Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Last month as well as reporting on the Edinburgh International Book Festival as I do most years I was on stage for some events, the first of which was chairing a talk with superstar Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison. We discussed his earliest work in Near Myths, an anthology which grew out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop (which would become the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet years later) which was well ahead of its time in trying to create a comics form for adult readers and also featured the first appearances of Luther Arkwright by the great Bryan Talbot – in a lovely moment Grant took the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryan’s place in the medium (Bryan was in the audience at the time and was, I think, rather delighted) – it was nice to see this peer to peer respect from one top creator to another. We discussed his Batman and Superman works, his plans for reworking Wonder Woman and the return to Seaguy, before throwing open the second half to questions from the audience, who were eager to ask Grant their own questions (and he was looking forward to the chance to interact with his readers, so we tried to give a good chunk of our hour to the audience Q&A).

I’m not mad at being in front of the camera, I prefer being behind the lens, but it was a fun event and from folks I bumped into over the rest of the Book Festival it seemed to have gone fairly well as they told me they enjoyed it, which was a relief as that was my very first time chairing an event at the Book Fest. I have done plenty of events with authors in my bookselling career of course, but it’s been years since I had to do an on-stage event and doing it with a major name, at the world’s biggest literary festival, well, that’s a hell of a way to get back into the saddle! But it was fun to do it as part of the huge Stripped segment of comics themed events at the Book Festival:

My video interviews from the Book Festival

During my very busy period at the Stripped comics strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in addition to chairing a couple of the author events this year I was also delighted to pose the questions for a couple of their series of short video interviews with authors, including this one I did with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda shortly before chairing their event (which was great fun) – don’t worry, you don’t see me in either as I am safely behind the camera (which I prefer) and indeed as they edited it to mostly the author’s responses you barely hear me, but was nice to be asked to do a couple and fun to do. I talked to Lauren and Inaki about their collaboration (this was the first time they met in person) as well as their next projects:

And I also got to ask Neil Gaiman some questions, which was great – hard to believe it’s been around twenty years since I first did an author event with Neil in my old bookstore. Our slot got bumped by another interview team but Neil noticed this and very kindly arranged to fit us in after the next item on his very busy schedule, and so we got to stand in late summer sunshine in Charlotte Square and I got to ask Neil about his returning to the Sandman, working with JH Williams III and how it felt, having grown up like most of us our age watching Doctor Who, to walk onto the TARDIS set knowing they were filming a story you wrote, and how much more receptive the people now at the BBC are towards his work:

My turn to answer questions for a change

Over the years I’ve been pretty used to posting questions to writers and artists for interviews, but in something of a change about for me the guys at Geek Native asked to interview me in my guise as a blogger of all things comics and SF on the Forbidden Planet blog that I set up (counts, is slightly shocked) almost six years ago now, discussing the FP blog but also the importance of blogging and web presence in general for companies, publishers and creators:

Q3: How important is it for a writer to have a blog? Is it a distraction, just part of fan service or something more significant?

I think it is extremely important writers and artists have some sort of web presence where they can interact a bit with readers, be it a general website and maybe a twitter feed, a blog or whatever. I know some authors and artists aren’t mad on it – it depends very much on individual tastes and persuasions, after all, and not everyone feels it is for them, just as some authors aren’t that keen on doing readings in bookstores and festivals; some are fine with that (I’ve worked with authors who can talk happily to small group of 20 readers through to some standing on a theatre stage with several hundred to talk to quite happily), others really don’t like it at all.

But the fact of the matter is promoting yourself and your book/comic/movie/animated mutant atomic penguin cartoon is part of the game. It has been for as long as I’ve been in the booktrade and is increasingly important – the appearances at signings and readings are important and, perhaps even more importantly now social media is so embedded in everyday life (even when many of us are out and about and away from a PC we’re still plugged in), the digital promotion and web presence is pretty vital. Some authors and artists still seem happy to have a simple ‘about the author’ on their publisher’s site and that’s their choice, but many do dip their toes into blogging or Twitter and find that it’s a good way to interact with fans, a good way to build up interest and the all important word of mouth about new work they have coming and also to reach readers who may never otherwise be able to interact with them – after all, even if you are an author who does carry out a lot of public engagements at bookstore readings, signings, book festivals etc, at the end of the day only so many can get into these events and many more may live nowhere near where they happen. But distance and audience size restrictions mean nothing in cyberspace.”

