Tag Archives: Hopeless Maine

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…

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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.

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….

Why Donald does not love his dead dog

For the first eight or so years of his life, Donald was just your regular Hopeless Maine orphan with a dead dog as sidekick. He remembered very little about his family, and had no idea where the dead dog – Drury – had come from. But hey, the dead dog was neat, and funny, and adored him and it was all fine.

Then, as so many children who live for long enough do, Donald became curious. He took up exploring in his spare time, going out with other young orphans to poke about in old ruins, dodgy cellars, uneasy corners. There’s an element of natural selection here that young humans on Hopeless seem to relish, even though mostly what it does is punish the curious with death, leaving an adult population of survivors who have learned not to ask, not to look too closely, not to leave the path and never to wonder what the funny noise was. For some, childhood on Hopeless is truly a magical, if brief experience. Not all children want to grow up, and the island is all too ready to assist them in this.

Donald’s downfall did not come out of the darkness with far too many teeth. It did not lure him into a deep pool, or latch on to steal his blood. It came in the form of a book. A book hidden in a dusty attic, that called out to him when he first glimpsed its pale spine. He took the book back to his bed in the orphanage, and hid it under a loose floorboard.

Everyone in the orphanage has at least one loose floorboard or moveable bit of wainscoting to hide stuff behind. No one touches anyone else’s hidden stuff – it is one of the unspoken rules of the orphanage. Everyone pretends not to know where other people have hidden their things. So long as floors or ceilings are not compromised by the stash, and nothing comes out and kills someone, the adults also undertake to have no idea who has hidden what.

The book obsessed Donald. It haunted him. When he tried to sleep at night, his head was full of images that tormented his young soul. He could find no peace. He became silent, ghostly, unable to speak. For two years, he said nothing to anyone, and because weird afflictions are the daily business of the orphanage, no one bothered about it too much. He was later saved from this condition, but that, as they say, is another story.

Sometimes, late at night, he would sneak the book out and take it to a window in the hopes of illuminating a few words or images with moonlight. The book showed him other worlds, and while it filled him with misery, he could not let it go. He learned many of the words by heart. D is for Dog left a hollow pain in his chest, but he could not look away.

The Devil’s Fingers

In Britain, there are many bits of landscape named after the Devil. There’s usually a story to go with it. Other landscape features not called after Satan may also have stories that involve him. Here he threw some rocks at a giant. This hill is a pile of shoes that were part of a massive bluff to keep him out of town. This rather phallic outcropping is… well, you get the idea.

Hopeless Maine has a cluster of rocks called The Devil’s Fingers. These rocks form a sort-of island, not very far out to sea. It’s close enough to the main island that, during the ill-fated attempt to build a bridge between Hopeless and the mainland, a bridge actually got this far. You can read more about that here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/the-devils-fingers/

Over here is a story about the civic band playing on a platform when the bridge reached The Devil’s Fingers – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/bridging-the-divide/

It’s also a spot where mermaids are especially likely to show up – more here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/disaster-narrowly-avoided/

If you look at the rock formation, it’s obvious why the locals saw fit to call it the fingers. As to why it’s The Devil’s fingers…. there is a tale…

When people first came to live on Hopeless Maine, a long time ago, the Devil got wind of the island. Now, being the Prince of Darkness, ruler of Hell and other equally unlovely titles and job descriptions, Satan feels possessive when it comes to horrible things. One day, he heard the colony of monks praying from Hopeless to their God. Now, the monks hadn’t intended to set up home here, they had been looking for a remote and spiritual island, wanting to emulate Iona, but they’d got horribly lost, and then horribly shipwrecked. Forced to remain on the island, they set up a distillery and got on with praying.

So imagine all these lost monks, trying to find something to make whiskey out of in this inhospitable land, and praying to God for a decent grain crop, and the Devil hears them. And the Devil thinks to himself that he’ll go over to this miserable island for a look. He likes tormenting monks by making small mammals and landscape features look like sexy women. So the Devil heads off towards Hopeless. As he gets nearer and can see the island, he realises it’s the sort of horrible place he particularly loves, and feels angry because he didn’t make it, and it isn’t his, and he wants it.

