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I can trace my interest in Dungeons & Dragons to my sister who came home from elementary school one day to tell me excitedly about a game boys were playing in the classroom during recess. She said there was no board– only pencils and paper and oddly shaped dice. I clearly remember the fascination I felt. I remember her saying how she thought I would like it. She may even have said the game was called “dragons and something.” This would have been the mid-1980s.
We played board games. I liked watching movies. I had an active imagination– creating stories was something I liked doing at school and, sometimes, at home. I did not know what Dungeons & Dragons was, but the idea that you could make a game out of telling stories was something that stuck with me. I also remember repeatedly saying, “There’s no board?” I could not wrap my head around there being a game with no board.
I don’t know how much later, but later while still in elementary school I started telling friends “adventures”– spoken stories with decision points. The “player” made a decision and I continued the story. There was no dice, no rules, but also no paper and no pencils. It was me telling stories and someone else listening and making decisions. I made it up as I went along.
I remember one session where two friends and I remained in the basement for a whole afternoon– me telling the story and each of them having a cast of characters moving through the tale. The climatic finale was a set of doors they had to open. In one door was instant death. In another was victory– an escape. That is as much as I can remember of the plot, but I remember the feeling of sitting on the couch with two friends (they were brothers), me making up the story, and them making decisions. All afternoon.
I also remember one of the characters was named “Gump”, which was lifted from Ridley Scott’s Legend.
I was NOT a reader at this point. Not an avid reader.
I could read and I did read, but I did not read a lot. And yet I told stories, drawing inspiration from movies, and from Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were one of the few books I did read.
I moved to another city in Grade 6 and met a new set of friends. This was North Bay, Ontario. I only lived there for a year and a half, but I know this is where my storytelling games became more sophisticated. This is where my actual experience with Dungeons & Dragons began and where I started adapting that system into other genres. This is also where a girl in my class (Julie Neil) gave me a novel for my birthday. She knew I played Dungeons & Dragons. She thought I’d like the book. It was War of the Twins by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I remember not making much of a fuss at the time, but I did read it.
And it changed my life.
It made me a reader, which, in turn, continued to fuel my interest in role-playing games and storytelling, which, in turn, kept me interested in writing, which, in turn, kept me interested in discovering new forms of reading, which, in turn, got me to say “yes” when a friend in another city years later asked me if I wanted to borrow some comics, which, in turn, eventually made me get a comic file in another city many years later, which, in turn, is why many years later I am a published comics writer and now own a comic shop, which is how I came to be holding in my hands last week a copy of Freeway Fighter #1 written by Andi Ewington, drawn by Simon Coleby, and published by Titan Comics.
I brought a few copies in because of the cover art alone. I was surprised when it sold out on release day. The fact that the comic was branded as “Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter” struck me as odd, as did the Fighting Fantasy logo on the bottom corner of the cover. I did not dig into those names until the comic sold out the day of its release. There had to be a reason so I researched “Ian Livingstone” and “Fighting Fantasy”.
I was presented with a series of book covers that knocked me back to those days of my youth where I was exploring role-playing games and storytelling. I saw those covers and I knew I had read those books. I had forgotten about Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy, but now it was coming back to me in fits and starts as I browsed the digital images of the original covers, as Google showed me the character sheets included within, as I read about Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson and their impact on the gaming industry. These were things that I did not know at the time as a kid, but were now interesting and important historical facts of the industry in which I work.
My memory was sketchy– I had clearly forgotten about these books– so I reached out today to two friends who were with me during those early role-playing days. Brent was in the North Bay days– the grade 6 and 7 days in the late 1980s. Jason was in the 1990s days– the Assembly of the Dragon days. I figured if I had not owned these books– I felt I would have remembered them more clearly had I owned them– then it was highly likely I had seen these in the hands of Brent or Jason.
Turns out both of them remember having the books. Since Brent and I learned about D&D together I suspect he was the one who showed me Fighting Fantasy. The concepts of Fighting Fantasy and our early role-playing adventures are to similar for it to be otherwise. It is possible that years later in the mid-90s Jason still had these books and perhaps gave me a loan of them. These books sold millions so Jason also knowing the books isn’t surprising. Perhaps it was those books that laid the foundation for his interest in D&D.
