SF & F: Axel America and the News Election Race

Everyone’s keen to talk to me about Axel America and Donald Trump. Huddled together neighbours at a car crash, gleefully hiding terror. Never mind the politics, glance at the news media: photo-fit and run. The novel is about communication sciences: propaganda and cyber-stalking, everyday rather than futurist. It has many of the elements of science-fiction: Manchurian Candidates, super-intelligent defence systems and Tesla technology in the first five chapters and more throughout. Then there’s the psychology/SF cross-over: a presently advanced world subjected to Axel’s delusionary perception of global pandemics and martial law, holographic waves, time travel, light and sound weapons. It’s a book on the border of the news and conspiracy theory, fused by recent advances in social media. Threaded through it are themes of order versus chaos, war and peace, authoritarianism versus free will. One question I get a lot is ‘how do you satirise the satirical?’, and I say it’s a challenge, and we chuckle. Rupert Murdoch, Kay Burley, Piers Morgan, Donald Trump, Alex Jones: how do you look at the dark human cartoon and study their projections? One answer is to go right past the fiction of SF and into Fantasy. The novel pulls on the strings of bible prophecy, distant Pangaea, mercenary assassins, secret caves and valuable artefacts and more fitting elements to frame these dark cartoons. They’re comfortably enjoying their lives which disrupt. The incoherent, or unacceptable, nature of these news media antagonists and their rules requires hacking: not from the choices they give us, but from every choice.

I’ve been invited as a last minute guest to Titancon in Belfast this weekend at the Wellington Park Hotel. There you can pick up a copy of Axel America and the U.S. Election Race from myself at the AGPublishings stall.

You can support bookstores in Belfast by purchasing it from No Alibis, The Thinking Cup, Comic Book Guys and Forbidden Planet International. Or in Dublin, from Sub City Comics or The Winding Stair. The book is also available on Kindle and Smashwords.

belfast-89fm

Lisa Flavelle’s Morning Talk-In, Belfast 89FM.

We’ve had some good reviews in The Irish News, Authors Talk About It and Belfast 89FM, which you can find on the Axel America page, along with a round-table vid-cast I’m on, produced by Nimlas Studios, talking about mental health in fiction.

Cover artist Sean Duffield models Axel America.

Cover artist Sean Duffield models Axel America: oh, the pride!

Off to the White House

Or rather The Green Room…

green-room_bigger2

Of The Black Box, Belfast.

posteraxa2blackbox

That’s this Monday, just around from the Duke of York where I’ll be tasting beer after.

The books have arrived, big chunky things. Michael at Northern Visions TV assures me he’ll be getting through it before we shoot on Friday for two shows: Focal Point (news), and Novel Ideas. 

the call

Tomorrow, I’ll be in Dublin to talk to sellers, meet some pals and attend the launch of The Call, a new novel by Peadar Ó Guilín. He’ll be in Easons with Oisín McGann and a group of fans and pals. (Link: FB event) It’s published by Scholastic/Fickling and is a children’s book about child abduction (!) by the Sidhe faeries. [More about that on Publisher’s Weekly]

The Axel America Election Tour has begun, kicking off with the folks at Downbelow, a podcast about Babylon 5. A double episode on Secrets of the Soul (dismissed), and Day of the Dead (applauded). I took a while to warm, fighting the prevailing opinion on the first episode, but I was roundly welcomed and it put me in a good mood to start. (Thanks Ian for the on-air sale!)

Next day, the first of the email interviews with Pro Media Mag, and talking to Seemi about comics and the making of The Invisible Artist show. I really enjoyed this one and you can find it linked with the others on the Axel America page

The weekend began with a night out at Sector 13, a local group of ‘mature’ comics readers and cosplayers. I was picked up by Peter Duncan of great British comics blog Splank!, and we hooked up with social Laurence McKenna, Paddy Brown (soon appearing in Hawaiian shirts), the jovial Ryan Brown, the omnipresent stoic Bruce Logan, teller of tales Glenn Fabry and Ishtar, an author visiting Glenn from Brighton. It was a night of fine craic and welcoming faces and I’d recommend it for folks in the area. More setting up and more interviews. Writers Community is a local site with an interview. Alan asked me questions where I’ve gone into the mechanics and politics of the book, and given some advice on writing.

