DEPT MIDNIGHT sound design mix v1. Here we go.
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The videogame I did a creative consultancy for earlier in the year got announced last week. Here’s the announcement, which comes with art and video, and, um, here’s me:
It was actually a lot of joy. I hadn’t done videogame development in years, but this seemed sufficiently different to be worth rolling the dice on, and it was in fact the most fun I’ve had in that field since the days of HOSTILE WATERS. Lovely people, I’d work with them again any time.
It’s a VR game, and here’s the Steam page for it. I dunno if this video will embed, but what the hell:
All of us who were in this issue — I did a gig with the brilliant Becky Cloonan therein – were sent this presentation box. Apparently Past Me took a photo, probably in full knowledge that Future Me would not remember this, nor would he remember where he put the box. Past Me was quite correct. Wasn’t that a lovely thing, though?
As most cave paintings will show you, sequential art narrative is pretty much the oldest artform. Probably the first, certainly not the ninth. Which is funny, because we tend to think of it as a hybrid art, comprised of and periodically recharged by elements brought in from other arts. It takes a particular concentration – which I was reminded of by the story of John Coltrane bringing ideas from other arts and disciplines into his music – to realise that all arts are charged by cross-pollination. Sometimes, just the smallest crumbs of nectar can get you somewhere new.
David Amram, the French-horn player, met him for the first time in early 1956 outside the Café Bohemia on Barrow Street in Manhattan’s West Village. Amram had just finished a set with Charles Mingus’s band, and Coltrane was sitting outside the club, eating a piece of pie. He said, “How are you?” I said, “Everything’s fine.” And then he said to me, “What do you think about Einstein’s theory of relativity?” I don’t think he was so interested in what I knew about it; I think he wanted to share what he knew about it. I drew a blank, and he went into this incredible discourse about the symmetry of the solar system, talking about black holes in space, and constellations, and the whole structure of the solar system, and how Einstein was able to reduce all of that complexity into something very simple. Then he explained to me that he was trying to do something like that in music, something that came from natural sources, the traditions of the blues and jazz. But that there was a whole different way of looking at what was natural in music.“COLTRANE: THE STORY OF A SOUND
Here’s a small and stupid example. I’ve been doing this on and off for years, but I was first called out for it by editors when I was doing STORMWATCH at Wildstorm. I wasn’t “buttoning” stories with a grace note or aftermath or other obviously conclusive scene. I was just stopping when I got to the end of the story, with a hard cut.
Which I stole from Spike Milligan. And so did the Monty Python crew.
In the sketch series Q, Milligan just cut each scene when he ran out of jokes. No grace note, no flourish or wrap-up or button. The sketch would just stop dead when there was no more useful material. I love that. Utterly against all narrative conventions, and often peculiarly uncomfortable. This is what the Python writers took from Q. Look at their tv series again and see how so many of their bits just stop with a hard cut.
It gave me more real estate for the story – I was working in done-in-one single issue stories – and the hard cuts made grey-area action stories just that little bit more unsettling, I thought.
Point being – you can find useful ideas for your art anywhere, if you just look around and be open to them coming from the strangest places.
I’ve just come off the final recording session of our audio drama podcast DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT, starring James Callis. as voice directed by Meredith Layne. Ten days ahead of a possible SAG strike. We’re done, and now it’s post — sound design, music and assembling the cuts. Nearly there. What an amazing time it’s been. Loved working with actors again, and what great actors agreed to do me the kindness of working with me. Now I am tired, relieved and very thankful. That was fun.
Buy a pack of A4-ish whiteboards. Like these, maybe. Get a pack of Command Hooks. Get a box of large paperclips like these ones I use. Choose your own whiteboard markers. Choose a calendar at Vertex42, download it and print it off.
Decide what you need to keep track of. What’s on deck right now, what’s pending, things to do that you don’t want to forget about, your call sheet, project statuses, availabilities, things you’re waiting to hear about — you decide what you need to be aware of at a glance.
Stick the Command Hooks to the wall. They go on easy and come off easy. Put a clip on the top edge of a whiteboard in portrait orientation. Hang it off a Command hook. Keep going until you have as many whiteboards as you want. Clip the calendar together and hang it off a Command Hook.
If you’ve got the space, get yourself a great big central whiteboard too. But those cost money and the headline is On The Cheap. This is, really, everything you need to run a writing career aside from your main writing tool and your notebook. You can get fancy with filing information and “productivity” systems another time. Get started with analogue and the essentials. And some music.
It was very weird to learn that James Gunn is planning a movie based on THE AUTHORITY, the comics series I created with and for Bryan Hitch. (I got phone calls from Jim Lee and everything.) Apparently these characters are going to be all over the first phase of James’ DC Comics film sequence.
Here’s the short version of how and why I did THE AUTHORITY.
I’d been doing a book called STORMWATCH for Wildstorm. We relaunched it once. Bryan Hitch came in and did a few issues of the second run with me, which is where we created Apollo and The Midnighter.
(Apollo, because the sun-god metaphor made connections with Superman. The Midnighter, because Batman was once called “The Darknight Detective” and because my dad, in his youth, was a drummer in a band called The Midnighters.)
Bryan and I gelled really well on those issues. We were talking regularly, and I started wondering what else we might do together and what I could write specifically for him. Around that time, I happened to find out the actual sales figures for STORMWATCH, and called the office in horror. The sales figures were like negative eight hundred. It was an actual comics black hole that reversed the laws of capitalism, the sales were so bad. “Why are you still paying me for scripts?” I asked. “Why are you still publishing them?”
What happened next tells you a lot about what kind of people worked at and ran that company, including Jim Lee and Scott Dunbier. This was twenty-five years ago, but their response was something very much like “We really like it and we always want to find out what happens next, so we’ll keep publishing it until you don’t want to write it any more.”
I was gobsmacked and MORTIFIED. I felt so fucking guilty I just sat there in my chair for hours.
And then I started coming up with a plan to repay them by coming up with a version of the property that actually made them some money. In the next moment, I realised Bryan was going to be the perfect partner for that, so I wrote it very much for him. I already had one of the five best colorists in the world at that time, Laura DePuy. All I had to do was convince her to stick with me a little longer and give her space to push the envelope of what was possible at the time.
And that’s how THE AUTHORITY happened. We did twelve issues, and then I told my editors to hire Mark Millar and Frank Quitely to replace us, which they did. And, with that hiring, actual comics history was made, and I repaid my debt to my wonderful publisher. (Aside from the debt of gratitude I will always owe to Scott and Jim and everyone else there.)
THE AUTHORITY by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Laura DePuy Martin is back in stores.
(A version of this previously appeared on my free weekly newsletter)
This just arrived today, so I guess it’s on release imminently: in this “Epic Collection” of old Carnage stories – you may have seen Carnage, the “red one,” in the film VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE — is contained one of my earliest graphic novellas from close to the very start of my career in American comics, CARNAGE: MINDBOMB with the excellent Kyle Hotz illustrating. (I just looked it up – 1996!)
And Kyle gets the back cover:
Looks like it’s available to order now.
Had a lengthy call with Mr. Callis the other day – which sidetracked into electronic music history quite a bit – which set me up for doing the final polishes on DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT, which then go into the system to prep for recording next month. So I need these locked by Friday. Some writers love polishes. All I ever see are the things I somehow managed to not fix in the previous drafts, and I spend hours cursing Past Me for being bad and stupid.