience isn’t your strong suit…

This month’s playlist doesn’t have a particular theme or goal, it’s just a collection of tunes I enjoy – I read an interesting article this morning ( https://pitchfork.com/features/article/listen-to-music/) about the struggles of listening to new music at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic, so it’s not too surprising that a lot of these songs are the aural equivalent of “comfort food”.

The first couple are in the J-rock/metal sphere – the Trigun theme tune is a classic banger and instantly recognisable, and track 2 is a studio recording of the song ‘Mikan no Uta‘ by one of my all-time favourite bands, the very cheesy Sex Machineguns – this track hasn’t been on Spotify previously, so I’m making the most of it! Le Matos are a great synthwave band who provide some tranquil bleeps and boops, then there’s an unpolished new recording of a CHVRCHES song which is absolutely one of their best. ‘Right Back Where We Started From‘ is an unofficial hockey anthem, due to it’s repeated use in the cult 70s movie Slapshot, and it’s just great fun. Ernesto Schnack provides a bit of a calm break, then we’re into the heavier back-end of the playlist – experimental BM from Secrets of the Moon, powerful and misandric BM from Feminazgul (recommended to me by Kieron Gillen, of all people), Sinistral King who embrace the more theatrical and imperious side of the genre and then a long and crushing funeral doom track from Ocean (a band I discovered at the age of around 16, when I would buy CDs at HMV based purely on the cover art) to close things out.

Enjoy the tunes, and take care of yourselves – we’ll get through this if we support each other.

All the best,

Chris

April 2020: Life in Lockdown

[This post was scheduled for March 31st, but website issues meant I couldn’t post it! Better late than never…]

Hey everybody,

It’s amazing how much can change in a month. Since last month’s update, the lockdown has grown to encompass every part of the country, and my free time (and creativity) has been swallowed up now that I’ve been sent all the equipment to work from home. I’ll be honest, it’s mentally draining being stuck inside the whole time – I’m finding it very hard to concentrate on most things.

Record for this month:
*Not a single, solitary page written

I’m trying to remind myself not to feel bad about that – I’ve been doing a lot of hustling and extra work around the Kickstarter campaign (more on that shortly) so it’s not as though I’ve been completely stagnant, but it really is a struggle to work up the motivation to write. The home-working setup has cannibalised the monitor/keyboard/mouse of my studio PC, and unplugging everything post-5pm (then plugging it all back in the following morning) seems like too much effort, so I’ve ended up saving project work for the weekends when I feel like I can muster the energy. It’s a weird and challenging time for all of us, so I’m trying not to be too negative (or dwell on the social media updates of friends and peers who seem to be thriving!)

As mentioned above, The Black Rubric Kickstarter has been running this month, and it’s honestly been a runaway success – the campaign just finished and we raised a stunning 270% of the goal for a total of ยฃ1802. I’m blown away by the number of people who are into the idea, and now we get to the fun part of the campaign (sending out comics and other rewards!) Since we made it through all of our stretch goals, we’re also doing band t-shirts and patches, and I’ll be sending out download codes for a 4-track demo of songs by the band – I’m looking forward to seeing what people think!

This month’s playlist starts off with an appropriately-titled track by one of my favourite bands, Ayreon (the brainchild of Dutch multi-instrumentalist and prog songwriter extraordinaire) – this was the first song of theirs I heard and it’s an all-time fave! From there, we’ve a couple of instrumental tracks by Astral Bodies and Sidewalks and Skeletons, then some heavy (heavy) metal courtesy of Ignea and Knight of the Round (I’ve been playing the Final Fantasy VII Remake a lot this month!) A couple of more avant-garde black metal tracks from Secrets of the Moon and Liturgy are a nod to the Black Rubric campaign, then the playlist closes out with some Canadian rock from The Tragically Hip, an obscure acoustic Agalloch track and the tranquil Vinter from Myrkur’s beautiful album Folkesange.

Hope you enjoy the tunes! See you next month – we’ll get through this together (as long as we stay indoors and continue to flatten the curve…)

March 2020: A New World

Howdy all,

Well, things have certainly changed a lot in a month..! Since my last post (as you’re almost certainly aware) the world has been gripped by COVID-19 (or ‘coronavirus’) and the UK has now gone into full lockdown to try and slow/stop the spread of the disease. From a purely selfish perspective, it’s been pretty good for my creativity – I’ve had a lot more time to work on projects while quarantined/locked up at home!