Old friend Ciaran Flanagan phoned me up on Sunday for a segment on the ComicCityCast and it was a delightful lapse into casual (but excitable) chat about the origins of the book and where it is now. On Monday, US blog Literary Links got in touch to ask about Axel’s showbiz links and the creative lifestyle.

Today, it’s more attempts to bribe journalists and bloggers with a free lunch, and some house tidying so when publisher Andrew arrives on Monday, he isn’t sleeping in a hammock of cobwebs. Keep an eye to @TheAxelAmerica – there’s things I’ll announce there that have blown our socks off.

Oh, just time to mention http://www.outsidergames.com/jennifer-wilde/Jennifer Wilde - Stephen Downey

Me old pal Stephen Downey is working on a game based off the beloved comic, created with Rob Curley and Maura McHugh. For those unfamiliar, Jennifer Wilde follows a French artist and Oscar’s ghost as they solve mysteries in London, Paris and New York.

Blogging Axel America: Me and A Publisher

The week of the 16th May began with a meeting with Pieter Bell, an affable bar-fly of Belfast stores which stock comics. At the Enniskillen event under much lager, Piet had unmasked himself as an editorial bod and was keen to try out proofing the MS. Also from Enniskillen, an interview lining up with Andrew Gallagher for May 22nd. Initially, for guidance, but I couldn’t resist asking the purveyor of well composed sensationalist literature in neat smooth bound form would be interested in publishing Axel America. So, I push on with re-drafting. The daunting, dull task was tidying up the timeline which was a major challenge. I marked cut-off dates in the chapter listing and altered the temperature on a few details. Plot seeds and plants of different growths were uprooted and re-flowered and all other relevant small gardening metaphors. I shared the document link with Andrew and with Pieter on Wednesday, two more days to go.

Not in my notes was the fact a minor character disappeared from the final third of the book. He wasn’t essential to the plot but his character, like Axel, calls out for attention. Again, back to the chapter listing and marking up where he should be seen and what he’d be doing there. One final speed read over I see another characters doesn’t have traction to action demanded. Eventually, more spell and grammar, format and punctuation, (damn those commas wriggling into prohibited areas,) finally its done. 46k.

THe meet with Andrew Gallagher got off bumpy with my epileptic absences flaring up. On the plus side, Andrew is now a big fan of Absence: a comic about epilepsy. He dealt with it as a gent and both of us were so revved with lists of questions for one another that we made short work of the time. Andrew guided me through the process of publishing as he saw it, reeling out figures and processes with nary a glance at his laptop. A very productive day. I’d highly recommend would be authors to hire Andrew for a consultation. Having done a fair bit of self-publishing already I was able to bring enough to the table to compliment and enhance what Andrew has on offer.

So, I’m pleased to announce AG Publishings will be putting out Axel America, on September 5th.

And here’s a copy of Sean Duffield‘s mock up of the cover:

Axel America Finished Rough_Hi_Res_600dpi

Pretty cool eh? He’s been sending me bits and pieces of the finished version and it looks ace!

Axel is a patriot with questions. Torn between two loves: his family, and his one-man media crusade, news won’t be the only thing that’s breaking. Axel seeks to regain the love of his children and to cover the Presidential race. However the satanic forces he’s been warning about all his life come out from the shadows and are determined to pull him in.

(Making) Bottomley – The Brand of Britain

This Friday night, wood, tyres and berries burn in Northireland. The same night, San Diego Comic Con will announce the Eisner Awards, where ‘To End All Wars’ has been nominated, twice.

I’ve felt quite alright about singing my part in the commendation. Although barely ten pages (under 1000 words most likely), I started work on ‘Bottomley – Brand of Britain’ in 2009, when political expenses and public austerity were daily headline news. Even on that trail, I didn’t realise how accurate a reflection of the time Bottomley’s tale was.

