Orbital Operations for 14 May 2023
No, we’re not the BBC, but I like the old signs. Hello from out here on the rainy, windy Thames Delta. I have to stop farting around and get back to the grind. Two artists waiting for scripts, one waiting for me to have an idea, audio drama builds to listen through and annotate, calls to schedule.
On Friday, we recorded episode 101 of DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT, with James Callis and our guest actor for that episode - we won’t be releasing the full cast details until we’re all done, but note in advance our amazing second actor almost had me in tears on the last scene.
We have the executed contracts for graphic novella PROJECT LOST SIERRA, so now our publisher is trapped: Next up is when to announce the thing, and for me to get writing. I wrote a detailed treatment for the book, which I think ran to about six pages in the end, for an intended 56-page work, so I’ll be working this one in what I think of as “John Rogers style.”
John once shared somewhere that, in his process, only the initial idea is the blank page. Every other iteration is a rewrite of the previous. The one-page idea is opened in writing software and rewritten into the outline. The outline is rewritten into the detailed treatment. The treatment is rewritten into the script. Only the beginning is a blank page - every other version, he’s got work down on the page to revise and build on. In each version, he’s only having to solve the problems he left for himself — he never has to start from scratch.
I don’t work in that way a lot? But sometimes it’s just the boost you need. And this project has a very exact structure, and I need to take away my tendency to wing it with this one.
And I need the boost because, in the last couple of years, I’ve done screenplays, audio dramas, treatments and outlines and creative consulting and not a lot of comics. And so I’ve briefly forgotten how to write them. Because of time.
In film and tv and in audio and generally in prose, you’re writing a continuous flow of time. Think of it as an old-timey roll of film. In comparison, comics stutter a bit. This is a very inexact analogy, but: to write a comic, you’re not writing the whole roll of film. You’re going in with scissors and clipping out the one frame that represents the minute of shot film on either side of that frame. And if you have more than thirty words of dialogue in that frame, then nobody will be able to see the picture.
Adjusting back to comics is always weird. Doing TREES after a year on GUN MACHINE and DEAD PIG COLLECTOR and all was a really weird adjustment - comics pages felt so light compared to prose pages.
So a publisher friend sent a link with a “did you see this?” message.
It’s the first 150 pages of the graphic novel SPECTATORS by Brian K Vaughan and Niko Henrichon. And it’s FREE to grab as a PDF or CBZ.
Listen. I liked Y THE LAST MAN and I thought the concluding piece was magnificently done. I liked EX MACHINA. I really liked THE PRIVATE EYE. SAGA is a work of great skill and beauty with sections that will knock you flat.
With SPECTATORS, my first reaction was that Brian Vaughan has finally written A Proper Fucking Novel. It’s so well done it made me want to quit everything and go and become a bad gardener full-time.
Henrichon is a fantastic artist, and you’re going to want to go and look at it just for the pages. But I’m telling you now, on the available evidence, this may be the best thing Brian Vaughan has ever done. I spent a couple of hours in joy, reading and re-reading the thing, and the rest of the day in absolute fucking misery.
My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.
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I never read JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL - didn’t look like my sort of thing. But, given the attention paid to it, I was interested in reading Susanna Clarke’s prose. So I picked up the shorter PIRANESI, which looked more like my sort of thing, and then it sat on the digital pile for god knows how long. I opened it Friday night, and finished it Wednesday night. I did not get much sleep. It is really very good.
Also very hard to talk about without serious spoilers, but let me try: there is a man who lives in The House, an apparently infinite arrangement of vast halls filled with giant statues, all constructed upon an ocean with occasionally dangerous tides that provides him seafood to live on, and subject to its own internal weather systems. This is the entire world. He has always lived in The House - however, he possesses education, objects and modern locutions that suggest this is not the case. He is visited twice a week by The Other, the only human he knows, who gives him tasks of observation and measurement in pursuit of The Great And Secret Knowledge. The Other calls our man Piranesi.
Piranesi is not mad. But he has been lied to. A lot.
It is a supernatural/science-fictional mystery novel, but it’s chiefly a study of solitude and empathy, and of living fully in a world full of marvels. The mystery, by the way, is wonderful. But there’s an argument to be made that the book is really an allegory for how we live and how we don’t live, how we see and how we don’t see, and how the things done to us and taken away from us can sometimes lead to a new life that has its own wonders and joys.
WARRENELLIS.LTD is my personal notebook, in which I make new entries several times a day. Think of it as all the things I can't fit into this newsletter, from links and bookmarks to reviews, random thoughts and life notes. If you use a RSS reader, it generates a feed at https://warrenellis.ltd/feed/ .
And I’m out.
The beauty of the world is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. Take a moment to look around, take care of yourself, see you next week.