DIBI

(Design it: Build it) 7th – 8th October 2013

Hosted by the BALTIC

I recently attended the DIBI conference held in the BALTIC. Here are some of the things that I attended that made me prick my ears up and stuck out as particularly interesting or memorable.

Lean Start Up – Idea to MVP

Bobby Paterson from Searchcamp lead an interesting set of presentations which used the word Lean a lot, which I guess means that Lean is a thing. I don’t quite understand what that thing is, but was able to deduce a few useful principles:

Identify the Minimum Viable Product – don’t faff around building a feature rich monolith to your own genius before showing it to another human.

How to do this? Identify the Minimum Viable Customer – a small and specific customer base, find out what their problems are and answer them. Quickly. Then learn from its mistakes and build another and another as many times as possible before the money runs out.

This is more or less the main creative lesson in any field of creativity, but the methodology comes with tools that may be useful in other fields too – the key tool for creating the story of how your project is going to work together is the Lean Canvas.

Very interesting and I now have a fairly substantial reading list to investigate.

Disco

The Design it thread of the conference contained a Disco ball, and as this slowly spun it created pixelated animations above my head. This felt in some way relevant and appropriate, and I’m glad it was there.

Fortunately, the talks were more than capable of competing with its hypnotic spinning… are those pixel colours derived from people’s shirts and hair colour? Parts of a whole… it’s like a metaphor for social something…

disco-ball-dibi

…hmmm! oh wait, no – hangon this is interesting:

Clouds of Dust

Luke Murphy-Wearmouth gave a very interesting talk about the concept of Desire Paths. This is a concept I was aware of but not really sure how to translate it into the field of web design.

Firstly and most obviously, use your analytics, heat maps and eye tracking to find out what the users of your site want to do. Prioritise those things and de-prioritise the things they don’t want to do.

The term Decaying Interfaces was used. The idea being that your UI can evolve more or less live based on how its used. This can be done for individual users but for the user group as a whole: A button can become more minimal in its design and explanation as the users become familiar with its purpose.

I’m not entirely clear on how this might be put into practice without inviting the problems that come along with removing or altering the customers landmarks, but I do find it a very interesting idea and worth thinking further on.

Cross Platform Branding

I’d have probably skipped this one if I’d not read the small print emphasising that what we’re going for here is an emphasis on the use of typography to create and project the personality of your site. Our control over the design, template and context is increasingly limited in a mobile first and responsive world, but our choice of typography and spacing can increasingly be used across multiple devices and media.

In my opinion, use of type is one of the areas that has most radically evolved (revolved? – almost) in the last few years, and wisdom about serifs, lowest common denominator system fonts and accessibility that felt set in stone five years ago no longer applies now we have much higher resolution screens and the availability of web fonts.

Paul McKeever gave an convincing and compelling introduction to the state of the art ranging from the strategic and branding concerns down to the nuts and bolts of performance and implementation.

The tool he was hawking looks to be worth further investigation: http://typecast.com/.

A good night to avoid daytime systems failure

This talk on sleep and its patterns and function by Kirstie Anderson was very interesting: though somewhat tangential to the theme of the conference as a whole, I found it an entertaining and enlightening talk, and will attempt to take its lessons on board.

How Documents can change your world

NoSQL is a topic i’m pretty interested in right now. Ross Lawley introduced the key concepts of NoSQL, document databases and MongoDB. There is a lot about this that still puzzles me and the topic of how the heck you manage and mitigate relational issues is clearly one that will become clearer once i’ve had more hands on experience of these kinds of systems.

The talk covered a lot of ground and was refreshingly honest about the weaknesses as well as the strengths of this approach. My feeling is that where there’s a clear chunk of data that can expand or contract, that sits somewhere in a tree like hierarchy, MongoDB is worth investigating.

One of my current work projects involves web based survey and questionnaire systems, the storage and onwards distribution of the data collected, and its display (probably using JSON and D3). I feel this might be a good match for that project.

One Size Fits None

This passionate questioning of the increasing reliance of CMS and Grid systems hit the nail on the head for me. The slightly bristly response from some of the audience (rushing to the defence of the Twitter Bootstrap) served as evidence that a valid point was being made.

Which was as I remember it, not so much that Twitter Bootstrap users are wankers, but that the increasing reliance on a small set of grid system and cms is leading to a homogeneity of design.