He gets even closer, and he can see all the things with eyes living in the mist, and he wants to grab this whole place and take it down to Hell and use it to torment the damned. You can get bored with fiery pits after a few thousand years, trust me on this.

Just as the Devil reaches out to grab the island, something happens. Something awful and nameless and terrifying rises up to meet the advancing Devil, and the Devil falls back into the sea, cold stone dead, with just his fingers sticking out. He lies there to this very day. And whatever it is that killed Satan of the coast of Hopeless, well, people say it’s still here, and you’d best hope that’s all you ever find out about it.

The Mystery of Erik

If you’ve read Hopeless Maine, Sinners, you may have noticed the two page spreads. Being the clever sort of people you are, you will have noticed that the two page spreads tell a story that has nothing to do with the main story. The super-attentive will have recognised Melisandra – mother of Salamandra, and will have figured out that she’s collecting a young man and drawing him into her underground, night time lifestyle.

A note about vampires on Hopeless, Maine. Some of them really are vampires in all the traditional senses of the word. Some are energy vampires. Some are lifestylers. The lifestylers take up living underground – for the glamour, the excitement, to get away from the voices, because they cannot bear the attention of the eyes in the sky, and so forth. They are not vampires, even though they act like vampires. The consequence of this is a slow death from malnutrition – which is quite likely what would have happened to them over a Hopeless winter anyway, only with less romance.

Back to Erik. As there’s no text in the two page spreads, you had no way of knowing that his name is Erik, but it is. The reason his name is Erik, is that we borrowed the face for this character from actor Erik Moody, who we met through the awesome Ragged Isle project.

A bit of back history on that score – some years ago, director of Ragged Isle Barry Dodd made contact with us online. He suggested that as we are both spooky islands off the coast of Maine, that perhaps we could be friends. We love Ragged Isle, and have huge love and respect for the many brilliant people involved with it. You can find out more about Ragged Isle here – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870996/

And you can find Erik Moody on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/theemptycinema/featured

As for Erik the would-be vampire? What happened to him? If you know, drop us a line…

What even is going on with Doc Willoughby?

If you’ve read The Gathering, you will know to be wary of Hopeless Maine’s Doc Willoughby. If you haven’t, I shall skip over some details about his medical practice. As the books progress, you’ll all find out more about his ideas. For now, suffice to say he’s the sort of man to pronounce: ‘sacrifices must be made’ and mean that people other than himself should be making sacrifices. Or being sacrificed.

He is the island’s only practicing Doctor. Now, many island residents have washed in from shipwrecks, bringing up to date knowledge of the world with them. Doc Willoughby is not one of those. He has no formal medical qualifications. He did know the island’s previous resident medic, but ‘training’ would be a strong word to describe what they did together. ‘Drinking’ might be more representative.

It is of course entirely possible that Doc Willoughby has read some medical books. He’s seen the insides of enough dead people to form a few relevant opinions about human bodies. He is, in all fairness, pretty handy with a needle, and people who need sewing back together have a slightly improved chance of survival if the Doc sews them back together than if he doesn’t. This may be because he is never afraid to pour alcohol over a wound.

He prescribes alcohol for most other complaints. Sometimes he adds a few herbs or berries, to change the colour and smell, because he thinks this makes his potions seem more scientific and credible. Usually he sticks to plant material he knows it is safe to eat.

Otherwise, Doc Willoughby takes a philosophical approach to illness, encouraging his patients to square up to their mortality and the likelihood of death. He considers statements like ‘you should die fairly quickly’ to be reassuring and uplifting.

In this scene, he is pictured with night potatoes. Liquor made from night potatoes is especially potent and dangerous – more on that here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/moonshine/

What does Reverend Davies believe?

Readers of Hopeless Maine will be familiar with the gloomy figure of the island’s Reverend – Emmanuel Davies. He’s father of Owen (one of the main characters, for those of you new to this). He raises orphans, holds funerals, owns clothing clearly designed for ritual purpose. Sometimes he talks about God, but which God isn’t always clear.

