Postpartum: A Special Merksay Story

Postpartum: A Special Merksay Story

They call me the Fisherman.  But I don’t fish for trout or creel or scallop.  I fish for stories.  And that is my gift, I need no bait for them to come to me.  People see me and think I have but one good eye, but I have two and each serves its purpose just fine.  The eye you see watches the waking world.  The eye you don’t faces inward, and looks to the world beyond, a world more real and solid and dependable, the world of stories.  I see them all if I look hard enough, all the ones connected to Merksay, anyway.  I’ve lived here all my long life, Merksay is in my bones, and its stories run through my veins.  It will always be part of me.

That’s what the tale I have to tell you on this brisk and bitter Halloween night is all about, friend.  Merksay is a place with a power to it, a hold that grips those born there or even those that dally there too long.  The people of Merksay are caught like fish in a net, and no matter how far they stray, be it to the ends of the Earth, they never really leave.  Merksay never really leaves them.  Take Heather Connelly, who was living a contented life in Glasgow with her husband and newborn son.  She thought she was free of Merksay.  But the fish swimming in the net think they’re free too until it tightens around them and hauls them out of the water.  Sit down, join me for a spell.  I hope you don’t mind if I smoke my pipe.  Let me share one of my Merksay stories with you.  The story of Heather. 

merksaystory

Somewhere, the baby is screaming.  That was the first thought to greet Heather as she was hauled out of what had passed for sleep.  The 4:07 on the bedside clock flashed tauntingly at her, a reminder of the ever-closing window for any sleep on this night.  She lay there for a moment, bleary eyes open, glaring hatefully ahead.  She wasn’t expecting the crying to stop, she would never count herself so lucky.  But she thought that maybe this time Craig would answer the call instead of lying on his side in the bed next to her, his back to her.  He was breathing heavily, pretending to be asleep.  Who could possibly sleep in this house!?  She momentarily considered mule-kicking her husband in the kidneys, jolt his arse out the bed to deal with the noise.  But instead, with a deep sigh, she rolled herself out of bed and shambled out of her room and across the hallway to tend to her son.

Heather flicked on the light and tentatively approached the crib.  Colin was still crying, but his ear-piercing wails faltered a little as he looked up at his mother, his eyes widening with base recognition and expectation.  Heather glared down at this baffling creature that had grown inside her and been spat out unceremoniously into the world, and for a crazed moment she eyed him with the bemused, dispassionate disgust with which one might assess a removed mole or cyst popped into a glass jar and given back to you as a souvenir.  Only here was an excised growth that she would have to feed and bathe and clothe, that she would have to care about… forever.

The thought of how her life might be if little Colin were to go away never once crossed her mind.  Not even here, at her most tired and desperate, did she even momentarily entertain the notion of being happier were the howling stranger stealing sleep from her were to disappear.  Later, when the horror began, this is what Heather would insist to herself over and over.  No wish from her, not even a subconscious one, started all this.

Heather picked up Colin, rocking him gently as she paced back and forth across the room.  She smiled and cooed down at him, hopeful it would mask her hard, glaring eyes, which were silently willing him to sleep.  Finally, he did.  Outside, the sun was starting to rise.

The thought had frequently occurred to Heather that your world gets much smaller after you have a baby.  Before, her life had been filled with both a demanding job and an active social life, each of which she’d managed to navigate deftly.  Now, though, she was on maternity leave, and her friends rarely seemed to fit into her schedule, nor her theirs.  Even Craig felt like more of a guest star in her life, popping in at night after work to eat and sleep.  But Heather’s life had shrunk down to just her and her little boy now, her days filled with ways to keep him safe, happy and occupied.

Today that involved a walk through the park, her pushing Colin along in his pram, patiently indulging the gasps and giggles from old ladies she passed along the way.  The streets of Shawlands weren’t quite what you’d call scenic, but at this autumnal time of year “not raining” was about the best you could hope for.  And more and more Heather relished the opportunities to get out of the house, even if it was just for a wander.  Being cooped up in her house, just the two of them, was enough to stir up cabin fever.

She could already feel her gut tightening at the thought of it as she drew in the pram towards her front door.  And that was before she spotted the letter sitting on the ground in front of the door, placed in a solid black envelope.

Heather didn’t think much of the letter at first, save for a mild curiosity over it not being posted through the letterbox like the rest of the mail.  She assumed the postman must have dropped it, not even registering the fact that the envelope was entirely black, with no name or address written on its surface.  It was only when she picked it up that a chill ran through her whole body, a nagging voice in the back of her mind screaming at her to throw it away, not to dare look inside.  Then the rational part of her mind cast aside this silly thought.  She steered the pram through her front door and into her hallway, then opened the envelope.