Here’s the record for March 2020:
*22 pages fully scripted (16 for PROF ELEMENTAL: NEMESIS; 6 for Gail Simone’s COMICS SCHOOL)
*Two sets of interview questions answered (THE BLACK RUBRIC press coverage)
*Lettering pass completed on BRIGANTIA #2

Not a huge number of pages scripted, but two separate projects started and finished! For NEMESIS, I wrote the entire 16-page first draft in a day – it’s been a while since I’ve been hit with the inspiration bug that strongly! This story is intended to delve into the backstory of the villain for the next Prof Elemental album, Nemesis – it’s the Secret Origin of the character and will explain quite why he despises the Professor so much. It needs to both be a compelling story and also provide a springboard for the Prof and his collaborator Mos Prob to bear in mind when they’re writing the lyrics for the album – hopefully I’ve managed to achieve that.

COMICS SCHOOL is a very fun thing that writer Gail Simone did on Twitter this month – she ran a 5-day course over Twitter with the goal of teaching anybody who was interested how to write a comic script. Part of the course involved coming up with a springboard/outline for a short comic in either one or two of a list of genres and then writing the script over the 5 days. I rolled crime and fantasy, and my 6-page script (entitled ‘THE HELLFIRE DIVISION’) is available to read below if you’re interested. I might try and find an artist for it at some point..!

Script link: click here!

THE BLACK RUBRIC Kickstarter is launching today (March 31st), so we’re full steam ahead with trying to promote that and hopefully reach our goal. Given the current state of the world, I was very unsure about whether to go ahead with the campaign – there are obviously other things that people will be concerned about – but since our goal isn’t massively high I decided to launch it as planned and hope that people back it because they’d like something to look forward to. All the pages are now completely done and they’ve gone to Hass for him to work his lettering magic – please check out the campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/the-black-rubric-the-comic) and pledge if you’d like a copy!

I probably need to retire the phrase ‘this month’s playlist is a mixed bag’, because at this point all my playlists are going to be a little eclectic… nevertheless, here’s the selection for this month! There are a couple of heavy tunes, notably Forgotten Paths by Saor (an excellent folkish black metal band), Tere Muur by Fluisteraars (a Dutch atmospheric black metal band recently recommended to me) and the aptly named Virus Bomb by Anaal Nathrakh (one of my favourite bands – nihilistic, brutal, uncompromising extreme metal that sounds like the world ending). On the slightly lighter side of the spectrum, some post-metal from Red Sparowes (this album, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, is an absolute masterpiece) and The Ocean (again, fantastic album, fantastic tune). Lighter still is Go! from the incredible Public Service Broadcasting; we watched the Apollo 11 documentary on Netflix this month which was riveting viewing, made entirely with archival footage captured during the mission, and this song makes fantastic use of sampled audio from mission control. Plus it has a straight-up groove! Finally, there’s some jazz (the Overture from Whiplash, an incredible movie that has stuck with me), an instrumental from the tranquil underwater videogame Abzu, some equally relaxed folk from the incredible Myrkur (whose Folkesange album is already my album of 2020) and a fresh country bop from an acquaintance of mine, Country Legend Roky Moon!

Enjoy the tunes, and thank you for reading! See you next month (when the world will certainly have changed even more…)

February 2020: Admin Stuff

Howdy folks,

Month 2 of the recap posts, and this one will probably be a little shorter than last month’s since I didn’t have a Christmas break in which to write this month!

