MISTY LIVES!

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So delighted with the imminent reprint of Misty by 2000 AD, and the huge interest it’s generated.  I’ve just done an interview with Samira Ahmed for BBC Radio 4’s art and culture show Front Row for broadcast tonight at 7.15pm (6 Sept 2016).  And The Herald has a great in-depth Q&A with me on the subject (Graphic Content: Pat Mills tells the behind-the-scenes story of 1970s girl horror comic Misty).

But of course, that interest in Misty (and girls’ comics in general) has always been there. I first wrote the below post in October 2012 as a digression on a series of posts I wrote on Judge Dredd, back when the idea that Misty would actually get a decent reprint seemed like an impossible dream. In terms of reader comments, the Misty post is probably one of my most popular blog posts.

So here we are in 2016, and 2000 AD have done a fantastic job of reprinting two popular Misty stories: Moonchild (written by me, art by John Armstrong), and Four Faces of Eve (by Malcolm Shaw and Brian Delaney).

Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of writing the first text novel in a series with Kevin O’Neill that could be described as a darkly humorous alternative history of UK comics publishing in the 1970s.  And right this very week I’m writing the fictional account of how Misty was created. You could say, it’s my own vision of how Misty could have been.

The novel series is called Read Em And Weep Volume one is called Serial Killer. Did I mention that it’s also a thriller?

If you’re a fan of murder mysteries, flawed and eccentric characters, 70s nostalgia, insider knowledge on creating comics, childhood revenge, and film noir (it’s got a lot of noir!), you’ll probably like Read Em And Weep.  It’s due out in February 2017 and volume 2 will be published later the same year.

I’ll be releasing more info over the next few months (look out for a cover reveal at the end of October), so click here if you want to stay in touch and get the latest news.

One more thing: I also wrote a series of posts called The Formula around the subject of Misty, prompted by questions from Catherine, a PhD candidate studying scary kids’ stories, who was producing a sample Misty-inspired comic as her final project. She wanted to know how comics are produced and this prompted me to explain some of the inner workings of the creative process. So if you’d like to know more about creating comics, with particular reference to Misty, check out Part 1 – Inspiration.

And here’s my original October 2012 post!

Apologies for this digression from the Judge Dredd story, but there is so much interest in Misty – the female 2000AD – that there is now a Bring Back Misty Facebook group.  Because Misty was connected with the origins of 2000AD, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys. (On launch: Tammy: 250,000 copies per week; 2000AD: 220,000 copies per week; Misty: 170, 000 copies a week. Approximate figures.)

But given the success of 2000AD, I felt if I was going to create another hit for IPC juveniles, I should really have a share of the profits. John Sanders said his board of directors would never agree but I wouldn’t budge either.  So I left and went back to freelancing. Later, I relented and agreed to be the consultant editor for Misty and guide it on its way, but without taking responsibility for it, like 2000AD. I also agreed to write the lead story for Misty – Moonchild – inspired by Carrie; and later Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, inspired by Audrey Rose, a story about reincarnation.

Without my direct involvement, the stories were not as hard-hitting as I would have liked them to be and some punches were pulled. There were far too many short, self-contained stories, some a bit weak, not enough serials – which are vital to hook the reader – and more than a little “old school” thinking slowly starting to creep back in. Despite this, Misty was still very good, the art was fantastic – often better than 2000AD – and it was very much  part of the Comic Revolution. Here’s how Will Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked and an expert on popular culture recalls Misty: “Pacts with the devil, schoolgirl sacrifice, the ghosts of hanged girls, sinister cults, evil scientists experimenting on the innocent and terrifying parallel worlds where the Nazis won the Second World War.”

The pages below give you a taste of Misty (apologies for the poor scan quality).  They’re from Moonchild, by me and John Armstrong, the top artist in girls comics. And my short story called Roots.  Don’t know the artist, I’m afraid, but it’s beautifully drawn. I’ve blanked the last picture out which was too safe and reassuring and was added by editorial, against my wishes. I wanted it to end on this note of horror with no punches pulled. Some of my other horror stories were similarly toned down by editorial, applying “old school” thinking – not to scare the readers “too much”.

Next are three pages from The Sentinels by my colleague Scottish writer Malcolm Shaw about a tower block which shares an alternative reality with a Nazi-occupied Britain.