Seeing and recognizing the Fighting Fantasy book covers was one of those moments where you are taken unexpectedly from the present to the past and are given the tools to engage in positive reflection. I now know these books have impacted me in regards to the storytelling I told as a kid. The covers, the illustrations within, the settings, the peril, the dice-rolling, the recording of stats. That was “dragons and something” in another form. That was the now me beginning to take form.
Freeway Fighter the comic was created to help celebrate the 35th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy. I’ve reordered issue #1 for the store and for me and have added the series to my pull-list.
And so another year begins and I’ve asked myself to be more productive in 2017 on the writing front. This is not to say I did not write anything in 2016. In fact, if I take a moment and reflect I should be able to see that I did indeed pen a considerable amount of content for a guy with a young family, a business, and hobbies I am not ashamed of enjoying. In the coming days, I’ll type a few hundred words about each, but the short form goes a little something like this:
- 40K campaign blog
- D&D and other RPGs
- The Grim Collection
- Aces Weekly
But when reflecting I tend to focus on what I did not do and not what I did, and on the specific topic of writing I spend too much time thinking of that promise I made to myself ten years ago as I was approaching 30 years on Earth. I had told myself I would get published by the time I hit that milestone. And I did it! I wrote, produced and self-published the graphic novel Psychosis. The next five years saw me taking on new projects– comics and short fiction– getting published, self-publishing, and, admittedly, working on projects that got shelved for one reason or another. The next five years after those first five years were less successful and way less productive. Sure, ideas and snippets of work got put into notebooks and some stories and comics half-materialized via the keyboard, but the actual finished material was sorrily lacking. A particularly hard kick-in-the-nuts came a couple days before Christmas one year when I was dismissed from a children’s chapter book I had been hired to write. That was then followed up by an even bigger blow when my mom died of cancer in January 2015.
Mom’s death destroyed me and I certainly feel I am still recovering from that shock and loss. To a much lesser degree I think I am still creatively recovering from the dismissal from the children’s book. I am not one of those writers who only writes for himself. A large part of me writes to gain recognition, praise and acceptance from other people. It is one of the reasons why I’ve more recently thrown a lot of effort into crafting short fiction for a series of interconnected games of Warhammer 40K and will spend hours planning and writing multi-sessions campaigns for D&D and other RPGs. I get immediate feedback in a D&D session, and my 40K pals have said the short fiction has added immensely to their enjoyment of the game. The only other time I’ve felt that same energy is when I did signings at the local comic store or was at Cons promoting and selling my work. I’d love to be on the other side of the Con table again, but I’ll need to produce more new material first.
Which is why I now need to end this first blog post of 2017. I am once again working with Manoel Magalhaes– a name you might recognize from Acts of Violence, Synchronicity, The Colonel and The Orphan. He asked me to work with him on a short comic for Aces Weekly. This blog post was my warm-up. Now it is time to turn to script writing.
With the publication of The Dig on The Grim Collection, I find myself thinking about storytellers. The Dig was inspired by a storyteller in my own family, my great-uncle Leonard. I can’t say I spent a lot of time with Leonard, but my most vivid memories of him involve the stories he told. I remember him sitting in an aged yet comfortable looking chair in a living room filled with the kind of pictures and knick-knacks one accumulates during a life filled with family. Great-aunt Minnie busy elsewhere in the house. Leonard’s thick head of hair. My dad sitting off to the side and me uncomfortable around unfamiliar people. I don’t remember ever commenting on the tales woven or asking questions, but I certainly remember retelling those stories on the walk to school or on the playground, doing my best to remember the details for my equally young pals.
My favourite story and the one I remember most clearly involved a dream where Leonard saw the location of some buried treasure and upon waking knew where to go. And go he did. Shovel in hand. He dug and struck something deep in the sand but a ghostly hand emerged. He dropped shovel and ran. Some time later he returned but could no longer remember the spot.
That story stuck with me for more than 30 years and eventually became The Dig.
My dad added a lot of background lore to Leonard’s ability to vividly dream. Leonard’s father was the seventh son of the seventh son. That man could put a light-bulb in his mouth and his finger in an outlet and the bulb would light up. He disappeared for years only to return near the end of his life. I never questioned the truth of these tales. One doesn’t do that to stories such as this. I think I knew that even as a young lad. It’s a harder thing to do as an adult– not questioning the tales of storytellers. As an adult, we look for answers to help us understand the why of things, but with a story it is not the why that is important. The best storytellers know this.
