For Me the War is Over

Pádraig Ó Méalóid was kind enough to send me, along with his excellent new fanzine, Puny Earthling, a copy of issue 3686 of Commando comic, published in 2004, which, as it turns out, held a very personal interest for me. Commando, for those of you not familiar with the medium, is a comic digest, in 65 page booklet format, still available in newsagents in Britain, with two issues being released every week! (Proof again that comics are only 'dying' if you don't count all those comics that are doing really well.) There's one story per issue in these little graphic novels, this form being where Battler Britton, now ressurected so gorgeously by Garth Ennis -

http://dccomics.com/comics/?cm=6097

comes from. (Although I'm still waiting for him to take a 'calculated risk', as he always did when I read him as a kid.) This particular issue is called 'Return to Action!' And, well, here's the first panel that caught Pádraig's eye...



Now, that could just be a coincidence, but added to that, three panels later...



My old writing partner Martin Day pops up, 'young and inexperienced'! But what really makes one certain all this is no accident is the name of the little French village Cornell and Day end up defending...



'Yarvelling' being the name of the creator of the Daleks in the 1960s TV Century 21 comic strip devoted to them.

This makes me wonder if the port of Darville, also mentioned, is a reference to former Doctor Who New Adventures books editor Peter Darvill-Evans, and if 'Penshire' is a reference to my ex of those days, Penny List.

Commando booklets are published without credits, so I don't know who wrote this, and I'd love to find out. The art reminds me at some moments of the great John Ridgway, a former collaborator of mine, but I don't think it's all him, or that he'd remember me in such detail. If anyone out there knows any more about this, please let me know.

And yes, the Germans do still call the British 'accursed Englanders', and yell 'himmel!' when they're being shot at. By, erm... me.

Fantasycon and John Clews

On a whim, and because Caroline’s now working all the time on her thesis, I popped along to Fantasycon in Nottingham over the weekend. This is the British Fantasy Society’s annual event, with guests including Neil Gaiman and my mate Juliet McKenna. It reminded me of the old days, showing up at a convention without a registration or a hotel room, and then sorting it all out when I got there. They were kind enough to immediately invite me onto a panel on screenwriting, with Stephen Gallagher, who I also know of old, and Clive Barker. It’s the first time I’ve met him. He was funny and gracious, and obviously takes care of his image: in multi-patched jeans and paint-splattered shoes, he was as Clive Barker as it’s possible for anyone to be.

Friday night was rather too swiftly drunken, but on Saturday I was delighted to meet Ian Edginton, the comic author, who’s also worked with D’Israeli, on the excellent Scarlet Traces, and the boys from Solaris Books, on home territory, were kind enough to take me out to lunch. It was the ideal quick convention experience, really, with an aptly-sized dealers’ room and a thoroughly businesslike and sociable bar. I had a great time.

On a different note, I was saddened to hear about this, courtesy of Nev Fountain:

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006430707,00.html

Amiable eccentric John Clews, 51, enlivened his community by wandering about dressed as Tom Baker’s Doctor Who. Until he was goaded to death, pressurised to the point of having a heart attack, by a gang of youths who often taunted him. The right to be eccentric is every right we have, wrapped up in one. The youths presumably thought of him as fair game on the basis of their defining of themselves as normal, and him as a geek. It feels to me right now like ‘they’ got one of ‘us’. But that’s not a very constructive feeling. The Sun has been surprising me in recent years with sudden surges of liberal intent, but I can’t help but think that John, in death, finds himself on the right side of them only because of their anti-gangs campaign. In life, he might well have found himself mocked by that ultimate arbiter of what’s allowed.

Announcements:

ITEM! On the 25th November, I’ll be joining Trev Hairsine, Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, Adi Granov and Nick Roache at the Dublin City Comic Book Convention, from 9am in the Temple Bar Music Centre, admission ten Euros. Should be a good gig.

ITEM! I’ve also taken up a kind offer to go to Belfast next August for Mecon 10, with guest of honour Ian Banks. Web sites for those when I get them.