It was a card inside.  Hand-made, by the looks of it.  It was crafted from a folded over piece of ragged card, a crudely drawn, bloated baby on the front.  Underneath the drawing, vaguely reminiscent of a child’s, was a scrawled out caption in deep red letters…

YOuR HaPPy DaY HaS CoME!

More confused than afraid, so she told herself, Heather nevertheless found her hand shaking as she opened the card.  There was a message inside.

HeLLo HEatHER,

YoU hAD YoUR ChiLD… THis tIMe.  I aM VeRY pLEAsED.  NoW yOU CaN HoNOuR oUR AgREEmENt.

I SHalL CaLL oN YoU to CoLLeCt… SOON.

The letter dropped out of Heather’s hands, and though she felt a scream rising from her gut, it caught in her throat.  When she opened her mouth all she could manage were sharp, rasping intakes of breath.  There was no name signed on the card, but she knew it was from.  A name came to her lips in that moment, a name she hadn’t so much as thought about in over a decade.

“Bonnie Shaw…”

The girl sits sobbing on the kitchen floor, begging having given away to incoherent, defeated wailing.  Her mother stands in front of her, unmoved, arms tightly folded in front of her.

“Enough of that.  It needs to be done, or you’re no daughter of mine.  It goes or you go, girl.  It goes or you go.”

“Heather?  You still with us?”

Emerging from the dark cloud of her thoughts, Heather looked across the dinner table at Craig.  He was taking a turn at feeding Colin, with perhaps a quarter of it apparently completing its journey into his mouth.  But Craig had paused in his task, now looking at his wife with concern.

“I can’t stop thinking about that card.”

“Come on, Heather, it’s just some sicko playing a prank.”

Heather wasn’t convinced.

“Do you know much about where I come from?”

“Orkney?  Not really, you don’t talk much about it…”

“I was born on an island in Orkney called Merksay,” Heather continued, “I hated the place.  It’s stuck in the past and old ways of thinking in so many ways.  They still believe in a lot of the old legends.  The one that always scared me the most was Bonnie Shaw.”

“Bonnie Shaw!?” Craig scoffed, “Sounds like a country music star.”

“I’m serious, Craig,” Heather said, “Bonnie Shaw would make deals with parents, give them whatever they desired, and in exchange, he’d take their children.”

“You really believe that nonsense?”

“When you’re in that world, it feels real…”

“But it isn’t, Heather.  Some Highland boogeyman isn’t leaving letters on your doorstep.”

Heather said nothing.

“Look,” Craig continued, “This… Bonnie Shaw character, he didn’t just snatch children, right?  He only came if you asked him to.”

“Right.”

“And you love our son, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well you have nothing to worry about.  You didn’t make a deal for Bonnie Shaw to take your son away, did you?”

“No,” Heather replied, after a pause.

Craig stood up and walked round behind Heather, hugging her.

“Look, I get that you’re shaken.  That’s a creepy message to find on your doorstep.  But the kind of person that leaves a card like that and runs away is a coward, they’re not going to do anything.  Just in case, though, I’ll get a burglar alarm fitted.”

Heather smiled at him, feeling a little reassured.

“And you know I’ll be here with you every night,” Craig said, “Nobody’s taking Colin while I’m here.  You’re the two people I love most in the world.  I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

Talking about it rationally, Heather felt a little silly.  Of course there was no such thing as Bonnie Shaw.  It was just a scare story parents used to bully and intimidate their children into doing their bidding.  That’s how it was used on her, anyway.  And even if there was such thing, which there wasn’t, no deal on earth could make Heather give her Colin away.  No way she was going to lose her child.  Not this one.

After a week, the scare she’d gotten had retreated far to the back of her mind.  There had been no more letters with sinister messages, and no more talk of Bonnie Shaw.  Her thoughts were no longer lost in troubling past memories, but looking ahead to returning to work, what would be involved in arranging care for Colin.  Craig’s mother would be happy to watch her during the day, Heather considered as she vacuumed the living room carpet.  Colin was asleep up his bedroom, unusually quiet.  She had the baby monitor set up in the living room so that she could hear any cries coming from upstairs.  But of course he wouldn’t cry now.  Of course he’d sleep peacefully all day, getting up his energy for another night’s wailing.  Heather wished she was able to just sleep all day herself, though part of her speculated that if the baby caught onto this trick he’d start screaming during the daytime as well…

“KRRSSSSSSCCCCCHHHHHHHH!!!”

