Tag Archives: Hopeless Maine

A new Spoonwalker in the family

The continuing adventures of the spoonwalker hereby commence!

I got a message from Gregg McNeill (Yes, that’s the same Gregg from Darkbox Photography and the film project. Well done for keeping up!) asking to borrow my Spoonwalker as he wanted to do a photographic print of a Spoonwalker in a bell jar. I was thrilled at the idea! Then I had a closer look at the Spoonwalker I had made and realised he would never survive the trip through the post. He’s made of air dry clay and wire (and spoons, obviously). I then remembered that I was owed a favour by a well known maker and creator of wonders. None other than Herr Döktor! I contacted him at his lair of strange and sometimes dangerous things and asked if the favour I owed him would  equate to something like a Spoonwalker. As it turned out, it did! (or near enough!) So we now have a new Spoonwalker in the family. Here we see a progress shot and the little bloke himself  and a charming rampage in the garden. There are plans for a Spoonwalker II now, who might be cast so that more of the charming (and slightly unsettling) little creatures might be unleashed on a now vaguely suspecting world. The one you see here, will now be sent to Gregg so that he might be the subject of an utterly splendid photographic print using vintage processes.

 

The film story – going public

For some weeks now I’ve been telling the story of the Hopeless Maine film project, how it got started and what’s happened along the way. The decision to go public with it as a process came some way into the journey.

Normally films turn up in the world as finished items. We may have had some teasers along the way – usually around casting, but the process remains largely hidden. This is fine when you have a massive budget to make a film and another massive budget to promote it. We started with only our own money. We aren’t a studio, none of us are famous enough that our names guarantee the project success. We can’t whip out a Hopeless Maine film from nowhere and expect many people to care.

The two main considerations were, how we fund the film and how we find an audience. So, it made sense to go public as a way of tackling those specific issues. We’ve started crowdsourcing to fund the puppets, which means we can get started there and hopefully the progress we make will enthuse people and build interest around the project as a whole.

There are also a lot of other, less businesslike reasons for doing it this way. We’re a team of steampunks, for the greater part. We belong to a community and we met each other through those community spaces. The desire to feed back to said community is strong. We want to bring people with us because we feel there are a lot of people who are our people, and who are a key part of the context in which this is all happening. And we want to give back by sharing what we’re doing.

Hopeless Maine was always intended to be a community project. Tom has brought all sorts of people into it in different ways over the years. Not all of them stuck around, some of us did. I’m not his first author, but I am the one it’s been hardest to get rid of! As Hopeless lays its various strange eggs in other people’s minds, we want to say yes to that, to open up space for other people and other visions.

Also, this is the bit that I can do. I can tell you the story of what happened. I’m the least experienced team member, the one with the fewest relevant skills. It is incredibly exciting watching what everyone else is doing with this and seeing how amazing the team are. But from here, I will mostly be loitering at the edges, because there’s not much I can usefully do. Hold the odd puppet maybe.

I’m telling the story of the project as it unfolds because that lets me feel like I’m still involved, which is nice. Thank you for giving me that space.

Questions of setting

One of the key questions to ask when making a film, is where you are going to do the filming. We have one camera that isn’t going to be that mobile. At present, we’re crowdfunding the project so it may be fair to assume that our budget is small. That in turn means filming quickly and not using multiple locations.

Happily for us, the early film makers faced similar problems, so their solutions can be our solutions. Many early films were made on sets that were painted and owed far more to theatre than the real world. This of itself creates a dreamlike unreality, very different from conventional modern films and wholly suitable for capturing Hopeless Maine.

With a script in place, we started talking in earnest about how, technically, we might do any of this. The conclusions we came to were that our best bet would be warehouse space. Sets would be painted, dressed, we’d have to figure out workarounds for the sea, because there’s a lot of sea in this story but we don’t want anyone in real water with actual boats. Matt Inkel, our puppet maker alerted us to the fact that he can also do models, so exteriors of buildings will be handled that way. Loretta and I are both comfortable wielding paintbrushes, so we might be doubling up on the painting for skies and backgrounds and whatnot.

There’s a lot to work out. We aren’t at this point a studio, we aren’t used to thinking as a group about what needs to be done. We’re figuring out how to develop ideas collectively, and finding out what broader skills we have that might be relevant. There are two processes going on here – one of sorting out all the technical bits and pieces that need figuring out in order to make a film. The other is a process of figuring ourselves out as a team. Who we are and what we do. Where the spaces are that mean we need to bring other people in to help us. Who those people are. How we work together is an essential part of the process, so the existing relationships we have are key.

And of course as we work together, those relationships grow and change, we find new potential in each other, new relevant skills, and things we might do moving forward. There is a magic to it, definitely.

