Tag Archives: steampunk

Ghost in the Machine?

I have no idea how the phonograph survived the storm and subsequent shipwreck – but survive it did. This was, unfortunately, more than could be said for the captain and crew of the ‘Golden Cross’, the merchantman that had set out with the honourable intention of ferrying the new-fangled Edison-Bell machine across an inhospitable ocean to England, only to flounder early on in its journey. It would be not unreasonable to suppose that the fogbank that suddenly loomed in her wake was the downfall of the ‘Golden Cross’, concealing as it did – and still does – the treacherous rocks and unnamed terrors lurking in the waters surrounding the island of Hopeless, Maine.

The crate had looked promising, sitting foursquare on the beach. An address label revealed that the intended consignee was the recently founded Gramophone Company, of Maiden Lane, London, England. This gave no clue whatsoever regarding the contents of the crate to the Nailsworthy brothers, twin boys who had never heard of a gramophone, London or, indeed, England. Despite this, they carried it with great care and not a little difficulty back to the Common, wary not to disobey the large, red stencilled letters, which advised ‘This Way Up’ and ‘Do Not Drop – Fragile’.

Regular readers will know that The Common is home to a small community, originally descended from some of the earliest settlers on the island. These are called Commoners. They are recognised by all on Hopeless for their homely disposition, scavenging prowess and no small amount of inbreeding.

A crowd had gathered, anxious to see the wonder that had been revealed, once an inordinate quantity of packaging and padding had been removed from the crate. What could it be? A polished wooden box with a big brass horn and a handle that seemed to do nothing in particular. This was certainly a conundrum that confounded the brains of the brightest of the Commoners. Although it made no sense, the strange item was treated with a certain amount of awe and reverence; after all, they reasoned, anything that had required such delicacy to transport must be a treasure of some worth. In view of this, the phonograph was set up with great ceremony in the middle of their meeting hall.

It was a week or so later that Philomena Bucket chanced to call by. As ever, Drury, the skeletal dog, was scampering along beside her, rattling happily and attempting to mark his progress with phantom micturitions.

No sooner had she set foot upon the Common than the Nailsworthy brothers appeared and ran excitedly to her.

“Miss Philomena, come and see. Come and see what we’ve found.”

Before Philomena could protest the boys dragged her to the meeting hall and proudly pointed to the mysterious machine.

“Why, it’s a phonograph” she said. “I haven’t seen one of those for ages. I wonder if it still works?”

“D’you know what it does? Can you make it work? Can you… can you? ”  asked Hubert and Osbert Nailsworthy excitedly. “Show us, miss Philomena – pleeease…”

“I think so,” Philomena smiled. “But I need to find some things first. I’ll come back this afternoon.”

It took no time for the word to get around that Philomena Bucket was going to make the machine do something quite wonderful, though no one knew quite what that would be. This did not prevent Gwydion Bagpath, the self-styled elder of the Commoners, speaking knowledgably on the subject, having gleaned whatever information he could from the Nailsworthy boys.

“It is as I guessed,” he said with an air of importance, “I recognised it immediately, of course. It’s called a um… called a…”

Gwydion racked his brain to recall what the boys had said it was.

“Ah yes, it’s called a pornograph I believe”.

Morning wore into afternoon and the excitement in the air was almost palpable as the Commoners waited impatiently for Philomena to return. She, in the meantime, had been ransacking the storeroom of the ‘Squid and Teapot’, looking through the spoils that had been salvaged from the wreck of the ‘Hetty Pegler’, the ship that had brought her to the island several years earlier.

The ship’s skipper, Captain Longdown, had possessed a phonograph exactly like the one salvaged by the Commoners. While Longdown’s phonograph had not survived, some of its cylinders had. Without a phonograph, however, they were quite useless but, thanks to the ‘waste nothing’ philosophy of the island, they had been squirreled away just in case they might come in handy for something one day.