The burst of static from the baby monitor came so shrill and loud that, even over the noise of the vacuum, it just about make Heather leap out of her skin.  She turned off the vacuum cleaner and approached it.  Some issue with interference?  She picked up the monitor, shook it, and the static sound started to tremble and break up.”

“SSSCCHHHHHHHHHHHHIs Mummy listening?

Hearing a stranger’s voice in your child’s bedroom would be enough to invoke terror in any parent.  But Heather’s thought process did not even momentarily jump to the conclusion that an intruder had broken in.  No, immediately she knew that it was the voice of Bonnie Shaw.

She knew because the voice that she heard through the baby monitor was not human.  It wasn’t what she would call an animal sound, guttural and growling.  It was deep, silken, almost pleasant, but even through the monitor Heather could pick up on a reedy, unnatural quality to the voice that made it sound unlike any living thing.  Or perhaps that is being too analytical.  Perhaps she just knew, on some level, that of course he would come.

As her mind was still unpacking the horror of this creature having breached her home, her legs were working ahead of her, carrying her up the stairs.  It was like she was watching herself from afar, viewing her crazed rush towards Colin’s room with the same frustration she felt watching a scary movie.  “Why are you running towards the noise instead of out the front door?”

But the answer to that was easy.  Because it wasn’t just about her.  Her son was in that room.  So no matter what was in there with him she would run to him, as soon as she would run into a room that was on fire to pull him out.

Heather could not see Bonnie Shaw in the bedroom when she burst in.  And her breath caught in her lungs for a moment as it dawned on her that was because he’d already gone, already got what he’d came for.  He’d snatched Colin and they had left together to whatever nightmare world Bonnie Shaw came from.  But she exhaled in ragged gasps of relief as she noticed that Colin was still in his crib.

“Mummy’s here, baby, mummy’s here.”

But Heather’s relief curdled to dread as she peered into the cot.  Colin was awake, and he looked ashen, too frightened to cry.  He was staring, wide-eyed, but not at Heather.  He was staring past her, up to the ceiling behind her.

And in that moment, with terrible certainty, Heather concluded that Bonnie Shaw was up there, gripped to the ceiling, gazing down at them with his black, beady eyes.  In her mind, she pictured him as being just like in the story books, all poorly proportioned limbs, overgrown head and jagged edges.  In fact, she imagined him as literally being a giant version of the story book ghoul that had frightened her as a young child, right down to only being able to imagine him as 2-dimensional, pressed flat against the ceiling, elbows creasing like folded up paper as his long claws started to reach out for her.  She expected to turn and find him silently stifling a chuckle, like a naughty child hiding from an adult.

Then she’d turn and she’d see him there with his massive mouth crammed with needle teeth.  Hello there, Heather, he would say, we decided to wait for you so we can all go away together.  Then he’d fall on her, and it wouldn’t be like paper falling, it’d be like the ceiling itself falling, and that needle-mouth would open and the blackness inside would be anything but 2-dimensional, it would go on and on forever and swallow mother and son whole…

Letting out an audible moan, Heather spun round quickly, turning to face the ceiling above her.

There was nothing there.  Or at least, whatever had been there was gone.

merksay4

It was barely a day after the incident with the baby monitor that Heather found herself on the Orkney ferry, the hills of Merksay looming ominously ahead.  The last time she had seen this view, she had been on the boat heading in the opposite direction, and had vowed that she would never look on it again.  And yet here she was, a decade later, returning home.  And now she had her son with her, absently rocking the pram back and forth on the deck as she tightly gripped onto the handrail.

She hadn’t said anything about the voice or the presence she’d felt to Craig, of course.  She had just told him that she wanted to take her son to visit her family.  Craig had initially been dubious, knowing that not only had he never met Heather’s parents but she never talked about them, but he soon came round to it being a good idea.  Maybe he was jumping at the chance to have the house to himself for a bit.

Now that Merksay was in Heather’s sights, all the old fears which had felt distant and irrational suddenly felt very real, and very near.  The monsters hadn’t gone, they had just been waiting.  She did wonder if it was the wisest decision to bring Colin with her to this awful place.  Perhaps not, but Heather knew there was no choice in the manner.  There was no way now that she would ever let her child out of her sight, he would be with her always until she knew he was safe.  And she knew that the only answers to be found would be here, where all this began…

Walking through the roaming fields of Merksay, it was like she’d never left.  Maybe the life she’d lived since then, the intervening years where she had become an adult, got a higher education, found a job she was great at, fell in love with a man and married him, and had a beautiful son, had all been a longing daydream, and she’d never escaped this place after all.  But the pram she was pushing ahead of her gave lie to that notion.  It wasn’t easy going, the ragged terrain ill-suited to the wheels.  Navigating the island took longer than she thought as a result, and the daylight – gray and listless at the best of times here – was already waning when she came across her old family house.  It looked so small, now.

