THE READER IS THE FINAL COLLABORATOR – SOMA: EDEN & TWO PUGS PUBLISHING

Hi Everyone

Ray at XmasToday’s guest post comes courtesy of Ray Roche from Two Pugs Publishing. You can follow Ray and his comic book adventures on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Ray has kindly agreed to give everyone an insight into how he writes. He has also kindly supplied some artwork from his latest publication SOMA: Eden. Fiona Boniwell of Boniwell Graphics supplied the cover. The art is by Michael Arbuthnot.

Ray sells his comics via his Facebook page as well via email at esper211@hotmail.com. The comics are also available to buy at the following shops: Comic Vault in Cork City, Celtic Comics in Portlaoise, and Comicbook Guys in Belfast. Ray has a new comic coming out very soon. Dem Bones is about a pair of Detectives tracking a child abducting serial killer in Dublin, government and religious cover-ups and it’s a comedy.

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THE READER IS THE FINAL COLLABORATOR

Ray Roche

When someone asks me where I get my ideas I am always flippant. I tell them that when a Mammy-idea and a Daddy-idea love each other, they get married and I just wait until Mammy-idea isn’t looking and steal the baby-idea from under her prodigious rump.

The average person will either say that they couldn’t do what I do, or wow you have some imagination. We all have the ability to lie. Writers have the talent to think up a really, great lie.

Writing comics is different to writing prose, long or short form, but it is still writing. The rules of comics are odd, but they have a cog-meeting-cog feel to them that works. Follow them along the conveyor belt and what comes out of the machine is a story you can show to someone else and they might just like it. We call these people The Readers. They provide the final element in the formula, the thing that makes the alchemy work.

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 THE WRITING PROCESS or CRAFTING THE LIE

My process for writing is a little different to most others in that I start with an idea. I know, sounds tritely obvious but how many times do we overhear a conversation about a book or a film that goes like this?…

The new Stephen King book/movie? What’s it about?

Well, this killer clown preys on children in a small Maine town…

No, that would be the plot. Not an answer to “what’s it about?”

My process is simple. I look at things around me and make lists. Last year, I wrote my first comic. I made a list of genres that I wanted to write about. Top of that list was “Robot Love”. I made a free association game out of it, writing ideas on post-its, dozens of them. Then I read them again. I was very surprised to see that I had written “Grief” on one of those square yellow traitors. I like to think of my subconscious as a Mad Scientist’s lab, beakers and Bunsen burners and a Tesla machine in the corner making ZZZZZZT-crackle noises. I even imagine there is an electro-pop soundtrack playing as the scientist, who is wearing industrial strength black rubber gloves as he plunges his hand into a cauldron and hurls spaghetti ideas at the wall. He pauses each time and counts to ten. If the spaghetti sticks he scrapes it off and emails it to my conscious where I (like everyone else) check my emails every week or so. I asked myself what grief meant to me and it brought me to my Mother.

Mothers are wonderful things. They try to protect us, stop us falling out the nest, or being taking by baby-idea-stealing passers-by. Sometimes they refuse to accept that their sons need to grow up and make their own mistakes, their own path to whatever conclusion is waiting. I wrote Mother-Son relationship on a new list and made the decision that this story was about my relationship with my Mother.

Now I knew what it was about but what’s next?

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PAINT TUBES

I think of this as the tube of paint in the art shop step. I have the idea, but it’s concentrated, almost bitter, now I need to spread it on a canvas so other people can stand back and go “Oh, yeah… I see what he means.” The canvas I chose was a favourite get on a soap box and rant of mine: Manifest Destiny. Do we have the right go anywhere and take what someone else has, just because we can? And. AND, can we really justify it by saying God said it’s ok? We SHOULD take because it’s our duty to do it.

So, I was going to paint this Mother-Son story across a Manifest Destiny as yet blank canvas. I had to decide a few things first.

 

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

I made more lists.

When is it set? Where is it set? When and where would be a Mutually Assured Destruction contract. I could set it in war-torn Germany at one of those bendy-metal gate  camps or I could Moebius strip time and throw robots at the problem with nothing but the phonebook as a guide. When you make lists, they start to propagate themselves. I couldn’t decide, so… I made a list of my favourite robots.

