Finding a tie in the family compost this summer inspired me to write a comic script based on the idea of someone finding a zombie in a compost heap. As of a moment ago, I feel the script is complete– written and revised. It is 21 pages in length because Aces Weekly features 21-page comics and I’d love to do more work for them. I am going to show the script to an artist friend on Tuesday. If Aces Weekly is not an option then I will have the comic produced for The Grim Collection.
On the weekend I found a necktie in the family compost. This discovery got the head gears turning and by the close of the evening I had a new comic script outlined in my head. I’ve given this project the temporary title “Compost” and it has jumped to the top of my development list.
As mentioned earlier, Manoel Magalhães and I collaborated on a 21-page sci-fi comic for Aces Weekly. That comic, Found, appears in volume 28 of Aces Weekly. Volume 28 started to run yesterday (May 29, 2017).
It’s always a pleasure working with Manoel. I was honoured that he reached out to me to do this short comic. I am proud of it but I have to be honest and say it was a challenge to write. Certain sections got rewritten several times. I kept wanting to tighten up the focus. Manoel was very patient with me and he turned in excellent pages regardless of what I threw at him.
If you are an Aces Weekly subscriber I hope you enjoy Found.
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.
Delving back into the archives of old school D&D character sheets, notes, maps, and art from my formative role-playing days in the 1990s, I came across a series papers titled “The Assembly’s Belongings”. These are– like most of the other documents in the old, faux leather folder– loose leaf sheets featuring my surprisingly tidy pencil printings.
The “Assembly” mentioned is The Assembly of the Dragon, the name given to the core group of player characters that went on adventures in fantastic lands while we sat in my basement, ate homemade caramel popcorn and mini Ritz crackers. The “belongings” is a list of possessions owned by various members of the Assembly of the Dragon. Over the years, the adventurers gathered wealth and used some of it to purchase manors in the land of Almor. These homes are where the player characters would spend some of their down-time between quests, but– more importantly– this is where they kept their accumulated swag. There is, after all, only so much you can hang off your horse. (I never was a fan of the Bag of Holding.)
The record begins with the following:
Each manor in Almor contains these rooms (special rooms not included):
- 3 servant quarters
- 5 storage
- 2 guest bedrooms
- 2 privy
- dining room
- common room
I cracked up reading this. It’s like cookie-cutter housing in a fantasy realm! Looking at this now, I wonder if each house had 3 servants or were there more servants and they, for example, slept three or even four to a room. I also find it interesting that each manor had not one but two indoor bathrooms– called a “privy” here to sound “classical”, perhaps. Surely, I don’t ever remember focusing on the particulars of bathroom breaks in the D&D universe, but perhaps the seasoned, well-heeled here would prefer to not have to walk outside to take a dump. Or, maybe, indoor plumbing was the creation of wizards.
The list of “The Assembly’s Belongings” continued with each player character’s possessions cataloged. I’ve not yet written about Cyric Lyonsbane (the character’s name is lifted from two characters from Richard Awlinson’s Forgotten Realms Avatar Trilogy), but he was one of the core player characters. Controlled by my friend Jason, Cyric was the dark, troubled member of the Assembly of the Dragon, with horrible facial scars and a long sword strapped to the stump of his right arm. Here is the loot lying around his “18 room manor in Almor” that sat on “20 acres of farmland”:
- Medallion – Defender of the King’s Justice
- 2 Aiel spears (Aiel is a culture lifted from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time)
- ruby hilted dagger
- Tigrarine spear
- Comoney armour
- whistle set
- sawed bastard sword
- Norghi bow blade (the Norghi were a monster– I can’t remember if I made them up or if I sourced them from somewhere; the bow blade was a lot like a Klingon bat’leth)
- two Retrecker swords
- suit of golden chain mail w/ plate chest
- steel capped staff
I’m guessing Tigrarine, Comoney and Retrecker were lands, monsters, or peoples encountered by the Assembly of the Dragon. The ruby hilted dagger tickles my memory, but I can’t conjure up the details. The sawed bastard sword was just like it sounds– a bastard sword where one side of the blade looked like a saw. So much of the hows and whys of these items have been lost, but perhaps future trips into the folder of old school D&D will reveal the details.