Philomena Bucket

 

Philomena Bucket had found it easy to stow away aboard the merchant vessel Hetty Pegler’, as she lay anchored in the Coal Quay of Cork. It had been almost as easy as Philomena’s decision to leave Ireland for good and seek fame and fortune as an artist in the United States of America.  That, unfortunately, was where ‘easy’ came to an abrupt halt. It took just three days for her to be discovered. Racked by hunger and confident, though misguided, in her belief that the ship would be deserted in the early hours, Philomena crept on all-fours from her hiding place in the hold, only to come face to face, or rather, face to knees, with the first mate, who was attending to his duties as middle-watchman.  It took very little time for Philomena to learn that here was a man who had little room for freeloaders on the ship and would happily have thrown her overboard. Fortunately, however, his respect for the chain of command overcame his natural instincts.

Captain Longdown was cut from a different cloth to his second-in-command. He had been at sea for forty years, had a weak heart and really did not want any more difficulty than was avoidable. To the first mate’s barely concealed disgust, he treated the waif-like creature, unceremoniously hauled before him, with great leniency. It was tricky enough keeping his crew in order at the best of times, without having this young woman aboard. Despite her bone-white pallor and long, snowy tresses, he could see that standing before him was a beauty, albeit an odd one, who could cause more than her fair share of trouble if left to wander about his ship.

“You can get off at the first landfall,” he said, not unkindly. “In the meantime, please keep out of the way.” He waved his hand dismissively, “Just go back into the hold, or wherever it was that you were hiding. I’ll get food brought down to you.”

Not wishing to advertise the presence of the strangely attractive stowaway, the captain entrusted the task of conveying her meals to the less-than-amused first mate, who fumed quietly. It was bad enough for a stowaway to be aboard, but for him, second only to the captain in rank, having to wait upon her was untenable.

From Philomena’s point of view, things were not too bad. She was enjoying a better quality of food and shelter than she had ever known. Staying out of sight was a small price to pay. The only fly in the ointment was a sudden attack of hay fever, which, in this enclosed space and hundreds of miles from the nearest land, puzzled her. The truth was that ‘Hetty Pegler ‘ had previously conveyed a cargo of raw cotton from Virginia, the spores of which still stubbornly fluttered around the rotund casks of Irish whiskey now gracing the hold. The result was that her previously pink, albino eyes were now quite red and her sense of smell seemed to have abandoned her altogether.

It was fully three weeks into the voyage that things started to go awry. A violent storm blew up from nowhere, mercilessly lashing the merchant ship and sweeping a young seaman overboard. For two hectic days the storm refused to abate. A ripped section of the foresail came free from the gaskets. It took four men to climb the rigging to secure the sail but only three returned. The other fell to his death, sprawled like a stringless puppet upon the deck. When, at last, the depleted crew breathed a weary sigh of relief as the tempest eventually blew itself out, an extra rum ration was distributed. Their troubles, however, were far from over. They had been blown far off course and it was not many days later, picking their way gingerly through the many islands peppering the coast of Maine, that the Captain Longdown, succumbing to his heart condition, watched the sun sink over the yardarm for the last time and quietly died. Command of ‘Hetty Pegler’ passed to the first mate, a man, we have already learned, not known for his tender heart.

 

The captain’s body was still cooling when the recently promoted first mate dragged Philomena up on to the deck. Stunned and blinking in the sunlight, she winced as he grasped her roughly by the wrist.

“Here is the cause of all of our troubles. This albino witch has cursed this voyage and all the time your oh-so-tender-hearted captain just stood by and let her do it.”

The superstitious crew muttered angrily as they saw, for the first time, the pale, fragile beauty being paraded, humiliatingly, before them.

“Even now she casts some sort of spell. Look at the fog curling up around us. This is not natural.”