Wisdom Issue Two Cover

By Trev Hairsine, of course, and it's lovely:

http://www.newsarama.com/marvelnew/Dec06/main/WISOM002COVclr.jpg

Here's the blurb from Marvel's solicitations for December:

WISDOM #2 (OF 6)Written by PAUL CORNELL. Pencils and Cover by TREVOR HAIRSINE. People in Wiltshire are having nightmares. This wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t soldiers from the nearby military base shooting the place up because of their bad dreams. It’s up to Pete Wisdom and MI 13 to get to the bottom of it. Little do they know that this threat threatens all of Great Britain and the whole world! 32 PGS./Mature/Explicit Content ...$3.99 THERE IS A STRICT NO OVERPRINT POLICY ON ALL MAX TITLES - PLEASE CHECK YOUR ORDERS AND PLACE THEM BY THE FOC.

And I needn't remind anyone, I'm sure, that if you live in Britain you can get the whole series via the link above. This is going to happen for the next four months, you realise?

World of Warcraft: No More Macho than Oblivion

My Agent tends to mock the things I do in Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls, like pick flowers and invest in bookshops. Well, when I say 'mock', I mean 'blow up my house', as those of you who have looked at his Oblivion-related blog know. Caroline, working all day on her thesis, has now picked up a night-time World of Warcraft habit, and it does my heart good to find that one of the essentials of that game is to find ingredients and cook recipes. Recipes! You can even come up with your own. I may have to look into this. But should there be any remaining doubt as to the relative manliness of the two game systems...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy09JZpLsFc

Joseph Stefano (1922-2006)

It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to meet many of my writer heroes, people such as Terrance Dicks and Murray Smith, and in some cases work with them. It’s with great regret that I note that, on August 25th., one of my absolute favourites passed away. Joseph Stefano was eighty four, and died of a heart attack in Thousand Oaks, California. It was a weird sort of shock to realise that, had I known where he lived, in the last week of his life I was in a position to visit him. The various obituaries mostly focus on his script for Psycho, but good as that is, I think his masterpieces lie elsewhere.

Stefano’s work was one of the reasons I became a writer. As a kid, I would notice who wrote what TV shows, and start to anticipate a good episode when particular names appeared in the opening credits: Robert Holmes; D.C. Fontana; Steven Moffat. I would stay up late to watch The Outer Limits on BBC2, which was on very late on a Friday night, after The Old Grey Whistle Test and Newsnight. This is pre-video recorders. My parents would never have let me stay up so late on a school night. I’d chow on a Pot Noodle, and often fall asleep during the other shows. So the weird East European puppet films Whistle Test used to show for visuals during prog rock tracks, and Newsnight’s strident theme became part of the whole mysterious process of visiting that oasis of black and white anthology weirdness. Reaching puberty was also an important part of it (and I’ve recently revisited this in the writing of the new novel, which draws a lot on my childhood), in that without knowing what I was doing I, well, reached puberty during the episode ‘The Human Factor’, starring Robert Culp, an ice ghost, and, most importantly, Sally Kellerman. It was with some anticipation that I watched that episode again on DVD. And some disappointment. Which is probably a good thing. Lab equipment and experimental monkeys would be an expensive fetish.

BBC2 showed their Outer Limits episodes in a completely random order, so you didn’t know if you were going to get something from the wonderful first season or the lacklusture (and without Stefano) second season. First season: gorgeous lighting and direction; freaky monsters; mind bending scripts. Second season: no money; no art; a lot of talking heads and, okay, two really great Harlan Ellison scripts. Amongst the first season entries, I learned to look for the name Joseph Stefano on the writing as well as production credits. Here’s a list of his full scripts for that show in that year:

‘A Feasibility Study’.
‘Nightmare’.
‘The Zanti Misfits’.
‘It Crawled Out of the Woodwork’.
‘The Mice’.
‘The Invisibles’.
‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’.
‘The Bellero Shield’.
‘Fun and Games’.
‘The Forms of Things Unknown’.