Marta Armada made the point that when unquestioned, when it is simply assumed that your grid or templating system of choice represent best practice (because it looks like other sites look right now), it creates a feedback loop that kills creativity in design and brings too much of its own design baggage (both visually and in terms of file sizes and downloads, typography, how buttons bevel, colour schemes, icons and such).

You can’t see a clique from within, and all systems can institutionalise. Bravo.

To Sum Up

This was a pretty good conference and a boost to morale. The usage of drum and bass as a shorthand for cool was sometimes a little trying, and there were some minor logistical hickups, but I know how hard those are to get right. The party was good, I chatted to some old friends and new and came fourth in the build a lego star destroyer competition and feel that I should have done better. They gave us beer and pies. All good.

Content wise, DIBI talked directly about the issues surrounding the proliferation of devices and media that i’ve been wrestling with recently.

I was gratified to find others with the same or overlapping sets of problems. While there are some new routes forward starting to emerge in Responsive Design it seems that while there isn’t yet a best practice to settle into everyone is enthusiastic about that and that this might be a good thing.

Also, nobody I talked to felt the need to prefix the word object with business or the word software with enterprise like they meant something. The focus was on the things that pull in the opposite direction from those kinds of terms:

Creative problem solving using forward looking tools and having a UI that’s a pleasure to use.

Quote of the Conference:

“Flat White? No friend, there are only two kinds of coffee: Americano and Irish”.

Cheers.

Boardgame Jam – How it Went

Make and Mend Market, 21st September 2013

Hosted by the Star & Shadow Cinema

So, on Saturday, myself and Alexi Conman* set out to run a Boardgame Jam as part of the Make and Mend Market at the Star and Shadow Cinema.

I’d not really planned much beyond obtaining about fifteen quids worth of old boardgames (Alexi and Jack Fallows donated some more), and cutting up some mount board into squares, circles and hexagons with my newly obtained Die Cutter. More on that topic in another post.

board-game-bits

We had a pretty good time, and it was mostly about figuring out how we might do such a thing in future and agreeing that it we probably will. More on that soon too.

So we made some games. Here are a few of them:

Cops and Robbers

cops-robbers-death

An interesting game, and one which at a number of points made me wish I’d brought some kind of disclaimer forms with me. The cops and the robbers start at opposite sides of the track, and both travel clockwise. Whichever catches up to the other wins: it’s effectively a roll and move game loosly based on monopoly, but it has a couple of interesting mechanics and an theme that became increasingly scatalogical.

Both the cops and the robbers have squares that allow them to place cards on the track in the path of their opponent. In the case of the robbers, it allows them to blow up bridges and knock the cops into holes, slowing them down. In the case of the cops, there appeared to be only two kinds of cards: ones which meant instant death for the robbers and onces which required the cop player to mime having a poo, or (in game, presumably, thankfully it didn’t come up during play testing) moon the robbers. Aside from instant death, these cards were entirely thematic.

The ability to decide where in the path to place these was interesting to me, and livened up a roll and move mechanic. Also interesting from a mechanics perspective: robbing the actual bank was emulated by stacking wooden cubes: you gaine as many hundreds of dollars as you have cubes stacked. If they fall, you get none. I thought that this nicely related to the dexterity required by safe crackers and was thankful that it didn’t involve any bodily functions.

Post apocalyptic scattered civilisations

post-apocalyptic-scattered-civilisations

As a result of our random concept generation system, while I was figuring out Cops and Robbers, Alexi was experimenting with hexagons towards building a game of route finding through an irratidated landscape. This appeared to remain in a very experimental phase.

Extreme Jet Pack Vertigo Builder

extreme-jetpack-vertigo-builder

Cuttlefish brought a concept that he’d been working on with his daughter for a while now. A collaborative game in which all players must get to the top of the central tower, building their scaffolding as they go using engineering principles and plays such as ‘The Inverted Gandalf’.

His earlier versions involved meccano and suffered from long delays between turns while bridges and towers were constructed. Replacing these materials with plasticene and lolly sticks made this a very interesting game indeed. Plasticene is more immediate.

The rules were simple: roll a dice to decide whether you move (each lolly stick is three squares long), gain building materials, or require you to add a block to the central tower. The players characters are required to stay on the lolly sticks, and falling off means returning to the bottom. All the players win if they all get to the top. All the players lose if any of the blocks fall off the tower.