Many Misty readers recall The Sentinels with particular affection. Malcolm, who sadly died very young, was same generation as John Wagner, myself and Gerry Finley-Day (creator of Tammy). Why was it mainly guys on girls comics, I hear you ask? Answer: because all the younger female magazine journalists looked down on girls comics and didn’t want to write or edit them, aspiring to teenage and women’s glossy magazines instead.

Malcolm was a brilliant writer of girls comics and also some early Judge Dredds. We started Jinty together, dreaming up a selection of stories, before Mavis Miller (previously editor of June) was appointed editor and turned it into a very successful comic with a strong science fiction edge. Malcolm really deserves a separate article on his important contribution to the Comic Revolution, but I only worked with him for a brief period, so my knowledge of his work is rather limited, I’m afraid. Another of his excellent Misty stories was Four Faces of Eve about a girl who looks absolutely normal but is really a female Frankenstein’s monster-  she’s actually made up of four girls. That was a truly awesome and scary serial with great art by Brian Delaney.

I’ve always regretted not creating Misty the way I created 2000AD. I’ve little doubt if I had, it would still be around today and it could have changed the British comics landscape for the better.

Alas, Misty eventually died, for the reasons I’ve given, but it’s still well-thought of to this day.  Many of us hope it could be reprinted with collected stories, just as 2000AD stories have been successfully collected. There’s a huge archive of supernatural girls comic stories from Misty that would make a great Best of Misty which would appeal to new readers as well as nostalgia readers and their daughters. Although they would need to be the right stories. A Misty Souvenir Special (2009) bombed because – as Misty  readers confirmed to me – it was The Worst of Misty. Whoever put it together hadn’t got a clue what the comic was about and just slung together a collection of boring features, text stories, and “nice” safe, mildly creepy, self-contained comic strip stories.

But it seems to me there is a chasm in the market for female comic readers.  Significantly, Twilight,Vampire Diaries and House of Night are in the same genre and are trying to fill that gap by adapting their text to graphic novels. And Misty works for us guys, too, of course. Great stories and great artwork cross generations, age-groups and gender.

To assess if this was still the case, my wife and I did a straw poll of local kids aged 8-11. The feedback on our poll was very encouraging. The kids read episodes from three stories:  Moonchild, The Four Faces of Eve and my Glenda’s Glossy Pages (a supernatural story I wrote for Tammy) and enjoyed them all.  Here are just two of their many positive quotes:

Moonchild

I loved how it was building up and how they discovered her powers after a while. I would like to read more of those sorts of comics.

The Four Faces of Eve

It’s really exciting, and it always leaves a mystery at the end of each page.

Clearly they are timeless classics, rather than ephemeral.  None of these young readers thought they were old fashioned.

A contact of ours (Jo Bevan) is passionate on this subject and recently carried out a larger, more detailed survey on kids’ reading habits, with encouraging results.  Over two thirds wanted to see more comics available.  Jo is active on the influential Mumsnet and started an interesting thread where many mums were complaining that there were no decent story-based comics for their daughters – or  their sons, for that matter.

I know several women in the media who grew up with and were influenced by Misty, just as 2000AD inspired many artists, directors and writers. A few months ago it was mentioned in the Daily Mail You magazine where renowned artist and designer Julie Verhoeven found Misty’s dark and mysterious content an inspiration.

As John Freeman (Down the Tubes) said to me, “With writers Jacqueline Rayner out there (as well as yourself) pushing girls comics, why the hell is no-one reprinting them?”  Jacqueline’s Guardian article is here, and she also has a very entertaining blog on the subject.

Good question. And with films like Hunger Games – a typical girls comic story – and Black Swan and Twilight, doing so well, how risky is it to do a Best of Misty?  My good friends at Titan Books had the option to reprint Misty, but unfortunately they couldn’t find anyone to edit it at the time. That’s totally understandable. It is a specialist subject and you do have to know which were the cool and popular stories. (Damn! I should have suggested I’d edit it, just to get it out there.) So Titan handed the project back to copyright holders, Egmont, who have since turned down at least one publisher from reprinting it because they weren’t big enough. They may be hoping for a larger publisher, but I fear only Titan is the likely contender. I’ve suggested it to other publishers I know but it’s simply not their genre.  So it doesn’t look good at the moment, but we can still hope. If Egmont gave Titan a new license, I’m sure it would do well for them.

