Spring is coming. As the sap rises, the people of Hopeless, Maine consider taking off at least some of their coats, and unwrapping their faces. Inevitably, with such flagrant displays of flesh, many find that their thoughts turn to romance. And so it is that some of them leave expressions of hope and longing on the big black board outside Frampton Jones’s house…
Does anyone want my spleen? I’ve been offering up my heart to people for years and that’s not working out well for me so I’m just wondering if there are any other body parts that would be more persuasive? Can I court anyone with my kidneys? Are you the sort of person who would be impressed if I showed you how far my digestive system goes when stretched out?
Quiet man seeks quiet man for sitting in front of the fire with. Willingness to be stared at obsessively for hours at a time a distinct advantage. I have three books and my own tablecloths.
Small woman with large posterior would like to spend time with someone who has a lot of teeth – ideally not just their own teeth. Location of teeth not an issue.
Are you very good at cooking? Do you like washing socks? Can you make chickens behave? Do you need a powerful man to tell you what to do? Did you shipwreck here so there’s a fighting chance we aren’t very closely related to each other? I will be at The Crow tomorrow afternoon interviewing all of the women who want to be my wife.
Are you looking for romance? Do you long to be adored and cherished? Meet me in the graveyard in Gaunt Town tonight for courtship, and attentive neck kissing. Bare necks are preferred. Lively constitution an advantage.
It is doubtless some of the long-time Hopelessers remember the history or have heard the stories about how, centuries ago, medieval monks from Ireland landed on the island and built a community upon it, totally unaware that they had landed on an island on the Maine coast and not in Scotland, as they had thought.
We now have reason to believe that their community was not limited to an abbey and a distillery; it may have been bigger than thought. In the thickly-wooded uplands of the island, Jim Farnsworth – 7-year-old son of Daniel and Winona Farnsworth – was out late playing in the woods against his parents’ wishes with his imaginary friend Guy O’Hara, 8-year-old son of unknown parents (though we may surmise at least one of them is also named O’Hara,) when O’Hara tripped on a rock and skinned his knee. In turning back to cuss the stone, he and Jim saw the stone was unusual.
“It wasn’t like any rock we’d ever seen in the woods,” said Jim, whose parents allowed him to speak with the Vendetta during his grounding. “Guy and I know the rocks here can be jagged, but it looked too clean cut, like a large brick almost.”
News spread quickly, and amateur archaeologists Hephzibah Corey and James Hansen were interested in the boys’ story.
The young Messrs. O’Hara and Farnsworth, the latter under the watchful eyes of his accompanying parents, guided Corey and Hansen to the spot, which is memorable for a prevalence of dead and curiously crooked pine trees. There they found the stone. The two archaeologists decided to clear it off, and after only a little brushing away of fallen leaves and pine needles, found the site consisted of even more stones, of similar shape.
“We could already tell that what we were looking at was something far grander in scale than any old drystone wall built up by any common farmer,” said Corey, who added, “though I have to give credit to Mr. and Mrs. Buxton for coming closest with their ambitious 100-foot-long 9-footer. We’re still trying to figure out how in Tunket they did that and why, but I digress.”
With shovels, mattocks, and willing hands John Adam, Damien Chevin, and Paula Greenstone, (hands which were undoubtedly difficult to come by, what with Ash Peterson’s archaeology- related death still imprinted on town memory) they returned to the site and conducted a fuller excavation. What they dug up was that O’Hara had literally stumbled onto the collapsed remains of a stone cathedral! Several well-worn inscriptions in Latin were found, two branding the building as “The Church of St. Brendan,” built “in the year of the Lord, 12__.”
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions,” said Hansen, “as the stone is so badly effaced to be certain, but the tens digit looks like it could be a 1 or a 7. Don’t quote me on that.”
According to the team, it is safe to assume that the builders, having made a long ocean voyage, were inspired by St. Brendan the Navigator’s sea travels to strange lands. This corroborates a few tales about the medieval monks that are extant on the island, as well a recently rediscovered tale of a particular accursed dwelling lost in the woods of the island, still recalled by Lorraine Gagnon, a local Algonquian mythologist and storyteller.
When the team began digging at the floor, John Adam pried a flagstone with a prybar and was hit with a stench.
“It was foul and musty,” said Adam, “like the dry fart of death.”
