On The Run

Orbital Operations for 11 June 2023

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. This is Orbital Operations, and you can share it with the grey links in the top right.

  • notes from Mission Control

  • Chickens

  • the art of Matthew Dunn

  • Deep Cuts: jazz comics

  • The Doll’s Alphabet

I’m on the run this week - I’ve generated probably sixty or seventy pages of material since last Sunday, and I have to deliver the first tranche of the game consult document by end of play Monday. I also came up with a project for an artist friend whose work I’ve admired for some years, and need to work up that full outline. We’re recording another episode of DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT on Wednesday, I believe. So I’m quite busy and quite tired. You can usually track me and find out if I’m answering email by using the Status category on LTD. That’s also where I store my daily photos, which are probably quite boring unless you like skies, plants or criminal squirrels.

Every now and then, we take in chickens rescued from battery farms. The things about hens of a certain age in battery farms is that they get killed. So organisations go in and save as many chickens as they can and people like us take as many as they can. Three, this time. We had one left from our last batch. At one point, I’m sure she had a name, even though she was scrawny, bald and clearly mentally unwell - long after pecking-order finished, she ran around the coop at high speed, shrieking, and we began to understand that she really wasn’t all there. She lived. She grew. She remained, frankly, batshit. And so she’s just called Crazy now.

The three new ones are small, not healthy, but remarkably calm and collected. Crazy tried to assert pecking order. One of the new ones spread her wings like she knew kung fu and smacked Crazy. Everything has mellowed out pretty fast. Crazy is still crazy, and the others decided that if Crazy wants to think she is the boss of the coop, they will just let her. So now she poses in the sun like fucking chicken Niyazov and they ignore her completely. Everyone is happy.

Artist Matthew Dunn has a Patreon, where he’s preparing to serialise a new comics project that I’ve had sight of - it’s beautiful - but what I want to show you is a page of something he’s been posting on his Twitter just for his own amusement:

DEEP CUTS, a series by Kyle Higgins, Joe Clark and six different artists - the above is from issue two, a revelatory turn from Helena Masellis, who should be incredibly famous and rich on the basis of this one — from Image Comics, is about jazz. And love and money and theft and longing and history and the creative life. Each issue is a complete novella. This book may be under the radar. It shouldn’t be. Nobody is doing anything quite like this right now. In a field that feels a little tired and stale right now, Higgins and Clark and their collaborators are trying to do something different, and are clearly talking about something they love, and it deserves your attention. Talk to your local comics shop. Each issue is $5.99 but you’re getting full novella bang for your buck there.

(Comics stores would love to meet you. Here’s the comic shop locator.)

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.

I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts.

Some people ask about the above: David, my poor under-used book/prose agent, represents me in publishing outside of comics. Angela reps me for film, tv and everything else. I say this with one eye on the calendar and boards, but I am taking on new work right now. So, if you want to talk about work, track one or the other down.



One afternoon, after finishing a cup of coffee in her living room, Greta discovered how to unstitch herself. Her clothes, skin and hair fell from her like the peeled rind of a fruit, and her true body stepped out.

She hadn’t had a baby yet; an ear-like thing once came out of her, and she put it in a box to keep in case more bits came out and she had to assemble them.

I started reading this book of short stories a couple of years back, and put it down for some reason. I picked it up again last week, remembering how vividly strange the first story was, and finished it. It’s a collection of pieces that, generally, seem to explore slightly surreal dystopias. Little crooked worlds - not enough detail to break their spell, just enough to disturb.

We also splurged on a sweet bun to share, sold from the same bakery where I bought bread, but the bits of red and green candied fruit stuck on top were actually bits of plastic, and Paul almost choked on one.

That, right there: in a world where “Mirrors were extremely expensive, we were lucky to have one,” bakeries can’t source candied fruit and use plastic instead. That says novel’s worth of sadness and horror right there. Camilla Grudova is superb at those strange and heartbreaking little notes. This is a collection of painful fables. It’s an absolute masterclass of economy as a tool to conjure alien alternative worlds, somewhere sideways from past and future, bad dreams with nasty waxy teeth. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the current state of the short story (compare and contrast with Kathryn Scanlan’s THE DOMINANT ANIMAL), anyone who wants to capture dream logic and anyone who feels like the sketch can be superior to the tight blueprint.

THE DOLL’S ALPHABET, Camilla Grudova (UK) (US) scroll down a bit on the latter to find it - Amazon US doesn’t allow direct linking from newsletters for some reason.



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 so it is all said. I need to get back to work. I hope you’re doing something that makes you happy. If not, try and make a little time this week to do what makes you happy. Maybe just carve out five minutes to just be where you are without distractions. It’s good for you. And you’re allowed to do things that are just good for you. Take care of you. See you next week.