Did you know Aldous Huxley predicted the rise of the internet troll in 1952?

“There are many people for whom hate and rage pay a higher dividend of immediate satisfaction than love. Congenitally aggressive, they soon become adrenaline addicts, deliberately indulging their ugliest passions for the sake of the ‘kick’ they derive from their physically stimulated endocrines. Knowing that one self-assertion always ends by evoking other and hostile self-assertions, they sedulously cultivate their truculence. And, sure enough, very soon they find themselves in the thick of a fight. But a fight is what they most enjoy; for it is while they are fighting that their blood chemistry makes them feel most intensely themselves. ‘Feeling god,’ they naturally assume that they are good. Adrenaline addiction is rationalised as Righteous Indignation and finally, like the prophet Jonah, they are convinced, unshakeably, that they do well to be angry.”

– Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun

Greg Rucka, female characters, and the article you should read right now.

Some writers have such a clarity of style, sense of character, and ear for dialogue that it makes me want to weep. Greg Rucka is one of the few. And he’s done a fascinating piece for io9 about writing ‘strong female characters’, people’s reaction to that, and what happens when people express concern about the way women are portrayed in comics.

But what it comes down to is that it’s all about character, and how your stories are driven by that. Which is harder and less common than it sounds.

This last year or so we’ve had some watershed moments in the industry regarding female creators and female characters. And, time and again, the industry has been found wanting.

This article is compulsory reading for everyone – whether you read comic books or not.

How Do You Write Such Strong Female Characters?

This past year, 2011, I was asked this question a lot, and here we are into the first quarter of 2012, and it’s happening again (or still, if you rather). Most frequently, it comes up in regard to my work in the comics industry. If you know comics, and if you know superhero comics specifically, you’ll likely be familiar with the reasons why. Last year was not banner for the ladies, and this one isn’t off to a strong start, either, in fact. Wasn’t good for women within the industry itself, nor within the pages of the stories being told.

Those who’ve had the unmitigated temerity to actually comment upon this state of affairs publicly have ended up paying a surprisingly heavy price. The gender of the speaker has been largely irrelevant, though to be sure, it’s the women who’ve stepped up have taken the harder hits. But all who’ve pointed out the absence of women both on the page and behind it have been ridiculed, insulted, and, absurdly enough, even threatened with violence. Conversely, those attempting to defend their mistreatment of women within the industry have revealed a staggering lack of understanding, empathy, and self-awareness, while seeming to rejoice in an arrogance that is near heart-stopping in its naked sexism and condescension.

To say there are those who don’t get it is an understatement; it would be like describing the Japanese tsunami as ‘minor flooding.’

Be careful what you wish for…

While I was on a packed slow train back to Oxford from That There London yesterday, a friend on Twitter made the mistake of complaining that too many people were Tweeting about the football. Her second mistake was not immediately turning down my offer to liveTweet my journey …

What remains of us…

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What remains of us…, a set on Flickr.

Looking out from Pembroke Castle in south west Wales, you can see on the skyline a thick copse of trees, out of which emerges the tower and spire of the 12th century church of St. Daniel (Deiniol) – said to be one of the oldest religious sites in the county.

St Daniel is believed to have come to Pembrokeshire some time in the early 6th Century. The church stands on the spot where he built a hermitage and thanks to a spring which supposedly appeared when he sprinkled water he’d collected from the River Jordan, and which had magical healing powers, it became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in Wales.

Now, however, you’d be fortunate to even know it was there.

We happened upon it accidentally at the weekend while driving from Stackpole Quay to Pembroke. Up a narrow lane, you find the thick-walled church – now closed, bricked and boarded up. But the graveyard is still in use, with the most recent burial dating from 2009.

What is curious, though, is that the church has become surrounded by tall trees and undergrowth, but as you proceed down through the graveyard – and forwards in time – the vegetation gradually lessens till it reaches a neat, clipped lawn.  Grand Victorian and Georgian monuments and family tombs give way to Celtic crosses and smooth granite gravestones, mortal fashions arrive and fade away in a single line of graves while the rows proceed into the new centuries. And as each generation passes from living memory, and memorial, the undergrowth gobbles them up; scooping them into its arms as if the church is embracing them into history.

There is an amazing sense of abandonment, yet one without melancholy. I never think of graveyards as sad or scary places because I’m always reminded of Larkin’s An Arundal Tomb:

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

For all of its abandonment, the church and graveyard of St Daniel’s, perched on a hill in Pembrokeshire, is a testament to 800 years of love.

Fish Beach and the tide of memory

Music is the key.

I was at university in sunny Huddersfield. In the grotty cellar kitchen, which would eventually try and kill one of my housemates and where piles of washing up festered till they grew legs and walked out in disgust; on rickety charity shop chairs and a glass table more sinning than sinned against; by the light of a bare lightbulb.

Murder mystery in a box with the best sort of student fancy dress – cheap and hastily thrown on. Homicide on a 1920s floating Mississippi casino. There were feather boas.

Dave, Roger, Jo, Jon, Kate, Vicky: the theatrical clique who defined two whole years of my life, and – some of them – beyond that. I cooked, to the best of a meagre ability. And as they guessed the murderer, Michael Nyman’s Fish Beach on repeat.

One of those moments you witness and tell yourself ‘remember this’. Frame them in your mind and remember every detail, so that when you hear this music again it will be like flicking open a photo album. Like a polaroid, but one that reminds me of far more than what is captured by the lens. The state of the cooker, the old CD player, the laughter of my friends, me watching them, tears in my eyes. A happy moment. Remember it, I told myself.

Remember it.

I can be your hero, baby…

I write about comic books. This is something of a dream job for me, combining at it does what I love (comic books) with what I can do (write copy).

The main conduit over the last year, apart from my long-form interviews for the Judge Dredd Megazine, has been Comic Heroes. Although seemingly pricey on the newsstand, there’s nowhere else that covers the length and breadth of comicdom, with most pretenders over focusing on American superhero comics and ignoring the fact that the majority of comic book consumed in the world have no trace of spandex.

However, Comic Heroes has been available on Apple’s shiny new Newsstand app since it launched, but is now – for a limited time only – available for the bargain price of £1.49 an issue.

I’ve done so much stuff for Comic Heroes that it’s difficult to remember – I’ve interviewed Paul Cornell and Kelly Sue DeConnick, Guy Davies and Sean Phillips, Bryan Hitch and Rob Williams, Al Ewing and Warren Ellis. My interview with Alan Moore caused some waves, my piece on Archie Comics changed a lot of my preconceptions and writing the profile on Green Lantern’s history nearly drove me insane.

It’s a pretty meaty read for anyone interested in comics and £1.49 is an absolute steal!