Hopeless Plotting

We are indeed, plotting, and at the moment, the plotting looks a bit like this –

At the moment, Tom and I are working on Optimists – the penultimate book in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series.  Next year we will be making the final book in the series – Survivors. Our plan from this point had been to stop doing graphic novels – Tom has just had his sixtieth birthday, and comics are labour intensive the way he draws them, and the decision was to move into smaller pieces and more illustration.

Note the use of the past tense.

Right now we’re not sure what the plan is, but experiments are under way and I’ll post updates as we have them. Which is likely to be soon, because one of the implications here is that we might be able to work a lot more quickly on some things, while giving Tom time to really dig in with the more elaborate illustrations as we go.

We might be able to have the best of many worlds, with time for the kind of art Tom does, and more of a manga style for Hopeless some of the time, and enough time to tell more stories.

We’ve known for some time now that Doctor Abbey would be more involved with Hopeless Maine as we move forward. We’re still figuring out how that works, and we’re collectively excited about the possibilities.

 

Hopeless Seasons

This blog post has been written in response to a reader question about island life. I have a list of questions to work through, but it isn’t that long, so if you’d like to ask something, please do! Hopeless is and always has been a community project, and  we’ll gladly explore whatever anyone is interested in.

Geographically, the island of Hopeless is somewhere off the coast of Maine, and gets something akin to Maine seasons, only it doesn’t really do summer. Summers in Maine can involve blue skies and warmth, but the island is always on the chilly side.  Sometimes, if you look carefully, you can see a distant line of blue on the horizon, out beyond the island’s inherent malevolence. That’s about as good as it gets for islanders.

The best way to tell where we are seasonally is to look at the trees. Not the dead ones. Don’t look at the dead trees. Especially don’t look at the eyes on the dead trees…

We digress.

Hopeless Victims (volume 3) is set in the autumn, and we do have some leaf colour – far more muted than the rest of Maine tends to go in for, but it is there.

The next book – Hopeless Optimists is set in the winter and there is snow on the ground, and Salamandra still isn’t wearing a coat.

Which means that the final book in the series, Hopeless Survivors, will be set in the spring. Because there’s nothing like juxtaposing  extreme peril against signs of new life and hope.

I grew up in a small town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It is the place the rainclouds often first stop when they’re wandering up the Severn River. It is a place that is more often than not under a dark cloud.  On foggy days – and there were plenty of those when I was growing up there – the landscape would fill with mist, turning the hills into small islands. Whether Dursley is quite as cursed as Hopeless I can’t tell you, but the climate is certainly plausible – regardless of whether you ascribe it to demons or not.

Mrs Beaten on the perils of frivolity

There is something offensive about the way they gather on the beach when the weather is in the slightest way tolerable. They go there as if it is a place for fun and frolicking, and as though they feel some personal entitlement to frolic where others can see them.

It is so undignified, so unseemly. Some of the women lift the hems of their skirts to navigate the wet sand. A few of them even go down there in trousers. What is the world coming to? What an appalling sight for young children to behold! The human body improperly hidden is a terrible thing.

The beach is not a place for merrymaking. It is a place to scavenge, when one must. It is a place to die, for all that washes in there. It should be mournful. Why do they insist on filing it with laughter? What can they possibly find to laugh about? It is such a disturbing sound – giggling especially. It sounds like loss of control, like unreason made manifest. If we do not control ourselves carefully at all times, there is no knowing what may happen. I speak from unhappy experience.

One moment you might be going through your normal morning routine, and the next, you might entirely lose control and try to kill someone using only the fork that is in your hand. It is never safe to drop guard. Never safe to be incautious.

I cannot bear to be near the beach when other people are so dangerously out of control. I must go at twilight, when it is quieter. The risks of what else will be there seem less troubling to me than the company of people losing their minds. I will go only for the most essential and practical of reasons – to see what the tide has bought in and whether any of it is useful. Frivolity is fatal sometimes, and far too few people understand this.

Two Headed Jim and the Death of the One Eyed Goat

I wrote this about two years ago. I remember that is was inspired by something Professor Elemental said – but whether it was that he very much wanted to read a story with this title, or never wanted to read one, I cannot recall. I don’t always respond well to people going ‘never do this’ if I think it will be funny… it was originally posted to Patreon – many thanks to everyone who helps fun me doing this sort of daftness.

Being a grim and troubling novel, set upon the island of Hopeless Maine. Great mystery surrounds this novel, including the mystery of why the author ever let anyone else read it, and the mystery of what on earth was even going on in the final chapter.

