Ever since the episode with the phonograph – described, you may remember in the tale ‘Ghost in the Machine?’ – Gwydion Bagpath had begun to register the existence of Philomena Bucket. Previously, she had barely caught his attention. As the self-appointed elder of the Commoners, his lofty position had rendered him far too busy to notice her. There had been beachcombing and salvaging expeditions to oversee. In addition to this, he felt that it was his duty to ensure that the Nailsworthy family were attending properly to the venerable elder trees that the community relied upon. Then there was his role as both chairman of the Gydynap Preservation Society and the Common Committee (organisations which met for a liquid lunch, twice yearly in ‘The Crow’). On top of these onerous duties was the business of standing around and looking important; the gravitas that his position required would not cultivate itself. But I digress. Gwydion had noticed Philomena Bucket and realised that, despite her pale skin and white hair, she was an extremely attractive young woman – that is to say, young by Gwydion’s standard. He was at least twice her age, but he was a widower looking for a young wife to comfort him through his old age and Philomena seemed to be perfect for the task. Philomena would be honoured, he felt certain, to be invited to step out with him, with a view to courtship and eventually marriage.
Blissfully unaware of Gwydion’s long-term plans, Philomena was happy enough (if not exactly honoured) to join him occasionally for a brisk stroll along the headland. As ever, Drury, the skeletal dog, would amble along beside her, sniffing everything in his path and chasing shadows.
‘Damned infernal creature,’ thought Gwydion uncharitably, seeing Drury as being less of a dog and more of a passion-killer. Of course, he would never voice this opinion aloud, knowing how fond Philomena was of her strange companion.
In order to win Philomena’s approval, Gwydion would use these walks to inform her of his many qualities. He would speak, at some length, of his altruism, his bravery, his generosity – the man’s virtues knew no bounds, at least in his own mind. Philomena, of course, was no fool and soon realised that she was being played like a fish on a line. She did not dislike Gwydion but the feelings he invoked in her were far from romantic – and she could never love anyone who displayed such obvious coldness towards Drury. She resolved, therefore, to find reasons to avoid these strolls. She would do this gently, however, to avoid hurting Gwydion’s feelings. That was her intention, anyway but being, perhaps, too kind for her own good, she left things too late and found herself, one foggy afternoon, in the position of being subjected to a proposal of marriage.
They had been walking towards the town when Gwydion suddenly dropped down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage.
“I’m sorry Gwydion, but I can’t possibly marry you,” she stammered.
A pained look passed over the old man’s face and his voice shook.
“Your hand… give me your hand… “
“I told you no…”
“For heaven’s sake, give me your hand, you idiotic woman, and help me up. My back has gone and goodness knows what else. I’m stuck.”
Try as Philomena might, this was to no avail. Gwydion was well and truly locked into a kneeling position and no amount of heaving by Philomena could budge him.
“I’ll get Doc Willoughby,” she said. “He’ll know what to do.”
Doc Willoughby knew exactly what to do. He arranged for a couple of burly lads from the Common to come along and carry Gwydion, still stuck with one knee bent in the time-honoured proposal attitude, back home.
“Silly old fool,” the Doc muttered. “What was he doing down there, anyway?”
“He was proposing marriage,” replied Philomena, simply.
“Well I propose that he stops making himself look ridiculous and give up chasing young women. He must be seventy, if he’s a day.”
Sad to relate, Gwydion never recovered from this latest affliction. Even though he was eventually able to stand normally again, his joints were past their best and his life was never the same. To the relief of everyone concerned, he reluctantly gave up his committees and overseeing duties. The job of Elder of the Commoners was discontinued; most had long realised that elder did not necessarily mean wiser. It came as something of a shock when Gwydion realised that nothing had suffered for his absence and life on the Common progressed as it always had. Before many months had elapsed, he died, a broken man. Little by little the name of Gwydion Bagpath faded from people’s memories.
It was many, many years later that an American soldier named Dwight Eisenhower, (who, I am reliably informed, did quite well for himself in later life) revealed that he always carried in his pocket a copy of the following poem. It’s a pity that Gwydion had not read it…
The Indispensable Man
Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom
Sometime when you take it for granted
You’re the best qualified in the room,
Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.
The moral of this quaint example
Is do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no Indispensable man.
Story by Martin Pearson-art by Tom Brown
The fog by night is darker, deeper, shrouding everything,
No stars shine through, no moonlight glimmers,
All sounds are muted colours dim, there is no hope here,
No hope at all, only cold and damp malevolence.
Dawn comes queasy grey to light another joyless morning,
Cold light without colour lacks the power to warm my heart,
I’d dream of something better but I don’t know how to picture it,
There is no hope here, no hope at all.
