Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.
What is the relationship between Hopeless Maine and the rest of reality? It’s a question I’ve been asking on and off for about fourteen years, and neither Tom nor I has known the answer…. until now!
It came to us as we were discussing the stories Keith Errington has written for the island, and how his 19th century is so very different from the 19th century Martin Pearson depicts in his Squid and Teapot tales. At this point, the question of what gets to be ‘canon’ and what isn’t becomes really important. There are a lot of people playing with the island in different ways. Some of these explorations will be published, some will start to look more official than others.
Generally, when people get themselves and their stories to the island, it’s all fine. Hopeless talks to them – we’ve had to steer Martin away from important plot points he’d found without any input from us. Keith’s adventures took him into a space that no one has seen yet but that we’d already depicted for the next graphic novel. This happens a lot, and is why we’ve never felt much need to steer people around what they can and can’t do on the island. The island itself takes care of all that.
What’s tricky is where people launch from – their off-island reality. There’s no two ways about it, you don’t all come to Hopeless, Maine from the same time and place. The answer, clearly is to accept that and run with it.
My other fiction is full of unstable and shifting realities. I have decided they are all compatible, and the result goes like this…
Hopeless, Maine is a rare fixed point of stability in an unstable and shifting multiverse. It is thus easier to get in than get out, because if you try to get back and don’t connect with where you came from, there is resistance. Hopeless is, in its own funny way, pretty stable and there is consensus about what happens to new arrivals. And there is no consensus about where and when they came from and how historically accurate, or steampunk or other their starting point was, because they’ve all come from different points in that unstable and shifting universe.
It amuses me greatly to think of Hopeless as something solid and reliable.
I have complicated feelings about men. Horror, naturally, for they are despicable beasts and I know only too well what they are capable of. Fascination, because they are so alien, so incomprehensible. Their facial hair. The state of their collars. The noises they make.
I have noticed how powerful these forces are, how horror and fascination combine to draw you in. How these inclinations can bring you to offer yourself up to the indignity of horror and fascination.
He is a man of mystery. The first time I saw him, his gloveless hands were stained a dark and ominous red. I felt it then – the thrill of repulsion, the power of disgust. What had he done? And to whom? If I paused and gazed for long enough, would I draw his eyes? Would I discover by most unwholesome means the true nature of his stained hands?
On subsequent investigations I noted similar marks on his clothing. I wondered so long if he smelled of blood that this morning, I was overwhelmed by my own, most bestial compulsions. I deliberately stumbled into him outside The Crow.
He smells of beetroot. Not of death. Not the heart aching smell of old gore on a woollen jumper. I may never smell that again in all my life. Beetroot does not have the same effect upon me. It does not call forth suppressed memories.
But still, the man is a beast, and one stain is very much like another.
As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.
It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is…
Of course I see dead people. We all see dead people, although no one seems clear about the proper etiquette for such meetings. It only seems polite to acknowledge them – at least when they themselves are polite. There are a few it feels vulgar to acknowledge in the street. The one who haunts the… smaller room at the back of… the drinking establishment.
I do not like to speak of body parts, or to name them. But it is more an issue of absence, with the dead people. While I see dead people I do not see (their ankles). Not for reasons of propriety, decency or even careful not noticing on my part.
They don’t have any!
Most of them don’t even possess (feet) as though their ephemeral forms could not quite bear the sordid process of touching the ground.
I am undecided as to whether it is more becoming to have those unmentionable body parts under proper control, or whether it is a blessing to do without them. I dare not speculate as to whether they have (legs) or are just innocent manifestations of clothing with no human indecency left inside.
This image is a two page spread from Hopeless Maine: Inheritance, which is now the second half of The Gathering. Ignore the website address on it, this is an old image, we aren’t there now, we’re here, which you probably knew on account of also being here…
In the foreground of this image, we see Owen and Salamandra collecting inedible things for the traditional Founders Day feast. Islanders spend the day staring at a table full of stuff no one wants to eat and reminding each other of how awful the island’s native flora and fauna really are.
In the background of the image, is a building. We don’t talk about it in the comic, although it is in the game. What you’re seeing here are the remains of the gnii factory.
For a while, Hopeless Maine had an economy based on catching and processing giant oceanic gnii. You’ve seen island gnii – the little lights bobbing about in the sky. The giant version is in essence just much bigger, but also migrates. These are like sky whales, and like whales, their fat can be rendered down and used for a lot of things. When the giant oceanic gnii disappeared, the processing factory closed, the money disappeared and the idea of Hopeless having industry disappeared too. This was back in the day when getting off the island was slightly more feasible.
The giant oceanic gnii are not extinct. I think we’ve got enough real extinctions to break our hearts over without having to deal with fictional ones as well. So, the giant gnii wised up and stay away from the island and are doing very well. They are doing far better than the people who tried to make money out of their oil. Sometimes they get awkwardly attracted to dirigibles and hot air balloons, leading to some failed breeding attempts and hurt feelings for the gnii, and terrible sudden death for anyone in the dirigible or balloon.