Born in 1860, ‘The Chief’ made a stack of cash from hostile takeovers, before moving into the papers. He’s all but forgotten now, but as Pat Mills says, he was a sort of Robert Maxwell of his day. Bottomley launched the Financial Times, and the first UK newspaper called The Sun. He’d be remembered only through his lead paper, ‘John Bull’. You know the icon of the fat hat with the bulldog? That was Horatio Bottomley, art commissioned by Bottomley. That dude was real, ugly.

bottomley on board ship - 1918

The re-telling started as a sub-plot for a graphic novel, but the intensive part-time study called for it to be it’s own piece. Three years later, I was still at it. I’d three drafts together when editors Clode and Clark put out the call for submissions for TEAW, and my script went under another three drafts to tailor it to the collection.

Out of work and out of money, I took a three month Invest NI course to receive a grant, a pittance really, but it would pay the illustrator something. Thankfully, both Ruairi Coleman and letterer John Robbins were on board already. John has been a long time friend, confidante and critic, and he’s probably the best comic book letterer in Ireland.

Ruairi Coleman, I didn’t know quite as well. He were young, always a sure sign of trouble, yet remarkably talented. From the get-go he was everything I hope for in a creative work partner. Ruairi took in the bundles of visual reference I sent, with eagerness, no complaint. He took it on himself to go through a number of articles on Bottomley, and sat through the hour and a half televised 1972 docu-drama featuring Timothy West, with it’s agonising awful cut-aways.

Bottomleys crowds - December 1917

Bottomley’s story is that of the Britain’s major recruiting agent. He sold the war largely through gallons of racism. As editor, publisher and columnist of ‘John Bull’, as well as frequent pieces in The Times, the papers were packed with anti-German sentiment: Germ-huns, bayoneted babies.

Bottomley -witch hunt

The same was true for four years of nationwide speaking tours for which he was handsomely paid. He brought theatre to sacrifice, including a two-part speech in which he staged a mock trial defending Britannia against the Kaiser, dressed as a judge. The photo above is from his earlier performance in Pickwick Papers. Eventually his greed got too much and jail finished him off.

For posterity, here’s a selection of pre-production images by myself and Ruairi Coleman.

Andy Luke - Bottomley - Joining the pieces

Bottomley - andyluke roughs

Bottomley's bobs

Bottomley - The Downfall 2 line pitch

Bottomley05 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

Bottomley08 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

BoB-02 - Ruairi Coleman thumbs

You can see more on Ruairi’s blog, and read of his experiences with ”H.B.’

Soaring Penguin Press are taking pre-orders for the soft-cover of ‘To End All Wars’. £1 of every copy sold will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières. 

You can read my newest contribution to an anthology through Kindle. 20% of every copy of the £2 ‘Tense Situations’ collection, goes to Action Cancer.

Publishers boldly enquiring on other creative works of mine, around the Great War, might wish to contact me (link) for a copy of Lord Kitchener’s Shell Crisis board game.

Finally, here’s a select Bottomley bibliography. Because I love you.

Print

Hyman, A. (1972) The Rise and Fall of Horatio Bottomley, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd

Symons, J. (1955) Horatio Bottomley, Cresset Press. Reprinted 2008 by House of Stratus.

Electronic

AndyMinion (Sept 28, 2010) Horatio Bottomley: A Lesson From History. Retreived at http://lancasteruaf.blogspot.com/2010/09/horatio-bottomley-lesson-from-history.html [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Anon (June 5, 1933) GREAT BRITAIN: Death Of John Bull, Time. Retrieved at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,745621-1,00.html [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Anon (Date?) Horatio Bottomley – The Soldier’s Friend, in Crimes of the Times: Law and Order After the War. Archived from http://www.aftermathww1.com/horatio1.asp [Accessed: 23rd October 2010]

Cowling, M. (2005) The Importance of Bottomley (Ch. 2, p.45-60), in The Impact of Labour 1920-1924: The Beginning of Modern British Politics, Cambridge University. Retrieved at Google Books.  [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Lewis, Roy (Date?) Horatio Bottomley – Champagne & Kippers for breakfast. Archived from http://www.villagepublunches.org.uk/sussex-people-profiles/127-swindles.html [Accessed: 23rd October 2010]