The world is bleak with apathy, too willing to accept it all,
The empty listless life, the sunless mournful days and night terrors,
Fear becomes your companion, familiar and cruel,
There is no hope here, only poison in this world.
The chill within my bones has been with me most of my life,
If I ever knew true warmth I forgot about it long ago,
There is no salvation and no heroic rescue,
When the monsters are inside you, there’s no hope at all.
(The Hopeless Fog Song features in the opening to The Gathering. It does have a tune and I have sung it in public. The image is from Hopeless Maine Victims, out this summer. Any conclusions you may wish to draw from the juxtaposition are entirely up to you… )
What is the relationship between Hopeless Maine and the rest of reality? It’s a question I’ve been asking on and off for about fourteen years, and neither Tom nor I has known the answer…. until now!
It came to us as we were discussing the stories Keith Errington has written for the island, and how his 19th century is so very different from the 19th century Martin Pearson depicts in his Squid and Teapot tales. At this point, the question of what gets to be ‘canon’ and what isn’t becomes really important. There are a lot of people playing with the island in different ways. Some of these explorations will be published, some will start to look more official than others.
Generally, when people get themselves and their stories to the island, it’s all fine. Hopeless talks to them – we’ve had to steer Martin away from important plot points he’d found without any input from us. Keith’s adventures took him into a space that no one has seen yet but that we’d already depicted for the next graphic novel. This happens a lot, and is why we’ve never felt much need to steer people around what they can and can’t do on the island. The island itself takes care of all that.
What’s tricky is where people launch from – their off-island reality. There’s no two ways about it, you don’t all come to Hopeless, Maine from the same time and place. The answer, clearly is to accept that and run with it.
My other fiction is full of unstable and shifting realities. I have decided they are all compatible, and the result goes like this…
Hopeless, Maine is a rare fixed point of stability in an unstable and shifting multiverse. It is thus easier to get in than get out, because if you try to get back and don’t connect with where you came from, there is resistance. Hopeless is, in its own funny way, pretty stable and there is consensus about what happens to new arrivals. And there is no consensus about where and when they came from and how historically accurate, or steampunk or other their starting point was, because they’ve all come from different points in that unstable and shifting universe.
It amuses me greatly to think of Hopeless as something solid and reliable.
In the beginning, we were going to call the series ‘Hopeless’. While we were with Archaia, (who first published 2 titles, now re-published in one volume as The Gathering) they decided it would be better for the marketing if we were Hopeless, Maine. I can see how this works, but it means that something is lost, and I want to share that lost thing with you.
It’s what happens to the titles themselves. Had we not got ‘Maine’ in there, every title would read slightly differently. The first title does it least well, because I hadn’t figured out the possibilities right at the beginning…
Hopeless Personal Demons
(Now combined as The Gathering, which fails to do the things)
The working title for the next one is Hopeless Optimists – but that might change
The final volume is almost certainly going to be Hopeless Survivors.
So now you know!
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?
If you’ve read The Gathering, you will have encountered Miss Calder- it is she who opens the door when Annamarie Nightshade brings Salamandra to Pallid Rock Orphanage. Things do not go well for Miss Calder (spoiler alert) as a direct consequence of young Sal’s night wanderings.
If you haven’t read The Gathering and don’t want to know about the details yet, step away from this blog post now!
During The Gathering, Miss Calder dies. In that book, she comes back as a ghost, and from then on simply continues to work in the orphanage, comforting traumatised children with stories about vampire feasts, the martyrdom of saints and what happens when you die. Her memory is patchy on this score, but she’s not squeamish.
As a ghost, Miss Calder does not age. As Owen Davies has grown closer to her in age, she’s developed something of a crush on him. She’s a little embarrassed about this because she’s known him ever since he was a snotty, dribbling toddler. Also, her skull shows sometimes when she isn’t concentrating, and Owen isn’t good for her concentration, which is awkward.
Miss Calder’s mother was a member of the Penobscot tribe, local to the area. She assumes her father was a man called Calder, but knows nothing about him. She came to the island voluntarily in her late teens, fascinated by the name, and the stories. Her mother called it ‘that place we go to when we are young and stupid and have something to prove.’ Miss Calder’s mother had clearly made the journey and survived to tell all manner of tales. However, by the time Miss Calder made her own attempt on the island, getting out had become impossible. Even in death, it is notoriously difficult to leave.
Miss Calder has taken to death very well. She feels deeply motivated to prepare her young charges for the harsh realities of life, and death and to set them a good example. Having set out to learn about the mysteries of Hopeless, Maine she is quite at ease with having become one of them.