GUESS WHO?

It was about eliminating choices, seeing what was left. My robot list included the pre-Terminator girl from Metropolis, Captain Kirk’s old girlfriend now a shell of herself from the episode “What are little girls made of…?” and Rachael from Blade Runner. None of them seemed maternal. Even the Stepford Wives (the original) didn’t have that organically grown mother-specific love I was looking for. But, there was one character that did. I had written short stories about this character over 40 years ago and I remembered a novella with a robot’s internal monologue as she watches a team of surgeons operate on her surrogate son, Jon Sorrenson. This was Soma. This was kismet.

I needed to isolate them to forge that mother-child bond in the reader’s mind. I turned to space. Every decision seemed a practical one. The story needed this, therefore that must happen. A ship carrying colonist worked within the manifest destiny theme. Soma and Jon needed roles.

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BREAKFAST ROLES

The colonists were going to land on a virgin planet. Their mission came from a deity in the sky – The Ship. The ship’s AI would scan the world before they landed. It knew all. It was God-like. The ship could approach the world but was forever kept from it. It needed an agent, to travel among the people, guiding. Soma was ubiquitous. Being a robot, she would outlast the generations of colonists. I shortened her life with the boy. She became a replacement, stepping (literally in the first panel) into the role of SOMA when her predecessor is destroyed in an accident. On her first tour of the ship she meets a mewling infant, newly born as she, and the bond begins to form. She is his constant companion as he grows into a man. With the limited space in a comic I had to show him age, grow into the position of colony commander. Within a few pages it looks as if he ages from his teens, to a 25  year old, to a 35 year old on the planet, now in command.

BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END

The greater story of the ship, Soma, and the events on the planet and afterwards is too big for one comic. I couldn’t tell it all in 24 pages (though, we added 4 pages at a late stage) so what I decided to do was (taking my cue and several billiard balls from George Lucas) jump into a point in the overall arc that had a self-contained mystery and end it after an emotional plunge with another mystery. The story would now run over 4 issues, with past and future events playing out in flashback and parallel narrative.

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PROCESS SERVER

Everything in a comic has to serve a purpose or it is waste. My process is to write the last page first. That way I know how it ends and events lead up to a natural climax, not a manufactured “to be continued…” I work backwards, sketching out the plot, key points, surprises etc (a surprise in comics has to come on the left page as the reader turns it over). Then I put my characters into the situation, again working backwards. That way, things are foreshadowed. This requires a bit of juggling. Sometimes a character’s reactions do not fit, and the dialogue is switched to another character. Lastly, the dialogue. I read it out loud. If it seems stilted, it probably is. In a key scene on the bridge of the ship I use stilted dialogue to make the reader feel that something is not right here. This scene is an echo backwards and forwards in time. These people were involved in the events before the arrival of the present SOMA and will play a part in events after this episode.

I have a formula: Idea, themes, characters, location, events (plot).

When I have the formula set in my mind (and copious notes, written and on computer on everything from the character’s backstories to the level of tech used in the story) I sit down and write the plot in very simple language. No frills. A, B, C.

I give each scene a funny title. I populate the scene with the characters.

I go back, again and again over several days and fill in details under each scene heading.

I add. I add. I add until I have described everything in the scene, including intent and motive (not the same thing, I find).

I trim away the fat. In comics they say: “Kill your darlings.” Sometimes, the thing the writer is most happy with and just cannot do without is the thing that is slowing the narrative down or making it about something else, not the story.

Eventually, I break each comic page down into panels, with enough description to help, not hinder the artist, but enough to tell the story.

I rewrite, edit, rewrite, rinse, repeat.

When it feels right, I put my head in the lion’s mouth.

POV

I show it to someone else.  This is an important step in the process. The final goal is for someone to actually read the comic so it’s important to get another perspective.

Then, it’s sit back and accumulate the abundant accolades.