Plus credited contributions to eight other scripts. He was what these days we would call a showrunner. In late 1963 he reached some kind of creative peak. ‘I didn’t have the time to do treatments or outlines. I just made them up as I went along, according to a vision in my head – not a step by step formula, but more like a dream.’

And that’s the heart of it, I think. The expressionist direction of people like Gerd Oswald and Conrad Hall, all patches of shadow and slanted light, helps us get there, but it’s the writing that induces a genuine sense of dream logic. ‘The Zanti Misfits’ starts with the military cordoning off a section of desert, ready for the arranged arrival of a group of criminals from the planet Zanti. Nobody knows what they’ll look like. A fleeing couple stumble into this forbidden zone. The couple have done wrong and suspect they’re going to suffer for it. They discover foot long stop motion ants with human faces. The fact that Wah Chang’s models look a little hokey today somehow helps in making them genuinely disturbing.

‘Nightmare’ starts with human soldiers held as prisoners of war in a white-walled studio by monstrous aliens. It feels like a dream, but the endings of these pieces are never ‘it was all a dream’. Rather, we know that from the start. One of the prisoners has his sight taken away and given back, on the condition that he look at the corpse of his fellow prisoner, from whom the aliens have taken the heart, and put it in a box.

Stefano’s dialogue is dreamlike too, determinedly anti-realist, while getting us right to the heart of his characters. This was the era of great dialogue in American TV, where characters were expected to talk in the hard-nosed, highly romantic lyricism of plays like ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’, a style just to the left of the Kitchen Sink. It was blank verse that nobody in the real world would have come out with, but felt right because of that. It felt as if truths were being told, apt for the ordinary people who were saying them, unlimited by the speech patterns of such characters in the world. This, like so many other things to do with Stefano, isn’t something you see too much these days.

Many commentators think the height of Stefano’s approach is ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’, with its ‘Hotel California’ of trapped residents in a hotel orbiting frustratedly around a phallic monster contained in a box. But I’d opt for ‘The Invisibles’, where we’re with a secret agent as he infiltrates a conspiracy at the heart of government, run by men who keep ‘a sick, nameless nucleus’, that is a monstrous insect, lodged in their spines, directing their thoughts. He crawls along with a broken ankle as one such attempts to mount him, emitting hungry roars as it approaches. Network censor Dorothy Brown told Stefano ‘This film bothers me, and I can’t tell you why, or what to cut.’

Stefano’s final script for the show was ‘The Form of Things Unknown’, intended as a pilot for a spinoff fantasy series. It resembles nothing so much as European art cinema, David McCallum in a room full of clocks and taut piano wire, Vera Miles being forced to march into a lake in her little dinner dress to serve her master cocktails.

Stefano left the show in a row over the way the networks had been treating it, moving it to tough timeslots, never understanding or taking care of it. But various contributors have suggested that had he stayed he would have run himself into the ground. He was exhausted, and he’d bared his unconscious, full of Freudian insights and stark raving terror, to the world. He’d brought art to primetime. The irony of it all is that, while many of his episodes are well remembered, they’re often jammed deep into the unconsciousness of the viewer… and they tend to recall them as episodes of The Twilight Zone.

I’m sad that Joseph Stefano is no longer in the world, and recommend his work as the height of the art of telefantasy.

Quotes and info for this piece taken from David J. Schow’s excellent The Outer Limits Companion.

Announcements:

ITEM! I’m still working on an American Wisdom distribution offer. Watch this space. On October 4th, Marvel will be publishing a low-priced sampler for its whole MAX line of adult comics, including Wisdom:

http://www.marvel.com/news/comicstories.629

And Wisdom’s Web is a very cool Pete Wisdom fansite, including a lot of the history of the character:

http://www.wisdomsweb.co.uk/

ITEM! On his blog, the comic artist D’Israeli, or Matt Brooker to his friends, is presenting the cover art for the soon to be published collection of my and his strip XTNCT. And very lovely it is too.

http://disraeli-demon.blogspot.com/

ITEM! Robin Hood begins on BBC1 on Saturday October 7th. Which means my first episode should be on on October 21st. From the look of the preview, it’s going to be a cracking show. The press, on whose bus I rode between the preview venue and the party, were certainly buzzing with good opinion. And seats in the preview cinema were hard to find. It’s always a good sign when the press smuggle in their mates.