That he is a Reverend certainly suggests Christianity. But it’s not that simple. He existed as a character, created by Tom, when I took the story on. At that point, we didn’t know much about the Reverend. All I had to go on were the New England Reverends I’d encountered in the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorn, so I started from there. Frankly, that was a gothic and sinister sort of place to start.

If you’ve read The Gathering, you’ll be aware of a short story at the back, about Reverend Davies’ first hours in the job. It suggests a rather different kind of religious background. I admit there have also been times when I’ve wondered if he might be an unwitting Cthulhu worshipper, or otherwise accidentally involved with elder gods. I know there have been plenty of long, sleepless night when the Reverend himself has stared into the darkness and wondered what exactly it is that he serves, or whether it is all in his mind. I know that he hears voices, and some of those voices tell him what to do, and that while he is compelled, he is also uneasy.

In practice, what Reverened Davies believes has a somewhat Zoroastrian flavour. In an island full of lost things, it makes plenty of sense to have someone with a bit of Albigensian heresy to their name. Davies believes that the physical realm is mostly fallen, sinful, probably evil and when you look at Hopeless, Maine, it’s easy to see why he might think this. God is somewhere else, clearly. If there is a good God, they are distant, unavailable, perhaps entirely in a realm of spirit you can only get to by totally renouncing all things of the flesh. Most of the time this means the Reverend is of limited use to anyone else.

Reverend Davies is a man in spiritual crisis, wrangling with the demons of his own uncertainty. It hasn’t yet occurred to him to get out there and wrangle actual demons instead, but the seed of this thought is growing in his mind…

Here’s Reverend Davies with Anamarie Nightshade having a Pre Raphaelite  moment. If this makes you wonder about the history of their relationship, keeping wondering…

We’ve got the original for this on sale at etsy – etsy.com/uk/listing/572025191/the-bemusing-of-reverend-davies-original

It’s also available as a poster –  etsy.com/uk/listing/552719732/the-bemusing-of-reverend-davies-print

 

Horrorscopes for Hopeless Maine citizens in 2019

We all know it’s going to be awful. Each month will bring fresh horrors, nameless dread, and dread whose names we are perfectly well aware of. Misery is a certainty. Failure is guaranteed. Some of your friends or family members will turn out to be awful people. Or will realise that you are the awful people and come after you with pitchforks and torches. Perhaps this is the year the monster who partly controls you will take total control. Perhaps this is the year you will dig up an ancient evil in your garden and be driven to madness by it. Someone certainly will.

So with all of this in mind, each horrorscope in your overview of 2019 is a list of things we think might help you survive, or at least outwit your enemies for a little longer.

Aquarius: Save yourself by carrying a sturdy length of rope at all times. Dead houseplants, collections of feathers and any books belonging to your great grandparents will help you make it through this year in one piece. Stay away from all kinds of delivery people, and give up washing your undergarments. Your lucky item for 2019 is a sock with a hole exactly in the right place for your big toe to stick out.

Pisces: Stay away from water – including baths, but do keep washing because otherwise you will probably be killed by your own skin fungus. Keep a live rodent in your pocket at all times to improve your fortune, and avoid putting your hands in your pockets to improve your fortune by not having your fingers bitten by a rodent. If your rodent dies, you could keep its body but it does not count as a lucky item for 2019. It won’t save you if it’s dead.

Aries: Give up gardening. Don’t dig anywhere, even in other people’s gardens or even if a grave is required at short notice. Throw away all of your digging implements and run away from anyone who comes towards you with anything larger than a spoon. Draw a star on your forehead to attract good luck in 2019. So long as you don’t draw the star on with anything that could itself kill you, you are in with a fighting chance. Also, the rest of us will know to stay the hell away from your garden.

Taurus: Protect yourself with the power of positive thinking and you’ll be unlikely to make it past February. You need all the magical charms you can wear whilst still being able to move. Whether this will protect you magically, or just function well as a sort of body armour is hard to say. Maybe hedge your bets and get some body armour as well. Your lucky item is a lock of someone else’s nasal hairs.