A reverential hush descended upon the meeting hall as Philomena, with Drury at her feet, wound the handle of the spring-gear that powered the machine. She fixed a cylinder in place, positioned the horn for best effect and gently lowered the circular brass reproducer, with its sapphire needle, on to the cylinder’s surface. This began to turn and suddenly, from the depths of the horn, there arose the tinny but unmistakable warblings of a strangulated Irish tenor, who was professing his love for a girl with a wheelbarrow; a girl who apparently sold sea-food.

Philomena gazed wistfully at the Phonograph, her mind transported back to the land of her birth. Her reverie, however, was rudely interrupted by the screams of panic as her audience lapsed into mass-hysteria, believing themselves to have been subjected to all sorts of diabolical witchcraft. Unfazed, Philomena replaced the cylinder with one that played only music. It was Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, a tune beloved by every manufacturer of music-boxes, pretty much since the day that the old boy wrote it. Music-boxes were something that the Commoners could understand. They had seen them before. They knew how they worked. It was generally accepted, by one and all, that music-boxes were definitely not at all diabolical.

One by one the audience drifted back in and Philomena was eventually able to convince even the most sceptical that there was no imp or ghost singing, no demonic voice to ensnare them. Hopeless had its fair share of terrors, this was not one of them. Gingerly, Philomena wound the handle, put the  ‘Molly Malone’ cylinder back on and sang along, her sweet soprano voice mingling with that of the tremulous tenor. Gwydion Bagpath tentatively joined in with the chorus, then, following his lead, another voice picked it up, then another and another until the meeting hall rang with the strains of

‘Alive, alive oh,

Alive, alive oh,

Crying cockles and mussels,

Alive, alive oh.’

By common request the handle was wound and ‘Molly Malone’ was played over and over, more times than anyone could count, until Philomena, quite frankly, felt that she would be happy if she never had to hear the song ever again. Drury, however, was more than content to sit in front of the phonograph’s horn, his head cocked to one side, enjoying every moment. Alive, alive, oh – it was a good thing to be.

Story by Martin Pearson-Art by Tom Brown

 

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The Case of Good Fortune

Hello people! (and others)

We have a special Vendetta post today (or whenever you are reading this, naturally) This post highlights a box of wonders created by one of the finest and most creative makers in all of steampunk, in my experience. We came across this because Salamandra’s key was to be incorporated in it, but this had lead me to find the rest of his work and costuming. Here is a mind that embraces sheer childlike creative glee and combines it with great skill, craftsmanship and keen intellect. So, without further ado (hoping that was sufficient ado, for you) we bring you, The Case of Good Fortune and what its creator had to say about it!

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It’s in the second drawer down on the left, along with the Key of Erebor, the Key to Davy Jones’ locker, a complete set of Wills ‘Lucky Charms’ cigarette cards and an authentic signature from Van Kleist.

What is?

Salamandra’s key.

This is one of eight drawers in a wooden box that has seen better days. The drawers contain a number of seemingly random objects, like a sample of Holy Water, a bezoar, four baculums and a small pot of soot. These treasures are all part of the ‘Case of Good Fortune’, a Compendium of Good Fortune for the Discerning Traveler compiled by my grandfather in 1916.

The collection was put together as a means of harnessing the certainty of good outcomes that invariably follows the expert use of the right combination of good fortune charms. The power of this collection above any other, however, is the inclusion of a scientifically proven electrical system which directs the user to the optimal set of charms to use in any particular scenario by way of a series of knobs and flickering lights.

Hence when seeking good fortune with respect to wealth the user may be directed to a device that accurately predicts forthcoming lottery numbers, or when seeking fame the user might be directed to a pair of aurodium plated gold dice.

A special switch in the control panel allows the user to choose whether to accept good luck charms which rely on the placebo effect or not. The case has a mind of its own, however, and it sometimes knows better than the user.

Two particular points merit further mention. One is that the case includes a number of artefacts (including samples of hair, a wand, a tintype and a signature) from well known members of the UK Steampunk scene. There is also a sample of ore from the Spiffing-cum-Lightly tin mine. Together with Salamanda’s key it is expected that the inclusion of these charms (including Rapunzel’s hair and the Thestral tail hair) will enhance the power of the case when its contents are used within the Steampunk community.