The reason spoons are always in short supply on Hopeless Maine, and thus jealously guarded by those who still have them, is spoonwalkers. Being soft, squidgy creatures who live on a cold, hard island full of hungry things, spoonwalkers adopted stilts at some point in their history. Then, when humans came along, they adopted cutlery. Mostly spoons. For whatever reason, it appears that knives and forks offend them and they’ll only pick one up in absolute desperation. A spoonwalker is more likely to limp away on three spoons than resort to a fork.
When spoonwalkers are breeding, they have to collect spoons ready for their young to leave the nest. The trouble is, that maths is not their strong point. Every baby spoonwalker needs four spoons, and there are usually several eggs in a nest. When obliged to multiply four by several, the spoonwalker invariably concludes that it needs ALL THE SPOONS IN THE WORLD and sets out with this aim in mind.
After the hatching, any unneeded spoons will simply be abandoned at the nest site. Other spoonwalkers may well collect them. Sometimes, a happy and fortunate human finds such a stash. Island wisdom has it that if you find a nest of spoons, you can never trust those spoons. They will not behave, and may run off of their own free will. But still, it beats trying to eat stew with a fork.
Drury rampages through the two page spreads in the next volume of Hopeless Maine. He’s a cheery sort of dead dog.
One of the things that is always important to me in storytelling is working out what not to say. The gaps are everything. The silences are where you, dear reader, get to bring your stories, ideas, experiences, preferences, desires and so forth along and sneak them in and make part of Hopeless entirely your own.
I don’t want to tell you too much about Drury, for all those reasons. But here are some things I can tell you that won’t stop you playing with him. (I know you, you are exactly the sort of person to play with a cheerful dead dog and properly appreciate his many fine qualities.)
Drury was a very happy dog in life. He was (and to some degree still is) a medium sized mix of many and varied dog genes. He loved everything and everyone, and still does. He loved rats and spoonwalkers and other small, scuttling things so much that he could only properly express this by eating them. Drury loved being a dog. He wasn’t a clever dog, so he didn’t really notice the implications of dying, and just kept on being a dog.
I hesitate to call it ‘continuing by force of will’ because Drury is made of impulse, not will, and has no capacity to think anything through – that’s not just due to now having no discernible brain, he was always that way.
Often he forgets that he’s not as solid as he used to be and still expresses his great love of everything by chewing and swallowing it. Some of his cannier victims – those who survive the chewing part – often hang out in his ribs as with Drury around, inside the dog is often the safest place to be…
The Mari Lwyd is a Welsh traditional item, a horse skull on a decorated pole, usually taken round to houses for riddling games, and general frolicking. It’s also worth noting that Davies is a common Welsh surname, and that a great many pirates came from Wales. Whether Reverend Davies is descended from Welsh pirates is a question for another day.
In this picture, taken from the next volume of Hopeless Maine – Victims – we see Reverend Davies and a group of Marie Lwyds heading for the beach. Clearly this is not the usual door knocking riddle making activity you normally get up to when you have a collection of horse skulls on poles.
What happens is that they all go down to the beach together. This is a small beach and the sea doesn’t move that far as it goes in and out. The ritual has to be carefully timed. The Mari Lwyds follow the tide out. They shout at the sea, demanding that it let them leave and return to their native lands. Most of the people inside the Mari Lwyds do not remember Wales personally, but they have been brought up to understand that hiraeth is a thing to take seriously. And so every year, when the tide is just right, they go to the beach and shout at the sea about how they want to go home.
Then every year, the tide turns, and the waves wash over their feet and over the hems of their kit. The Mari Lwyds shuffle slowly back up the beach, usually a bit faster than the advancing waters. The sea declines to let them go home. The Mari Lwyds admit defeat and go back to the Squid and Teapot to get riotously drunk and do all the riddles that more normally go with having a horse’s skull on a pole. Reverend Davies does not join them for this bit. He has his own words to say to the sea at this time, and they are not words anyone else gets to hear.
In the beginning, we were going to call the series ‘Hopeless’. While we were with Archaia, (who first published 2 titles, now re-published in one volume as The Gathering) they decided it would be better for the marketing if we were Hopeless, Maine. I can see how this works, but it means that something is lost, and I want to share that lost thing with you.
It’s what happens to the titles themselves. Had we not got ‘Maine’ in there, every title would read slightly differently. The first title does it least well, because I hadn’t figured out the possibilities right at the beginning…
Hopeless Personal Demons
(Now combined as The Gathering, which fails to do the things)
The working title for the next one is Hopeless Optimists – but that might change
The final volume is almost certainly going to be Hopeless Survivors.