Here’s the (writing) record for February 2020:
*3 pages fully scripted (SPACE COWBOYS #1)
*Lettering pass on THE BLACK RUBRIC
*HOCKEYTOWN re-drafting (issues #3 and #4)
*Edits and redrafts on a comics-related article

It’s not as long a list this month because a lot of my creative energy has been spent on other things – most notably gearing up for the final stages of getting THE BLACK RUBRIC ready for the Kickstarter campaign and printing. Katie’s been churning out pages with incredible efficiency, the campaign page has been approved and we’re close to launch. Our goal was to have all the pages (inks, tones and any revisions or corrections we want to do) finished by the end of February, so we could get some pages to Hassan for a preview/potential press coverage and then he can aim to finish the rest of the lettering while the campaign is running. Katie’s now done all of her linework and is powering through the tonals/revisions part – hopefully we’ll have everything done today on February 29th, the unholiest of days! 💀

Harriet’s also been powering through pages for BRIGANTIA #2 – all her linework is finished and she’s moved onto backgrounds, flatting and colouring. There’s some big action sequences in the issue and she’s absolutely nailing the character action in those, so I’m excited for people to see the pages – it’s been a long road to get this second issue out but we’re getting there.


The most enjoyable thing I did this month was to shoot and edit a Kickstarter video for THE BLACK RUBRIC campaign (as mentioned above). I had a really strong concept in mind – a loving parody of Immortal’s seminal, self-aware and extremely low-budget music video “Call of the Wintermoon”, in which the band (in full corpse-paint) frolic around in a forest trying to look kvlt. I recruited three good friends to get dressed up and we headed for my favourite spot in the Peak District. Thanks to how committed to the joke the actors were, it only took a few hours to get some excellent (and hilarious) footage on my phone of them running around wearing capes and gesturing at things. The following day, I spent all morning holed up in the studio editing the footage together into a short video, and a chunk of the afternoon recording some frostbitten black metal music and vocals as a soundtrack – considering how quickly it came together, I’m extremely happy with it, and I think it perfectly captures the ridiculous but loving tone I was going for. I’m also hoping it’ll be distinctive enough to draw people’s attention to the campaign..!

Here’s the (<2 minute) video, for the curious:

You can also sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter campaign goes live at this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/the-black-rubric-the-comic


Right at the beginning of February, I took a rare weekday excursion down to London for the purpose of attending Kieron Gillen’s Comics Writing Masterclass session. It was an excellent evening – the room was packed and I made a lot of notes, which is generally a good sign of an engaging talk. Afterwards, some of us headed to a nearby pub with Kieron to have a few drinks and natter about comics, which was a lot of fun. I also got a sneaky pub peek at the first issue of Kieron’s forthcoming new series (with Jim Rossignol, Jeff Stokely, Tamra Bonvillain and Clayton Cowles), Ludocrats, and it’s an absolutely beautiful, bonkers piece of work – definitely worth your time when it drops on April 1st!


This month’s playlist is a real mixed bag – Borknagar (and specifically this song, Colossus) were a huge favourite of mine years ago, and I was reminded of them on the way back from the video shoot. PIST were a recommendation from a very dear and long-term friend – Manchester locals whose new album mixes in black metal elements with their sludge sound. Audioslave are a band that I’ve always enjoyed, and the refrain of this track stuck with me during some of my more maudlin moments this month. Le Menhir is a one-man doom project by a good friend of mine – I’ll actually be joining him on stage with some other musicians for the first ever “full-band” gig he does with the project on March 7th, so I’ve been listening to this song a lot to memorise it. Anthrax are probably the greatest thrash band of all time, so this one needs no introduction! Ihsahn is black metal royalty, having written one of the most important albums in the genre (Emperor’s ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’) back in the ’90s – I wasn’t expecting to hear an Iron Maiden cover on his newest solo album, but it’s a solid one! There’s another new Myrkur track on here because everything she drops from the forthcoming album is utterly perfect (and it will be my album of 2020, I already know this), and the playlist finishes up with the indisputable best Elvis song – I watched Blade Runner 2049 (which features this song) for the first time a few weekends ago and again, feeling maudlin at the moment, it stuck with me.


Thanks for reading – next month will almost certainly be a busier one!

January 2020: Planning Ahead

Howdy, folks!

This is the first of my attempt to write 12 blog posts/newsletters this year – one a month, to recap what I’ve done in that month and help me keep track of my writing. It’s an attempt to be a little more focused and keep my eye on the ball rather than doing things in fits and starts. We’ll see how it goes!

