You’ll meet Lilly May in volume 3 of the Hopeless Maine series. She doesn’t have a big role in this book, but she’s an important part of the rest of the story, and you’ll be seeing a good deal more of her. As you can see from this image, she’s an inventor. This isn’t my colouring, this is an early version Tom did because we needed a coloured version for the Stroud Steampunk Weekend poster.
Lilly May also features significantly in a prose book I started writing last year and fell out of and may well go back to.
So here are some things about Lilly May that aren’t obvious in the next graphic novel.
She uses the walking chair because she had polio as a child and doesn’t have much lower body strength as a consequence. She can stand up and move short distances, but mostly she needs the chair to get around. The chair is of her own designing, she built it, and she maintains it herself.
Lilly May spent most of her childhood at the orphanage, and built her chair in what had been Owen’s workshop, using scrap he’d collected. She is entirely self taught. Owen has no idea she’s been using his workshop, which is probably as well because Lilly May does things with magic that would make Own uneasy.
This became apparent to me while Keith Healing was developing the Hopeless Maine role play game and put together some mechanics for demon devices – a means by which players can put demons in devices to get stuff done. I’ve not paid too much attention to the game mechanics while writing, but I liked the idea, so made off with it. Lilly May’s chair has an entity residing in it. A detail that isn’t in the game – demons often like to be warm. Hopeless is a cold, damp place and sometimes demons make pacts on the basis of spending their time very close to a warm, dry boiler. Perhaps these are old, tired demons. I’m not sure.
At fifteen, Lilly May is already heartily sick of how people respond to both her face and her chair. She has little time for anyone not smelling faintly of oil and metal, unless perhaps they can offer her something on the magical side.
Things we know for sure about Balthazar Lemon – he is Salamandra’s grandfather, by dint of being Melisandra’s father. He is an inventor and built the lighthouse. He has a bit of a thing about fish.
Things we do not really know about Balthazar Lemon – what he did after the end of The Gathering. How he build the lighthouse. Why he has a bit of a thing about fish – although when questioned about this with regards to the fish powered church organ, he responded by asking what we though God smelled like.
His imagery suggests Chinese origins. Balthazar is more of a Middle Eastern name. Lemon is not a surname to naturally go with either. I do this on purpose. Partly because the population of Hopeless is diverse while the author lacks sufficient knowledge to accurately portray people from everywhere. Partly because I like ambiguity, and uncertainty, and combining names and imagery in ways that are out of kilter is a way of doing that. Partly because Hopeless is not neatly part of our world.
We never see Salamandra’s maternal grandmother, we only hear about her occasionally from other people. She’s one of the many invisible women in the story. In the second half of The Gathering, Sophie Davies tells Salamandra a story about who her grandmother was. While we never deal with this in the books, I’m about 90% sure that Sophie was lying about some of the details, and that she wanted to give young Sal a story that would help her deal with her actual family. Taking into account how Balthazar feels about sea life, I’m fairly sure that the woman who was never known to anyone as ‘Mrs Lemon’ simply returned to the sea. She may have been something a bit like a mermaid. For all we know, she may still be out there.
Sometimes, when it is late and she does not sleep, Mrs Beaten misses her husband. She thinks at great lengths of the things they did together, late at night, when there was no one else to see, or judge. She considers it important to be clandestine about some things. It is a gesture of respect to your neighbours to make sure that they have little or no idea what you do. One should have multiple lines for laundry so that items revealing too much can be hidden from viewing.
Mrs Beaten notes that it is curious how one can hate a thing at the time and miss it when it is gone. This is true of both her late husband, and the things he liked to do in the night. She does not regret his absence.
Sometimes, when the town is too quiet, and there is no sound of wind or wave to distract her, Mrs Beaten stalks her own kitchen at night. She reaches for the jams that did not quite work. For the fish jams, and the crab jams that of course aren’t sweet, or pleasant, or anything at all like jam, but which keep through the winter… She opens them, and painful compulsion takes over. She smears the contents onto her skin, her clothing or even her hair. Sometimes she wails aloud as she does this, but only very quietly so that none of the neighbours will notice her keening sounds as anything distinctive amongst the night cries of the island.
On the following morning she will have to clean herself and her home, as she always did. It feels less shameful, now. She does not judge herself for these compulsions.
Working on the Hopeless Maine graphic novel, things have occurred to me about how the whole comics making process works. One of the things that struck me recently (over the head, with a damp tentacle) was the way in which a comic creates the perspective of the viewer. How a comic is drawn tells you who you are in relation to what you’re seeing.
Many comics favour a filmic approach to the art. Exciting angles, worm’s eye view, bird’s eye view, Dutch angles (when you tilt the camera). Distance shots, medium shots, close ups. You see the world of the comic as a camera would see it, as though you are watching a film. It can be a way of creating surprising and dramatic art, and showing off the artist’s grasp of perspective, space and angles. In terms of creating good art, this may be a significant factor.
When you watch a comic as though it was a film, stood on the outside, seeing through an imaginary set of cameras, you are outside the story. You are an observer, and the story is something you see, not something you participate in. Films show us streams of images that make sense, and that we can just look at with little effort on our part. Comics show us static images and we have to provide the motion and sound track in our heads. We have to turn the written words into voices. Comics require us to be much more active participants in bringing the story to life.
