Durosimi O’Stoat is Salamandra’s father in at least some senses of the word. But not all of them. He is obsessed with magic, and power and the quest for more of those things. No bargain is too dangerous, no spell too twisted, no pact unthinkable.
(Art by Dr Abbey, poem inspired by the art, and a bit of a snarl at Edgar Allen Poe, who really did say something to the effect that the death of a beautiful young woman was the only real subject for literature)
Those of you who have read Volume 3 – Victims – will know there’s a silly bit where Owen and Salamandra are going to a party. Salamandra has always been good at illusions and likes messing about with appearances, so she dresses them up. I was vague with the script, suggesting that Owen’s might be more silly and less flattering. Tom decided to give Salamandra a distinctly Japanese look.
This caught Dr Abbey’s imagination, and below is his take on Sal in her party gear.
Of course it raised questions – not least being why Salamandra chooses to look this way at this moment.
There are outside the story reasons – that this is an aesthetic Tom likes, and that he has always wanted to appeal to a Japanese audience is most of it. Manga has been a big influence on Mr Brown and there’s a desire to offer something back. Also, this is how Tom does things – he draws whatever arrives in his head and then someone else (usually, but not always me) has to work out how that makes any kind of sense.
So, why is Salamandra inclined to look this way? Has she seen an image like this in a book? Was there a dream, or a scrying experience? Is there a slightly disturbing doll of her mother’s somewhere, wearing just this attire?
I don’t know. Maybe you do. If you are the person who knows how this story goes, please do get in touch and tell us!
There is an extra story to tell with this one, and on this occasion it is more about the materials than the image. That textured paper was my grandmother’s. I inherited her art equipment, and had quite a stash of paper and oil pastels that were hers. It’s been good putting the paper to use, and I’ve wondered repeatedly what she would make of this process. Hopeless is very different from the kind of art she used to do.
I’m fairly sure that some of the colouring materials used in this were from Dr Abbey’s family as well, and that it is a meeting of people in a rather magical way.
I had a lot of conversations with Dr Abbey about child Salamandra as he started getting to know the deeper lives of the characters on our fictional island. It’s always interesting bringing someone new into the inner life of the books, seeing what is obvious to them, and what I need to talk about, and what new things are discovered in that process.
“How old is she in this book?” he asked. I had to admit that I couldn’t tell him. Her age is vague, reliably, for reasons.
It’s always difficult to know what to say when there are things in a story that are important, and you want people to notice them, but you also don’t want to spell them out. How old is Salamandra? Is she a physically small child? A precocious child? A magical child? What kind of child is she? If you’ve read New England Gothic, you’ll know that many of the monsters on and around the island are probably her mother’s children. What does that make Sal? What was really going on with her when she was thrown into the sea in The Blind Fisherman?
Who is she? What is she? These are questions at the heart of the story. I can encourage you to think about it, but that’s about as far as I’m ready to go.
In this image by Dr Abbey, we see child Salamandra as she starts to add wrappings to her regular attire. The strips of cloth have prayers, charms and spells written onto them and they are a form of protective magic that she builds up over the years until she has an entire dress of it. She is a grumpy child, and with good reason.
A very long time ago, I read a quote from Toni Morrison to the effect that often the most important part of a story is how we shape holes for other people to put things into. It’s an idea I’ve spent a lot of time with. The holes are where we write ourselves in, bring our own stories and experiences to fill in the gaps. The holes are where the collaboration happens between author and reader. Hopeless Maine is the project in which I have given most thought to the gaps. It’s also the only project I’ve done where a lot of people have responded by wanting to bring their own creativity to those spaces. It’s a truly exciting process.
Who is child Salamandra? She’s the awkward, unacceptable one. She’s the child who refused to be tamed. She is your lost inner child. She is the magic your child self wanted. She is the resilience to survive bullying and to overcome setback. She is herself despite where she came from, she is not simply a product of her parents. She is childhood rage and frustration, and a child’s keen sense of justice and fair play. She might rescue you. She might glower at you. She might set fire to your kitchen chair. If she whispers to you, listen carefully – she may have secrets to share, or demands to make.
Annamarie is a witch who features heavily in the early Hopeless Maine graphic novels, and who is the main character in New England Gothic. This piece is set around the same time as The Gathering.
Green was always the witch’s colour. It’s better than black for hiding in wild places. I’ve seen drawings of witches in books in their black dresses. People who shipwreck here tell me I don’t look like a witch. “But you don’t wear black?”
No, sweetpeas. Black is not the only colour.
In the daylight, black stands out. Go into the woods in the night and you need light if you are keen on not breaking your ankle or getting slapped about by branches. If you have a light, others can see you no matter how black the dress. You might as well not bother.
Granted, black mostly does not show the stains, but the gay green gown is all about the stains and this is a good story. Jemima Kettle told me this, as soon as she found out I liked wearing green.
You see, for a lot of people back in the old days, green was considered unlucky. That of course makes it a witch’s colour. Like thirteen is unlucky and a witch’s number. Black cats are unlucky, and crows, and all the rest because they belong with us. If you gave a girl a green gown, what that really meant you’d done is got grass stains on her dress, and what that meant was that you’d rolled her round in the grass a bit. Depending on how you feel about tumbling in the grass, a gay green gown is either a thing of shame, or a thing of pride. Witchcraft and shame do not go together.
Then there are the Puritans who get their kicks imagining the terrible things other people are doing and they have their own stories about witches and gay green gowns. The story goes that we get our green dresses by lying down with the Devil. You have to wonder what Puritans get up to on long winter nights. Nothing good, clearly.
Do I dance in the woods in my fabulous green dresses? Of course I do.
Have I made pacts for power? Well yes, obviously.
Are there stains on my skirt? Most assuredly.
But if you really want to know about horned Devils, I think that says more about you than it does about me.
Melisandra is the monstrous mother of Salamandra, the main character in the Hopeless Maine books. Sometimes these things are just who and how you are – Melisandra’s mother was probably a mermaid, and not the nice sort of mermaid…
It is a horse day. Usually tumultuous, the sea is a grey sheen of deathly pallor, and so still. Glass still. Unnaturally so – assuming anything in this place could properly be called natural.
The sky is also grey. This is perfectly normal. The sky is a cold, untarnished steel grey polished smooth and hanging over the sea, each a mirror of the other, passing grey smoothness back and forth into infinity.
In other times and places it is the lively rush of sea foam that gives birth to surf horses. Here, where the usual rules are seldom honoured, horses are most often born in stillness and in silence. They come from the waves that never were. The sea undulates softly with them. Grey explodes into vivid green and vibrant blue. Where colour infects the placid sheet of the poised and waiting sea, the horses come. Proud and wild, ferocious and terrifying. They are like no horse you have ever seen, and yet still they are pure horse; nostrils flaring, flanks powerful, tails flicking water to make brief, unlikely rainbows in the air.
If they come to you at dawn or sunset, catching shards of light from a distant horizon, they may seem more real than anything else. On this island of misty greys and insubstantial, haunting things, the horses in the water may look more substantial and more trustworthy than the uneven sand beneath your feet.
They speak of other ways of being, these horses. They say, in whispers you can almost hear, that if there can be horror, why can there not also be delight? Look into their deep, soulful eyes for the delight they promise. Look into their tooth sharp not so equine mouths for the horror they are capable of. They are beautiful and they are grotesque, between the sea and the sky in this dire and perfect moment.
Catch one if you dare. Rise it in search of dreams. You can never return. Whether you have left the island with them is another question entirely. The sea is vast, and deep, and very cold.
Art by Dr Abbey.
Thanks to Potia for the inspiration for this blog post.
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.