Thursday, June 28, 2007

Where Angels Dare to Tread - Extract 2




Chapter 3


Anima both hated and loved hospitals.

She could never understand this conflict of feeling, but in the fog of uncertainty her duality was one clear thing. Which in itself was a nice sensation. Certainty was not a constant in her life, by any means, so Anima grabbed what she could as long as it was agreeable. She was never too bothered by contradictions.

The familiar noises of Tannoy announcements, machines, beeping hearts and other aural chatter enveloped her as she walked down the corridor, coupled by the staid smells of chemicals, plastics and anaesthetics. Polite nods exchanged with the passing nurses and a few patients as well. In truth, it wasn’t just through open friendliness. It was partly because Anima had spent the last few minutes pacing through the same corridors to delay reaching her father's room. Ordinarily, such behaviour noticed by others would inspire suspicion, especially during such a paranoid political climate. Yet something kept everyone at ease around Anima during her trips to hospitals. Had she realised, she may have put it down in the 'pros' column of why she liked such places. Instead, Anima remained blissfully unaware as she eventually summoned the courage to peek her head into the door where her father rested, stretched out on his bed of sparkling white sheets. His eyes were closed, with only the pale tint of his pallid albino skin showing; the rest of his bulky frame was covered, giving an almost ethereal look to him. Despite having seen her father like this many times, Anima still felt her gut tighten a modicum. And this was just him sleeping.

"Are you goin' t' stand there or actually come in, daughter dearest?"

The deep rumble of his voice caught Anima off-guard. He hadn’t even opened his eyes. Had there been anyone else in the room they may have wondered what power exactly he had over her as she tensely stepped in. "Hey Dad." She tentatively pulled up a grey plastic chair and sat at the bottom of the bed.

"What, I've got leprosy now? Git up here." He still kept his eyes closed. Clearly his hearing was as keen as ever.

Anima shuffled awkwardly to the side of the bed, and sat down again, back straight and her hands pursed on her lap. She stared at her father's still features, almost unmoving if it wasn’t for his breathing. And even that was so deep and slow that it took whole seconds to register to his daughter's naked eye. She felt the very sudden urge to light a cigarette, even though she gave up smoking years ago.

"Keepin' well?"

"Mm," was the response. After a couple more seconds, she said, "You?"

There was a grunt, almost a snort. "You already know the answer. I like how you always try to humour me."

"Things change."

"Yes…" he exhaled pointedly."They do. But not this."

"Yeah, well, the rest of us manage." She immediately realised it was the exact wrong thing to say, but a clamp-like feeling around her throat stopped her from saying anything else.

Still without opening his eyes, her father's brow furrowed, showing wrinkles on a face whose years were impossible to tell beyond a generic 'middle aged'. "You think this is easy f' me? Decades of splutterin' and coughin' and not knowin' when my time is? The uncertainty, the pain, the-" he stopped and breathed out again, taking in a deeper, more measured breath. He next words were far calmer. "Oh, how I envy you, you ungrateful child. You don’t know how lucky you are."

The cigarette craving was getting worse. "You make it sound like you're dying."

"I am."

Anima cursed under her breath, hoping it wasn’t audible. "You're all like you were turned mortal yesterday, for fuc-"

"Don’t you dare swear!" He sighed. "Your mother-"

"-took her 'affliction' with far more grace than you ever have." Anima wondered where this raft of courage had come from, hoping that she didn’t drown in the surrounding sea of trepidation. "Look, Dad… I… know it's not easy for you. Sure as heck wasn’t easy for Mum. But this needs to stop. You can't keep having Zeal help 'convince' people here to take you in every time you wish you were an angel again. I don’t even know why you'd want to be in a place like this anyway."

"Just… reminiscing. You wouldn’t understand."

"Oh, of course not. I'm just your mortal daughter. I've not lived for an eternity. My life is but a speck. Bollocks. Spare me the usual crap, Magus."

At the mention of his name, Magus' eyes shot open. His irises were deep red, shining brightly outside his bone white face. He stared at Anima for duration, no words coming from his tightly pursed lips. His daughter glared back, despite a powerful desire to leave the room. But she stayed fast in her seat, matching eyes for what seemed like hours in the seconds that passed. Then, finally, he closed them again.