Messinger, G. S. (1992) The Wrong Kind of Immorality: Horatio Bottomley (Ch. 13 pp.200-213), in British propaganda and the State in the First World War, Manchester University Press. Retrieved at Google Books. [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

Video

Mr. Bottomley at Yarmouth (1919) Film. UK: British Pathe Archives. Retrieved at http://www.britishpathe.com/video/mr-bottomley-at-yarmouth [Accessed: 8th July 2015]

The Edwardians, Ep. 7: Horatio Bottomley (2009) Film. Directed by Alan Clarke, UK: Acorn DVDs. Originally broadcast 28 Nov, 1972, BBC.

War and Art – The Human Cost

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Easter Monday saw the emergence of an anthology I’ve been awaiting for several years. “War: The Human Cost” features 260 pages of strips and art   from addicted to war - the high cost of militarismfrom 17 countries. The acclaimed Spain Rodriguez contributes a short on faith-based terrorism and Hannes Pasqualini comes in with 8 pages of silent comic on dehumanisation amongst soldiers. Documentaries include the alliance between Francisco Franco and the Catholic Church after the Civil War, Vietnam, Camp X-Ray Guantanamo.

Child Soldier

Above: Excerpt from “Child Soldier”

Paper Tiger Comix editor Sean Duffield,

“The comic strips include well researched stories from around the world (Tibet, Afghanistan, Israel & Palestine, Liberia, Iraq, Uganda, etc.) which cover everything from human rights struggles, war veterans & PTSD, political imprisonment & torture, child soldiers (a narrative based on UNICEF reports), refugees /asylum seekers, peace campaigners, the arms trade, corruption/ conflicts of interest, millitary spending, propaganda to humour & satire.”

There’s also work from “Peter Kuper, Alexsandar Zograf, Ulli Lust, Mazen Kerbaj, Abu Mahjoob, Nelson Evergreen” and other underground cartoonists and established commercial artists.

£1 from every purchase of the not-for-profit book goes to the well-respected NGO, CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade).There’s also a CD included with the package.

“The CD features well known artists who support the project, such as Michael Franti & Spearhead, Sly & Robbie, DJ Spooky, Blue King Brown, Zion Train, The Levellers, Big Youth & Twilight Dub Circus, The Groove Corporation & many more.”

A mammoth project, yes. Paper Tiger have made use of a the interest in such a project in order to bring it to the public.

AK 47 Tale2

AK-47 Tale Page 2

The book has taken many years to get ready for release. In common with other independent comix press, the halting block is one of finances for printing and distribution. In order to publish the work Paper Tiger Comix needs to raise £3000, the final half of the amount needed. See the green box for how they plan to do it,

(Accompanying images in original article: Camp X-Ray Guantanamo and Patronage War)

To my mind it’s taken this project too long to get to this stage. Paper Tiger Comix and Sean Duffield have a strong track record with previous publications. Paper Tiger’s model at Indiegogo appears to allow donations-for-donations sake, donations which encompass a discount on pre-orders (and free shipping to anywhere), and a grander scale of VIP incentives.

The creators of Phonogram, as I commented last week, might have been tempted to produce a 3rd series if the Patronage model of artist sponsorship was more prevalent. The comics industry status quo is to reward (even established commercial) artists several months after product has been sold. By going ‘Patronage’, Paper Tiger is wisely making use of an already existing audience for an unpublished product. There’s every indication that the money raised will surpass that aim fairly quickly. There are many ‘for-profit’ publications which could attract this kind of audience sponsorship.

Expect to see “Patronage” continue to enjoy a resurgence over the next number of years. Smart music industry artists (ie. not the BPI) have been increasingly using this model since the rise of the internet. I suspect progressive independent builders in the digital downloads market will in the future add a Patronage facility to help with pre-production costs for the art and sponsorship of print-on-demand services.