ITEM! Having been to a couple of Doctor Who readthroughs since last we spoke, I can say we’re in for an excellent third season. Gareth Roberts’ Shakespeare episode especially impresses. And Russell is firing on all cylinders. I’m about to deliver another set of drafts of my two parter, and I’m enjoying myself immensely.

ITEM! Our line-up for the charity Doctor Who writers’ dinner, now set for Friday October 27th, in aid of Mark Millar’s Crohn’s Disease cure fund project, is now as follows: me and Moffat; Toby Whithouse; Gareth Roberts; Rob Shearman; Stephen Greenhorn, new script editor Gary Russell and, not part of the new series, but very much our guru, Terrance Dicks. And, of course, the two highest bidders. With more to come. Photos and hungover memories will be posted after.


I'm up to my eyes in work at the moment, with Who, Wisdom, my own BBC1 pitch and something exciting in the field of prose which I can't talk about yet all demanding my attention at once. But I'm always pleased to wander out here and talk to the audience. Until next time, cheerio.

Get Pete Wisdom at a Discount Price!

I don't know if a deal like this, between a creator and a supplier, has ever been tried before. I'm pleased to announce that, thanks to the kind offices of the team at Forbidden Planet International, those of you who haven't previously dipped your toe into the world of comics (I'm looking at you, Doctor Who fans and SF readers), can take a low-priced dip into the comic I'm writing.

One click on the above banner will take you to a purpose-built Pete Wisdom sales website, where you'll be offered three options about how you might want to purchase the six issues of Wisdom, the Marvel Comics miniseries which starts in November, written by me and drawn by the incomparable Trev Hairsine.

Option A: you get sent the series in three packages, each of two issues (so your first package will be sent after issue two is out), at a total cost for the whole series of £18.90.

Option B: you get two packages of three issues (the first sent after issue three is out), all in all a cost of £16.90.

Option C: when the series is complete you'll be sent it all in one go, for £15.90.

The prices above include everything. The comics will be delivered to your door, bagged and in a special protective card box, in mint condition. Options B and C are actually cheaper than if you bought the issues over the counter.

I get my own comics delivered by FPI, and find their service to be excellent and reliable.

At the moment, I'm sorry to say that this offer is only available to British readers. If any American distributor would like to make a similar offer, I’d be interested in hearing from them.

Please bear in mind that Wisdom is a Marvel Max title, and is thus rated as an adult title, containing themes and scenes unsuitable for children.


An Award for Deanna Hoak

A new aquaintance of mine at Worldcon was specialist SF and Fantasy copyeditor Deanna Hoak. There's a link to her blog down there on the right. Deanna's contribution to the books she's worked on has been huge, as several of her authors attested around that bar table (Chris Roberson always adopts a particular table at a convention... I wonder how it's doing without us?) on various occasions. A conversation began between us about the fact that a professional who is a leader in her field, and a specialist in our genre, doesn't have an award that she can win for what is clearly an outstanding contribution. Fiona Avery, on her blog, has recently been waving this flag, and many others will doubtless join the cause.

Well, there is an award that Deanna can win. The World Fantasy Awards, Special Award: Professional. It's a useful catch-all that usually features editors and publishers. This year's nominees have already been announced (and include Chris and Allison, Lou and the lovely Tor editor Peter Lavery):

http://www.worldfantasy.org/awards/

But let's keep this campaign in the frame for a year, and make sure that next time round the members of the World Fantasy Convention have the name Deanna Hoak uppermost in their minds. Doing so would be a service not only to her, but to all the other 'invisible' professionals who keep our business alive.