Chapter one: It begins in gore. Our central character is liberated from his mother’s exhausted body by people who know nothing about caesareans, but who once had a drunken conversation about the procedure with Doc Willoughby. Despite the two heads, the child is only given one name.

Chapter two: In which very little happens that is memorable, but we learn that Jim Chevin’s two headed status is likely the consequence of there being too little variety in his gene pool. Things are muttered darkly, but no one comes out with it and says ‘incest’ as it’s clearly more gothic to just imply that.

Chapter three: Jim Chevin grows up feeling angry and misunderstood. He expresses this through inexplicable acts of weirdness towards sea creatures. We assume the author means us to sympathise with his condition but most likely it will just make you feel a bit queasy about whelks.

Chapter four: Jim Chevin graduates to doing fairly sinister things with chickens. He also does peculiar things with feathers that may or may not be a metaphor for his troubled inner life. No one around him cares. The reader probably doesn’t care either and only struggles on because the book hype promised “unspeakable horrors that will literally make you cack yourself.” And who can resist the lure of that kind of marketing?

Chapter five: In which there are unspeakable horrors and you cack yourself.

Chapter six: This chapter seems to have been written carelessly and in haste, perhaps in the assumption that no one would make it beyond the shocking events of chapter five. However, at this point there is, finally, a brief mention of the one eyed goat.

Chapter seven: This chapter is an unexpected climax for the story, pitting man (well, Jim) against nature (the goat) and it seems to belong in an entirely different sort of novel. The sort of novel in which men battle giant otters, angry fish, unreasonable landscapes and so forth. Jim confronts his lifelong nemesis, the one eyed goat. None of the preceding chapters in any way support this plot development. Man and goat are involved in an epic, cliff top battle. The goat plunges to his doom in the sea. In a strange act of continuity, whelks are involved.

Chapter eight: This chapter gives every impression of having been written by someone else entirely – someone who only read the title and not the rest of the book. This author expounds at length on the various moral and philosophical truths we can take from the story of two headed Jim and the death of the one eyed goat. The word ‘pathos’ is used seventeen times in this chapter, while the term ‘over intellectualising’ doesn’t even come up once.

Written in dust

Dustcats are clearly flavour of the month, so here’s a bit more dustcatty goodness!

Dustcats sleep in the air, often floating in profoundly undignified positions. It makes them attractive to other sorts of cats, who will, if chance arises, lunge after their wafting tails and dangling tongues. On the whole, this causes the dustcats very little trouble.

To protect themselves while sleeping, dustcats exhale small clouds of dust intermittently. It is enough to inconvenience a would-be predator, and the ensuing coughs and sneezes will wake a vulnerable dustcat, usually giving it time to flee upwards. The lingering taste of dust makes it more tempting not to eat a dustcat, but merely to try and play with its tail without suffering too much. Sometimes small children will participate in this sport as well.

Theophrastus Frog is probably the only person, living and not living, to have paid much attention to the dust that emerges from the tongue of a sleeping dustcat. Often it is of no great consequence. Sometimes however, patterns emerge in the cloud of exhaled materials. A person might observe landscapes – familiar and unlikely. There may be faces – horrific or identifiable, or both.

Theophrastus Frog has kept a diary noting the forms the dust takes. Or at least, the forms he perceives, for there may be some element of interpretation involved. It gratifies him to know that on the day before he died, three different dustcats made a dustface that he recognised as his own. He wonders if there is a predictive quality to the images made of dust. He wonders if these might be fragments of dustcat dreams, given form. He wonders most often if it is just that he is entirely mad, and seeing images where no images exist.

In the dust, he has seen shipwrecks and monsters from the deep. He has seen views of the island as though from above, and wonders if dustcats themselves go high enough for such views. His own dustcats seldom leave the snug safety of the library. He does not think they can have witnessed these perspectives first hand. Do they share their dreams with some other being? Or does the island perhaps breathe out through them sometimes as they innocently exhale?

(This piece was originally posted on Patreon some years ago. Making comics is time consuming, and does not pay a living wage, so Patreon support is really helpful for keeping us going. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )

Where do Dustcats come from?

Dustcats were once ephemeral beings who have, by unknown means, achieved considerable solidity.

Dustcat puppets on the other hand were once ephemeral ideas that are now being reality.

Here is some dustcat fur!

