More (and Moore) from the Edinburgh Book Festival

Alan Moore and Steve Bell at the Edinburgh Book Festival

As well as the Martin Rowson and Garry Trudeau events with Steve Bell at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last week (see here) there were several other comics folk present at the world’s biggest literary fest, including Garen Ewing, Sarah McIntyre and oh yeah, there was some bloke called Alan Moore… It was a sold out event, despite being a bit too late to make the print catalogue, and there were a number of comics and books folks in attendance, including former Tharg David Bishop, Ian Rankin, Iain Banks, Garen Ewing and a lot of others (including yours truly, of course). It’s not everyday you get the chance to hear Alan Moore talk at such an event and a lot of folks wanted to take advantage of the opportunity – including, I think, the host, Steve Bell, who seemed genuinely interested in what Alan had to say about the longform comic (an area the cartoonist mentioned he was interested in dabbling in himself), the ins and outs of publishing, creator’s rights and dealing with Hollywood.

When the subject of creator’s rights came up Moore described the famous (or infamous) situation with V For Vendetta and Watchmen, mostly stuff many will have heard about before, about how he and the artists would get their rights back after the books went out of print, which as he said seemed reasonable at the time given in those days graphic novel collections rarely stayed in print for more than a short time, but as we know now theses books remained popular and so in print. Alan seemed remarkably sanguine about it – obviously not a situation he was happy with, but he didn’t appear bitter about it, it was quite clear those were past and he was far more interested in the works he was doing now, from the Dodgem Logic magazine (the fifth issue came out just in time for the Book Fest) through the next League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book (Kev O’Neill is working his art magic as we speak, Alan tells us) and his massive prose novel Jerusalem. He did mention feelers put out to him to the effect that he could have the rights to Watchmen back if he signed off on allowing other writers and artists to create spin-off tales set in that universe, something that’s been rumoured for a while from the DC camp, but Alan said he wasn’t interested – if he’d been offered the rights back years back when he was arguing for them, perhaps, but now he’s moved on.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2010 - Sarah McIntyre 01

The very first batch of the new DFC Vern and Lettuce collection by Sarah McIntyre is due out in September but luckily early stock made it to the Book Festival in time for Sarah’s art class with the kids, and Sarah was happy to sign them:

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2010 - Sarah McIntyre 04

And who needs Gucci or Prada, in the festival city this is the designer bag to be seen with!

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2010 - Sarah McIntyre 02

After years of enjoying reading his wonderful Rainbow Orchid tales (the second print volume was just released by Egmont this summer) I was delighted to finally get to meet Garen Ewing in person.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2010 - Garen Ewing 01

Garen too had been holding an art class for the younger readers at the Book Fest and had decided that if you survived teaching art fun to kids then you were doing okay. As usual with Festival time the weather was variable (hey, it is Scotland) – the day before I’d seen the girls from the press tent putting rubber ducks into a rainwater pond that had formed (the staff always keep wellies on hand just in case, the Gardens are lovely but can get a bit muddy if it rains), but we were fortunate that day and had nice weather so we could enjoy sitting outside as readers came and went from evening book events, while Down the Tubes‘ Jeremy Briggs demanded Garen entertain us by drawing a whole new book from scratch right there.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2010 - Garen Ewing and Jeremy Briggs

(all pics from my Flickr, click for the larger versions; thanks to the Edinburgh Book Festival crew for kindly slipping me into the comics events)

Fuck me, Ray Bradbury

Love this very rude but very funny (and very NSFW) pop video by Rachel Bloom paying rather sexy homage to the great Ray Bradbury and a bit of book humping. Very naughty, but then what do you expect from a song by a huge-chested singer with a title like “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury”? Some good use of Ray’s book titles in the lyrics, bet he never expected them to be used in quite this manner, although I daresay the late Philip Jose Farmer would have loved someone to do this with his books. (via Christopher Cooksey on Facebook):

Happy birthday, Mr Poe

It’s the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, a favourite author of mine since I was about ten and thumbing through a collection of his work. One of the real ale pubs I regularly drink in has a poem extolling ale written by Poe, enscribed up on the wall, which always makes me smile. I wonder if the Poe Toaster made their customary, secretive appearance today? For half a century someone has left cognac and roses on Poe’s grave, a rather lovely little tradition, I think; they have become known as the Poe Toaster. I will raise a glass if single malt in his honour myself later on (any excuse).