We don’t do a lot of fancy angles with Hopeless, Maine. There has been occasional criticism of this. Tom does the odd Dutch angle, but he points out that this is often what happens when you tilt your head to look at something. Most of the time, the perspective the reader gets is the perspective of someone standing, or sitting in the same scene. You might not be on an absolute level with the characters, but the eye view you get suggests that you are a person and in there with them.
It may not be a coincidence that so many people have been able to imagine themselves as just that – on the island. This blog is rich with contributions from people who have no trouble imagining they were there. Of course you were there. You’ve seen it with your own eyes…
This is Mrs Witherspoon. She cooks at the orphanage, and teaches cooking. By ‘cooks’ I mean that she is incredibly adept at chopping up things and boiling them, and has an absolute confidence about what can be eaten, even if it does fight back when being dished up. In fairness to her, no one has ever died as a result of Mrs Witherspoon’s cooking, although a fair few people have chosen to go hungry instead. Learning not to be too fussy is a good life skill on Hopeless, Maine.
Like many women in history, her personal identity is obscured. Her surname is not the one she was born with. The late Mr Witherspoon – who we never really see, but whose existence can be inferred from her presence, was Reverend and orphanage manager before Reverend Davies took up the job.
In the portrait, we see her at her best, armed with the tools of her trade and the medium of her art – tentacles. However, as with Whistler’s Mother (a painting we clearly haven’t stolen from even a little bit) the woman in the image is defined by her relationship to the artist. Even as she’s represented, she’s being erased as a person in her own right. Do we succumb to the temptation to ask who the younger Witherspoon is? Are we interested in the artist? Or are we interested in the woman who has been made a subject of the art?
Mrs Witherspoon herself doesn’t say much. Like so many women whose lives have made them invisible, she’s never said much to anyone about her own experiences. She’s seen a great deal that she will never speak of. She knows secrets – most especially the secrets of the Reverends of Hopeless Maine. Her silence supports and enables. It facilitates. It does not challenge or question or offer a counter narrative. Hers is the silent complicity of women through history who have been willing to believe that the men know best and should lead and not be questioned… Women who have done this not in ignorance, but in full knowledge of what they were going along with.
Mrs Witherspoon believes in feeding orphans. She does not believe in questioning why there are so many orphans to begin with. She is not the sort of person to cause trouble by suggesting any of the things that might reduce the number of orphans in the first place. She is certainly not the sort of woman to create a scandal by letting any breath of a whisper escape into the world about how many of the orphans she has tended were actually her husband’s children.
Perhaps that’s why, if you look at the picture in the background, Witherspoon the Younger has suggested a rather unsavoury fate for Mrs Witherspoon.
As far as I know, this is the first picture Tom ever did of Salamandra breaking the moon. It’s about ten years old. I don’t think at this point we knew why she was breaking the moon, either.
Those of you who have read either Inheritance as a standalone book, or as the second half of The Gathering, will know that Sal breaks the moon at the end of that book. Or appears to. Whether it is illusion, she never says. Is she really strong enough to split the moon in half and then put it back together later when no longer in a fit of pique? If she is strong enough, why is she hanging about on a small, grim island? Why hasn’t she taken over the world?
As the story unfolds, the questions of who and what Salamandra really is, what she can do, and what her limits are, remains pertinent. Obviously I’m not going to give you any spoilers for future books at this point!
In the meantime though, here are some things to ponder. What are the limits of your powers? How do you know? Why are you living the life you are living and not rushing off to do something far more dramatic and important? What are the limiting factors on your ability to change the world?
A few years ago, Tom, James and I started singing together in a more organised sort of way, doing three part harmonies in a folk style. We started because we had regular events locally with floor spots and because it turned out that James could hold a tune no matter what and that harmonies could be built around him to good effect.
Nearly two years ago at an event in Shropshire we found that the space we’d been put in wasn’t suitable at all for the workshop we’d planned, and off the cuff, changed gear and sang a set instead. We got away with it, and, motivated by this, I wrote the Hopeless Maine sea shanty.
About eighteen months ago we were invited to do a Saturday evening event as part of Stroud Book Festival. Now, graphic novels do not lend themselves to public performance – you can’t read from then, or hold them up in a meaningful way for more than a table’s worth of people. And Gods help me, I am not getting into powerpoint projections. So we undertook to sing, putting together a set of songs around which we could talk about Hopeless. It went well, and since then we’ve taken that mix of stories and songs to other events.
Last weekend we were in Gloucester as part of the folk trail, with a set in the Victorian school room at the folk museum. When we do steampunk events, we tend to bill ourselves as Hopeless Maine because there’s a fighting chance people have heard of it. On the folk side, less so. When we go out as a folk activity, we’re A Cup Full of Tentacles – named for a piece of art Tom did some years ago. And yes, on one occasion someone did put us on as ‘a cup full of testicals’ instead.
For the folk trail, Saffy made us an actual cup full of tentacles (photo below). Saffy is awesome. You can find out more about her here – http://www.snell-pym.org.uk/
And here’s the original cup….