There was a whole minute of silence between the two before Anima decided to break it. "Why do you always find it so hard to look at me?"

Magus' voice broke slightly with the first sound before he tried speaking again. "I…" there was a flicker of movement underneath his eyelids."I like the darkness. Sometimes. Reminds me of… before."

The longing for tobacco started to rise again in Anima's veins. Or at least, she thought it was for tobacco. She let the moment hang tensely and thick in the air for a few long seconds before she spoke again with equally heavy intent. "You know, parents are usually far more tactful when they repeatedly tell their child they were an accident."

A pained expression broke on Magus' face. Again he seemed to have problems in enunciating his words fully. His daughter could feel something inside her chest get tighter and her eyes start to burn. But she refused to move or give release to what was building. Eventually Magus said, "I didn’t mean it like that."

Anima's throat tensed. "No… you didn’t, did you." She looked over her father, lying in his pure white sheets, and shook her head minutely. Forcing the next words out, she said, "What did you bring me here for."

Magus' stifled a sigh with an awkward pause of breath. "When was the last time you used them?"

The words came from Anima, but they were slow and stupid. "Used what."

"Don’t play games with me, Annie. You know exactly what."

"Oh, for fuc- that's all you dragged me here fo-" Anima stood up and started to head towards the door. "Don’t worry, I'll just keep on suppressing all the things you've given me since birth. My abilities, my heritage, my full name – that's Anima, by the way… anything else you want to hammer down to the decks of the Titanic?"

Still Magus' eyes did not open. "Listen to me. Zeal came to me last night. Said something is wrong."

Anima stopped her pace just short of the exit. "Zeal always says that. I've had the delight of his company all day so far. Which is rare." She increased the spite in her voice. "He's never been much of a Godparent."

If there was any reaction to the barb, Magus hid it. "Something is happening. Things are changing. Whatever it is, you need to stay low."

"I've been staying low all my damn life, thanks."

"NO." Magus realised his voice had taken a sharp resonance that echoed around the room. He reduced it, but kept the severity of his original tone. "No. This is different. If Zeal is telling me, it's different."

She kept near the door but didn’t edge closer to it. "Different how."

"Zeal's tryin' to find out. Lot of rumours an' hearsay right now. And the Kingdoms don’t deal with rumours an' hearsay, which means problems. Something's got them anxious."

Anima could feel a dislike of herself from her reactions, but found it difficult to curb the rising petulance. Her emotions were running too hot. "And this has what to do with me, exactly? No one's going to come looking for me as long as I'm apparently not using the things I've not ever used throughout my shallow existence. And I have a negligent shadow demon to at least mock my lack of life direction. Far as I'm concerned, you're just telling me to do what I've always been doing: fuck all."

"Don’t you DARE swear in my presence again, you hear me? Don’t ever swear near me!" Magus snarled. "All I want is that-"

"All you want is for me to become a shadow," spat Anima, her father unable to force his verbal attempts of intervention between her venom. "That's all I've ever been. A reminder of a mistake you made with Mum all those years ago that got you in trouble. Well be happy. The Powers That Be may be up to something, but guess what; you're not immortal anymore, Mum's dead and I'm just the failed mortal progeny of two rejected angels. No one gives a shit about us. We're all just shadows. But at least you weren’t born one."

Anima turned to walk away, but stopped. There was no sound from her father; not in reply to her lambaste, nor in an attempt to stop her. Anima's body felt tired. Her head throbbed with pressure. Still she refused tears as she said softly, "This is the longest conversation we've had in ages. You know that, Dad?"

Without turning around, she waited for a response. When none came after a few seconds, a sense of deflation spilled from her lungs. Followed by her final words to her father. "Yeah. That's what I thought too."

And then she left.

***



[Copyright Corey Brotherson 2007. All rights reserved and cannot be used without permission. Thank you.]

Waiting for Godot / (they do not move)


Well, my audience figures have been skyrocketing the past two days, and I have no real idea why. Seems that Manhunt images are in at the moment which makes sense, but what makes less sense is people being directed to here looking for "man", "m" and "manhu". Bizarre.