I think it was a pretty good game, and certainly one which anyone could easily pull the pieces together for cheaply: the rules were formalised just enough to make it play without too much debate or interpretation and the materials we ended up using made it precarious and falls were frequent enough to be a real threat but not enoeugh to make the game frustrating. Very good.

Warewolf Hat Director versus Spoon of the Undead

warewolf-hat-director

We pulled together some quick prototype cards to experiment with an idea Alexi Conman has been developing. Alexi has an interesting direction with this game of hidden roles, mixed messages, conflicting goals and trust, and the cards we drew up here were a little flippant but did help us experiment with some of the ideas that are going into the game.

All in all?

We had a pretty good day, and I think we’re certain that we’d like to do something like this again, but with more structure, planning and outcomes, and specifically aimed at mid-teenagers and above rather than younger kids.

* I think it was Alexi Conman. You can never be 100% certain of these kinds of things.

Alcohol …and that

Cover Design

The Ninth Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology

One of the few PJCC Anthologies i’ve not contributed a story to, Alcohol …and that‘s cover was created by Brittany Coxon and Myself: we both designed it, I pencilled, Britt inked, we both coloured and then I did the typography.

We were pretty happy with the results, and I’d like to do something more in this daft sci-fi style. How many bottles of beer can you count?

Alcohol ...and that

Asteroid Belter

The Newcastle Science Comic

As part of the British Science Festival in September 2013

I’m immensely proud to have been both a contributor to and a part of the development of the Newcastle Science Comic where I was co-editor of the comic a a whole, and also a page editor for a good number of the pages within. I looked after the production site of the comic.

The Newcastle Science Comic was originally published as a run of 10,000 44 page newspapers given away free during the  British Science Festival in September 2013 – it was printed by the excellent Newspaper Club.

The comic is available to read online in full at the Newcastle Science Comic website. The Newcastle Science project is still active, and new projects and activities are being organised by Editor in Chief Lydia Wysocki.

Those pages where I contributed creatively were:

Cipher Mice versus Spy Cat

Writer and Artist: Paul Thompson

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-34

 

The Amazing Three Parent Monkey

Story: Alexi Conman, Art: Tony Hitchman,
Colours/Letters: Paul Thompson, Science: Sourima Shivhare

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-26

Astoundishing Science

Story and Art: Oscillating Brow,
Colours and Letters: Paul Thompson

Asteroid-Belter-Newcastle-Science-Comic-40

I also worked  on the two puzzle pages: with Oscillating Brow on the Science Courier Collection Conundrum and with Terry Wiley on the Asteroid Belter Brain Melter, and put together the credits double page spread at the end.

Go read it: Newcastle Science Comic

Girls from Mars

Tales of the Hollow Earth #3

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

After another disappearance, a security consultant discusses the benefits of using good sealing wax on your correspondence and observes that Astrid is clearly seeing more than she should.

coral

accountant

library-stairs

gudrun-tour

Returning characters introduced in issue 1 (Lure), the history of Gudrun Black and her career in Novalucia’s unique seafood trade is further revealed and Astrid Moriarty returns to the library to continue her investigations.

Girls from Mars begins a story which will end in issue 4, Unreliable Narrators due … soon, and features back cover artwork by
Ian Mayor

ian-mayor-hollowearth

You can buy Girls from Mars on Etsy or

Comicsy for Three Pounds.

Apocryphal Picasso Stories

This comic appeared in the Paper Jam Comics Collective Anthology ‘Art and That’.

Part of a number of stories i’ve heard based on artists mythologizing themselves and the risks of commissioning an Artist with a capital A.

I’d heard similar stories at the time about Aphex Twin (who liked to make it known through other people that he was the new Bach), producing alleged remixes that were nothing of the sort… when the other party came to collect he would deliver whatever happened to be lying around in his computer at the time.

So, if you do commission such people you have to be prepared for them being a bit of a dick and basically taking the piss because they can, and you have to be willing that it’s the story of your interaction with them that you’re buying, not so much the product. I’m sure you know this Marketing Person.

Write a story a day, in May.

This version was done on day 13 of Write a Story a Day, in May.

The sun is going down over the garden. We drank beer, and I listened to a story about Picasso. Jack spoke first…

“Knock Knock Knock.

Picasso awoke in his drawstring pants, pushed aside a stack of canvasses and made his way through the house that was his studio at the moment. That he would shortly sell, sketches and all, making enough money to purchase a larger house and once more begin to fill it with drawings, sculptures and canvasses. The next house may have to have a kiln.