 

Stuck in a hedge

I believe it was John Boden of Bellowhead who introduced The Pricklie Bush as a song about a man stuck in a hedge. I came to that story via Genevieve Tudor – who does a most excellent folkshow on Radio Shropshire and which you can (should!) listen to online if you like that sort of music. If you don’t like that sort of music, flee now, this post is not for you.

I wrote a Hopeless Maine version of this song. Normally I try and write more original things, but it’s a song with a great tune and chorus, and I find the original verses a bit dull. Also, getting stuck in a bush seemed like a Hopeless sort of thing, we have a lot of prickly bushes, fruit and inedible plant matter.

James and I recorded this one for the Steampunk Over Ether Festival, held online recently. It’s not the best recording of anything I’ve ever done, there’s a crunchy moment at the start which bothers me, but at the same time, we are all very tired and that wasn’t the first attempt. Hopefully it will amuse you anyway…

Tom was unwell when we did the recording, but he’s far less covered in tentacles now and is expected to make a full recovery.

Film Studies with Gregg McNeill

Having spent a lot of time at Steampunks in Space talking about early films with Gregg McNeill, we clearly had homework to do. Film is not a medium I’ve ever worked in and I don’t have a very visual mind. I have written scripts – for the comics, and also for mumming sides, so I knew just enough to know I was out of my depth. We set out on a process to steep me in old films in the hopes that this would enable me to write a viable script.

Some of it was a bit random, as Tom and I wandered about on youtube and online archives. Some of it was very deliberate as Gregg steered us towards things, and alerted us to details we should be considering. How the text boards are done. How the sets are put together. The lighting and mood. I would have to write for period appropriate technology, one camera that can’t move much, a small budget… there was a lot to think about.

Several period films became key to us during this process. One was Nosferatu – the way the lighting and shadows work there. The one that most impacted on me was The Cabinet of Dr Caligari because of the way in which the sets are painted. I realised this was the kind of look I wanted for us, and after consulting with Gregg it became apparent that this might be the most realistically affordable approach for us.

Having started this whole venture from the observation that there are parallels between silent films and comics, it because vital to dig in on those mechanics. A silent film needs a script for the actors to work from, and it also needs text cards to support that and guide the viewer. Gregg directed us to early Buster Keaten films for the most effective and minimal use of text cards. That became a bit of an obsession all by itself and there is a part of me that wants to make that kind of film. This may be a story for another day…

So much would depend on finding a team of people for the human characters who could embody what’s going on and get it across. The acting style in silent films is not the same as modern films. I admit that I love the more overblown acting approaches, and for several of our characters – Durosimi and Melisandra – that would make a lot of sense. The more we looked at films, the more aware I became that I needed to know who I was writing for. It wouldn’t work for us to have a script and try to cast it.

There was only ever one person I wanted to have playing Annamarie Nightshade. There is only one person I could imagine playing Melisandra. But would they be up for it? And who else should be in that team?

Check back next week for the next instalment of how we did all the crazy things…

And do have a look at Gregg McNeill’s patreon page – https://www.patreon.com/DarkboxImages

Cat, Greta and Hopeless

What prompted us to think that making a Hopeless Maine black and white filmA Hopeless Film was a good idea? Let me tell you a story…

It started at Pagan Pride in Nottingham, in the summer of 2018. We stayed with Cat Treadwell, which was a wonderful thing to get to do. She was having a bit of a clear out, and we came home with a box set of Greta Garbo DVDs.

My maternal grandmother was a great fan of Greta Garbo, so this had pushed some nostalgia buttons for me. Garbo was one of the few actors to make the transition from silent films to talkies, and some of the films in the box set were silent.

Watching these films together, Tom and I were struck by the technical similarities between comics and silent films. There’s less space for text in a silent film, making the interplay between what’s done as an image and what is words closer to comics than to modern film, I reckon. Facial expressions are super-important in both forms, and often more stylised than naturalistic.

We spent a lot of time talking about all of this, initially just because it interested both of us. We were wondering what we could learn from silent films that would help us as comics creators. Somewhere in those conversations, Tom said something to the effect that he thought The Blind Fisherman would make an excellent black and white silent movie in the style of these period pieces. I agreed, and at the time that seemed to be the whole of it.

But of course it wasn’t.

So we feel it is entirely reasonable to hold Cat Treadwell responsible for being the catalyst that started this whole idea. You can find Cat’s Hopeless Maine story here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/threads/

And find Cat here – https://druidcat.wordpress.com/

 

The Blind Fisherman

The Blind Fisherman is a sequence of illustrations and poems that you can currently find at the front of Hopeless Maine, The Gathering.

