Category Archives: Hopeless inhabitants

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.

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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.

The Further Adventures of Drury

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…

Lilly May

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.

Balthazar Lemon

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.

Witherspoon’s Mother

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.

Breaking the moon

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?

Why Donald does not love his dead dog

For the first eight or so years of his life, Donald was just your regular Hopeless Maine orphan with a dead dog as sidekick. He remembered very little about his family, and had no idea where the dead dog – Drury – had come from. But hey, the dead dog was neat, and funny, and adored him and it was all fine.

Then, as so many children who live for long enough do, Donald became curious. He took up exploring in his spare time, going out with other young orphans to poke about in old ruins, dodgy cellars, uneasy corners. There’s an element of natural selection here that young humans on Hopeless seem to relish, even though mostly what it does is punish the curious with death, leaving an adult population of survivors who have learned not to ask, not to look too closely, not to leave the path and never to wonder what the funny noise was. For some, childhood on Hopeless is truly a magical, if brief experience. Not all children want to grow up, and the island is all too ready to assist them in this.

Donald’s downfall did not come out of the darkness with far too many teeth. It did not lure him into a deep pool, or latch on to steal his blood. It came in the form of a book. A book hidden in a dusty attic, that called out to him when he first glimpsed its pale spine. He took the book back to his bed in the orphanage, and hid it under a loose floorboard.

Everyone in the orphanage has at least one loose floorboard or moveable bit of wainscoting to hide stuff behind. No one touches anyone else’s hidden stuff – it is one of the unspoken rules of the orphanage. Everyone pretends not to know where other people have hidden their things. So long as floors or ceilings are not compromised by the stash, and nothing comes out and kills someone, the adults also undertake to have no idea who has hidden what.

The book obsessed Donald. It haunted him. When he tried to sleep at night, his head was full of images that tormented his young soul. He could find no peace. He became silent, ghostly, unable to speak. For two years, he said nothing to anyone, and because weird afflictions are the daily business of the orphanage, no one bothered about it too much. He was later saved from this condition, but that, as they say, is another story.

Sometimes, late at night, he would sneak the book out and take it to a window in the hopes of illuminating a few words or images with moonlight. The book showed him other worlds, and while it filled him with misery, he could not let it go. He learned many of the words by heart. D is for Dog left a hollow pain in his chest, but he could not look away.

The Mystery of Erik

If you’ve read Hopeless Maine, Sinners, you may have noticed the two page spreads. Being the clever sort of people you are, you will have noticed that the two page spreads tell a story that has nothing to do with the main story. The super-attentive will have recognised Melisandra – mother of Salamandra, and will have figured out that she’s collecting a young man and drawing him into her underground, night time lifestyle.

A note about vampires on Hopeless, Maine. Some of them really are vampires in all the traditional senses of the word. Some are energy vampires. Some are lifestylers. The lifestylers take up living underground – for the glamour, the excitement, to get away from the voices, because they cannot bear the attention of the eyes in the sky, and so forth. They are not vampires, even though they act like vampires. The consequence of this is a slow death from malnutrition – which is quite likely what would have happened to them over a Hopeless winter anyway, only with less romance.

Back to Erik. As there’s no text in the two page spreads, you had no way of knowing that his name is Erik, but it is. The reason his name is Erik, is that we borrowed the face for this character from actor Erik Moody, who we met through the awesome Ragged Isle project.

A bit of back history on that score – some years ago, director of Ragged Isle Barry Dodd made contact with us online. He suggested that as we are both spooky islands off the coast of Maine, that perhaps we could be friends. We love Ragged Isle, and have huge love and respect for the many brilliant people involved with it. You can find out more about Ragged Isle here – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870996/

And you can find Erik Moody on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/theemptycinema/featured

As for Erik the would-be vampire? What happened to him? If you know, drop us a line…

Miss Calder

If you’ve read The Gathering, you will have encountered Miss Calder- it is she who opens the door when Annamarie Nightshade brings Salamandra to Pallid Rock Orphanage. Things do not go well for Miss Calder (spoiler alert) as a direct consequence of young Sal’s night wanderings.

If you haven’t read The Gathering and don’t want to know about the details yet, step away from this blog post now!

During The Gathering, Miss Calder dies. In that book, she comes back as a ghost, and from then on simply continues to work in the orphanage, comforting traumatised children with stories about vampire feasts, the martyrdom of saints and what happens when you die. Her memory is patchy on this score, but she’s not squeamish.

As a ghost, Miss Calder does not age. As Owen Davies has grown closer to her in age, she’s developed something of a crush on him. She’s a little embarrassed about this because she’s known him ever since he was a snotty, dribbling toddler. Also, her skull shows sometimes when she isn’t concentrating, and Owen isn’t good for her concentration, which is awkward.

Miss Calder’s mother was a member of the Penobscot tribe, local to the area. She assumes her father was a man called Calder, but knows nothing about him. She came to the island voluntarily in her late teens, fascinated by the name, and the stories. Her mother called it ‘that place we go to when we are young and stupid and have something to prove.’ Miss Calder’s mother had clearly made the journey and survived to tell all manner of tales. However, by the time Miss Calder made her own attempt on the island, getting out had become impossible. Even in death, it is notoriously difficult to leave.

Miss Calder has taken to death very well. She feels deeply motivated to prepare her young charges for the harsh realities of life, and death and to set them a good example. Having set out to learn about the mysteries of Hopeless, Maine she is quite at ease with having become one of them.

She does have a first name, but it is a private matter and she has never felt moved to share it with anyone else on the island.