Last summer the Edinburgh Film Festival had a retrospective of Roger Corman and the great Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe films from the 60s in their wonderfully lurid colour and with Vincent’s velvet voice. In fact I usually tell people who don’t get Poe to read his short fiction and to do so slowly, imagining in their head the voice of Vincent Price narrating it to them. If they still don’t get it then they are beyond help.

Poe has influenced and inspired many later writers, not just in the phantasmagorical, horror and fantasy realms but in establishing one of the great literary successes of the last century and a bit, the detective tale, setting out many of the rules and procedures of a proper, modern detective for fiction; without it probably no Sherlock Holmes, no Maigret, no Rebus…

He’s been directly referenced by generations of authors and other artists, including some of the finest, such as the immortal Ray Bradbury, who explored one of his favourite, lifelong themes – the battle against ignorance and censorship – in the short story Usher II, where there is a world where all fantastical tales, from outright horror to children’s fairy tales, are banned, only the logical and rational is allowed. One rich eccentric builds a replica of the House of Usher and staffs it with robotic versions of Poe characters, inviting the great and good from this new rational society to a party.

They are all shocked by his lawbreaking but take it as a delightful piece of bad taste for one night. What they don’t know is the robot characters are murdering them all, one by one, in the style of Poe deaths – a robot ape stuffs a screaming victim up the chimney and the rest of the guests applaud assuming it all artifice. The final victim only realises the trap they have come into as he is walled up, buried alive, at the end. His host explains that if he had read the books instead of burning them, he would have known what was happening and saved himself. Ignorance and embracing censorship has killed them all. He exits and the walls of Usher II rip asunder and fall into the mere…

Anyway, for Poe’s birthday, enjoy The Raven, here interpreted in a fine manner by Omnia:

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Over the holiday weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival once again, this time to see top Scottish comics scribe Mark Millar on what I think was his first appearance at this venerable literary bash. I bumped into Mark outside the Writer’s Yurt just before the event was about to start and he seemed pretty happy to be there, smiling and clearly enjoying the idea of being there. This enthusiasm was also evident during the actual event where Mark delighted the packed audience, discussing his comics and film work with much (and often self-effacing) humour before Scotland on Sunday’s books editor Stuart Kelly, who was chairing the event, opened proceedings up for the audience to ask some questions (including, as it turned out, an old friend of Mark’s from Glasgow’s well-loved AKA Comics).

Stuart introduced Mark, inviting him to discuss his earlier work and how he got into comics, with that well-proven path into comicdom for many a British writer, 2000 AD, which Mark was quite honest and candid about, talking about how he was obviously pleased when Tharg’s minions gave him his chance but saying that looking back he thinks he simply wasn’t quite ready at that stage and his writing wasn’t up to par, so there was an element of learning on the job. Naturally the subject of the notorious Big Dave strip for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic reared its beer-swilling head, the series he co-created with Grant Morrison and Steve Parkhouse and which still divides 2000 AD readers. Mark also paid tribute to Warren Ellis and getting noticed in the US comics market when he was given the writing gig for The Authority following Warren’s run.

Mark Millar at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2 small

(Mark and supporting wine glasses signing for fans after the event at the Book Festival, click for the bigger pic on Flickr)

Stuart, who is a self-confessed comics lover, clearly knew his stuff and asked Mark about a variety of his work, taking us from 2000 AD and the Authority to childhood dream come true of working on some of the biggest comics characters around like the Superman and the Avengers and, of course, re-interpreting and reworking classic Marvel characters to such acclaim with the Ultimates and discussing Mark’s penchant for happily subverting established rules and clichés of the medium (which is, of course, one of the reasons we love him) and then on to creator-owned works such as American Jesus and Kick-Ass.