If you’d like to see Misty reprinted, do give Bring Back Misty a look. Or ask Titan to reconsider (readerfeedback@titanemail.com).  Or I’ll pass on your thoughts to them. If there’s no-one else available, I’d edit a collection, just to see it return.

I hope to come back to the subject of girls comics soon because that’s where the Comic Revolution actually began with Gerry Finley-Day, creator and first editor of Tammy. Bunty was great, but Tammy was revolutionary!  For example, these astonishing stories from the early 1970s, all created by Gerry:

Slaves of War Orphan Farm. The wartime evacuee farm is run by the cruel Ma Thatcher (based on Mrs T, then infamous as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher) and was truly terrifying with the evacuees having to fight, escape and defeat genuinely evil monsters.

Ella on Easy Street – a profound and cool attack on middle-class values with beautiful artwork by Casanovas. Ella sabotages her parents plans to better themselves. She wants to stop them becoming high-achieving yuppies because she fears it could break up their happy family.

And Aunt Aggie: a working class, eccentric, ‘salt of the earth’ TV personality and national treasure with a heart of gold who makes children’s dreams come true on her mega-popular TV show, visiting orphans and helping the sick and the vulnerable. Behind the scenes, she cheats and mocks kids, hates them and lives a secret life of luxury, driving around in a customised Rolls-Royce. The heroine is Aunt Aggie’s orphan side-kick who sets out to sabotage her cruel plans.

Okay, sorry for that interruption, my normal Dredd chapter will be continued in my next post with:  “Don’t mention the Silver Surfer”.

2016 edit: If you want find out more about my new novel, Read Em And Weep: Serial Killer, due out in February 2017, click here to stay in touch!

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION 2

“Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion.”

 

I feel it’s time to write a new post, based on a recent comment on my January 2016 post IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION was created from a comment on my ‘About’ page from Martin Hunt about the institutional violence and sexual abuse that was experienced by many boys at my school, St Joseph’s College in Ipswich, Suffolk.

I was very touched to read this account from my classmate at St. Joseph’s, Damian Moss, sent via his friend Rob Buckley about the abuse by the Christian Brothers. Damian sums it up so well.  My reply to him follows after.

“In the time it took me to read this email and the accompanying links I was immediately transported back to that dark place masquerading as an educational institution.
I have an uncomfortable feeling that I was that thirteen year boy described so graphically by Pat Mills.His description of Brother James was so chillingly accurate that it revived memories long forgotten. He and I fought a running battle over a two year period mostly involving my determination to flout school rules and his equally determined passion to uphold the rule of law. It culminated with the pair of us grappling on the ground for some article of clothing- if my memory serves me correctly, I think it was my beloved beatle boots with the two inch cuban heels! Soon after this incident I was deemed unmanageable and shipped off to Beulah Hill to continue my ordeal at the thankfully metaphorical hands of the De La Salle Order.
Brother James in all honesty was a figure of tragic pity. He was inadequate, unloved, deeply frustrated and a raging sado-masochist. Apart from that, he was you’re standard issue christian brother.

Brother Solomon, however, was a completely different incarnation of evil. He was a person of unmitigated perversion. After arriving at Beulah from De La Salle rehab camp he was appointed Head of Boarders in 1964. He was immediately placed in a position where he could continue his abuse of young, vulnerable, sensitive boys in his care/charge. His profile was that of a classic paedophile. He was able to carefully select his victims and groom them over a period of time to gain their trust and confidence before subjecting them to his unspeakable depravity. He was known among other things as the ‘ bugger meister’. He had a malevolent, brooding presence, and was the essence of pure evil. His track record was littered with scores of damaged individuals who just happened to be young , impressionable, and manipulable at the wrong time in their lives.
Thankfully, by the time I arrived at Beulah Hill I was too old and rebellious to be groomed for anything other than immediate expulsion!! He left a frightening legacy of destroyed youthful minds and bodies. Sometimes we need to remember lest we forget such depravity.”