She opened the rickety gate and tentatively made her way up the path towards the crooked, stone-cobbled structure before her.  This was no longer home to her, if it had ever been.  She had no desire to be here, certainly not for the reconciliation Craig had bought into.  She told herself that this trip was purely about information.

Heather knocked on the door, and for a few silent, hopeful moments there was no answer, and she entertained the comforting idea that the house had been abandoned.  But then the door opened, and Morag Creig, Heather’s mother, was standing at the threshold.

It appeared that time had withered Morag Creig.  Heather hadn’t seen her in the 10 years since she’d left for Glasgow.  Just as resolutely as Heather had vowed never to return, Morag had long ago pledged never to leave, and she had stuck her guns much longer than her daughter.  But she looked like she had aged twice as much, her hair now a shock of white, her stature shrunk, her back stooped.  But she still had the same hard eyes, which were now coolly assessing the woman standing on her doorstep, and the baby she brought in tow.  After what felt like an eternity, Morag was the one to break the silence.

“Your da’s dead.  You best come inside.”

Little conversation passed between mother and daughter in the ensuing minutes, with most of it being about the particulars of the passing of Heather’s father.  And Morag did not even acknowledge her grandson until well after they had all sat themselves in the tiny kitchen, Heather’s untouched tea going cold.

“So, you had another one.”

Heather felt the bile rising in her throat.  With a struggle, she swallowed it down.

“His name’s Colin,” she replied curtly, “And his father and I love him very much.  I’m married now.  I’ve made a life for myself in Glasgow, which I’m very keen to get back to.”

“Don’t let me keep you,” said Morag, “Hurry back to the sooth-moother you’ve shacked up with…”

“I want to talk to you about Bonnie Shaw.”

And with the very mention of the name, Heather saw Morag’s eyes widen in fear.

“Don’t say his name in this house!  We don’t want to invoke him!”

“But you already invoked him, Mother,” Heather replied, “All those years ago you brought him into our family.”

“That was you, not me!” Morag snapped back, “You’re the one who asked him to take away the unwanted child in your womb.  And the one who visits granted your wish, leaving you free to live your life without the shame…”

Heather launched herself to her feet, standing up with enough force to knock the chair behind her to the ground.  She was trembling with anger.

“Bonnie Shaw did not take my child,” she said in a hissed whisper, “I had a miscarriage.  I was a 16-year-old child who did a foolish thing, and I was scared, and all the fear and guilt you put me through probably brought it on.  You told me you were going to give me to Bonnie Shaw yourself if I didn’t offer my baby to him.  Your own daughter!”

Morag just looked down at the ground.  Shaking her head with contempt, Heather continued.

“I remember thinking, why Bonnie Shaw?  Why not just take me to get an abortion?  But that would have required a trip to the mainland, wouldn’t it?  Couldn’t leave your precious Merksay!  Well, if Bonnie Shaw got the baby, where was my end of the bargain?  In return I asked for him to undo everything, for it all to be forgotten.  But this town never forgot.  You never forgot.  All I was ever going to be here was the teen slut who got pregnant, I couldn’t get on the ferry out of here fast enough!”

Finally, Morag had found her voice, glaring at her daughter.

“If you don’t believe in the one who visits, why are you asking about him?”

“I said I had a miscarriage.  I didn’t say I didn’t believe in Bonnie Shaw.  And now that I have a child, a child I love with all my heart, he’s coming after my boy as payment for the child I denied him.”

Morag slumped back into her seat, horrified.

“That’s why I’m here,” Heather continued, “I need you to tell me about any way of undoing a deal with Bonnie Shaw once it’s been made, or point me to who would know.  I’ll do whatever it takes to break this curse.”

At first, Morag shook her head absently.  But then, realisation dawning her eyes, she turned to face her daughter.

“There is only one thing you can do.”

“What?  Tell me!”

“Kill the boy,” Morag said plainly, “Snap his neck, suffocate him, cast him off the edge of the cliff.  Something quick.  If you truly love him you will do this, as it is more merciful than what awaits him if he lives.”

Heather could not believe what she was hearing, looking on in dumbfounded silence as Morag laid out this morbid scenario.  When she finally did reply, her voice was low, shaking with rage.

“You did this to me.”

Morag took the words like daggers to the chest, shrinking back into her chair, her face etched with shame.

“You’ll never see us again,” Heather said, “I hope you die here, alone, and soon.”

And with that, Heather wheeled Colin’s pram around and left the house, never once looking back.