Graphic novels are, as we all know, now pretty damned big business in Hollywood and its no surprised that one of the medium’s best-known writers would be involved in this comics-celluloid crossover. However, as with much of his comics work Mark’s achieved this in his own style and he was refreshingly straightforward with the audience – it seems unlikely that the glamour of Tinsel Town or huge box office success is going to swell the head of the boy from Coatbridge. In fact it seemed quite the contrary – he was obviously delighted with the success he was enjoying in Hollywood, but he made it quite clear that at the end of the day his main occupation is a comics writer, although as he admitted laughingly, he had always wanted to write a superhero film since he was a kid after seeing the 70s Superman movie and deciding as a boy that he should be the one to write a sequel! Which prompted Stuart to ask him about the Superman movie he was almost involved in more recently, asking what his version would have been like. Laughter erupted as Mark explained he couldn’t tell us about that script idea unless we wrote him a very large cheque. Would he still like to write a Superman film? Oh yes!

Kick-Ass Mark Millar John Romita Jr

(a page from Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s Kick-Ass, published Marvel Icon)

Obviously Wanted came up – a serious box office success although it was considerably different from Mark’s original comics. When Stuart asked him how he felt about the differences he explained he didn’t mind, in fact he said he quite enjoyed the film version; the version he wrote worked perfectly as a comic, eh thought, but not necessarily as a film, so he had no big problem with changing concepts to suit a different medium and besides, he laughed, he loved some additions in the film version, like the loom (super-assassins knitting, what a great idea he commented).

Naturally the film version of Kick-Ass was discussed and the way studios were interested in the property but only if they could change elements they were worried about. Mark had nothing but praise for director Matthew Vaughan (Stardust, Layer Cake and the film version of American Jesus) who agreed with him that they wanted to go with the story from the comics, not some watered-down-by-studio-committee version (which would doubtless excise many of the controversial elements that are central to the concept) and set about talking to contacts to raise their own finance to do the film their way (an approach recently vindicated by the excited studios bidding for distribution rights to the completed film after footage screened at San Diego Comic Con to much excitement), as well as complimenting Jane Goldman’s script-writing ability. He also promises us that what we’ll see on screen is taken directly from the comic original.

All in all it was a cracking event, with a packed and very happy looking audience (including Ian Rankin and his son who is a big comics fan) clearly enjoying the evening discussing Mark’s comics and film work (not to mention briefly mentioning an idea he has been floating to Scottish Television for a possible show set in Scotland, which I’m sure we will hear more about further down the line) and it seemed to me that Mark was seriously enjoying himself talking to a home-country audience about comics at the Festival, carrying on his talk on a more individual level with a line of fans who waited patiently to speak to him while getting their books signed afterwards. As this year’s Book Festival draws to a close in Edinburgh I have to say that evening rounded it off very nicely for the comics fans.

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Had dad through for the day over the weekend and we went wandering around some parts of the New Town taking pictures, including the home of one of my favourite writers, Robert Louis Stevenson:

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson 2

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

In case you are wondering the old fashioned bell-pull on the bottom left, instead of stating the family name as usual simple says ” private house, not a museum”.

Alan Moore speaks

I was kept very busy this week finishing editing and setting up my mate Pádraigs incredibly Massive Mega Moore Marathon – its a new (15, 000 words or so, phew!) interview with Britain’s Wizard in Extraordinary, Mr Alan Moore. In fact its so big I had to break it into three sections across three days on the Forbidden Planet blog – part one is mostly concerned with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, especially the new third volume Century, the first volume of which comes out this month (Century 1910), the second next year (Century 1969) and a final part which is set in the present day after that.

It will surprise no-one who knows Alan’s work to learn that the subjects and themes and references covered are diverse, from the Threepenny Opera to Jack the Ripper and Monty Python. Part two is where Alan talks about future projects and other works (including doing some work for a local youth culture mag which included Alan telling the kids the truth about drugs! Brilliant), taking in magic and James Joyce along the way, with the third and final part, which I posted up yesterday, is where Alan graciously agreed to take some selected questions sent in by readers of the FP blog. Its enormous but fascinating reading – many thanks again to Alan and for it.