The second point is that subsequent to its completion in 1916 a number of items in the case have found their way into later works of fiction including books and film, such as Felix Felicis (Harry Potter), Mr Pointy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the moustache curlers (Hercule Poirot) and the Tibetan thunderbolt (The Imaginarium).

The outside of the box is decorated with a number of tatty maps of The World, Great Britain, Morecambe and Madison Wisconsin as well as the route of the Orient Express. Having won the UK heat of the Steampunk World Suitcase Challenge at Morecambe the box will be (at least figuratively) off to Teslacon at Madison Wisconsin for the world final in November 2019.

The theme of Teslacon this year will be Murder on the Orient Express. The key fob belonging to compartment 66 is to be found in the third drawer down on the left. But will Salamandra’s key fit the lock?

Nimrod Lancaster III”

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

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Is that not a thing of joy??  We are desperately proud to have been in any way associated with this artefact. The Key was made by the equally amazing Mat Inkel of the Arcane Armoury. (whom we hope to work with again, as he is just generally wonderful) If you would like a key of your very own, you would be well advised to click on the following highlighted word. For more information on Sal’s key and the making of it, we did a post, which can be found here.

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

 

 

Hopeless Mechanics

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.

I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

Druid Life

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is…

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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.

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.

New England Gothic

Hello people! (and others)

Many years ago, when Nimue and I started this whole Hopeless, Maine thing, Nimue wrote two books that went along with the timeline of The Gathering.  The first of these two books was New England Gothic, which takes place before book one and gives a lot of background on Annamarie and her earlier life (Yes. Those of you who have read Sinners will be having feels at this point) NEG is a bloody wonderful strange tale and we thought we’d bring it and the other prose book out along with the graphic novels, lavishly illustrated, of course. Well, this was before we learned a lot of things about the publishing industry (some of which we would rather not know, but that’s a long story for another time) We do plan to release both of these books in PDF form in the near future on the same Etsy site that the game is on. Then, hopefully, later there will be the fully illustrated print version. In the meantime, you can get New England Gothic in installments by pledging to Nimue’s Patreon!

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

Cover art reveal

Hello, people (and others)!

Sorry we’ve been a bit quiet. I’ve been working diligently on the page art for the next graphic novel volume and Nimue is doing roughly twelve thousand* things all at once.

*rough estimate, she is a blur, so it’s tricky to count.

Hopefully, this will make up for it, a bit. Here is the cover art for VICTIMS (Volume three of Hopeless, Maine) I gave a bit of background about the decision process on the subject matter when we posted the cover art at drawing stage, so I won’t get into that here. I *will* say, that this is the best, strangest, most touching, funniest script so far. You know when you are watching an anime series and the first season is all pretty straightforward and largely what you would expect and then the following seasons drops you into the deep end and play with all of your expectations and turn up the emotions and conflict? Yes, that. That’s pretty much what’s going on with the rest of the series.

Here is a thing wot I wrote to go to the distributor for the listing of Victims-

“Welcome back to the fog-shrouded island of Hopeless, Maine- an island cut off from the world and lost in time. It’s been busy here since you’ve been away! We all knew that werewolves would show up on the island eventually. I mean, there are vampires (that cough), ghosts and all manner of things that go bump in the night (and occasionally around noon, for no particular reason) well, they’re here now. Salamandra and Owen do their best to cope with this new danger to island residents while investigating a new rash of disappearances. Masked, cowled cultists have begun to make themselves known, and the vampires are about as much help as usual. Salamandra struggles with the disembodied presence that surrounds the island and continues to speak to her alone. Owen receives a new position (which he definitely does not want) and Drury the undead dog cavorts across the island. This is the most eventful volume yet, with greater insight into the main characters, and a generous helping of dark humor.”

Pretty good, huh?

So here, without further ado, is the cover art, hand coloured by Nimue. The text is a temporary version, our publisher will make the design all shiny and put the Sloth Logo on and such. Also-look closely and see if you can find the key in the image. That’s a thing that showed up in The Gathering, and we will have more to say about that soon… Hope you like!

In which we make a book cover

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.