Night had fallen on Merksay, and Heather was still pushing the pram through the fields, desperately trying to remember where to find Baubie’s Bed and Breakfast. She let out a scream as a front wheel caught on a jutting rock, snapping the wheel off and causing the pram to slump to its side.  In her mad scramble to catch the pram as it collapsed, Heather herself lost her balance, ending up in a heap on the ground.  She was scratched and battered, but thankfully, Colin was still nestled in his blankets inside the upturned pram, looking bewildered about being on his side, but nothing worse.

Heather abandoned the pram after that, choosing to carry Colin in her arms.  She limped through the green wilderness, and she could swear that there had been houses here before, but now there was nothing but long grass.  It was if the island itself was shifting around her, conspiring to leave them lost and alone in the dark.

Then, about as far ahead as Heather was able to see under the light of the moon, something moved in that long grass.  She told itself it was just a fox, that they were known to wonder here.  But then that something rose up far beyond the grass, its long, spindly limbs attached to a bulbous, misshaped torso, a mess of hair all over.  Was the shape rising up from a crack in the ground, some portal from another world, or had it been here the past decade, lurking in the grass, waiting for Heather to come to this exact point with her child in hands, ready to be delivered?

Bonnie Shaw stretched his arms out wide, head arched upwards to the moon.  Then he turned to look at Heather, and smiled.

Up until that moment, Heather had been transfixed, watching this beast take form out of the darkness in a state of dreamlike terror.  But once Bonnie Shaw turned his attentions onto her and her boy, she found the wherewithal to run, screaming into the night as she did.  With the adrenaline kicking in, she wasn’t even limping anymore, pounding through the fields with her son clutched tight to her chest, even though she didn’t have a clue where she was running to.  Knowing what she was running from was enough.

But none of it did her any good, the screaming or the running.  The screams went unanswered.  And every time she dared look over her shoulder, Bonnie Shaw was still there.  He did not seem to be any hurry, her mad dash contrasting with his slow, casual walk.  And yet every time she looked he seemed to be a little bit closer than he had been the last time.

Then there was nowhere left to run.  Heather found herself standing at the edge of the cliff-face, looking down at the black, tumultuous waters below.

“No no no no…”

She turned around, and Bonnie Shaw was THERE, standing right in front of her, towering over her.

“Stay back!” Heather screamed, “Stay away from us!  You can’t have him!”

Heather grabbed a large stick off the ground and started swinging it wildly, a savage protective instinct taking over her.  But Bonnie Shaw just smiled, unfazed by the blows to his body, letting her strike at him until she was exhausted and dropped the weapon of her own volition.

I can have him, Heather,” Bonnie Shaw said calmly, “You gave him to me, many years ago.”

“I never gave you Colin!” she screamed, “I gave you the other one, the one that died.  And I didn’t even want to do that.  That ended our deal!”

But Bonnie Shaw just shook his head at this foolish idea.

“You do not decide when our deal ends.  I was promised a child from you.  It is my right to take what is mine.” 

Heather started to sob uncontrollably, backing further towards the edge of the cliff.

“N-no!  After all these y-years I’m finally happy and whole.  Colin is my w-world!  I can’t live without him.”

A long, clawed hand stroked gently down the side of Heather’s cheek, wiping at her tears.

“Yes you can, child, and you will.  I do not just take.  I give, too.  I know what you are owed in return for the boy.  Happiness, acceptance and contentment, free from the pain of loss.  You can have it.” 

Tears streaming down her face, Heather shook her head, taking another step backwards.

“I am not blind,” Bonnie Shaw said soothingly, “I know you made your deal with me under most dire circumstances, how broken your heart was, and what it has taken to put it back together.  You can lose everything to escape me.  Or I can make you be happy, can ensure you feel no pain, no loss.  Do you wish to be happy?”

Now, at last, Heather pulled her eyes away from Bonnie Shaw.  She looked down lovingly at her son, Colin, gazing deep into his curious eyes, taking in every little detail of his face.

“Yes,” she whispered, never looking away from her son.

Bonnie Shaw grinned, reached a clawed hand out towards her.

“All you need to do is take a-hold of my hand…”

It was a beautiful day in Glasgow, unseasonably bright and sunny for October.  Heather walked through the park with Craig by her side.  The thought occurred to her that she should cherish the little joyful moments like these as they were happening, and so she did just that, drawing in closer to Craig and resting her head on his shoulder.  They looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.

Colin was with them.  She pushed the pram in front of her, and he looked back at his parents, giggling playfully.  Everything was going so well.  Soon she would be back at work.  But not until after Christmas.  Their first Christmas as a family!  Just this morning she’d phoned her mother, who was so excited to make the trip out to Glasgow to spend Christmas week with them.  It was all exactly as it should be.