Before we get any further, I’d like to mention that the fisherman in question matches the legal definition of ‘blind’ in that he has significant sight impairment, not total blindness. This is most usually the way of it. Some of the things he does in the sequence have a magical component to them which is why he binds his eyes – it’s just better not to be distracted by looking.

This sequence began life the autumn we launched Hopeless Maine as a webcomic (back when we were itisacircle.com). We’d started this Hopeless Vendetta site already while we were waiting for technical stuff on the webcomic. Tom wanted to launch with something a bit special, and also he is slightly masochistic, so he did this series of images telling a story. At the last minute he realised he wanted an extra image and sat up all night just before the webcomic launch! Not something I can recommend, but we weren’t living together then so getting him to go to bed was a good deal more difficult.

The words followed the images. I was painfully inexperienced around comics at this point, and working with a forgiving webcomic format, not the harsh realities of the printed page. If I was doing it now, I would be thinking from the start about how the words might fit and be big enough that a middle aged person like myself might be able to read them! One of the pieces in the set pre-dates the art, and was written as a song in my late teens. It was such an uncanny match that I felt I’d been moving this way all along.

The Blind Fisherman wasn’t in the Archaia editions, but Nick at Sloth was happy to give it a home when Personal Demons and Inheritance combined to be a single volume. It also meant we had something extra in there, which felt good. So at that point, that we had got an eccentric combination of art and words into the front of a fat comic was the extent of our aspirations.

Tune in next week for another instalment as I try and explain the curious journey of going from this initial body of work, to making a film.

Annamarie Nightshade is Going To Die

Annamarie Nightshade is Going To Die

Just Not Today

Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. She knows this in her bones, in her toes. She knows this the way she know how to breathe. Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today.

Seeing the future is not a particular specialty of hers, but sometimes you don’t need to See. you just have to pay attention, and as a witch a lot of her job is paying attention. People are sick, the cemetery is full of vampires and O’Stoats, and they’re looking for someone to blame. Annamarie knows how that goes

She’s got tea on the hearth. She’s cursed Durosimi O’Stoat one last time. She’s hidden her broom in the attic, and tucked a bucket of seawater outside her door where it’s unlikely to be knocked over. Lamashtu is glaring at her. His tail twitches.

“I could just move you away from here,” he says.

“Oh, so they can burn me again next time?”

“You have no idea if this will work.”

You have no proof that it won’t.”

“I won’t stay about to watch.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

The kettle sings. Annamarie reaches over and strokes Lamashtu carefully. He allows it.

“Keep an eye on Sal,” she says. He vanishes.

Annamarie waits until she can hear the mob approaching before she drinks the tea. It tastes sharp, and it burns all the way down. She doubles over, snarling, and collapses. She loses feeling in her fingers, in her toes, in her ankles. Her vision is beginning to blur when the door is kicked in.

She’s glad that her mouth has stopped working, because she’d have to laugh. Or cry. Or curse. Emanuel you fool, she thinks. The fog creeps in behind them, crawling into her house. Emanuel Davies is raving about purging the town, cleansing it of evil. Nobody seems to question that their witch is conveniently not struggling or cursing anybody.

At least if this doesn’t work I won’t feel anything, she thinks. She’s dragged along, head lolling. People are holding her, they must be. Torchlight gleams in eyes and she recognises face in the crowd.

Hopeless is small when it comes to people: that’s Incompetence Chevin whose broken leg she set last month. Josephine, who goes to church and prays and comes to Annamarie for preventative tea. Her mouth tastes dry, and salty. Something in her gut boils.

Emanuel yells something. His face looks like a horrible mockery, stretched and unreal. You stupid bastard, she thinks, not entirely without fondness. She loses feeling in her ears, and all she can hear is the mob roaring. It sounds like waves. It sounds like an ocean coming to eat her.

She can still mostly see when they drag her to the stake. She just isn’t paying attention because her insides are crumbling into sand. Annamarie is aware of the heat. In the same way she is aware of the smoke. Of the crackling around her feet. She is already burning. She’s just thankful her sense of smell is gone too: she doesn’t want to smell herself cook. Please, she thinks, please…

 

Outside Annamarie’s cottage, Frampton Jones stands very still looking at the mess. At the bucket of seawater next to the door, which bothers him for some reason. Something inside it moves; it has a lot of eyes. Frampton does not step nearer to the thing in the bucket. He instead finds a stick and gently pokes it. It steals the stick.

Frampton is looking for another stick when he hears footsteps and turns. The blind fishermans walks out of the mist.

“Seth.”

“Frampton.”

“What are you doing here?” he wants to take notes, but, well, Annamarie was a friend of sorts. It feels crass.

“Job to do.”