Moving the flagstone revealed something wholly unexpected: a shallow recess beneath the floor with a bony foot. Removing more flagstones not only revealed one body, but a total of 48 skeletal corpses, all in the same state: they were bound by the wrists and ankles, their arms and legs were broken, iron nails were driven through the joints of their limbs and jaws, their sternums were each pressed under a boulder, and a rock was jammed between each of their jaws.
In the words of Corey, “To see them all at once, for the first time…it was paralysing. Of course, we’re aware of things like animal sacrifices made to be church grims, and even of people buried under the floors of churches, dead and sometimes alive. But this…all we could do was stare, in stunned silence, probably for a solid minute.”
The bindings and mutilations suggested that those who buried the corpses believed them to be revenants – most likely vampires. The belief in revenants is corroborated in Gagnon’s story, in which the people from across the sea who settled into their new stone dwelling succumbed to a strange sickness, and “despite their sickness, refused to die.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Corey says. “If these are foundation sacrifices, why did their buriers take such extreme measures? If these are church burials, why entomb so many dangerous ‘sinners’ on holy ground? Surely such a strong, evil presence would taint the ground, in the buriers’ minds.”
The next day, the team returned to the ruins of St. Brendan’s Church to conduct an even more thorough investigation, as well as to search the surroundings for other buildings and a quarry, to find the site disturbed; ground stakes were knocked over, tarpaulins moved, and every last one of the bodies was gone. According to Corey, “It was as if they had somehow wriggled out from under the boulders and left, like every last one of them was Harry Houdini.”
The team will pay for any information regarding the whereabouts of the corpses, and will pay handsomely for their return. They are each a few inches over five feet tall, with tawny, leathery skin stretched tightly over crooked, skeletal frames, and bearing multiple rows of sharp, pointed teeth. They will probably be attempting to communicate in Latin or cussing out in pain in Old Irish if not for the rocks in their mouths, and shambling with stiff joints and a wicked limp, if not still squirming or rolling around in their bindings.
Ask about Hephzibah Corey and James Hansen at the Historical Society or the Squid and Teapot for more information.
There are a number of things you might be trying to celebrate in the coming weeks, so we bring you advice about how best to survive the festive season on Hopeless, Maine.
Those of you who like getting into the water need to keep in mind both the murderously low temperatures and the murderously hungry waterlife. We will undertake to believe that you’re just very keen on cold water and not that you have been driven to madness if you persist in this peculiar activity. Although I’m increasingly suspicious that some of you flapping about in lakes are so undead as to not feel the cold, which is rather indecorous of you.
Say no to night potato vodka. It is not magically better or safer right now, it will hurt you. Just don’t. Please.
After last year we are fairly sure that the dustcats know about Yule cats. They won’t actually kill you if you don’t have new clothes, but anyone looking especially shabby is at serious risk of being pounced on in unusually humiliating ways.
It isn’t Father Christmas, he doesn’t come here. The noise on the roof is almost certainly a donkey. Sometimes they poop down the chimneys. Whether you consider that a gift is very much at your discretion.
If anything has hatched out of your meese stocking, burn it at the first available opportunity.
For those of you who are more recently arrived, please be aware that there is an island tradition of knocking on doors after dark and asking for food and drink. If you don’t comply, there will be singing. You have been warned. Other things also knock on doors after dark looking for food, and the ones that do not do the singing are arguably much worse.
Please leave out at least one candle during the coming weeks. We have good traditions of keeping the departed well supplied. Angry ghosts are so unseasonal.
If you find yourself feeling that you are having fun, check your pantry supplies for signs of mould and fungus, and ascertain whether you are also feverish. In case of jollity, remember that the black eyed meese in your stocking are here to help you and that breathing in their peculiar aroma will put you back to normal in no time.
If you already have a copy of the Hopeless, Maine tarot set, you’ll probably recognise this image as The Wheel of Fate. It was always intended to be a multi-purpose image, drawn for the tarot set but also as the cover of a book that does not exist.
The book that does not exist doesn’t even have a proper title at this stage. The main character is one Necessity Jones, who is an inventor. There’s a mother of invention joke trying to happen here, but it hasn’t quite hatched yet.
The Necessity project started some time before lockdown and then just… stopped. There were lots of reasons. The problem wasn’t really the project, it had more to do with the author being burned out and depressed and having a hard time imagining there was even any point writing the thing. And so it languished in a notebook, unfinished.