Soma creature attack

 

 

 

 

Pearly Loses the Plot, Or Does She?

For avid fans everywhere here is another thrilling installment from Falcon Boy and Bewilder Bird versus Dr Don’t Know in a Battle for all the Life of all the Planets – you know, the book you have yet to read but really want to and one day you just might get around to getting around to it. That book; the one with the link always embedded into the title.

Anyhow, plans are currently afoot for a spin-off series to be developed concerning the various adventures of Pearly Stockwell and the Interesting Twins. I am currently in talks and cannot say anymore as there isn’t anymore to say. Had I more to say then I am sure that I would say it. But as I haven’t then I can’t so I won’t.

I am allowed to say that this news is exciting but of course I could say that about any news, even news that isn’t. I am also allowed to say that this spin-off series may not necessarily only be a book, it could quite easily be something quite different.

Once I know more then I am pretty sure that you will too. Until then, sit back and enjoy Pearly Loses the Plot, Or Does She?

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A misguided investigation initiated by Pearly and the Interesting Twins leads to ninety-three employees of the First Fallstown Beneficial & Mutual Bank being mistakenly convicted of embezzling pension funds and imprisoned in the Fallstown Correctional Facility. It takes a lengthy legal campaign to get the convictions overturned and as a result of these hearings, Pearly is banned from ever investigating again.

‘You need to go back to school like every other child your age,’ says the presiding magistrate, the Right Honourable Judge Lambert Johnstone-Drury. ‘Your investigating days are well and truly over.’

And seemingly they are. The Interesting Twins are separated and sent to three different foster homes. Pearly Stockwell becomes the latest and most unwilling boarder at the Fallstown Academy for Troublesome Children.

Everything they had worked so hard to achieve now appears to be over, but as luck would have it or, indeed, as is essential for any story to resolve the issues that it contains, or just so the writers can add excitement to an episode that is seemingly going nowhere, it just so happens that Fallstown suddenly becomes the focus of a visitation from outer space.

Pearly always had her suspicions about Professor Oswald Pipkin and his Space Observation Station, a project funded in perpetuity by the now-defunct University of Fallstown.

‘How do we know that he isn’t spending his days signalling to aliens from outer space and inviting them to colonise our planet?’ she says to the Interesting Twins. ‘I’m not really sure that all those years of scientific study are good for anyone. Besides,’ she continues, ‘there is something about all of those satellite dishes and telescopes that I just don’t like.’

But the banking scandal intervened before she was able to act upon her suspicions and Professor Pipkin was able to go about his business unimpeded. For contacting an alien race and inviting them to take over the world is exactly what the deranged professor was planning, and with Pearly and her meddling friends out of the way, he was close to achieving his dream.

One night, Pearly is woken in her dormitory by the brightest of bright lights filling the sky.

‘Bright lights at night aren’t right,’ she says to herself. ‘I had better look into this.’ And so she does. It was a simple task to rendezvous with the Interesting Twins, who all had similar thoughts about the bright lights and knew they should all be looking into what was happening.

The next morning, Fallstown has fallen captive to a race of extremely cruel, invisible and nameless aliens intent on using Fallstown as the site for something indescribably incomprehensible. Pearly and her detective friends watch from their secret hiding-place as the entire population of Fallstown is herded into the main square by Professor Pipkin.

‘I knew it,’ says Pearly. ‘I just knew that Professor Pipkin had been warped and corrupted by all those years of reading.’

‘Yeah,’ says Wes menacingly. ‘Just you wait until I box his silly scientist’s ears. He won’t know what’s hit him when I whack him three ways backwards.’ Wes punches his fist into his palm.

Once the plot had been revealed, it was a relatively simple task for the writers to allow Pearly to discover that the aliens were, in fact, being controlled by a special transmitter designed by the wicked professor.

‘So this is what the real embezzlement of public funds looks like,’ she says to herself when Wanderley, who had disguised himself as a bicycle courier with an important message for the professor that could only be delivered by hand, shows her the photographs he was able to take of the professor’s Alien Contact and Control Transmitter. ‘That needs smashing straight away,’ she says.