Just as they sat themselves down on a park bench, Craig’s phone rang.  Smiling apologetically, he walked a little down the pathway to take the call.  Now it was just Heather and Colin again.  She took her son out of the pram and sat him on her knee.  He was wrapped up warm.  She always made sure to keep him safe.  She smiled at him lovingly.  He looked back at her, and just for a moment, a chill ran through the air in this pleasant October afternoon.  Just for a moment, Heather got the inexplicable feeling that things were not exactly as she should be, that this thing on her lap looked at her with that old recognition and expectation, but none of the simple love that had always come with it.  And a cracked little voice in the darkest recess of her mind croaked futile, meaningless words…

Somewhere, your baby is screaming.

Then Colin smiled at her, and Heather immediately forgot such foolish notions before they had even formulated as coherent thought.

“Mummy loves you, dear.  Mummy loves you.”

And Heather lived a happily ever after, of a sort, in Glasgow.  But part of her, perhaps the most important part, is forever here in Merksay.  It’s the part we all leave here.  And so many of us have stories to tell.  One day I may tell you another. 

But not tonight.  The light is fading, and the chill is setting in.  Off you go now to carve your turnips and go guising in your fancy dress.  Be merry, enjoy the festivities.  Silly old stories like this shouldn’t linger for long amid all the fun.  But maybe, once the decorations are gone and the costumes are back in the cupboard, when you lie awake at night, they’ll come a-calling once more.  Happy Halloween.

postpartum

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What’s That Smell?

Uh-oh, it’s a political comic!

I don’t claim to be the most politically engaged person, and others have got into the nuances of the Scottish Independence debate more comprehensively in comics elsewhere.  I mainly just put together this vignette because I thought it was a funny idea.  It came to me when I was watching a televised debate about the referendum shortly after reading the Wee Blue Book, which was filled a lot of interesting documented, verifiable facts quelling a lot of the fears put forward by Better Together.  So watching the advocates for No trailing out these same old points, now armed with the knowledge that most were factually disprovable, I was left wishing that someone could just step up and go, “Ho, that’s a lie, mate!”  Cut through the political protocols and niceties and just call bullshit bullshit.  And that’s when I started riffing on popular TV skits based around that very idea, and imagining what it would be like to mash those up with the political sphere…

WhatsThatSmell1 WhatsThatSmell2 WhatsThatSmell3

The jokes in this are pretty specific, so apologies to those of you who don’t have a working knowledge of either the magnificent TV escapades of Karl Pilkington or Karen Dunbar’s delightful skit from Scottish sketch comedy show Chewin’ The Fat.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m voting Yes for Scottish independence.  Here’s the Facebook post I wrote at the start of this month explaining my reasons:

Brace yourselves: this is going to be a long post, on the subject of the Scottish Independence referendum.

The vote is just over 2 weeks away, now. I have said before that I was trying my best to stay undecided for as long as possible to be open to arguments on both sides, and at around this stage I was going to write two status updates – “Why I’m voting Yes” and “Why I’m voting No” – to lay out the forces swaying me in each direction. But now, I find myself pretty unable to write any convincing post for the No side, which confirms what has become increasingly clear to me: on 18th September, I’m definitely voting Yes.

People who have known me for a long time will know that, even a year ago, this position would have been unfathomable to me. For as long as I have been aware of the particular political matter of Scottish Independence, I’ve been hardline No. I was someone whose heart sank when the SNP were first elected into power in the Scottish Government, because it made an independence referendum a possibility, if a remote one. My whole life, I’ve been proud to be British as much as I’m proud to be Scottish. I’m proud of much of our shared culture and history, of our NHS. I like England: I’ve often visited, and I have family and friends there. I’ve never been one of those Scots who hate the English, who cheer on whoever’s playing against them in sporting events, and to be honest I’ve always found such attitudes embarrassing. And I always felt that the SNP and any move towards Scottish Independence pandered to such nasty, small-minded, parochial sentiments. I felt like, as a people, it was better to be part of something bigger than to split ourselves up into little factions and seal ourselves off. And I was basically happy with the political situation of the United Kingdom. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but compared to what’s going on elsewhere in the world, all things considered it felt like there wasn’t all that much seriously wrong with it.