But seeing as you're here, welcome anyway – have a beer, take a look around and I think there's some pie left on the window to cool, if no one's taken off with it yet. There's plenty of 'm' here (here comes one now! Oh, it's just left), one 'man' (although he arguably has the mind of a child) and erm, not so much 'manhu', but when I work out what it is, I'm sure I'll be able to provide it. Maybe.

Anyway, to this week's entry, something that's been requested although likely to be of little to no interest to those who are coming here via inexplicable traffic spikes (unless you're a publishing agent and/or editor looking for digressing writers/clients - in which case, email me *wink wink*): another sample of one of my many fiction projects. No pictures, sadly, as it's prose, but I have a very new comic project that I should be able to show off in a month's time. I'm also approaching my first full year as a 'professional' (in the sense that's it's a steady job, rather than me being particularly great at it) comic book series writer. Ironically, I'll probably have no money to actually celebrate it, so I'll work some more, and then just before I go to bed I'll confine myself to a room and drink rum until I'm so ill that it just FEELS like I've been out to celebrate. Bit like my 22nd birthday, then. Ahh. "Misty water-coloured meeeeeemories, of the way we were…"

Anyway, extract. This barely formed novel is currently untitled, but the previous chapter can be found here -http://cbrotherson.blogspot.com/2006/09/game-of-you-and-sometimes-me.html- to refresh yourself. I'll post it in a separate entry, for ease of reading. Let me know what you think if you have time, and see you next week, where the whimsy will probably be as low as the page hits once people get fed up of looking for 'manhu'. Such is life.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Manhunt 2 mess

A bit aside from my planned entry today (the Angels/Demons extract will come next week, don’t worry) – really just wanted to focus on the whole Manhunt 2 ban issue/debate that's managed to span across the mainstream press this week.

I've written a column over at Wii Chat regarding it:


'I didn’t want to write about this.

But the topic seems to have blown up to epic proportions, and it would seem a little churlish to avoid it.


So, the Manhunt 2 ban. Good lord, what an unholy mess. While I've seen games come and go, hit over the head with the 'ban-stick' across numerous territories and generations, I can't remember a time where things have turned into a total landslide of chaos as we've witnessed with Rockstar's super violent action thriller.


For those who've been sleeping soundly under a very large rock the past week, let's quickly review what happened. First, Manhunt 2 gets banned in the U.K for both Wii and PlayStation2 (bizarrely, no mention was made of the PlayStation Portable version).

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rejected the game for release after going through its content and deciding it crossed a moral line via its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing". In other words, it showed 'immoral behaviour' that, while fitting within the game's story and established tone, was relentless and more than likely beyond what the medium has asked a player to actively participate in before. True to the first Manhunt, then, it would seem…'

You can read the rest here: http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/30606-manhunt-2-ban-explained.html

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Taking a load off. On me.


A bird took its afternoon break on me today.

That's to say, it decided the precise moment I was walking underneath it, it would unload the discarded contents of its breakfast upon my head.

It's a funny thing, having an avian dump on you. Strange thoughts pass through your head. Like, 'was that just water?'

Then, 'oh God, please let it not be bird crap'.

Swiftly followed by, 'is that liquid green...? Ahhh man, it IS bird droppings. $*&*!. Did anyone see?'

Which precedes, 'I'm in the middle of a city, at lunch-time, covered in bird poo, I really need to get to a toilet fast… wait, that's somewhat ironic… anyway, toilet, fast, clean-up… but lots of people will see me… oh no…'

Soon replaced by, 'what were the chances of me walking past at that precise moment?'

And then finally:

'Isn't this supposed to be lucky?'


Stream of consciousness is funny like that.

Which was pretty much how I approached this entry.

I've a million things floating around my head at the moment, some which I can't talk about, some which I can. For example:

- How I've managed to gain RSI in my wrist/forearm from laptop overuse (it pays not to type like you're some errant Spider-Man, legs akimbo and arms sitting through said akimbo legs).

- How I managed to stay outside my overdraft for exactly 3 weeks, before taking a total nosedive into again.

- How PayPal is quite possibly the most frustrating company ever ('please allow us to ring you up to verify your account and thus let you withdraw several weeks' worth of your wages and help out with aforementioned overdraft' *one phone call and security code input later* 'we're sorry, the phone number does not match with our database – you'll now have to wait 9 days for us to send a letter for you to do THE EXACT SAME THING YOU JUST DID').