On a related note, earlier this week we found out that media analysts Cision had posted a list of the top fifty blogs in the UK. As you might expect its dominated by politics blogs and blogs from established traditional media like the BBC and the Guardian. And in there at number 31 a solitary entry from the worlds of comics and science fiction – the Forbidden Planet blog. Needless to say I am surprised and delighted – I started that blog just over four years ago, now we have several contributors and its grown a lot (so much so that its a real juggling act for me to balance keeping the blog fires stoked and working on the main webstore; usually that means I end up doing a lot in my own time to keepit going, as do some of the contributors). And its nice that its grown so much since I started it and that a lot of folks in comics and SF communities check it out, but to see that its in the top 50 of all UK blogs? That its up there with Guardian blogs? Wow. Just goes to show that if its done correctly (and honestly) a good blog presence can be more effective (and cheaper and more enjoyable for you and your readers) than huge amounts of advertising. That’s the sort of thing that can happen when you embrace blogging culture as a company instead of screaming hysterically at it.

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Happy birthday to a writer who has been one of my favourite authors since I was a boy – happy 200th birthday, Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19th 1809 and died October 7th 1849. Or perhaps he didn’t die but was simply bricked up alive in a catacomb… Dead for a century and half and still influencing other writers, comics artists, movie makers, not to mention setting out the basic template for the modern detective several decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes.

In fact it seems to be quite a year for anniversaries on the literary calendar – there’s Poe, of course, its 200 years since Charles Darwin was born too, 150 years since On the Origin of Species was published and 150 years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born. Conan Doyle’s delightful adventure yarn of explorers and dinosaurs, The Lost World, is the central plank of this year’s One Book, One Edinburgh campaign in February (Doyle being a local lad – in fact he would have studied not far from where I work), following on from the last two years where Cam Kennedy and Alan Grant created graphic novel adaptations of Stevenson. There will be events, free books, school events and other happenings.

This time it will also extend to Glasgow and ties in with the Darwin 200 events across the UK, including a graphic nove biography of Darwin by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne, all of which I hope helps gets younger readers excited and reading and maybe the Lost World will give them an interest in dinosaurs then natural history (so they know to tell ‘intelligent design’ eejits to feck off when they encounter those brain-damaged idiots). It certainly did for me a kid, leading me to look for factual books on dinosaurs, then geology, evolution, which tied in with interests in astronomy and space exploration, being able to apply that learning to other bodies and… Well, that’s kind of the point, once you start a chain of reading like that it sparks off more and more ideas and questions, leading to more reading and a continually growing link of reading and learning that goes with you through life. All from a good adventure yarn and some dinosaurs.

Mark Millar talks Wanted

Over on the Forbidden Planet blog my colleague Mark poses some questions to another Mark, Mark Millar, Scottish comics superstar (Civil War, Ultimates) about his comics and the movie versions of Wanted and Kick Ass. On the blog there’s a second, shorter video with an excerpt from the special effects creation extras on the Wanted DVD too.

Arthur C Clarke laid to rest

While I was off the air last week we lost Sir Arthur C Clarke, one of the few authors to cross out of his genre to become a cultural icon recognised by millions, including those who never picked up a science fiction book in their life. Sadly he passed away at the age of 90 just weeks before the annual Arthur C Clarke awards are due to be announced. I’ve been reading Arthur’s books and short tales since before my voice broke; basically I have been picking up books of his for over thirty of my forty years on Planet Earth and apart from some wonderfully imaginative fiction (which still usually remained grounded in some real science) I think the quality I most loved in his work over the decades was the optimism. Here was a man born as the slaughter of the War to End All Wars was being fought and who played his part working in radar in the war that came after that, who saw the many atrocities that marked the last century and yet still his stories had this optimism, this belief not that the future would turn out alright but that we could make it better if we tried, if we really wanted to make it that way, to evolve our minds and our morality both. While darker edged fiction often satisfies me more dramatically I need that does of hope and optimism sometimes.