I was aware of and personally inspired by his rebellious nature. Anyone who wore two inch cuban heels at St. Joseph’s, with its ultra-strict dress code, was definitely a rebel! Most of us were too scared and intimidated by these violent, cruel, black-clad fanatics to stand up to them. This was certainly the case for me – my defiance had already been partly knocked out of me at my Catholic primary school, St. Mary’s. Another old boy from St. Mary’s recently reminded me how I regularly challenged the status quo there. Then the nun headmistress – a Mother Theresa lookalike – got me by the throat and squeezed it as she warned me not to repeat my ‘wicked lies’ about the predatory paedophile priests who were endemic in our Catholic community. I really though she was going to kill me. So I had learnt – like so many other Catholic boys – to be silent about injustice by the time I got to St J’s.
But I recall, as if it were yesterday, Damian’s passive resistance to Brother James (the teacher who was my role model for Judge Dredd). As James entered the classroom, Damian very slowly looked up from rummaging in the depths of his desk and gave James a subtle, but unmistakeable knowing look of disdain. In fact, he may not even have bothered to look up, it could have just been his sullen but eloquent body language that incited James’s subsequent psychotic episode. Even from my desk, some distance away, the message Damian’s back was sending out was clear and James got it. ‘Psychotic episode’ is the only phrase to describe the demented and unwarranted beating that ensued and which still angers and upsets me today, perhaps because I feel we should all of us, as a class, intervened en masse, protected our class mate and stopped that maniac.
I’ve discussed it with another old boy and he’s described James having similar outbursts of uncontrollable rage. The fact that the De La Salle order have not acknowledged and expressed regret for the crimes of James and Solomon is a black mark against them which will not go away until they do. I shall certainly be writing about James and Solomon again and drawing their well-documented crimes to people’s attention. So much for St Joseph’s current regime’s proud claim that they are “in the Lasallian Tradition”. Damian’s courage needs applauding. It’s St. Joseph’s old boys like him we need to remember with pride today – “a rebel who fought Judge Dredd”. He is a fine example to us all.

IN THE LASALLIAN TRADITION

Here’s a recent comment from Martin, from my ‘About’ page, in response to a thread about St Joseph’s College, Ipswich.  I think he makes some interesting points.  I decided our exchange deserved its own blog status, so here it is.

Thanks, Martin.

Hi Pat,
I was at St Joe’s for many years. I remember them , Bros Cecil, James, Hugh, Damien, Owen, Gerard, Soloman, Denis Robert, Gregory, Benet, Cuthman, Peter, Terrence and others. They seemed all to have some sort of attitude or psychological problem or were perverts. Having spoken to others over the years about this it does seem that all the Del a Salle Schools and Catholic Schools were all the same. I am quite sure all the stories are pretty much true. The film Catholic Boys captures it pretty well. I’m in contact with a number of people from the 60s and early 70s from St Joe’s, I think some have tried to give details to the police. Interestingly and rather oddly one of the number listed above is still around and his partner (female) works for the police in relation to child abuse. Talk about poacher turned game-keeper! He waxes lyrical now about abuse saying ‘it only takes good men to do nothing etc etc’. He knew what was going on when he was at St Joe’s and did nothing. The pious hypocrite.

 

Hi, Martin,

Great to hear from you and thank you for making some truly excellent observations. As you say, the film Catholic Boys captures the tone of St J’s very well. Although I think it was actually worse in my time there in the 1960s.

As you say, hypocrisy is the thing that bothers us. Thus, I once looked up Brother James on the web. At first I thought it was a truly monstrous De La Salle headmaster named Brother James currently doing a long prison stretch for his crimes. But he turned out to be a different De La Salle Brother. The Brother James from St J’s has died and was described in his obituary as a shy and timid character. This is far from the truth and whoever wrote that obituary must have known it. I witnessed him explode with demented rage and violence when he attacked a classmate and his psychotic behavior still preys on my mind to this day. But despite his reputation for violence and rage, he was also a great maths teacher who knew how to reach kids like me who were hopeless at the subject.

Similarly, Brother Solomon who – confirmed by the tragic poetry of one his victims at Beulah Hill – abused many children. Yet I know I owe my deep love of classical music to him. He, too, is dead.

And I think their excellence as teachers combined with their perversions sets up confusion and cognitive dissonance in many pupils who thus try and block it from their minds, and that’s how so many Brothers have largely got away their crimes.

I do believe St J’s and the Order itself both owe Survivors a collective apology. It’s no good putting the blame on individual Brothers – there are just too many of them to use the ‘one rotten apple’ defence. It’s the College and the Order itself that is clearly responsible. Thus Brother Solomon was suddenly transferred from Birkfield because of abuse (and given a glowing tribute by Brother James in the school magazine), then sacked from Beulah Hill and returned – in the 1980s – to Birkfield as a lay teacher. Once again he was dismissed following allegations of abuse – but he should never have been reinstated.