Here’s the record for January 2020:

  • 9 pages fully scripted (SPACE COWBOYS #1)
  • 5 issues plotted/first drafted (SPACE COWBOYS #2 – #5)
  • Edits and redrafts (HOCKEYTOWN #4)

On top of these, I spent some time revamping my website for 2020 with a great new header image shot by Manadh Photography. I’ve rejigged the layout, added some project pages and taken some down and added a store within the site so that my comics are available online. WordPress continues to be frustrating but we’re getting there!


HOCKEYTOWN is now fully scripted; my excellent editor Hugo Boylan has sent back his notes for issue #4 and the story has been tweaked accordingly. The next step is scouting for the rest of the creative team (art/colours) and then we can start getting some pitch pages and character designs together! That part could take a while – we’re both convinced that it’s a strong story, so I want to be sure that we find exactly the right artist for it.

My two other projects (THE BLACK RUBRIC and BRIGANTIA #2) are still at the art stage, but we’re getting ever closer. I’m planning to aim low with the Kickstarter campaigns for those – covering printing costs, postage and a few Kickstarter reward costs but little else. My last foray into Kickstarter (for BRIGANTIA #2) was for a high target and unfortunately failed- second issues are always a tougher sell than a #1 and there were plenty of things we could have done better. The goal is to stagger them somewhat as well so I’m not shouting all over social media about two projects very close to each other!


Just the one Powerhouse gig this month, on January 4th – we put on a benefit show to raise money for a friend of the band whose daughter is going through a horrific ordeal (the story has been in the news; CW for sexual assault). On the one hand, we raised a substantial sum of money for the cause thanks to a huge crowd (probably the biggest we’ve ever played to); on the other it was by necessity a slightly solemn occasion. Still, we played pretty well and got people dancing, so that’s good – I also managed to record some of our set thanks to a new phone mount tripod, so if you’re curious as to what a heavy metal/geek/folk ceilidh band sounds like… here’s our Star Wars medley!


On the personal side of things, January is always a difficult month – staring at the prospect of another year in a depressing office job and the anxiety and depression that accompanies it. This year, I have roughly 3 months to find an escape route (another role in the company or a promotion of some sort) after the project I’m currently on winds up or I’ll be thrown back into tedious work which I absolutely abhor, so that’s a “fun” challenge. On top of that, last January I spent a week on a blissful holiday in Barbados, which obviously wasn’t the case this year (thanks for punching me in the feelings, Facebook Memories!)

It would also be remiss of me to avoid mentioning the utter state of the world and how that’s weighing on me – today is a day that some people will probably be celebrating as Britain symbolically goes from being a tolerant, multicultural, open-minded society to an insular, closed-off one wracked with xenophobia and prejudice. It’s an upsetting and embarrassing thing to think about, and I’m trying not to dwell on it too much – but I have the privilege of being able to do so, and I know friends who are not so lucky. One thing’s for sure: I will never stop considering myself as European, and I will never stop hoping for the day that we rejoin the EU. The people who will suffer the most from Brexit are the ones who voted for it, and as Trump has shown, they’ll keep supporting it until the bitter end – so there’s a long drive until we see light at the end of that tunnel.


Before I get too maudlin, I’m going to finish this up with something fun (for me, anyway!); every month, a group of friends and I put together playlists (10 songs in length) which seek to capture our listening for that month. Here’s my January 2020 playlist:

It’s a fairly mixed bag, as usual. I spent a large chunk of this month with Rush after hearing of the death of their drummer, Neil Peart – not only one of the greatest drummers of all time, but an extremely gifted lyricist. There will never be another like him. Jonathan Coulton is well-written, nerdy acoustic rock – this particular song is on the list because I’ve been firing some emails off for a new project called NEMESIS and this was the only thing playing in my head throughout! Sega Sound Team is from the soundtrack of the videogame Bayonetta, a favourite of mine – this tune plays while you’re exploring one of the heavenly realms you stumble across in-game and it’s extremely soothing. Myrkur dropped a new track, and it’s absolutely breathtaking – I listened to it three times through on first listen because it’s such a haunting, beautiful piece. Wang Wen was a Spotify discovery that struck a particular chord – atmospheric, experimental and emotive. The playlist winds up with a solid 4 tracks of black metal – Fen weave in elements of Enslaved to create a cosmic soundscape for their riffs. The Infernal Sea are plague-ridden black metal, also from the UKBM scene; they have a great sound and a hypnotic stage presence. I was lucky enough to see them and The Great Old Ones at a gig this month, Warhorns Winterfest at Corporation Sheffield. I don’t go to enough gigs considering the strength of the local scene, so that was a highlight. Lastly, Skeletonwitch – their newest album sounds very little like their previous output, which was a lot thrashier and not really what I’d class as black metal. It’s also fantastic!