The sailors looked and had to agree that the thick mist that had suddenly engulfed them was quite unlike anything they had ever experienced. Its murky tendrils, sinuous and smoky, curled over the ship’s sides, slithering up the masts and coldly caressing their legs. One could, indeed, be forgiven for believing it to be an enchantment, for the crew, to a man, stared in absolute silence, totally mesmerized by the ghostly fog. They quite forgot that their ship, now almost becalmed, was quietly inching forward through dark and hazardous waters. Only when the agonised scream of tortured timbers being reduced to matchwood shattered their reverie, did they realise that they had hit a submerged reef. The ‘Hetty Pegler’ was sinking.

“Abandon ship. Get to the lifeboats” yelled the mate, quite unnecessarily as it happened; the self-same thought had occurred to everyone else.

Philomena suddenly found herself alone, standing on the deck of a doomed ship. She could just make out the blurred forms of the retreating lifeboats. Despite the fact that everyone else had apparently escaped unscathed, there seemed to be an inexplicable amount of noise and commotion coming from their general direction. Terrified screams and huge splashes, as if a large object was being smashed to a thousand pieces by an even larger object, filled her ears. She strained her eyes, still sore from the hay fever, to see through the creeping fog and ascertain what, exactly, might be causing such a disturbance. Mercifully, they failed her and she was spared the spectacle of a gaping beak and long, thick tentacles writhing from the churning ocean, savagely ripping apart the fleeing lifeboats and their gibbering occupants.

It was less than a minute later that the wreck of the ‘Hetty Pegler’ came to an abrupt halt, with her wooden walls still intact, by and large, and bobbing about just above the waterline. Philomena’s feet were barely damp. She gazed about her with a mixture of relief and puzzlement. The ship appeared to have run aground on an island. Had the crew known how close they were to safety and not acted so hastily, they could have reached the shore with ease. Why, there were even lit candles, tiny beacons that would have guided them in. It was almost as though they were expected. She could not help but notice other lights, too. They seemed to be moving, as if with a purpose, yet high in the sky, barely discernible through the murky air. Wading thigh-deep through the chilly waters, Philomena wondered to herself how such a thing might be done but immediately dismissed the question from her mind, as the more pressing problem of getting dry and finding shelter occupied her. Stepping on to terra firma, she sneezed violently three times. Despite this, the cotton pollen that had insinuated itself deep into her nasal passages was determined not to move.

Within the hour, night had fallen and a weak, sickly moon peered through the misty sky. Philomena had made slow progress. She found herself walking a dark and rocky path that she fervently hoped led somewhere. Anywhere that had four walls – three walls, even – and a roof of some sort, would suffice. She was frozen. Her wet dress clung heavily to her pale legs and seemed to be getting heavier by the second. It was almost as if something was trying to drag her to the ground. She looked down and stifled a small squeal. Something was!

Welcome to Hopeless, Maine, Philomena Bucket.

To be continued…

 

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown

Advertisements

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.

Why Mrs Beaten makes so much jam

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.

Things I am up to

Comics making thoughts from Nimue Brown.

Druid Life

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the…

View original post 432 more words

Making comics – making you complicit

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…

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.

Sailing the gothic sea, bound for Hopeless, Maine

Review!

Mind Games with Dr Matt

Hopeless, Maine, from the minds and pens of Tom & Nimue Brown, is a deep, rich world, that is both new and also incredibly familiar.

It taps into a deep melancholy that evokes Poe, Dickens, Carroll, and Lovecraft, and also shows us that we can find warmth and comfort at times from acknowledging the collective sadness and angst, which we as humans, are all touching to varying degrees throughout our lives.

The visual style has an almost therapeutic quality, and it’s clear the artist pours themselves utterly into each frame.

I don’t want to talk at great length about it, as it can only really speak for itself, I just would like to encourage you all to discover Hopeless, Maine, for yourselves.

https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/

And if you are a devotee of roleplaying games, can I also recommend you follow the link below and check out the Hopeless, Maine RPG, which is…

View original post 35 more words

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?

A Cup Full of Tentacles

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….

News for the residents of Hopeless, Maine.