One thing I find offensive is the caption on the school gates of St J’s today: “In the Lasallian tradition”. Although the College today seems to have distanced itself from the Brothers per se, nevertheless the uniforms, the motto, the history, the traditions, and the legacy are still proudly confirmed in those words. According to the College’s website, the caption pertains – with some dexterous semantics – to St Jean Baptise de La Salle, but significantly not to the Order of Brothers he founded. Whatever the intention, in practice, “In the Lasallian tradition” means the promise of an excellent Christian education but also that it has not disassociated itself from the De La Salle Brothers. So for many old boys up to relatively recent times those words stand for something terrible and dark. Only an acknowledgement of this really makes that caption acceptable in today’s world.

Thus I don’t agree with one famous St J’s old boy, who told me recently how different the school is today: it’s unisex, the Brothers have gone, and it’s properly run etc. I’m sure he is right but I took the subtext of his comments to be that the past is the past and everyone really needs to forget about it and move on. But in my opinion, closure is not possible until the successors to the Brothers have acknowledged what happened or until justice is done.

So I wish our fellow old boys well in pursuing the Brothers responsible for harming them before they are too old and infirm to be charged. I have a St. J’s old boy police detective contact who specializes in investigating crimes of this nature and it’s possible he might be able to help or point your contacts in the right direction. If that’s any help, do ask them to write to me and I’ll put them in touch with him.

MOVING HOUSE

Thanks for visiting!  There is a substantial archive of blog posts here that I hope you find interesting.

I’m now over at millsverse.com, where I’m writing posts like RATS ATE MY SCRIPT!, YOU’LL NEVER EAT BREAKFAST IN HOLLYWOOD AGAIN, and more serious matters such as THE GREAT WAR: ORGANISED MURDER.

On the millsverse I can also shamelessly promote my stories, such as Requiem Vampire Knight and PsychoKiller – available here from Comixology, and my books & merchandise that are available for sale on Amazon.

I still welcome and read all comments left here, and am always interested in your feedback.

Hope to see you at the millsverse!

millsverse logo

A PICTURE SAYS A THOUSAND WORDS

 

PARLIAMENTARY RAPE CLUBBrilliant image by Dave Kendall.

Particularly powerful and valuable because there’s such a wide range of ways of suppressing the truth:

Reputation management agencies. Super-injunctions. D notices. Damage limitation exercises by mainstream media. Complete suppression of the truth by MSM. Only reveal the truth when they’re dead. Decoys and scapegoats. Find vulnerable or flawed witnesses to reveal truth and then discredit them. Discredit investigators, official or otherwise. Enquiries that go nowhere or are damage limitation exercises or reveal the truth so much later it attracts less public interest.

They have a whole armoury of such techniques and doubtless many more. The information about Savile and others was widely available on the web long before it was ‘revealed’ in the MSM; which means all the MSM have zero credibility in this . It will be instructive to see what techniques are used this time to handle the crisis.

The only thing you can be sure of is the whole truth will never come out.

In particular, the thinking of the elite which – as with clerical abusers – includes a coherent and intellectual defence of the indefensible and a very real form of ‘droit du seigneur’.

When words can’t say it all, a picture can.

Thanks, Dave.

ARE YOU READY FOR YOUR DEMONIC IRRIGATION?

Psychokiller banner small

Doctor Morbus, the PsychoKiller, will see you now.

I’m delighted to announce my first leap into the world of digital comics – courtesy of Comixology Submit – by bringing you PsychoKiller, a black-comedy tale of demonic possession, richly rendered in exquisite, eye-popping lurid colour by the fabulous Dave Kendall.

blood in sink detail

Written by myself and Tony Skinner, PsychoKiller first appeared in Toxic! a British weekly comic, in March 1991.  The comic was the brainchild of a group of British creators: myself (Marshal Law), Kevin O’Neill (Marshal Law and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), John Wagner (Judge Dredd) and Alan Grant (Batman).  It was a brilliant opportunity to try out new concepts and new artists and PsychoKiller was one of the very best stories to feature in it.  Dave Kendall is without doubt one of the finest horror artists in the business and here you see his debut strip that is grotesque, horrifying, funny and… strangely beautiful.