There was another story Leonard told where, as a young man, he saw the devil perched on a neighbour’s house. The devil dropped into the shadows and disappeared when it noticed Leonard looking. I’ve got a comic script knocking around in my head based on that one.
Another storyteller from my youth was a neighbourhood friend of my father’s. Joe was his name and, to me, he seemed old even when I was in elementary school. I interviewed him once as part of a school project. We had to talk to an adult about what their childhood was like. I used this black tape recorder my sister had. It was the same tape recorder she and I used to record silly little programs we made up before I was even in school. I also used the tape recorder to record letters to a friend of mine that moved to another city. He did the same in return. I don’t remember the details of Joe’s answers, but I remember he came to the house and we did the recording in the basement. I also remember the quality of the recording was terrible. You could barely hear him on the playback even with the volume at its highest.
Later in life after we left and returned to Sydney, my dad took me to visit Joe. He was still in the same neighbourhood. Same darkly painted house with its immaculately cared for lawn and shrubbery. We sat out in the backyard. Dad and he talked and I listened. Dad was working for Brinks by this time and I remember Joe leaning intently forward and asking with quiet interest: “What does a million dollars look like?”
My dad and his brothers would tell stories of their youth, not naughty tales but definitely wild tales about kids fending for themselves and finding things to do as they wandered the city, of their own father and his brother– the aforementioned Leonard– running booze in the countryside and dealing cards at back-room poker games because none of the players trusted each other.
And, Murray, now also gone. The trucker. One summer when we were back on the East Coast visiting I found myself alone in the living room with Murray, and we got to talking about trucking, about what is trucked across country and across borders; about how cargo is tracked; about how truckers are sometimes robbed or even hijacked. It’s all locked away in my brain.
Stories to create other stories.
I am still here.
The first part of the title of this post refers to me becoming the owner of a comic shop. Yes, as of January 1, 2012, I am part-owner of ComicReaders Downtown in Regina, SK. I am surrounded by and get to talk about comics (and gaming) on a daily basis.
This new endeavour (a major life change, as you can well imagine) has shook up my schedule and as such I have been away from writing for a number of months. I plan to remedy that over the summer.
The second half of the title of this post refers to the fact that I have no new finished comic work and, indeed, any finished comic work I have previously written about on this blog has not yet found a publisher. I also have to report that three short comics being drawn for The Grim Collection have fallen by the wayside. Other committments are keeping the artists away, even my long-time collaborator, Adam Sward. Another ripple in the water is that Friar & Brimstone has not been updated in more than a month. Artist Owen Gieni, too, is tied up with other commitments.
The goal with my writing was to build on each success. That building has ground to a halt. I would argue that some of my forward momentum has been lost. In my darker days, I would argue that I now sit at the bottom once again and am looking up at a climb I might not have the strength to make.
As a result of this, I have been thinking long and hard about why I write. Why do I want to write? That is the question for which I seek an answer. If I can find that answer I think I will know how to best begin the next phase of my writing.
The last half of October has been a heck of a few weeks for me. The biggest highlight was my trip to Winnipeg for Central Canada Comic Con where I was selling Acts of Violence: An Anthology of Crime Comics and the issue of IF-X featuring Dark Art, promoting The Grim Collection, and checking out Artist Alley in the hopes of finding some talented artists who might be interested in working together on comics for The Grim Collection. I will have a full Con report posted on this here blog in the near future.
In other news, Song’s End has been lettered by E.T. Dollman. I will be packaging the files and sending it to the Hamtramck Idea Men over the weekend. You might recall that Song’s End will appear in the December 2011 edition of IF-X. The theme is “West”.
There has been movement on other comics as well. Manoel Magalhaes has turned in more pages for Orphan. Tim Hall has completed character designs for On The Other Side of The Bridge, and just the other day turned in thumbs of the first eight pages. My experience with Tim has been great thus far and I can’t wait to see what the final artwork looks like. The third comic currently in production for The Grim Collection, The Dig, is also moving forward. Adam Sward provided me with character sketches that were quickly approved. This will be the third collaboration between Adam and I.
And, I hate to announce this for fear of jinxing it, but there is a very good possibility that a long gestating comic project is soon to debut.
I will finish with one final word about The Grim Collection. I added new content to it on November 4. The Draw of Memories is a short fiction, the first to appear on The Grim Collection.