Enough rambling from me – that’ll do for this month. Thanks for reading!

2020: Here We Go

It’s been a long time since my last post! 2019 was a… difficult year, to say the least. On a personal level, I went from dizzying heights of happiness to some of the most tumultuous upheaval I’ve had, and I’m still recovering from emotional shocks that the latter half of the year delivered. On a political level… well. I’m not going to spend any more time on that, but suffice it to say that we’re in for an absolutely hellish 2020 on that front.

I’m going to blather on for a little bit about the professional level; 2019 was the year when I decided to just go for it, and set a few projects in motion. At the very end of 2018, after a trip with friends to go and see the excellent Zeal & Ardor (Spotify embed below, absolutely fantastic band) in Leeds, I decided to do something with a project that had been sitting on my hard drive for ages in a half-finished state. That project was THE BLACK RUBRIC, a light-hearted, comedic story about a black metal band who accidentally write a song that’s too Satanic and rip open the gates of hell by mistake.

Art for the cover of THE BLACK RUBRIC, by Benjamin A.E. Filby.

I decided to stop procrastinating and just finish the story and get it made; that created a tiny snowball effect with some other projects, and it’s resulted in probably my most productive year of writing yet. I counted the pages on Twitter a little while ago, and I wrote 120 pages in 2019 – including THE BLACK RUBRIC, my next project HOCKEYTOWN (which was conceived, developed and all-but completed on the writing side within a year- honestly pretty impressive given my tendency to be crap at finishing scripts) and a sci-fi story I’ve been working on with the in-progress title SPACE COWBOYS.

So yes – 2019 was a productive year. It did also see some upheaval, most notably with my fantastic creative collaborator Melissa Trender being unable to continue with BRIGANTIA and us needing to find a new artist to pick up the torch from her. It’s obviously a shame not to get to continue the story that Mel and I created with her on art duties, but I completely respect her decision to step back from the project and she’s currently kicking arse in her new career as an apprenticed tattoo artist. She actually tattooed me in October with a design intended to represent the Fire of Awen, a pagan concept that will come into play in future issues of BRIGANTIA – it was very appropriate to have Mel design and tattoo that piece on me! Her successor Harriet Moulton is a fantastic artist, and we’re both overjoyed with how seamlessly she’s stepped into the role – Harriet’s working on issue #2 at the moment, so that’ll be out this year.

Anyway, onwards and upwards for 2020. The goals this year are to Kickstart and release both THE BLACK RUBRIC and issue #2 of BRIGANTIA, as well as to develop and pitch HOCKEYTOWN to a few places. I’m very proud of the story, and it’s my first time working with an actual editor (Hugo Boylan, most recently the editor on the acclaimed LAD by Umar Ditta); we’re both invested in the project and I think it’s unique enough to hopefully find a home at a publisher.

The world is a cacophonous, horrible place at the moment, so I for one take great solace from retreating into my creative cocoon and only popping my head out when I’m able. Take care of yourselves, everybody – we’re only 11 days in, and already the US has flirted with a large-scale middle-Eastern war and Australia has suffered absolutely catastrophic fire damage and loss of animal life. Donate to Wildlife Victoria if you can and let’s all do our best!

From One Steel City to Another

“You’d have to be here to believe it!”

January 22nd, 2016. For most Penguins fans, just another home game against the Philadelphia Flyers- obviously important for bragging rights and playoff positioning, but nothing out of the ordinary. For me, it was the first time I’d stepped into Consol Energy Center, the house that Mario and Sid built; the first time I’d seen in person the ice that had long been almost mythical, on the other side of the computer screen. After almost 6 years of dreaming and supporting them from afar, I was in Pittsburgh, watching a Penguins game. I’m not ashamed to say that as I turned a corner and saw the ice from up on the concourse, I teared up.