Knock Knock.

‘Picasso!’ shouted a voice from outside.

Picasso made his way through the area where yesterday he had been painting with light, a  pile of photographic film waiting to be developed. He stood on a broken flash bulb and swore.

‘We need your designs today Picasso’ shouted the voice.

Knock Knock Knock.

Picasso picked up one of the flashbulbs that was not spent, put it in his pocket and answered the door. The two men who stood there wore loose fitting suits and hats, despite the sun. They looked Picasso up and down, naked above the waist, his pot belly hanging over his drawstring trousers. Unimpressed.

‘We’ve been sent for the Perfume Bottle design Picasso’ said one of the men ‘Our reputation is on the line if you don’t deliver. You are meant to be a genius’

And Picasso slipped his hand into his pocket and took out the flashbulb. He said ‘Here is your design, you needn’t have worried, it has been finished for a long time’ and gave it to the men from the perfume company. It was art because Picasso said it was art. That was how he paid so many of his bills.”

Jay was unconvinced, he said “Are you sure this story was Pablo Picasso? Isn’t it Paloma Picasso who did perfume?”

“That’s the way I heard the story” said Jack “They accepted the flash bulb since their marketing people realized that what they had bought that day was not just a design, but a genuine ready-made artwork and most importantly, a Picasso Story to talk about with the press”.

Jay shrugged.

Dan said “I have a better Picasso Story”

Jack shrugged, and Dan began…

“One day, realising that Picasso was in town, a wealthy collector of his paintings invited him to dinner. All of Picasso’s collectors were wealthy by this time, except for those who owned restaurants and bars, who were occasionally paid in sketches.

Picasso showed up, along with many other notable guests from the town who the Collector wished to impress. They ate and drank well, and the Collector arranged a tour of the large rooms in which he housed his collection.

As the group toured the rooms, the Collector introduced this painting and that painting, and described the circumstances under which he had came by it. Picasso inspected the paintings – ‘pleased with this one’ – ‘ah, this one, not so much’ – ‘but this one, yes this one I remember well, you are lucky to have this one’ at which the Collector was very ecstatic with pride.

On entering the third room, Picasso declared them all to be fakes.

The Collector was crestfallen. Some of the guests were secretly pleased, and some of those kept that secret better than others, there was even an occasional snort: pride comes before a fall.

The Collector protested, but Picasso stood firm.

‘They are very good forgeries, but they are forgeries nonetheless, I am sorry’ said Picasso.

‘But Pablo!’ pleased the Collector ‘You sold this one to me yourself – I saw you finish and sign it. Has some master criminal entered during the night and swapped my entire room for fakes? And This is your signature, no?’

‘Ah yes, I remember. But I am not a saint’ said Picasso ‘having been short of cash from time to time, even I will occasionally fake a Picasso.’

Words + Pictures where Time = Space

Perception at TEDx, 18th May 2013

Hosted by The Lit and Phil.

This talk was given by Paul Thompson at TEDx at the The Lit & Phil,
in Newcastle upon Tyne on May 18th 2013.

The theme was Perception, and the talk attempted to address this in three ways:

Firstly, by demonstrating how the layout of the page and panels could control the perception of time on the page, displaying cause and effect simultaneously.

Secondly, how minimalism and abstraction can create a sense of both empathy and otherness.

Finally, by using examples specifically about outsiders, aliens, ghosts, characters with altered bodies,
altered perceptions of their realities or comics set in worlds the reader is not intended to fully understand.
Primarily these are Weird Tales, Ghost Stories or comics involving some level of body horror. Or, more importantly, Calvin and Hobbes

Introduction – Anatomy Lesson

Empathy and Otherness

Comics with Various Levels of Realistic Rendering

Comics with Abstract Art, Language and Otherness

Comics using a Clear Line style to achieve Empathy

Some other Good examples of Noir/Horror

Time and Space in Comics

Comics about Outsiders and Perception

Comics about being Not Human

  • Duncan the Wonder Dog, by Adam Hines
  • Swamp Thing – Anatomy Lesson, written by Alan Moore, art by Steve Bissette and John Totleben
  • Zombo, written by Al Ewing, art by Henry Flint
  • We3, written by Grant Morrison, art and Frank Quitely
  • All Star Superman, written by Grant Morrison, art and Frank Quitely