We should have collected this story years ago, but – because it is relatively short at 56 pages – somehow we never got around it.  Now, with the advent of digital comics, it seems the perfect story to kick off the Millsverse: a collection of my stories on themes and in styles that are sometimes outside today’s increasingly narrow comic tramlines.

Toxic! was aimed at a popular culture audience, at the ‘reader in the street’, rather than hardcore comic fans.  I’m really passionate about reaching this audience, especially as it has been lost in recent years in favor of more elite, older or superhero readers.  In other words, I like to think you could download PsychoKiller and enjoy it, even if you rarely pick up a comic book.  It’s the comic equivalent of watching a black comedy horror film, like Shaun of the Dead, something that there just isn’t enough of out there.  Horror – yes.  Comedy – no.

Doctor Morbus is a great character with his dark British sense of humour.  He probably owes a little to my years of writing Doctor Who (Iron Legion and others with Dave Gibbons); and there’s something about eccentric Brits that’s always appealed to me, from Sherlock Holmes onwards.  It also owes a great deal to my writing partner Tony Skinner, who is an enthusiastic aficionado of all things schlock, from Friday the Thirteenth to Tarantino. I still have fond memories of our writing this together and laughing our heads off at the Doctor’s scary bedside manner and disturbing courses of treatment.

dr morbus plunger

PsychoKiller is now available to download from the Millsverse on Comixology. Please do check it out – I’d love to hear what you think of it – and who knows? We may bring Doctor Morbus back to continue his rounds on the psycho-ward, conducting bizarre exorcisms and releasing his seriously disturbed patients from their demonic infestations.

pyschokiller intercom

More stories are in the pipeline for Millsverse on Comixology Submit, so if you enjoy PsychoKiller, look out for future announcements!

A FEW TAKE-HOMES FROM SELFMADEHERO’S GUARDIAN MASTERCLASS

I did a most enjoyable talk for SelfMadeHero for their Guardian Masterclass  last Saturday on how to write a graphic novel.    Thought it would be useful to share some of my key points for those who couldn’t make it to London, and have ambitions in that direction.

I based my talk around a new project I’ve only been working on for the last six weeks.   It’s a WW1 series in the tradition of Charley’s War but with a number of significant differences.  It started off as Fred’s War but is widening by the day into a group story.  I’m very lucky to have the artist David Hitchcock on board, who has a superb Edwardian/gothic-y style with tonnes of atmosphere.

Fred's War character study by David Hitchcock

Fred’s War character study by David Hitchcock

MY KEY POINTS

  • Market?  Mainstream, Fan, Superhero, Comic Lit or other?  This is clearly Mainstream and most of you will know that’s where my heart is.
  • Unique Selling Point?  World War One because of anniversary and because there’s a lot happening with Charley’s War during the anniversary years.  Six years ago, it wouldn’t have flown.  See Hislop’s Wipers Times where he said the same thing.  He tried six years ago with it and couldn’t get any interest.
  • Test the water. Hence the summary image which shows key elements of the story.  That went down well and attracted a lot of interest, so it’s encouraged me to go much further.
  • Bible. Use a bible.  I use Robert McKee, who wrote Story. I’ve attended one of his seminars – great value for money.   The fact that several people in the business don’t like him is a further recommendation for me.  You don’t expect his abrasive style to win him friends.  His book is pro-“Classical” (mainstream) and less enthusiastic about Arthouse, so that’s another reason he works for me.  McKee has a lot to say on the concept of “positive and negative” values. Worth buying his book for that alone.  Although it’s about film, the principles for graphic novels are almost identical.
  • Theme.  ALL scenes should further the theme.  If they don’t, ditch that theme or story strand.  I cited an example where I dumped a Home Front scene with Fred’s working class girlfriend, where she falls from grace through drugs (widespread scandal in UK no one talks about even today).  Didn’t fit the theme – so, much as I was attached to that scene, out it went!

Charley’s War theme is:  The ordinary soldiers’ patriotism was betrayed by the ruling class.

It’s almost but not quite “World War One was a class war” which would have meant ditching certain stories and adding others. (E.g.  Add a scene in 1919 when the tanks arrived in Glasgow).