- How my laptop started acting strangely, its backlight cutting out one night leaving me to hard reset it because I could no longer see what I was doing. I'm now faced with the quandary of choosing whether to send it off for an early case replacement (poor thing is falling apart, to be fair) and risk losing a few days of work and email contact, or keep on battling on in the hope it doesn’t clap out on me for whatever reason.

Hmm.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff I typed and discarded for this paragraph. Prolonged rants and moans, of sorts. But it all got a bit too preachy in the end and I couldnt be bothered. I really need to talk more about my projects at hand, but there's that usual problem of it being too early or against my contracts to do so. Ack. And the artwork I have from them is sooooo good, too. Must... wait... a bit... longer...

Instead, here's a few links to recent reviews, columns and features.

New Warriors #1 Review: http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=42276

Smash Bros. Brawl – Wii's Most Important Game Of 2007?: http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/28221-smash-bros-brawl-wiis-most-important-game-2007-a.html

Wii's New Best Friend - Electronic Arts: http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/28100-wiis-new-best-friend-electronic-arts.html

Wii Summer Line-up: Manhunt 2, Resident Evil 4, Scarface And More: http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/29652-wii-summer-line-up-manhunt-2-resident-evil-4-scarface-more.html


I'm tempted to run another chapter of the Angels/Devils novel, but it may be a little too long since the last one. Will think about it over the week in the absence of anything else worth posting.

And hopefully it won't be about another of 'nature's toilet' experience.

(Clearly for the birds.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bad Luck Inc. – the annotations and expose pt 3

So, this is the last part of my Bad Luck expose. Just going to jump straight to it…


PAGE SEVEN
The crux of Bad Luck Inc., all narrated in first person by Neon. The main things to pick out here, is that control, for the employee, is non-existent. Our destinies become the toys of those who hold the contract we sign our names on. Personally, I've been lucky enough to not have to deal too long in jobs I've not liked and obviously I had the power to quit if the need be, something which isn't open to Neon, but I'm sadly aware of the sentiment that so many people out there (some family members included) hate their jobs and are trapped because society traps them to a mode of thinking that they cant change that. And in some realities, that's totally true. Although in this case, we're dealing with an extreme which highlights one of the main themes of the story.

Yui did a great layout job on the issue overall, but there's some exceptional positioning on this page in the last three panels where Neon starts to close his eyes and we zoom in. Panel arrangement is really taken for granted when it comes to comics, and bad panels can throw your eyes out and make things very difficult to follow. Here Yui does something subtle but brilliant – she expands the panels with each zoom. We see Neon lying down in a small panel, then as we get closer to his face the view gets bigger until the final panel and its background fill nearly half the page. As the panels fall, your eyes fall from left to right to read them and the captions (which are very well placed by Brian J. Crowley) – so it's all very natural.

The final thing of note on this page – Neon's closed eyes. It's given the appearance that he's died, but his eyes being closed signify he's only going to reawaken. Which would normally be a good thing for the protagonist, but in this case, it's not at all…


PAGE EIGHT/NINE
The big double page spread as Neon awakens into his new reality. Which is the big story telling faux pas I mentioned a while back – having the bulk of the story be a fabrication. And if there's one thing worse than Bad Luck being similar to The Matrix, it's making over half the story an illusion.

However, there's a few things that I work to (at least try) avoid such a dangerous and often infuriating story telling issue:

There's the clues laced throughout the story to that point so this element is not out of nowhere; you're given enough rope to hang Neon with. The other thing is that when this sort of thing usually happens, it's often for the better – the protagonist wakes up, and is happy his reality isn't what he just experienced. Instead, here, it's far worse. It's like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower and then Pam finding out he's got no arms and his head's fallen off. The fake world becomes the relief instead of the pain. Finally, the earlier part of the story isn't invalidated at all by it being 'fake' – it's merely a reflection of what Neon tried the very first time and thus we're technically seeing a variation of his past – in effect, it's a narrative that works in two different times; that of Neon's present and Neon's past, albeit changed slightly (seeing as he doesn’t have a daughter in real life… or does he?)