Recommended Reading

Robohunter : The Best Man

Robohunter

The Best Man

by Paul Thompson and Cuttlefish

A comic strip I wrote and that Cuttlefish Comics drew for Zarjaz 17. I’ve always liked Sam Slade. A very cynical and mercenary character with far too many character flaws: On a good day, he can just about scrape through as a lovable rogue in the Han Solo mould.

robohunter-cover-dobbyn

This story was originally constructed as a screen play for two characters waking up in their apartment but ended up having so many badly abused props it fell quite naturally into this world. We’re very pleased to have been considered worthy of being the cover story – and the cover in question is by the very excellent Nigel Dobbyn. It was edited, lettered and generally made ship shape by Bolt-01 and is available now from the FutureQuake website.

Robohunter - The Best Man

The Maker Faire

2013 at Newcastle Centre for Life

This weekend I attended Maker Faire UK at Newcastle’s Centre for Life. It was fascinating: in previous years i’ve been inspired by the Laser Cutters, Plotters and 3D Printers on display.

This year, those devices are practically mainstream, and it’s no longer enough to show a thing that you’ve cut or printed. The star of the shows were the couple of devices that turn those technologies into a bit part in a bigger show:

The Arduino and Rasperry Pi

What couldn’t a person do with powerful, cheap open source computing, processing, control units?

I’ve clearly seen only the tip of the iceberg, but I don’t think you could easily come away from a faire like this without being impressed by the
possibilities for democratising invention and technology that open source thinking has created.

Not just possibilities for engineering or computing or pole dancing robots, which were a lot more more effective than they should have been,
there were some very biological exhibits on show:

A man showed me a copy of his heart he was building. At least I think that’s what I saw.

Internal organs were modelled in knitting, electronics were incorporated into fashion objects, living organisims were forming the basis of arcade games, and some robots were knitting.

Let us be careful how we re-combine the elements of the above sentences untill we have improved as a species, yes?

But not too careful.

I’ve long been intending to visit (and join) the Star and Shadow based ‘Maker Space‘, but this show has made it a certainty.

This is what the Maker Faire looked and sounded like:

 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

Entomology

Tales of the Hollow Earth #2

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

Agent Koen, a man with very little understanding of the world beyond the company of his fellow Inksekt agents and oblivious subordinate of Mister Chambers, is recalled to life to assist Astrid Moriarty in her investigations and at the same time find out what he can about her Grandfather.

spook-wardrobes

 

chambers

The monster of the piece was designed by the UK’s most exciting folder of paper, Mark Leonard and the theme of the issue revolves around the pleasing Etymology of the word Entomology:

“that which is cut in pieces or engraved/segmented”

origami

mark-leonard

The Network

A comic by Luke Halsall and myself – Luke came up with the idea, we both worked it into a short, but quite abstract story, and then I drew it. Pretty pleased with how it worked out.

The Story was published in Glow 2 Horror Anthology in 2012.



Some keys to Plato’s cave

(and the goths who live there)

I’ve been writing and drawing comics over the last few years, sometimes I think a bit about that.

…and one of the things I think is that there is sometimes a tendancy, when deciding what a prop or background character looks like to go for the platonic archetypal ideal typical proverbial object….but this is also the generic and boring prop, no matter what flourish and decoration you add to it. No-one is surprised, for example, when the Key to Hell in Neil Gaiman‘s classic – Sandman– looks like this:

Sandman Key

Which is grand: after all, Sandman is a world whose central aesthetic is pretty goth, and one of its themes IS symbols, archetypes and platonic forms.

…but if you’re not writing a fantasy novel set in all of history’s subconscious, you might want to think a bit more about what the archetypal version of your prop might be, and weigh the pro’s and cons of the familiarity of the ‘symbol’ version of the object against the benefits you’ll get from using something more specific.

Because, despite the fact that I think if you asked most adults to draw a Key they would draw something similar in form to the ‘symbol’ form above, most people’s day to day experience of anactual key has more in common with the Key to the Fortress of Solitude in Grant Morrison‘s All Star Superman:

All Star Superman : Key

Which is brilliant: it replaces the symbolic version with the every day and this is unexpected.

Once you’re away from the platonic form, and using a form that is either more real world or completely alien, you have a much wider range of attributes to consider. The objects form, size, wight, material all have semiotic considerations that can be used to deduce a lot about its owner and the culture and story in which it exists.

  • Plastic, Wood and Metal?
  • Over or Undersized?
  • Embellished or Minimal?