Puppet maker Matt Inkel says that he is waiting for stuffing and thread and then needs to decide what technique he will use.  He said to us “I suspect I will sculpt a head and make a simple plaster mould to be cast in something soft and then attach it to the fur body… I just want to finalise my thoughts on the transition between the two materials and hiding the join and blending the fur”

More as it happens!
(We are now off to rasp our faces for signs of dust)

Dustcats!

Dustcat news!

We are very excited to announce that we have raised enough money to fund a dustcat puppet for our Hopeless Maine film. Many thanks to everyone who chipped in! If you’re new to all this and have a sudden urge to get involved, start here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/bringing-hopeless-maine-to-the-screen-one-creature-at-a-time/

 

The dustcat will be a marionette, able to waft about and gesticulate in charming ways. There will be updates and progress shots, so, watch this space.

Hopeless Maine and diversity

One of the things that really bothers me with fiction and comics is the way that bad history and white supremacy get in the mix. The number of times I have seen people suggest that including People of Colour in a situation is woke and historically inaccurate is distressingly high.

The problem is that so many people have got their minimal historical education by watching films that were made by people who were racist and/or had other issues. American films from the first half of the twentieth century would cheerfully have white men playing people from anywhere in the world while failing to include People of Colour in times and places they most assuredly would have been. It’s not improved much since then.

The evidence is widespread, the art, the historical information, the written records, the photographs… Ignorant of actual history and fed only a whitewashed history, some people get really cross when faced with better representation.

The oceans of the Victorian era were multicultural places. People working on boats worked on whatever boats they could. If you lost a few key crew members to accident or illness, you’d take on people wherever you next landed. Crews were diverse.

And therefore we can confidently say that people with an option of shipwrecking off the coast of Hopeless, Maine would also have been diverse. We’ve populated the island with people whose ancestors came from all over the place and had no intention of getting stuck here! We’ve also kept it deliberately vague because we don’t have the knowledge to depict the specific experiences of people from around the world. It’s a balance to try and strike – inclusion but not trying to speak for people. We’re very aware that the publishing world lacks for diversity, and that representation matters.

We’re not good history, we’re wilfully anachronistic, and we like to play with things. But we’re still more accurate than the whitewashing.

The Prospect of Joy

Why yes, that is a very steampunk looking submarine, isn’t it? What would happen if some intrepid adventurer took a steampunk submarine into the troubled waters around the coast of Hopeless, Maine?

When Keith Errington first suggested the idea, we were slightly uneasy because one of the features of the island is that no one ever leaves (aside from Owen) and this device was so obviously designed the work around that premise. But, as we found out more about his mad scheme, we became ever more enchanted by it, and so, dear readers, we let him have his way.

The result of this, is the rather fabulous tale The Oddatsea – illustrated by Tom. Keith is a bit prone to the puns, so if the title gives you a small shiver of horror, the rest of the book will only prove worse. You were warned! More of it over here – https://hopeless-maine.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

One of the things that is an ongoing joy around the Hopeless Maine project, is seeing what happens when other people get in to play with it. Keith Errington’s novella has been one of the more ambitious moves so far, alongside Keith Healing’s role play game. But, participating in Hopeless is not just for people called Keith and we are pretty much always open to suggestion!

Finding a Blind Fisherman

The Blind Fisherman is, unshockingly, an essential character in the film called The Blind Fisherman. For a long time, we had no idea who was going to play him. As a small outfit with whatever budget we can cobble together, we could hardly go the normal recruiting route. We were going to have to use our network of people to find someone who might be suitable.

There was a collective wracking of brains amongst existing team members.

Nothing.

No-one.

We started thinking about the qualities our actor would need – that he would have to be a younger man with a light build, and that he would need a physical skills set. To fight the sea monster plausibly he would have to be athletic. As we have a team member who can choreograph fight scenes, we didn’t necessarily need someone with a fighting background, but someone who could easily learn how to do the right things with their body. That opened up dance, gymnastics and circus as potential backgrounds alongside someone with a background in a martial arts or other combat disciplines.

So I asked our friend Ruby, who does a lot of circus stuff and is young and therefore could be expected to know other youthful personages. She asked if we knew Edwin, and we admitted that we did not. She told us he is lovely – which is an important qualifier for being involved with this project. Given how we’re all investing time and effort, with no one knowing how any of it will work out financially, we cannot afford to bring anyone in who might make any of us miserable. Being able to work easily together and enjoy that process is non-negotiable.

Edwin Forster is turns out, is not only lovely, but entirely perfect. After we got into lockdown, we started asking our actors if they could do photos for us to share, and this is his, alongside the cover image for the original project this is all based on. Got to love anyone prepared to go that extra distance!

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.