‘War: The Human Cost’ addresses an international audience. Proceeds will go to CAP (Community Art Projects) “a constituted Community Group based in Brighton UK), to fund future activities” The money donated to (London-based) CAAT, will fund their work in regulating arms companies and taking action against illegal arms deals.

And those look like fine comics.

UPDATE: You can still get a copy of this fine collection from http://www.papertigercomix.com/?page_id=9

With Leonard Rifas Pt.2: Maps and Webcomics and Cyberactivism

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Earlier in the week I spoke with Leonard Rifas, cartoonist and publisher behind EduComics, about language, comics and Second Life. You can read that here. This time around we continue our chat about relaying messages between the virtual and the local.

Andy Luke: Given that comics is slang for ‘maps’, perhaps a narrative told using Google Maps or the like might have potential.

Leonard Rifas: I had not heard “comics” used as a slang word for “maps” before. It reminds me that I had a piece in comics format published in the Journal of Geography in 1996, in which I described a method I had worked out for drawing world maps from memory.

As for how comics might blend with maps, I keep imagining finding a program someday that would allow me to automatically translate spreadsheets, databases and other kinds of information into virtual landscapes where characters could explore and have adventures.

My doctoral dissertation, The Dataforest: Tree Forms as Information Display Graphics, was my first try at playing with the idea of using virtual environments as information landscapes. Around the time I finished that project, the field of information visualization started to really take off, but I lacked the necessary skills in computer science or statistics or even sufficient skill as an artist to get in on it. As that field develops, the technology becomes cheaper and more available and trickles down to hobbyists, so I hope to build some of the data-dreamscapes I’ve been thinking of eventually. Actually, the problem holding me back has been lack of time more than lack of tools.

I think maps and comics can fit together in many ways. I’ve incorporated maps into my educational comic book stories since I started in the 1970s.

Above: from A Method for Sketching World Maps (ERIC-locked)

Below: All-Atomic Comics, 1976

All-Atomic_Comics_(1st_edition_front_cover)

AL: The potential of cyber-activism in the comics form: do you suppose this is something that brings new life to both?

LR: I think it can. I remember in 1985, hearing excited reports about how this rapidly approaching new information technology of the Internet would transform political organising. Now it would be hard for me to imagine living without it, and yet I feel the groups I participated in before the internet had arrived won bigger successes by going out in the streets and stopping traffic with our protests than the groups nowadays have achieved, with their daily click-here emailed petitions to our elected representatives. (I report that as my feeling. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places for internet organising success stories. Perhaps I’m making the mistake of looking to the left for my examples rather than looking to the right.)

I take back what I said about being unable to imagine life without the internet. Last summer I took a two week vacation during which the only keyboards I touched were ATMs. It turned out not to be hard at all…. as long as I’m on vacation.

AL: One of my favourite educational activist pieces is Mills and Ezquerra’s “Third World War” which ran in the British Crisis in the nineties. Do you have any favourite edu-activist or informational comics?

LR: I’d like to read that series. In common with many other people, I think Joe Sacco has done outstanding work with informational comics, including his recent Footnotes in Gaza
I have many favourite informational and activist cartoonists. I don’t write as many reviews as I’d like to, but you can see some of my opinions in back issues of The Comics Journal.

AL: Any chance of including a brief media list of what you’re currently reading?

LR: I can’t make it brief. I usually read many books at once. Today I bought a remaindered copy of The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh of Homer and read Wallace’s chapter, “A (Karl, not Groucho) Marxist in Springfield.” I also pre-ordered The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen, which I’ve been anticipating for decades. My bathroom reading for the last several months has been Willis Barnstone’s The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas. I particularly appreciate how he exposes and explains the anti-Semitism in the New Testament. Mostly, though, for today’s reading I’ve been grading papers, which I enjoy.

AL: Watching and listening to?

In the background, I’m listening to Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong. I often listen to folk music on web-radio: KBCS in nearby Bellevue, Washington and KPFA in Berkeley, California. I especially recommend Robbie Osman’s archived show “Across the Great Divide.”