Accident Man theme is: Materialism is almost all you need in life.  The “almost” is the problem for Mike Fallon!   (Accident Man collection due out in Feb 2014 from Titan).

Slaine theme is: “Searching for the Celtic other.”

So the theme for my new war story is:  The World is my country.

The story started with Fred and his conscientious objector younger brother. That phrase “The World is my country” comes from the Wheeldons*: pacifists who feature heavily in my story.   We need more working class heroines like them for this anniversary, otherwise we’ll all be submerged by tales and poetry of middle and upper-class heroes.  (Read about Alice’s extraordinary story here).  * Edit: Many thanks to Fiona O’Neill for pointing out that the quote is originally from Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man (1792).

Directly pursuing the theme led to secondary but significant roles for a German, Frenchman, Australian (Fred’s older brother), American and even a Russian.  So, combined with the conscientious objector, there is a “Magnificent Seven” of the Great War where “The World is my country.”

So theme is everything.

  • Positive and Negative. If a scene starts with a positive value, then it will end with the negative of this value.  Or vice versa. If it doesn’t, then it’s probably exposition, according to McKee, and it should be dumped. He’s right. We hide this error in Mainstream because we have so much action it disguises our faults.  And sometimes we write this way intuitively. Ditto in Lit.  But if you look at Comic Lit, I’ve come across pages which despite being well written and beautifully drawn, were boring.  It’s because they do not follow this principle.  Being literature or art-house is NO excuse, it’s a cop out.  The principles go back to Aristotle. McKee has much to say on this and it’s all excellent.
  • Edit your script after it’s drawn. Some artists won’t let you do this and if they’re top names you have to put with it.  And it may not be necessary if they’ve got a big following But if you can it a) acts as an extra draft  b) tailors the words to the art. c) If artists are poor storytellers, you can hide it with good editing.  d) If their art is empty or even rushed, you can disguise this with extra words. e) If when you wrote it you were having a bad day you get another chance.  f) If your dialogue is too heavy or light you can shift it around, so it doesn’t mess up the art.

Your arse is on the line as writer. Because if an artist tells a story badly, the reader usually think it’s cos your story ‘ain’t up to much’ and blames you! But with good editing the reader will say what a brilliant storyteller the artist is. And you can smile quietly to yourself…

This technique is rarely applied today, by writer or editor, partly – and understandably –because of economics, but it was STANDARD practice when I started.  Standard practice for a reason – it worked.  (Excepting of course editors who don’t know what they’re doing and made changes, e.g., in Charley’s War, Charley’s working class catchphrase: “Alf a Mo” regularly got altered by the editor to “Half a Moment”. FFS!

I have to say, I enjoyed my first tutorial in a helluva long time.  There’s something in this teaching business.  Hope it was useful to you, too.

Some pictures from the day

First unveiling of David Hitchcock's Fred's War character study to the public.

First unveiling of David Hitchcock’s Fred’s War character study to the public.

One of David's previous projects: the wonderfully creepy The Signalman, by Dickens.

One of David’s previous projects: the wonderfully creepy The Signalman.

Inspiration for my theme 'The World is my country': The Wheeldons, whose efforts saved countless lives during WW1.

Inspiration for my theme ‘The World is my country’: The Wheeldons, whose efforts saved countless lives during WW1.

I was invited to take part in a panel after the talks.  With Roger Sabin, academic and author, Emma Hayley, Managing Director of SelfMadeHero, Alex Fitch, Panelborders.

I was invited to take part in a panel after the talks with Roger Sabin, academic and author, and Emma Hayley, Managing Director of SelfMadeHero.  Chaired by Alex Fitch, Panelborders.

pat mills emma hayley alex fitch selfmadehero guardian masterclass

Gathering for a group shot of the last remaining stragglers.  Deeply admiring of Paul Gravett's snazzy jacket.

Gathering for a group shot of the last remaining stragglers. Deeply admiring of Paul Gravett’s snazzy jacket.

Paul Gravett, Audrey Niffenegger, Pat Mills, Roger Sabin, Alex Fitch.

Paul Gravett, Audrey Niffenegger, Pat Mills, Roger Sabin, Alex Fitch.

And we manage to squeeze illustrator JAKe in, too.

And we manage to squeeze illustrator JAKe in, too.

Big thanks to SelfMadeHero and the Guardian Masterclass teams who invited me along, and made it all happen!