All posts by Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. 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.

Spidermilk biscuits

This is a piece that came about because The Keith of Mystery wanted to do a Hopeless Maine Home Companion set at the Stroud steampunk weekend. The original Home Companion had sponsors, including powdermilk biscuits. Tom Brown – familiar with the original – did something disturbing in a Hopeless Maine sort of way.

This recording doesn’t really do justice to the live experience – we had half a dozen people on the groaning, all horribly out of tune with each other. It was truly magical.

The Queer Quilting Bee

Here we have a two page spread from the next instalment of Hopeless Maine, the book that, all being well, will come out in 2020. Our two page spread theme for the next book will be people doing the make do and mend activities that keep life on the island going. Partly to tell a wider story about island life, and partly because we’re interested in promoting these things as a more sustainable way of being in this world.

Rather a long time ago, Tom’s then housemate asked him where the queer characters were in Hopeless. It led us to have a conversation about it – for most characters we just don’t see what’s going on in their love lives, so the queer folk of the island are often invisible. But, we know who they are, and when we get into the prose fiction there should be more space for this sort of thing.

In this image we have several ‘confirmed bachelors’ with all this implies. We have several asexual characters. There’s one character who worries about mis-gendering devices (one day I will finish the prose book she is in, and people will be able to read it…) At the moment we don’t know much about the two women in the foreground, but I think they’re a couple.

The other thing we’re going to do with the upcycling scenes is avoid grouping people in gender stereotypical ways. Where resources are scant, craft skills are essential for everyone, and the idea that some of these things are innately masculine or feminine is not going to be a thing.

Playing with Folklore

Some Hopeless Maine insights for you…

Druid Life

One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.

The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.

When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.

Playing with folklore in…

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The Fog Song

The fog by night is darker, deeper, shrouding everything,

No stars shine through, no moonlight glimmers,

All sounds are muted colours dim, there is no hope here,

No hope at all, only cold and damp malevolence.

 

Dawn comes queasy grey to light another joyless morning,

Cold light without colour lacks the power to warm my heart,

I’d dream of something better but I don’t know how to picture it,

There is no hope here, no hope at all.

 

The world is bleak with apathy, too willing to accept it all,

The empty listless life, the sunless mournful days and night terrors,

Fear becomes your companion, familiar and cruel,

There is no hope here, only poison in this world.

 

The chill within my bones has been with me most of my life,

If I ever knew true warmth I forgot about it long ago,

There is no salvation and no heroic rescue,

When the monsters are inside you, there’s no hope at all.

 

(The Hopeless Fog Song features in the opening to The Gathering. It does have a tune and I have sung it in public. The image is from Hopeless Maine Victims, out this summer.  Any conclusions you may wish to draw from the juxtaposition are entirely up to you… )

Hopeless Mechanics

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.

Mrs Beaten’s Beast

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.

 

I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

Druid Life

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…

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I see dead people

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.

Lost souls
Lost Souls

At the Gnii Refinery

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.