‘I’m on it,’ says Wes, and he was. Wanderley disguises himself as a visiting professor ‘who had heard about Professor Pipkin’s genius and wanted to see for himself what all the fuss was about.’ As ‘Professor’ Wanderley flatters the vain Professor Pipkin, Wes sneaks into the Control Room and takes a sledgehammer to the transmitter.

With the transmitter broken beyond repair, the cruel, invisible, and nameless aliens simply vanish, and it is an easy thing for Windy to race to notify the authorities of Professor’s Pipkin’s wrongdoings. The naughty professor is led away by the police to spend the rest of his days behind bars.

‘There won’t be any books or clever talk where he is going,’ says Pearly to her friends. The following day Pearly Stockwell and the Invisible Twins receive an official apology, and Professor Pipkin’s Space Observation Station is demolished and replaced by light industrial units.

This particular adventure tends to buck the more prosaic trends of all of the other Pearly Stockwell adventures, by ending with a flashback to an event that took place before the adventure began.

The flashback reveals that the Professor Pipkin who almost caused the world to be colonised by aliens was, in fact, a robot created by Professor Pipkin to replace himself.

‘I’m very old now,’ lamented Professor Pipkin, ‘and my head can no longer cope with all this scientific stuff.’ He looked down at the robotic version of himself laying dormant on his operating table.

‘This way,’ thought the warped Professor to himself, ‘I will never get old again, and will be able to read books and do research forever.’

Unfortunately, there was a fault in the central processing unit and the ‘new’ Professor Pipkin considered the human race so inferior that he sold the entire planet to the highest bidder on an intergalactic auction website.

Pearly and the Missing Magic Ring

Here is another extract from Falcon Boy and Bewilder Bird versus Dr Don’t Know in a Battle for all the Life of all the Planets. Here the reader is introduced to some background material concerning the very early days of the Pearly Stockwell and the Interesting Twins Wonder Detective Comic Book Super Series.

As you will recall from previous posts or indeed from the book itself, Pearly is a six-year-old girl who solves puzzles, saves the day and achieves countless major triumphs that are forever beyond the adults who populate the world of these stories. Wes, Windy, and Wanderley Gordy are the Interesting Twins and the fact that there is actually three of them and that they aren’t twins is apparently what makes them interesting. If you are of that persuasion Pearly Stockwell is now on Twitter.

In each episode, someone is kidnapped or something is stolen or threatened with total destruction, like a school, a train, a town, a livelihood or a way of life. Pearly and her friends always notice something that the police miss, or overhear a conversation on the bus. Other times they might decide that two men standing talking outside the cake shop look suspicious and the adventures begin.

Everything happens in Fallstown, a small place in the middle of nowhere that is somehow a perpetual magnet for all minds and matters criminally oriented.

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‘The Pearly Stockwell adventure series is published by IT Comics and in their early days the company really struggled. Pearly and the Missing Magic Ring was a desperately misguided attempt to reach a wider audience with the Pearly Stockwell series.

Without even the slightest hint of professional shame, Pearly is ‘allowed’ to discover a magical kingdom while clearing out one of her wardrobes. Never one to refuse a challenge, Pearly sets off to see what she can find.

Unsurprisingly, Pearly finds a world gripped by a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Grimdulf Gloompants leads the good guys. He is a long-bearded wizard who rides a giant talking lion. A one-eyed witch called Sharon is in charge of the bad guys.

As the plot thickens, Pearly and the Interesting Twins are asked to deliver an important message to someone important quite far away. On the way, they are captured by a gang of nasty Noblins and imprisoned.

Everyone manages to escape but Pearly gets separated and begins to wander lost in an underground network of caves.

Even loyal readers of the comic book series found it hard not to consider cancelling their subscription at the moment that Pearly stumbles upon a ring and, without thinking, puts it in her pocket.

Unbeknown to her, the ring is the property of a pathetic-looking creature called Gallop who manages to trap Pearly in his dank, dismal, fish-stinking lair.