Here we see the first appearance of Democritus and the second appearance of Minrep (who was on Page 2, in case you didn’t catch him watching Neon's progress). Minrep's name comes from an abbreviation of a well known sci-fi book and film, while Democritus is based on the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. As you can probably tell, he's a cyborg – with his eyes being the most telling clue. At the moment they're totally blank, but you'll see that change over the remaining pages.

By the way, the line "employees, the have such a weak grasp of the big picture" is something adapted from what I was told several times in my office life. In a less harsh way, but effectively the same thing, all the same.


PAGE TEN
Here we get all the reality of the book to date as Minrep provides exposition for us. The big things on this page being there's a ton of people in the same situation as Neon, all going through various unrealities which are played out on a vid screen. Notice the tattoos they all sport on their collarbones– 6:7 (=13), the same tattoo we see Neon has at the start of the story, marking their entry as experiment subjects. Yui takes credit for that idea, as originally the story only had Neon with the tattoo, but she suggested they all have it as a mark of the experiment, which made perfect sense.

Also look at their names, all linked to the number 13: J.C (same initials as Jesus Christ, and thus the last supper), Aluminium (has the atomic number 13), Torah (a Jewish allusion - the teachings of the Torah document state there's 13 attributes of mercy in God) and the final guy who's name was cut off in production was Togo (an allusion to the anime and manga series Golgo 13, where Golgo's pseudonym was "Duke Togo").


PAGE ELEVEN
More exposition as we enter the final few pages of the story, in discovery of how long Neon has spent strapped to this machine; a long time. Hell of a long time to have your eyes closed to reality, but that's the point of the story.


PAGE TWELVE
Yui does a great job of showing the two sides of the employment coin, with the half face panels – it's dramatic without losing its meaning.

The other big thing on the page here was again made victim of my dialogue being a bit too long – the final panel on the page has a doctor in the background who's looking at Minrep with a look of slight shock as he talks about "sleeper agents", inferring that she may in fact be one and thus leaving us open to the idea there may be hope beneath all this gloom and negativity. Alas, the dialogue is just a tad too much for the panel to hold everything without sacrifice, and so this unspoken bit of narrative had to go, which was a shame.





PAGE THIRTEEN
The final page, which portrays the thematic link of the eyes. But before I get into that, something you may not have noticed – the panel arrangements are generally the reverse of that on Page 1. This is to reflect the story restarting again, in a sense, but also reflects the circular nature of the tale, eyes closed to reopen in artifice once more.

So, the eye metaphors. Naturally there's the element of Neon's eyes being closed during most of the story in a metaphorical sense. The only time they truly open is when they close, representing the ironic nature of Neon's existence- when they close again, we know that next time they open (when the story restarts), they only open in a very unreal sense. With people in the story showing us closed eyes, bleeding eyes and those which are wide open, you can guess which ones are possibly part of the experiment, which ones are onlookers, and which ones may just be incidental – and don’t forget how the Bad Luck Inc logo eyes trail us throughout too.

Democritus' eyes are dice that change in each panel he's in, showing us the theme of determinism in a recognizable form – his eye-dice roll in very intentional ways, which go against the very nature of dice, to show us Neon's fate is indeed locked and predestined. When Democritus' eyes hit two ones (snake-eyes) it's over. Visually, this is meant to also be slightly ironic, as it should be the eeriest depiction of Democritus despite the fact snake-eyes almost give him human looking pupils, which go against his nature and his spoken message, sealing Neon's fate.

Throughout the story, eyes are the mirror to the soul that reflect the nature of that person's circumstance, especially regarding the test subjects and Democritus, who's eyes are artificial, reflecting all the above and the fact he's not a 'real' human.

Democritus' quotes are taken directly from the Greek philosopher, by the way, who has a large number of memorable quotes – some of which suit the Bad Luck Inc philosophy perfectly, and so became part of "the company handbook" Minrep mentions.



And that about wraps it up. This isn't everything to Bad Luck Inc., but a large portion of its subtext and other little bits that make up the most of the story. Hope you've enjoyed both this and the story itself, or at least found reading a little of the process and background behind it all of some interest.

Next week I'll go back to my usual less focused ramblings, as several big projects loom ominously around the corner… although I'm not certain I can talk much about them yet. Typical.

Thanks for reading.