Gemini: Avoid wearing any colours that rhyme with your name. Invite better fortune into your life by opening your door first thing every morning and yelling the ancient spell “nice things are welcome, nasty things can sod right off.” Further increase your fortune by doing this when no one is stood outside your front door. Carry a portrait of your uncle for good luck. If you do not have an uncle, carry a portrait of someone else’s uncle and claim he’s really yours.

Cancer: The less your feet touch the ground this year, the better your chances are. Never go barefoot. Use stilts whenever possible. Invest in a donkey and ride it everywhere. Do not allow children to touch you with their bare hands. Do not allow any bears to touch you with any children’s hands they may have acquired. Better to stay right away from bears, in fact.

Leo: Your lucky item for 2019 is the skull of an animal that has previously been possessed by a demon. It is important to make sure the demon is no longer occupying the skull because your biggest risk of death and madness is being possessed or attacked by a demon that was in a skull you picked up.

Virgo: The trick to surviving 2019 will be to avoid speech and to instead sing your every verbalisation. At least two notes are required in any vocal expression so you need to stay away from one word answers – monosyllabic words such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ could prove fatal unless you can draw them out in some way. Do not peer through your own letter box at any time during this year.

Libra: Your greatest risk for 2019 is the restless dead. Stay away from graveyards and try not to go out after dark. Avoid séances, Ouija boards, objects belonging to the deceased, and buildings that people have died in. Don’t assume staying home will keep you safe either – the ghosts of angry dead trees may be waiting for you at home.

Scorpio: In 2019, what you do with your own hands poses the greatest risk to you. Stop building that infernal device. Lay aside projects to attract a fairy lover with your raffia work. Stop all culinary experiments. It’s best not to use your hands for eating or drinking either, so this year is going to present some challenges.

Sagittarius: Your lucky item for 2019 is red plant matter, which for best effect should be applied freshly and frequently to the front of your clothing. You may have to choose between dignity and survival in the coming months. If things take a turn for the worse, tip the first spoonful of every meal over the top of your head. Some things can be really put off by this behaviour and the smell it rapidly creates.

Capricorn: Your demise will be heralded by the squealing of bagpipes. If you feel threatened by bagpipes at any time, move slowly so as not to be panicked into fulfilling this prophecy. Carry a sharp implement with you at all times so that you can protect yourself from bagpipes at need.

Salamandra’s Key

Hello, again people! (and others)

It is the new year, and I hope it brings you many good things.

I have spoken before, I think about how, at the beginning, when we first imagined how things might go with Hopeless, Maine, that we thought one day we would work with artisans and craftspeople if there were to be any HM related artifacts. No factory made things or plastic tatt that would one day end up in a landfill. Well, it’s dream come true time. Matt Inkel (who I introduced to you, here) has begun working with us and the first fruit of this collaboration is Salamandra’s Key.

Here is my drawing of Sal’s Key and Matt’s finished prototype.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling I get seeing something from our story made real in the waking world. It’s a bit uncanny and utterly wonderful. For those of you who are having trouble recalling the significance of this key-

Those of you who have read the first book of Hopeless, Maine will recall that when Salamandra went to Annamarie for help with a very personal Demon, Annamarie gave her a key. She didn’t sort the problem for Sal but gave her what she needed to solve her own problem. That key was well, key to the resolution of that story and Sal still keeps it about her person. In real life, I drew the cover for that book in a fit of excitement before Nimue had even written the book. Sal was shown with a key around her neck clutching a teddy bear (in very poor repair. more of a frankenbear, really) and Nimue wrote these elements into the tale.”

This will be a limited edition sort of thing and very much handmade with great care by a ridiculously skilled artisan. (Look up Arcane Armoury to see more of Matt’s work) Here are some process photos that Matt has shared with us.

There is a preorder page on the Arcane Armoury Site here. Please do visit.

 

Hoping (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.