‘You have something that is very precious to me,’ says the pathetic-looking Gallop to Pearly, without even a faint glimmer of irony. ‘It is mine, it is.’

‘Is it?’ replies Pearly quick-wittedly, stunning the pathetic creature with the authority in her voice. ‘How precious exactly?’

Gallop isn’t sure what to say.

‘Very precious,’ he ventures, ‘very precious, indeed.’

But Pearly has the upper hand now and probes the pathetic creature further with her penetrating questions.

‘Just how precious?’

‘Very!’

‘How precious is very precious?’

‘Very, very!’

‘But is that precious enough?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Why don’t you know? I thought you said it was precious?’

‘I did!’

‘Then why don’t you know?’

‘I do! I do! I do!’

Gallop gets very angry and it is at this point that Pearly knows she has him.

‘You don’t know, do you?’ she says.

‘No,’ says the pathetic-looking creature pathetically.

‘I’m going now,’ says Pearly firmly. ‘Don’t try and follow me.’

Gallop says nothing. He sits snivelling on a slimy rock. Pearly leaves to find her friends and continue the great adventure.

It was only by sacking the writing team, promising faithfully to never ever do anything like this again (and also offering a year’s free subscription to every reader) that IT Comics survived the fallout from Pearly and the Missing Magic Ring.’

The Fall and Rise of Pearly Stockwell?

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‘Those sandals are a scandal, sir’, said Pearly to the busker. ‘And there is no call for a live performance this early in the morning without the proper permits and permissions.’

The adventures of a supercilious six-year old child detective who solves crimes with the help of the three Gordy boys, Wanderley, Windy and Wes, (who call themselves the Interesting Twins) first came to my attention via the Pearly Stockwell and the Interesting Twins Wonder Detective Comic Book Super Series, a reasonably unsuccessful series of black and white comics published by the extremely obscure IT Publishing.

As you will know if you have read the series, Pearly moves to Fallstown following a commuter train tragedy that killed her parents. Fallstown is a small place in the middle of nowhere that is somehow a perpetual magnet for all minds and matters criminally oriented. Pearly doesn’t have much to bring to her new home apart from the fortune she inherited from her parents and her big city ways.

Appalled by an unfortunate incident which resulted in her suitcase being mistakenly switched, Pearly takes it upon herself to establish a detective agency by placing an advertisement in the Fallstown Provider looking for like-minded individuals.

‘Experience not essential but you must have a belief in truth, justice and an aching desire to find out things’

Her advertisement is answered by the Interesting Twins and the rest is history.

The comics only ran for a single series before the paying public decided that Pearly’s big city ways were just too much for them. For completists everywhere here is the full list of published titles:

1. Pearly Stockwell and the Letter from the Past

2. The Octopus and His Evil Plans for Pearly Stockwell

3. The Lost Treasure of Fallstown

4. Pearly Saves the Seaside

5. Windy Wins the Deadliest Race of his Little Life

6. Pearly and the Merchant Bankers

7. Pearly and the Missing Magic Ring

8. Here Comes the Interesting Twins to Save the Day

9. Pearly Meets the Ghostly Angler

10. We Really Hope You Can, Pearly Stockwell!

11. Pearly Stockwell and the Letter that Was Hidden But Everyone Could Really See

12. When Toyshops Attack

13. Pearly and the Harvest Moon

14. Pearly Stockwell and the Fate of the Fête

15. Pearly Breaks a Leg

16. The Circus has Lost a Clown

17. Pearly Lose the Plot, Or Does She?

18. Pearly Squares the Magic Circle

The comic book series was turned into an audio book series and if you scour the thrift shops or look online you might still be able to find the recordings somewhere.

There has been a very recent upsurge in interest in Pearly Stockwell and her adventures and I even read a rumour somewhere that there might be plans for reviving the series. There does also seem to be some very recent online activity.

Currently these are only rumours but they do also extend as far as tentative suggestions about a screenplay also being produced. I will look into this and if I hear any more on this topic I will let you know.

Until then, beware The Octopus and his ‘his eight mean legs of greed, theft, evil, selfishness, anger, violence, meanness and insanity’.