“I can’t imagine there are any fish here,” says Frampton. Seth sighs. He walks past Frampton and goes to the bucket. Frampton notes that he does so confidently, with no indication that he doesn’t know where he is. He crouches by the bucket, and mutters. Frampton inches closer. “Hello Aunty,” he hears. Which makes no sense.

Seth picks up the bucket, apparently not worried about the whatever-it-is. He walks away. Frampton follows him, because the alternative is to stay here at the empty house of a murdered friend. He’d rather not do that.

They reach the sea. It’s chilly, there’s a wind, and Frampton can still smell smoke. Seth carefully empties the bucket into the water. Something goes ‘ploop’. Frampton feels as if an important thing has happened. Seth remains quiet. Water seeps into Frampton’s shoes.

“Well,” says Seth, “that’s dealt with.”

The two men stand there, Frampton looking for a horizon he cannot see and Seth, presumably, thinking whatever mysterious thoughts a blind fisherman has. The fog gets thicker.

“Come on,” Seth says abruptly, “I’ve got tea.”

 

Annamarie doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t feel anything that she can recognise. She shudders. There are voices. She knows them. There’s a gentle puff of power. A breeze. She shivers. She moves. She dances, oh! This is it! It’s like flying a broom, except for how it’s entirely different. The wind carries her up. She holds onto the power in the air, moves it. Pushes. Drifts across the island and over the sea in a thousand tiny pieces. Concentrates, and draws herself together into… something. A form. It’s different, yes, but who said change is bad?

She pulls herself together and drifts upward, up and up and up through the mist and fog and ah! She turns her face (is it a face? She has to hold it together. She’s ash and water and flakes of salt) she turns her face up and feels the air move through it, looks up and sees sky. She grins.

Annamarie Nightshade is going to die. Just not today. Today she changes. I’ll have to see if the island can still hold me, she thinks. It might. She might be more attached than ever before. But it’s worth a try, she thinks. And if it turns out she’s still trapped, well. She’s never been any good at backing off from a challenge. But first, there’s a monster in the ocean she wants to check up on.

Annamarie gathers herself together, all her little pieces, and soars.

 

This piece was written by the rather astounding Meredith Debonnaire. She is the creator of Tales from Tantamount and other wonders. We wish to thank her, as this is utterly wonderful and gave us many feelings.

Hopeless Optimists

So here we have it – the next Hopeless Maine book cover, for the penultimate book in the graphic novel arc. We don’t know what happens after the final book and will worry about that when we get there.

At no point in the story itself does this image get explained. I thought I’d do that here, for the reading pleasure of those of you (you know who you are) who like to ponder the details.

Here we see experimental occultist Salamandra O’Stoat making protective magical glass for the light on her lighthouse. You will see some of this glass magic going on in Optimists, but not at this location. The reason she’s doing this, is to create a light that will drive back the fog. Or The Fog, if you prefer.

The colours of this owe to a version of Hopeless that pre-date my involvement. During one of those rare periods of his life when Tom overcame his fear of strong colours, he did a version of the lighthouse with complex rose designs in stained glass windows. He wasn’t working to deadline then and hadn’t thought about having to draw that design repeatedly. So this is a nod to that, without the nervous-breakdown inducing potential of the original design.

He died for science

A report from the Hopeless Maine Scientific Society

For much of this year, Benjamin has been trying to establish that the reason boats sometimes appear in the sky over Hopeless, is that physics works differently here. It’s an interesting theory, and one that many of us have disagreed with. However, it’s been entertaining watching the various experiments as Benjamin has tried to prove that anyone can make a ship fly.

Having observed a number of these experiments, I can attest that Benjamin had for some time been confident that the main problem would be one of getting the boat into the air in the first place. As the least scientifically minded amongst us have observed, boats generally don’t float in the air when left to their own devices.

Back in the summer, Benjamin suffered significant injuries after trying to get a boat airborne from the roof of his workshop. His conclusion was that greater height must be required. It was an unfortunate conclusion.

So great was the concern about his studies that experimental occultist Salamandra O’Stoat took him up in her boat and did her best to explain to him about magic. Tragically, Benjamin remained unconvinced by this experience, and became ever more determined to get his own boat into the air.

The catapult method he finally settled on was entirely successful on its own terms. He launched a small dory into the sky at considerable speed. At reaching the highest point of its arc, the dory simply got on with doing exactly what all objects thrown into the sky like to do at this point – and headed down. Proof that our laws of physics are just as good as anyone else’s.

While Benjamin’s body has not been discovered, the scientifically minded of Hopeless are in agreement that no one could survive that sort of fall and that there might in fact be very little solid matter remaining to recover. We applaud his courageous efforts, but encourage residents not to follow in his footsteps.