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.

Hellboy interviews

Recently I had the opportunity to conduct some short ten minute phone interviews (hey, short call is better than no call, I wasn’t going to turn then down!) in the run up to the DVD release of Hellboy II: the Golden Army for the Forbidden Planet blog, which went up over the weekend – I got to talk to two of the cast, Doug Jones who plays Abe Sapien (and is also the Faun in the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth) and Anna Walton who plays Princess Nuala, then rounded it off with a brief chat with the original creator of the Hellboy comics, Mike Mignola, which was an extra special treat as I’ve been a huge fan of his Hellboy comics for years.

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.

Richard Morgan on IO9

One of my favourite authors and all round good eggs Richard Morgan, gives a fascinating interview over on SF site IO9. If you’ve read some of Richard’s work before it won’t surprise you to know that he touches on sensitive subjects like morality, race, religion and other areas of contention (Richard has a gift for being able to make comments on heavyweight subjects while still delivering high octane action), as when he refers to the reception of his attack on the rampant free market in Market Forces:

The book was really written as a critique not so much of the systems but of the mindset of this kind of boorish American businessman asshole machismo. I didn’t really think I was saying anything spectacularly unusual. I thought anybody who looked at would say, “Oh. Yeah, that’s right.” I ran into an awful lot of people for whom market forces are a kind of religious faith. I hate to caricature, but I do think American culture has a faith problem in the sense that there’s much more of a willingness on that side of the Atlantic to take things on faith, and just accept stuff.and believe in something wholeheartedly.

In Europe people just seem to be a lot more cynical about these things, whatever it may be, if it’s religion or politics or whatever. And yet it would appear there are a lot of people for whom free markets are tantamount to a kind of religious faith. And by writing the book I’d stomped on that as if I had written a viciously anti-Christian satire. That may be it, I don’t know. It may be that it was a book in which it’s hard to sympathize with everybody because the characters are all fairly unpleasant.”

Primeval

The penultimate episode of ITV’s Primeval comes up this Saturday and its penned by the very fine novelist, screenwriter and comics scribe Paul Cornell, who was also responsible for some of the finest episodes of the new Doctor Who – “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature”. We were lacking time for a full-length interview but I couldn’t let it go past without marking it and Paul kindly took some time out to answer a few questions for the Forbidden Planet blog, should you fancy a read before the episode airs on Saturday evening.

Necrophiliacs, please be gentle…

And I like the idea of graveyards. I don’t want to be cremated, I want to be buried. Though it’s in my will that they’re not allowed to have an open coffin. But, I always say if you’re really famous someone steals your body and then you get two burials and more publicity. I always fear that in America, if you are a necrophiliac, where else are you gonna meet a body? In a funeral home! When you’re dead I think the word goes out: ‘You’ve got 36 hours, Anna Nicole’s here. The bidding starts at $150,000.’ I actually believe that does happen. I am afraid of that. If anyone bids for me, I hope they’re gentle. I hope I go for a high price if they bid on me and if my fear is true.”

The great John Waters, the ‘Pope of Trash’, speaking in the Scotsman today. I love John Waters, if he’s one of those counter culture figures in movies that if he hadn’t existed he’d have to have been invented. And he also starred in one of the best Simpsons episodes ever (back when the show was still great and not watered down like today), the Homer Phobia episode.

Postcards from Palestine

I mentioned Katie who runs the Moomin13 LiveJournal a while back here and who posts on life as a peace activist in Gaza and also her art and cartoons which draw on her experiences in and around Ramallah. She’s been doing more cartoons and also beginning an actual comic strip based on her experiences, some of which have been published in magazines and papers in the region. I had a very brief chat with her over on the FPI blog this week (with links to a lot more of her work, including the titular Postcards, which show art and when the cursor runs over them flip over to show the context on the ‘back’ of the postcard), which I hope some folks find interesting.