It also didn’t help that I’d tried to set it after the graphic novels with no real idea how anything worked at that point. However, last year, I sat down with Dr Abbey and we wrote a book – Mirage – which follows on from the graphic novels. Thanks to Dr Abbey I now have a pretty good idea about how life changes on the island.
Necessity herself isn’t that involved with the characters we’ve seen so far. The idea was to dive into more of the details of island life, which the graphic novels don’t let me do anything like as much as I want to. So, there are some spoilers for the series as a whole, but not many.
In theory, Necessity will get her story written and go out into the world at the rate of about 5k words a month, over on Patreon. With luck and a fair wind, she’ll emerge as an ebook first, and then in a thoroughly illustrated form – probably with Sloth Comics.
If you’d like to follow her adventures with machinery, demons, zombies, night potatoes and glass herons, amongst others, wander this way – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB and sign up as a pocket sized dustcat, a steampunk druid or a glass heron – depending on how much you want to pay and how much other stuff you’d like to get.
Much as we love the island, it does not pay us enough to live on. Patreon support helps us afford to pour more time into it while still being able to eat. And to be fair, we like starving in a garrett about as much as anyone else does!
Barry Lupin had an unhealthy passion for systems. He had come from some distant and exotic land where the natives pracriced such curious rituals as filing. Although ostensibly he spoke English, he dropped strange and arcane words of uncertain provenance into his conversations. Systems analysis. Research protocol. Data retrieval. He spoke these terms with such conviction that members of the Scientific Society who had no idea what he meant felt obliged to just nod their heads respectfully.
The trouble with having a passion for filing paperwork, is that this necessitates having some kind of paper supply. Hopeless has never been a place where paper making has ever occurred in significant quantities. The ‘imports’ available through shipwrecks often leave a lot to be desired for quality and may have already been written on. While Frampton Jones has always supported the Scientific Society, that support has never included a desire to sacrifice his constantly recycled paper supplies for them.
And so it was that Barry Lupin came to the pragmatic decision that he had best paint the walls of his house black so as to be able to write on them with chalk. He was certainly not the first person to go for the squid-based wall blackening, although more normally this would have involved cult membership or occult aspirations. Barry just wanted a viable paper substitute. Thereafter, he was able to plan out his systems, protocols, methodology and other record keeping theories, washing ideas away when he had explored them to their limits and discussing them at length with his bemused friends.
In his tiny, precise handwriting, Barry slowly covered the walls of his home in observations, ordered according to the systems he had so thoughtfully planned. His stairway became a catalogue of dustcat observations. The bedroom he filled with things he had witnessed that defied physics and all of his calculations relating to those circumstances. In the living room he made notes upon the noises he heard around the house at night but could not explain. The first few remarks having been written in jest, he became increasingly obsessed with this subject.
One evening in the early part of winter his friends found him, writing the leter A over and over again across his exposed and painted floorboards. He would not speak to them, and when he had run out of floor he simply continued into the garden. None of them could stop his slow and crawling departure into the woods. Although to be fair, the trio who found him were so confused by his behaviour that they did not greatly exert themselves and instead observed the scene carefully in case future notes were required.
Only later did they explore the house, tracing the relentless ‘A’s back to their point of origin in the phrase ‘the horror, the horror, I am screaming all the time I write this.’
(With thanks to Andy Arbon for loaning us his face!)
I write this, having drawn the final pages of the conclusion of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to describe all of the thoughts and feelings that arise when I type the above.
(edit. I have re-read what I have written. It’s maybe twelve percent of the thoughts and feelings. I’ll try again later and more)
Hopeless, Maine is sort of my life’s work so far. It actually started in a way, when I was in my late twenties with another indie comics series which I will not tell you the name of because you might look it up. Then when I was at a personal low point and living in a transitional homeless shelter, I decided to see if I could bring the project back to life, or hang onto the bits I liked and reincarnate it. Salamandra came to me at that point and the whole story started reforming around her. Fast forward some years to me reading Nimue’s work on line and having the absolute certainty that this was the right writer to tell the story. If you know us at all you will have heard me tell the story of how I asked Nimue to write it and she demurred and I thought I had offended her with my silly comics writing job and it was just because she did not know if she could write comics. Well, as you might have guessed, we worked that out. We worked out a lot of other things too, because I moved here to the UK to marry her. (And she is still far and away my favourite author and…lots of other things!) So, Hopeless, Maine has been a huge part of our life and a big part of how we got together in the first place.