So, once the Yes/No campaigning began in earnest, initially I was dead-set against Yes. I didn’t even want to read any of the stuff in support of it, my mind was already made up. But then I stopped myself, and thought, “This referendum could be the most important vote you make in your lifetime. You owe it to yourself to engage fully, and learn all you can about both sides of the argument to make an informed decision.” And so that’s what I did. And very quickly, it became abundantly clear that the campaign of Yes Scotland was leagues ahead of that of Better Together. Yes Scotland has a positive vision for Scotland: there are aspirations, goals for the country with tangible ideas laid out for how to attain them. Better Together has been relentlessly negative. At the earliest stages there was this kind of smug, condescending disdain, the idea that Yes Scotland were beneath their notice, and that us lowly Scots should feel excited and grateful whenever a “real” politician from Westminster made a half-hearted appearance on our shores to give us a pat on the head and tell us we all knew what was good for us. But my friend Ashley Storrie made a great point about the “fuck you” attitude of Scottish people, where if you tell us that we can’t do something, then we want to do it to prove you wrong. And so every time David Cameron came to talk in Scotland, the Yes campaign saw a bump in the polls. And before long the Yes campaign went from a blip no one was taking seriously to something that was still the underdog with a minority, but enough momentum to make this a close-run thing. And at this point I was a frustrated No voter, bemoaning the fact that this blundering Government was playing right into Alex Salmond’s hands by giving the Yes campaign fuel without Yes Scotland even needing to do anything. But then the scare tactics began from Better Together, the doom-and-gloom and the threats of punishment or retribution that would come if we defied them by voting Yes. “We’ll take your pound away.” “We’ll take our business away.” “Scotland can’t manage on its own, this disaster or that crisis will make it fail. This is too difficult for you.” And that “fuck you” attitude started swelling up in me too.

There are ways of summing up the spirit of the respective campaigns. You could say that Yes Scotland has promises, while Better Together has threats. I prefer to look at it this way: Yes Scotland has a primary focus on engaging voters, while Better Together has a primary focus on DISengaging voters: it’s all “this is too difficult,” “this is all a bit scary to think about,” and “best to leave things as they are so you don’t have to concern yourself with it.” And that rankles me. And the more I found myself leaning towards Yes, the more apparent the media bias against Yes became. Heavily slanted newspaper coverage in favour of No from most publications. And even the BBC, an institution I’ve long respected and cherished… I’ve felt totally let down by them during this campaign, more than ever I’ve seen the bias and strategic reporting in a channel I’ve long praised for its relative objectivity. And when I see mobilisation of the powers of the media in the name of deceit and slander, I naturally incline towards the injured party in such a situation. And when you look at the forces assembled in favour of No – the Tories, UKIP, BNP, Britain First, the Orange Order, the Daily Mail – it makes you wonder about whether you’d want to throw in with such an axis of evil.

Even recently, the differences in the campaign have been night and day: look at that wretched “Patronising BT Lady” ad as opposed to the uplifting message behind the Yes ad in last week’s duelling TV spots. And even something as simple as the signs in my local area: the Yes slogan is all stickers plastered around town or signs hanging up in people’s windows, while No Thanks hangs oppressively on lampposts throughout the streets, high up beyond human reach. It feels like The Man, the establishment, while Yes feels grassroots.

But I’d be pretty shallow if my decision was just based on who has the snazzier campaign. While the Yes campaign might have opened my eyes to them, in truth there are deeper reasons behind my decision. I said before that the British Government are basically okay, but more and more lately I’ve realised that’s not the case. I’ve seen an alarming rise in political attacks on immigrants, on the unemployed, on the working poor… the vulnerable in our society we should be protecting. Even that NHS I talked about being so proud of is under attack. After promises the NHS would be untouched, the Conservative Government first brought in cuts, then tried to introduce privatisation to mass public derision. They initially backed off the idea… but then began the sustained media attack on the NHS, it seemed all of a sudden hardly a week could pass without some fresh scandal “leaking”, and calls for Something To Be Done. And now the privatisation has been filtering in a step at a time. I don’t like the direction the UK is going.

It lies deeper still than just policy, it is the whole political attitude. Scotland is under a Conservative Government, despite only having one elected Tory MP. Scotland can vote overwhelmingly in favour of Labour and the SNP at elections, but at the end of the day it won’t make a dent in the Conservatives coming to power if that’s the direction England decide to vote. They’re bigger than us, their votes carry more clout. That in itself is one of the most compelling arguments for independence: surely we should be able to elect a government that reflects who the majority of our population want in power. Isn’t that democracy?