She does have a first name, but it is a private matter and she has never felt moved to share it with anyone else on the island.
Hello, people! (and others)
Rather a lot has been going on behind the scenes here, and this will no doubt lead to rather a lot more things and we shall be busy, and will hopefully keep you entertained. My focus at the moment is the art for the NEXT VOLUME OF HOPELESS MAINE (pardon the shouting. Bit excited.) The next book will be called Victims (this is because originally the series was to be called “Hopeless” rather than “Hopeless, Maine” so the titles were all playing on that. So, the next book would have been called Hopeless Victims, but our old publisher insisted on Hopeless, Maine and now all of our clever plans lie in ruins on the floor. (not really, just going for sympathy there)
Normally. I draw the cover art before we start the page art at all, but we thought we’d try something different this time and get a better sense of the book and then do the cover. All of the covers feature Salamandra doing some sort of magic (the keen-eyed among you will have noticed) So, as Nimue and I were walking and discussing possibilities, Nimue said: “I have an idea, but it’s a bit silly”. I knew we were onto a winner at that point. We have not shown Sal doing fire yet really, so Sal looking epic while heating a kettle for tea was the perfect solution. This means we get to include magic, devices, Sal and perhaps most importantly, tea. Here we are at the pencil stage.
Nimue has just started on the hand colouring and we will be passing the finished thing to our lovely publisher (Sloth!) before long. All being well, Victims will be in your hands, claws or tentacles late spring/early summer. I’m greatly enjoying drawing the page art and being more collaborative with Nimue on the art as well as the story is an absolute pleasure!
Until next time, I hope this finds you all well, inspired and thriving.
Hello people! (and others)
It is long past time we dedicated a whole piece to an amazing member of the Hopeless, Maine creative tribe-Cliff Cumber.
We met Cliff on Twitter a while back, and were lucky enough to lure him to the island. He did much of the art for Tales From the Squid and Teapot (some of the very best of it, I would say) He created the art for the Hopeless, Maine tourist bureau (which we still proudly display at events) and then…when we asked him to contribute art to the Hopeless, Maine tabletop RPG- Travels in Hopeless, he bravely stepped forward. Much of the art in the bestiary section is his. (and I got to colour some of it also! ) His Gnii illustration is one of my favourite pieces of HM art at all-ever. Oh! Yes. AND he has a pin up in Sinners! (Two fantastic Sal drawings) Look here, and you will see some selected highlights from his work for Travels in Hopeless.
Mr Cumber was originally from the UK and moved to the US to marry (exact mirror of my own journey) and now does art for comics and several projects for our great friend Professor Elemental!
Go and visit him on twitter and tell him we sent you!
The Eldritch Hobbits have left the shire once again. This time in the company of the rather brilliant Keith Healing. We all journeyed to Blists Hill to the steampunk event- The Town That Never Was. This was the best imaginable setting for a steampunk weekend, being reconstructed Victorian town at a site that was important to the industrial revolution in England. The timing was perfect for us, as we had both a new volume of Hopeless, Maine to inflict on an unsuspecting world, and Travels in Hopeless (the Hopeless, Maine RPG) to show off and see what a collection of steampunks might think of it (Spoiler- There was much cooing and general excitement)
Copies of the latest volume of Hopeless, Maine (Sinners) came from our publisher (Sloth Comics) just in time, and happily on Nimue’s birthday! As we got to set up in the Boys Brigade Hut, we were able to bring lots of art and artifacts from the island and set up a bit of an exhibit. The people who put on the event, and the people attending, were all perfectly lovely and really the whole experience was pretty much all that one could possibly ask for. We may have also encountered the Cthullhu’s Witnesses who are clearly fellow travelers!
To round off the first day, we had a visit from Genevieve Tudor and Allan Price! Genevive is pictured at the back of Sinners playing a Punked Hurdy-Gurdy (Which Gen may be learning to play in real life soon, partly because of this drawing. A normal Hurdy-Gurdy that is) This art is also for the impending Hopeless, Maine tarot deck which is in the works. Genevieve will be the Queen of Flames in this instance. We do not get to see the two of them nearly as often as we would like. (though we are making plans to address this!) I *think* it was their first steampunk event and I expect that it will not be their last. If you are one of the seven or eight people who do not yet know this, Gen is the host of the entirely excellent radio show – Genevive Tudor’s Sunday Folk on BBC Radio Shropshire. If it is not a regular part of your week (as it is ours) this can be addressed! You can listen anywhere in the world by clicking on this here link right….here.
Oh! Yes. And if you would like a copy of the latest Hopeless Maine, you could go here– (Or from your local comics shop if you are in the UK)
Until next time, I hope this finds you all well, inspired, and thriving.