And like many best writers his books made me want to go and read more books; I’d read the story then need to investigate some of the actual science which was used in the tale (my favourite reading is always the book which makes me want to read more, learn more; good books are like brain cells, they work best when creating more links). Reading his collection of non fiction essays a few years back, Greetings, Carbon-based Lifeforms, was also fascinating – because of the reputation he earned worldwide Arthur met just about everyone, from hanging out with Ginsberg at the Hotel Chelsea to presidents and kings, working with Kubrick of course and even during the animosity of the Cold War he was so respected by both superpowers he was one of the few men who shook hands with both Soviet cosmonauts and NASA astronauts. Its not been the best of recent weeks for book people – we just lost Arthur, Terry Pratchett is facing the spectre of Alzheimer’s, Steve Gerber left us… At least we always have the books. Sadly we’re all mortal, but the printed word, that magical, alchemical fusion of human imagination, paper, ink and technology is immortal.

Arthur’s final interview, recorded for IEEE Spectrum in January from his hospital bed, can be found online here. I leave you with Clarke’s Laws:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

You know, of the three I think I am most fond of the second; I like to think the impossible rarely remains impossible forever. Perhaps some of his optimism has rubbed off on my cynical mind over the years… The people of Sri Lanka, where this Somerset-born lad had made his home for decades, showed their respect for their adopted son with a national moment’s silence to coincide with the funeral service. His gravestone will read “Here lies Arthur C Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing,” in line with his own wishes. I’ve met a lot of brilliant science fiction writers over my career in books (including two of this year’s Arthur C Clarke Awards nominees), but I never met Arthur. And yet I feel as if I have known him most of my life and I’m going to miss him, especially that wonderful human quality of hope he always seemed to summon forth.

Neil’s blog is nine

Neil Gaiman’s blog celebrated its ninth anniversary yesterday, I notice – that’s quite a long time in blogging terms and in terms of author’s sites is even more impressive. Many authors and artists and bands these days have their own sites and blogs (some designed and maintained by my good mate Ariel, in fact) but Neil’s been doing it longer than most (actually I am trying to think which published author has been blogging publicly the longest now – anyone know?). To celebrate the anniversary he and his web elves are going to make one of his books free to read online for a month – and they are asking fans to pick it out. Neil being Neil he has thought about it and offers up some advice for picking one from the four on offer (the brilliant American Gods, the very funny Anansi Boys, the recent Fragile Things and the far-too-good to be just for kids Coraline):

What I want you to do is think — not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?

One of the things I like about writers blogging – and Neil’s web journal in particular – is the way it allows them to interact with readers and I like the fact this interaction is being celebrated by asking those readers to pick a book of his that might get others to look at his work. Its an interesting move because it will generate a lot of online discussion and linkage for his site and interest in his books, it might introduce new readers to his material in a painlessly free manner and, as Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross and others have proven, putting up free digital version of your work (they have done it under the Creative Commons license), far from harming traditional sales seems to work to boost reader awareness and interest in your work and so help sales.

I’m not sure which of the four on offer I’d choose myself – I think American Gods is a splendid story with some great use of myth, a book which could work for readers who don’t normally go for science fiction and fantasy novels in the same way his Sandman series worked for people who normally didn’t buy comics (and my signed copy of American Gods is one of the prizes gems of my collection). But it is very long and that might make it hard to read on a screen. Anansi Boys is very funny and a bit shorter while Coraline is deliciously creepy in places and there is the movie version coming up and – oh smeg, I can’t decide! But it is still a good idea.

And on a personal note I’m still indebted to Neil as one of the writers who spoke up for me on their blogs back when I was going through the whole Waterstone’s firing thing a few years back; he said something like if he had his own bookstore he’d like me working in it, which is one of the nicest compliments a bookseller can get and that I was ‘opinionated but in the good way’ which seems like a reasonable description. Anyway, happy ninth anniversary to Neil and his web elves.