Consol Energy Center
The ice at Consol Energy Center.

I started watching hockey back in 2010, thanks to the efforts of my very good friend Ellie who convinced me to come and see our adopted hometown’s professional team, the Sheffield Steelers. I’d been to games as a child, back in Manchester (in the UK, not New Hampshire!) when the Manchester Storm were drawing big crowds to the Nynex Arena, but hadn’t really taken in the game- I was a small kid, I just liked the atmosphere and the music. When I first saw Sheffield at the age of 22, something clicked- it was the perfect combination of elegance and brutality, skill and determination. This was the sport for me.

I watched a few NHL games, mostly picking random teams to try and find one that I liked. I still remember the first Penguins game I watched, against Tampa Bay- I vaguely knew the Lightning’s name, but I hadn’t heard of the Penguins. I was entranced. It was 2010, the year after the cup win but still firmly in the Bylsma era- this was an up-tempo, high-offense team with a core of incredibly dynamic players. They played the game beautifully, and I remember them completely out-skating Tampa Bay. I flirted with a few other teams for a while (including Vancouver- thankfully I didn’t go any further down that road, given how badly mismanaged that franchise has been) but by the time Jaroslav Halak and the Canadiens had stonewalled the Crosby and Malkin-less Penguins in the 2010 playoffs, I was a committed fan.

During that offseason I spent a lot of time researching the team. I had been attracted to the Penguins because of the way they played- after spending some time on Wikipedia, I became entranced with the city and the team’s history. The towering legacy of Le Magnifique; Mario’s incredible return from cancer; how he saved the club and kept it in Pittsburgh; the back-to-back Cup wins; and of course, Sid the Kid and his impact on the city. The story of the Penguins was, to my eyes, one of determination, triumph in the face of adversity and a passionate love affair between the team and the city.

As the next season rolled on, including Crosby’s incredible 25-game point streak and of course, the Winter Classic, I continued to read about Pittsburgh. The opening shots of every home broadcast showed me how beautiful the city was, and HBO’s 24/7 documentary leading up to that fateful evening at Heinz Field convinced me that this was my team. The similarities between my own adopted hometown of Sheffield and Pittsburgh began to mount up- both are ex-steel towns, both have coped with the decline of the steel industry by moving into higher education (Sheffield has two universities, Pittsburgh has four) and technological innovation; our hockey team (established in 1991) is called the Steelers. Even my university’s team colours are black and gold (the only thing spoiling this is that my Steelers’ team colours are, annoyingly, orange and black!) I dreamed of visiting the city, of watching a Penguins game, eating at Primanti Bros’, seeing the view from Mount Washington.

As the Penguins sputtered through that horrific 2012 series against the Flyers I was up until 3am watching every game; the same the next year when Fleury ceded the net to Thomas Vokoun and the Pens advanced all the way to the Conference Finals before being stoned by Boston. I watched Crosby’s struggles with concussion and his effervescent return against the Islanders on November 21st 2011 (that backhand goal, and Sid’s passionate celebration!) I couldn’t hope to count the hours I’ve spent (usually in the small hours of the morning, huddled in front of my computer with headphones on) watching games online, following along on Twitter and going to bed either joyful and animated or sullen and angry (depending on the result), before waking up for work the next morning.

Late last year, I decided to take the plunge- to make my pilgrimage to Pittsburgh and finally watch a Penguins game in person. I went via Austin, spending a few days with a friend there, before taking an afternoon flight to Pittsburgh through Dallas. I was staying with some AirBnB hosts up in Grandview, who’d arranged to pick me up at the airport; as we drove back, late at night, they graciously agreed to take a detour through the Fort Pitt tunnel. The city unfolded in front of me, covered in a light dusting of snow, and I had to pinch myself- I was really there.

Pittsburgh Downtown (from Grandview)
Perfect Pittsburgh (a.k.a Gotham City)

I left the house quite early the next day, eager to tick some things off my bucket list. I marvelled at the sight of the city from Grandview; I rode the Monongahela Incline down to Station Square; I convinced myself that I was sitting just behind Dejan Kovacevic as I took the T across the river into downtown. I wandered up to Consol and bought a Pittsburgh Gold jersey at PensGear, ate lunch at Primanti Bros’, had a brief skate on the temporary rink in PPG Plaza.