So, if you look at your props and in all honestly it looks like something a Goth might like, you maybe need to think on it a bit further. Your haunted house will possibly be more effective and surprising if it’s a suburban semi detatched than the house on the hill, for example. It will also offer up different and interesting storytelling opportunities.

As an aside, I’m quite interested in Tim Burton’s films: he’s as goth a filmmaker as you can get, but I’m quite looking forward to seeing his Dark Shadows clash of goth and 70’s aesthetics.

Tales of the Hollow Earth : Cosmology

April 9 – 16 2011 – Made In Newcastle

Ten pictures by Paul Thompson

ONE : Games

The best board games are those whose depth of complexity and strategy comes from a very small number of easily understood elements and rules.

Chess is considered to be a very deep game – it has six types of piece and, including the rules for their movement, winning conditions and a couple of exceptions, about a dozen rules. Our greatest computers can match our greatest human players.

Go has only one type of piece, and despite or because of this simplicity is so deep that computers still cannot match the best players.

Given a tiny number of rules of engagement, then where does the conflict come from?

street

TWO : Physics

Why is there something and not nothing, and what is it all made out of?

All matter is made out of molecules and molecules are made out of atoms, are made out of electrons, are made out of elementary particles. These are far too numerous and untidy for anyone to believe that they’re the final word.

But even if physicists successfully pair it down further, where does my motivation come from?

il_570xN.265412296

 

THREE : Stories

Various theories of elements have existed – most commonly four or five, being variations on the theme of: Water, Air, Fire and Earth, occasionally subdividing one, or adding another such as spirit or void.

Unlike the elements of quantum physics, these elements are often associated with properties we would recognise in our daily lives (Hot, Fluid, etc.) both as physical phenomena and components of a personality/emotional states. These kinds of ideas/metaphors are used as component parts in the system of Tarot.

The twenty two cards of the Major Arcana could represent a single story, which would not be unfamiliar to viewers of the Star Wars Trilogy. Or the Matrix: The FoolThe MagicianThe High Priestess, ending with The SunJudgement and a return to The World.

FOUR : Comics

Show people two dots and a line and they will see a face. Show them two pictures next to each other and they will begin to construct a story. Now you understand comics.

I write a comic called Tales of the Hollow Earth. The stories in this comic are inspired by science and the tendency to see meaning where there may not necessarily be any.

But what would the subatomic, elemental particles of a fictional word look like? The quanta of Middle Earth is probably very different to the quanta of the universe of Victor Frankenstein, The Justice League of America, Doctor Benway or Calvin and Hobbes.

acelerator

 

FIVE: Finding Meaning where it may not Be?

So this exhibition represents early attempts at mapping the fundamental principles on which the universe of my Tales of the Hollow Earth is built. Where does the conflict come from, in that world, where does the meaning and aesthetics come from.

By early attempts, I mean to say that these pictures, which I hope you like on some level, are experiments with these ideas, and not expected to be successful. Recurring themes, some obvious, some not, run through the series. Some of them were deliberate, some I spotted afterwards, and some are entirely your own.

Renderx

SIX:  Why is there Something and not Nothing?

I’m thankful to Made in Newcastle for the opportunity to have a deadline to work to, without which none of this would likely ever to have became a real, nailed to the wall exhibition.

Why you should care about this personal cosmology isn’t for me to say, I’m afraid and I’m not going to argue strongly that you should at this stage – it’s an experiment and a work in progress for me. That said, I hope it works for you on some level.

Thanks for taking the time to look though, please let me know if you got anything out of it. I hope that this meandering was useful to you on some level.

Let me know.

Boltzmann’s Eye

Tales of the Hollow Earth #1

Written and drawn by Paul Thompson.

Astrid Moriarty arrives in Novalucia with a collection of cameras that can photograph things that are not there.

boltzmannseye

station

Noir, surreal and funny, Tales of the Hollow Earth is now in its third issue out of an planned five, and has been described by noted
lunatic Ian Mayor as being: “…like Edgar Allan Poe and Kafka discussing Doctor Who in a teak lift” .

One of the overarching themes is accidentally finding meaning where there may not be any – folks just can’t help it. It has also been described as “Bureaucracy Punk”.

A 20 page comic with subdued colour and now includes Lure, a backup strip which was originally created for A4 Comics (created and edited by Daniel Clifford (Sugar Glider, Art Heroes) and features extremely aggressive seafood in a part of town with viral cartography.