There have been a lot of challenges and times when I wondered if I would live long enough to finish the series. There have been times when, honestly I wondered if I should. Drawing comics is a very time consuming way to not really make a living for most of us in the industry. So much of my life in the intervening years has been spent behind a drawing board and not doing other things, like..living. I think I have been a bit of a workaholic but it’s difficult to tease out the necessity from the choices. I do know though, that though i’m glad and proud to have finished it trough all of the doubts and publishing complications, I’m also really glad to say that this is the last traditional graphic novel I will ever draw. I’m an illustrator now, with a life and so many things that I want to do and people I want to spend time with. Adventures, love…that sort of thing!
Hopeless, Maine will continue so don’t worry about that. (If you were worrying about that) The next instalment is already written and we will be playing with illustration formats. (it will be lavish) We will be doing more Hopeless, Maine music and performance and there is the RPG and the film to produce and more ways for our tentacles to spread. There is just a better chance you will get to actually see me out in the world now, really.
Thank you so VERY much to everyone who has been with us on this very strange journey so far, and we hope you will stay with us for the next chapters.
And here is a picture of Nimue having coloured the final two page spread for the series!
Having been missing for several days, remains of Isabelle Myfanwy were unexpectedly discovered late yesterday, inside a glass heron. Due to the whole issue of being inside a glass heron, there will be no burial, but a memorial service of some sort is expected.
At present, the cause of Isabelle’s death remains unknown. As a 14 year old she is unlikely to have been dismembered by the bird who ate her and should really have lost no more than a hand to a glass heron attack. It seems most likely that her remains were already in pieces before the glass heron ingested her. We may never know the truth.
Doc Willoughby said, “The most likely cause of death is gothicism, which is a frequent killer of young ladies. Isabelle had taken to wearing black clothing and dramatic hoods, which is never a good sign. She was probably hanging about in graveyards, and either got herself exsanguinated, or torn apart by werewolves.”
Doc Willpoughy encourages any other young ladies afflicted by gothicism to call in at his surgery after dark where they can admire his collection of unsavoury things in bottles while he undertakes to cure them of their unwholesome inclinations. I am sure this is as reasonable as it sounds.
Friends of the deceased fear that she may have been taken by the island’s black dog, or indeed a werewolf.
“She always did love fluffy things,” one family member told me. “And some of those werewolves can be really fluffy at this time of year.”
When is a children’s book, not a children’s book? Why, when it’s a Hopeless, Maine children’s book of course.
One of the things I love about the world of Hopeless, Maine is its dark sense of humour. To be honest, I am not a big fan of straight horror, but horror with a twisted sense of fun – yep – that will get me every time! And I love playing with genres, tropes, memes, and subverting people’s expectations – which is basically what the world of Hopeless, Maine does.
And it’s that world, along with its creators Tom & Nimue Brown, that I find endlessly inspiring – responsible for generating so many bonkers ideas in my brain – usually late at night, and sometimes after beer!
So at some point, I was playing around with these random ideas and it occurred to me that the very opposite of the dark, frightening world of Hopeless, Maine, would be a happy, cheery, children’s book.
And then I thought – but what would a Hopeless, Maine children’s book be like? Well, clearly not like any other children’s book, that’s for sure! The idea led to some words, and once I had the story, I felt that I had to realise it in print. Fortunately, when I told Tom and Nimue about it they loved it – I distinctly remember Nimue’s reaction to it, which was to tell me I have a wonderfully warped and twisted mind.
The concept required something new in the way of an illustrative style from Tom – but luckily, he has worked on children’s books before – so he had a style in mind – at least for the beginning of the book. And his drawing, along with Nimue’s colouring, are perfect – wonderfully sweet and darkly dangerous, all at the same time.
I can’t tell you much more – that would give away the plot! But expect a story that starts all nice and fluffy and gradually becomes darker and more demonic!
We’re in the exciting process of developing a Bestiary for the Hopeless Maine role play game. This is work being led on by Keith Healing. We are of course collecting up all the strange things that go by in the background, and working out a bit more about the mechanics of what they do and how/if they might hurt a person.
It means that new discoveries are also being made. Apparently we have ghouls. This isn’t a great surprise on a gothic island with a lot of cemeteries where food is often at a premium.
We’re also experimenting a bit with how art will work for this book. Here we have a ghoul drawn by Tom and inked by me.