By the time the Flyers game rolled round, I had fallen deeply in love with Pittsburgh, and the incredible atmosphere and result that night only cemented it for me. My neighbours on either side at the game were friendly, polite and passionate- I felt immediately at ease. As I walked back up Grandview that night, the city twinkling with a million and one golden lights on the other side of the river and my face slowly going numb from the freezing cold, I couldn’t have described the feeling of travelling thousands of miles, across half the world, only to feel like you’d never left home.

Panoramic Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh at night.

 

Pittsburgh is a very special city. I know I’m probably reading a lot into the relationship between the city and my own home of Sheffield, but the connection between the two (for me, at least) grows stronger by the day. Sheffield is built on and around seven hills; Pittsburgh might not have seven, but it certainly has a lot of ups and downs. Sheffield is the fourth-largest city in the UK, but feels like a small town where you know everyone; Pittsburgh has exactly the same feeling, and several Uber drivers told me they always see someone they know in Downtown while they’re there. Sheffield has a blue-collar, working-class ethos (it’s often jokingly dubbed ‘The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’) which is mirrored in Pittsburgh. We have slightly more rivers (five in total) but they’re smaller, and we have fewer bridges.ร‚ย And of course, there are the people- everybody I spoke to was friendly and welcoming, more than happy to share their love for their city with me. My AirBnB hosts made me feel instantly at home, and I couldn’t have asked for better people to stay with. I know from personal experience how friendly Sheffield people are- it’s often called the biggest village in the UK, since it’s developed such a reputation for friendliness, and it was wonderful to see that Yinzers have the same approach.

And above all, both Pittsburgh and Sheffield have hockey. We have one professional team, a few semi-professional teams, a slew of recreational teams and a veritable army of passionate fans at all levels. Lord Stanley’s Cup was even forged by a Sheffield silversmith and sold from a London shop, so in a sense, the NHL and the most iconic trophy in sports was born in my city. The Steelers have gone through their own hard times and their own struggles, not helped by the collapse of the British IHL in the late 90s, but since the birth of the current Elite Ice Hockey League in 2003 they have won five championships and a slew of other trophies, including back-to-back championships this season and last. As Pittsburgh and Sheffield reflect each other in so many other ways, my hope is that this year’s Penguins will reflect Sheffield’s success- and bring the Stanley Cup back to the Steel City where it belongs. I’ll be watching from the other side of the Atlantic and rooting for the team, as I have done for the past 6 years. Pittsburgh is as much my home as Sheffield, in the emotional sense if not the physical, and I’ll be there in spirit as the Cup is paraded down the Boulevard this year.

Let’s go Pens!

 

A Barrage of Comics

Writing small press comics involves a lot of waiting and a lot of patience- it takes you a few minutes to write down some words describing an epic battle scene, but it’s often several months before you see how that scene looks on a page, after the artist has reached the right bit of their to-do list and spent hours/days/weeks drawing it. It makes it important to keep busy- rather than finishing a script, sending it off and then sitting by your inbox twiddling your thumbs until you see some pages, it’s good practice to start working on something else, keeping yourself busy.

Sometimes, though, everything comes back at once and you have several things to shout about- which I found out was the case this morning, when I realised that not only was the final part of Hadopelagic (my story in Aces Weekly with Neil McClements and Nigel Dobbyn) now available, but that a short story I wrote for Futurequake #27 (drawn by artist Joe Palmer) is also out and available now from the Futurequake webshop.

And as well as seeing finished work come to life, this morning also saw the next step in the journey for Brigantia, my project with the wonderful Melissa Trender- we’ve been hard at work putting a pitch document together, complete with 5 (gorgeous) sequential art pages, and have this morning sent that off to Image Comics to see whether it’s something they’re interested in. Now to cross absolutely every digit that I possess and hope that they like it! #TeamBrigantia

So, that’s the life of a small press comics writer (at least in my experience)- long periods of calm and relative quiet, interspersed with manic bursts of activity. The trick is to try and shorten the quiet periods by getting as many stories out as you possibly can!

All the best,
Chris