You can buy Boltzmann’s Eye on Etsy or Comicsy for Three Pounds.

gudrun

lure

Horror Comics panel at Hi Ex

Horror Comics panel at Hi Ex

Last weekend, I attended Hi-Ex. I’ll write about it’s wonders more generally shortly (which are already very well documentedelsewhere). This post is specifically about the Horror Comics panel on the Saturday afternoon. These people took the stage:
And this is my interpretation and recollection of what was said…
The first topic on the table was the suitability of the comics medium for the horror genre, and how it compares to film and prose. A few fine folks had been discussing this in the hotel bar the night before, so I felt well prepared for the subject. On balance, it seemed most folk considered that both other mediums have distinct advantages over comics in the genre.
Show and Tell
Comics cannot so directly control the pacing, speed and atmosphere of the storytelling as film, nor do they have such a captive audience. It’s easy to be distracted, to go make a sandwich, before turning the page. Shock, therefor, isn’t strong point of comics – we didn’t think it possible for a comic to genuinely cause someone to jump.
At the other end of the spectrum, comics don’t leave quite so much of the atmosphere up to the imagination as prose. And there’s nothing more horrific than what you can imagine.
John Higgins was the only panelist who favoured drawing the gore and the horror directly, the others preferring to leave it off panel. John Higgins is apparently trained as a medical artist though, so I guess he’s the chap in the room most qualified to show you, quite literally, what you’re made of.
Meat and Monsters
The conclusion therefor, is that comics own niche of the horror genre is to disturb and provoke rather than gross out or shock. Body horror was favoured by Al Ewing, who (I paraphrase) pointed out that regardless of what we might think of ourselves, we’re all piles of goo. Which lead to a long discussion of the links between the classic monsters: transformation of humanity.
Frankenstein, Werewolves, Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, all being transformed humans, losing their humanity and control, physically and psychologically. Swamp Thing fits this description nicely, and Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing was well discussed.
Initially conceived as a man who due to a chemical accident becomes a “muck-encrusted mockery of a man”, Alan Moore reworked the character as a pile of muck which comes to realise that the man it thought it was did indeed die in the accident.
Supernatural Romance
The genre of Supernatural Romance was discussed – Twilight and the like. Obviously, this being wish fulfillment fantasy rather than horror, the classic monsters have had their fangs pulled. To generalise (possibly too much, since I’m not familiar), being a vampire in these series presents very little by way of problems beyond a mild addiction with no negative effects.
Vampires have always had a sexual element to them, which is why they often crop up as misunderstood heroes in contemporary fiction aimed at teenagers, and the panel discussed the reason for the neutering of this particular classic monster is simply because our attitudes towards sexuality have became less negative, puritanical or fearful since the Victorians.
Also, I guess, we’re less convinced by the notion of being ‘damned’.
The Rules
The rules for being a vampire may have been softened over time, as have the rules for many other monsters, but one of the key elements of the genre was the rules: most of these beasties are not particularly dangerous so long as you follow the rules. This was pointed out in horror parody Scream, on a meta level, in which the rules to be followed were that of the genre, not any particular monster.
The upshot of this hypothesis is that the true horror comes from the other human beings, then, who cannot be trusted to keep the rules either through incompetence or malice, and put everyone else in danger. The fact that Zombies can run now somewhat subverts this, but that’s more to do with a change of pace in modern film than in the genre itself.
Neither Rhyme nor Reason
Ghost stories were pointed out as an exception, in which the rules are absolutely unknown and often unknowable until long after it’s too late, regardless of whether the protagonists can co-operate with one another.

Alien was mentioned as possibly not being a horror film by the above definitions, but I think it fits nicely into the sub-genre of the Haunted House, of which the wider implication is the Death Planet: an environment in which anything can kill you at any time and for no reason at all. As Al puts it, more eloquently than I could ever hope to:OH NO! THEY WERE ALL EATEN BY A TREE!

Although a likeable, competent character is more likely to survive than those who aren’t, plenty will die along the way, and such stories will tend to go out of their way to hide their protagonist untill late in the day. Since morality and competence is defined by the author, as is who lives and who dies, such stories make excellent cautionary tales, and were considered to be direct descendents of such.
And that is the way of such panels, we had an excellent wander around the genre and some of its implications for storytelling in all media, not only comics. Plenty to ponder, there I thought.