Earlier today I watched Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the first time. I look forward to Alice in Wonderland.

AL: What are you eating at present?

LR: My wife is in Taiwan on business this week, so I had snacks instead of meals: lots of peanut butter and tomato open-faced sandwiches, (vegetarian) kim chee on tofu, “Craisins®” (dried cranberries), some handfuls of almonds and walnuts, apples, a bell pepper, Veggie Patties, some ibuprofen my doctor recommended for bursitis… basically anything handy and easy.

With Leonard Rifas. Pt.1: Korean War Comics, Second Life and Climate Change

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.

Leonard Rifas is partly responsible, with Project Gen, for the first distribution of Barefoot Gen in English translation. As a cartoonist with his EduComicsimprint and working for other publishers, he’s been responsible for All-Atomic Comics, Corporate Crime Comics, Tobacco Comics, Food First Comics, AIDS News and many others. I caught up with Leonard and posed a few questions to learn about his work.war-battles

Andy Luke: What work have you gotten on top of recently?

Leonard Rifas: My most recent work has centered on comic scholarship rather than cartooning. I’m currently updating my MA thesis on Korean War comic books for publication as my first scholarly book.

AL: And comics-wise?

LR: I haven’t drawn any pages since last November, when I contributed two pages to an art show I organized of Seattle-area cartoonists on the subject of climate change. What keeps me most busy has been teaching courses in introduction to film and introduction to comics at Seattle Central Community College.

AL: I noticed you gave a lecture via Second Life around this time last year.

LR: I got involved in the international comics conferences that meet in Second Life because its organizer, Beth Davies-Stofka, invited me. I enjoyed the conferences (despite the technical difficulties I had) because they combine a feeling of gathering together in an exotic location to share our work with the convenience of communicating over the web.

These conferences also have elements of a costume party, but my avatar (“Not Plutonian”) uses only the free options, so I was not much to look at.

I have been interested in virtual environments since the Human Interface Technology Laboratory began at the University of Washington in Seattle while I was a student there in the early 1990s. I continue to be interested in how such environments can become places to store, share and work with information.

I remain much more interested in the possibilities of such environments than in spending time in actual virtual environments. The only times I’ve visited Second Life have been connected with the comics scholarship conferences I participated in there.

not-plutonian

 (Above: ‘Not Plutonian’)


AL:
 I caught your “Feet First” piece on travelling locally. How did that come to form?

“Feet First Comics” was my first experiment in creating comics for the web. My assignment was to promote alternatives to cars for non-commuting trips, and I realized that the key decisions happen, not when people walk out their front doors and decide whether to get into a car or not, but when people decide where to live. I worked with a team of web design students at Seattle Central Community College, and their help allowed me to design the comic so that readers could click on words in the story and have pop-ups come up to add information, and then links in those pop-ups opened the documents that I originally took the information from.
Already, many of those links have died. Also, when I have introduced individuals to the site and watched them go through it, I don’t remember that any of them ever heeded the screen messages that encouraged them to try clicking on the hyper-links in the story.

AL: I’m quite interested in how you and the internet are getting along and where the partnership has been going and might go next.

LR: I have been thinking of web-posting that show that I organized of Seattle-area cartoonists on the subject of climate change. One reason I have been slow to do it has been that I learned from the mistake I made in designing “Feet First Comics” that web-comics attract their readers by having regularly updated material, new strips, like the daily paper. Over 1,000 people visited the physical art gallery when we had the climate change comics show hanging, but I’m skeptical about how much traffic the same show would get as a website.

AL: How did you get started on the web?

LR: Back when websites still felt like a novelty, in the mid-1990s, people used to hire artists to create up to a couple of dozen original graphics for their sites. I had about a half dozen jobs designing icons, banners, illustrations, and animated gif files for non-commercial websites. As the web matured, that kind of work dried up quickly.

These days I spend a huge amount of my time gathering information on the web and reading email. I hope someday to get over my shyness and post a website for EduComics, my educational comic book company.

climate-change leonard rifas by bob rini

Seattle exhibition photograph courtesy of Bob Rini