Worse still, these past couple of elections have seen a startling rise to prominence of UKIP. After years of relief that ragtag racists BNP were far too ridiculous to ever get any serious political influence in this country, that Britain were far too civilised for such things, UKIP and Nigel Farage have come along with the same nastiness at their core but with just enough of a veneer of class and credibility to dupe large factions of England, riding the tide of a growing anti-immigrant sentiment brewing in middle England. Scotland isn’t taken in by them to anywhere near the same degree: we’ve largely rejected them in the polls. But again, that doesn’t matter, not if England votes them in. And rather than oppose their anti-Europe sentiment and their hatred of immigrants, the other major parties have played them in a race to the bottom: “Look, we hate immigrants too!” Good on Salmond, the SNP and Yes Scotland for actually having some backbone and standing against that tide, saying, “No, actually we want MORE immigration, migrants are a valued part of Scotland.” I’m not saying England is full of racists or that there is no racism in Scotland – far from it – but these differing stances in terms of who we elect and who is and isn’t buying the shite Farage is selling suggests we really are two different countries. And as much as the prospect of unelected Conservatives having powers over Scotland annoys me, the prospect of unelected UKIP having those powers infuriates me, especially since Farage still nurses a grudge over the humiliation of being driven out of Edinburgh and UKIP have publicly talked about teaching us Scots some humility when they get the chance.

The aforementioned Europe point brings up another key thing to consider: many might think a vote for No is a vote for status quo, but it really isn’t. Once again bowing to that UKIP pressure, it would appear an in/out referendum on the European Union is on the table for some point over the next couple of years. Now, a broadly speaking, Scotland is pro-Europe, but increasingly, England has become anti-Europe. And remember what I said about how much bigger England is. So, if we vote No, we could potentially be facing another referendum with huge implications for our future in a couple of years, only this time we wouldn’t have a say on the outcome. If we vote Yes, there’s a conceivable situation where Scotland is in the EU and the UK isn’t. And though I now lean in favour of independence, I still believe we’re better as part of something bigger: being a part of the European community offers that. Change is coming one way or another folks, so we shouldn’t be voting just in hopes of avoiding it.

I realise this post is gargantuan now, so I’ll try wrapping things up. I hear the expected voter turnout is over 80%. That’s huge, and really heartening. One of the worst enemies of democracy is voter apathy. So, whatever way the vote goes on September 18th, it’ll be the will of the Scottish people. But I’ve gone from being terrified by the prospect of a Yes vote to being dejected thinking on the likelihood of a No vote. It’s just a depressing thought, the notion that we as a country might decide that we’d rather not make our own decisions, that we’d rather someone else take responsibility for us. And so we may go on being the contrarian voice shouting out against majority UK policy from the cheap seats, but we’ll toothless in our protestations, because we’ll have made the decision that we want to be there. And we’ll have forever have lost the right to complain about Westminster decisions not made in our best interests or not reflective of our desires. Yes, there are risks in independence. We may fall on our faces. But at least the decisions that will see us fail or succeed will be ours to make. It can be frightening thinking that we’ll have no one to credit or blame but ourselves, but I find it invigorating. I love Scotland, and this is one of the most exciting, promising times ever to BE Scottish. On 18th September, we all get the chance to take part in perhaps the most important vote in our country’s history. I’m voting Yes.

Thought Bubble: A Rundown of Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2

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This coming weekend, I’ll be down in Leeds for Thought Bubble, one of the biggest and best comic conventions in the UK.  There are all kinds of guests and debuts at the show I know I’m excited about as a fan of comics.  But for the rest of you attending the show, here is a handy guide to all the great comics that will be available from my table: Table 2 in Royal Armouries Hall…

ThoughtBubbleFloorPlan2013See us on the right there, just near the entrance?  You can’t miss us!  Anyway, if you stop by Table 2, here’s what you’ll find:

AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE

The critically-acclaimed, award-nominated horror mystery series made a big splash back at Glasgow Comic Con with the debut of its first issue.  Since then, it has continued to pick up momentum, with us selling out of our first print run, then taking the comic across the Atlantic where it did very well at New York Comic Con.  Written by me and drawn by Iain Laurie, And Then Emily Was Gone tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a former cop plagued with visions of monsters and horrific apparitions, and stuck in a miserable life of solitude, until one night he’s visited by a teenage girl called Fiona.  Having learned of his reputation for solving the most impossible of missing persons cases, Fiona recruits him to help her find her missing best friend, Emily.  Their search takes them to the Orkneys, and the remote island community of Merksay, where strange and terrifying things are happening.  As well as bringing the first issue to Thought Bubble, we’ll also be debuting the eagerly-anticipated issue #2!  Also, artist Iain Laurie will be in attendance at the show, so if you want to commission a sketch from the master of macabre, stop by the table sharpish to reserve one!

Emily2CoverFinal

BAD SUN

Written by me and drawn by Chris Connelly, Bad Sun is a sci-fi thriller set in a future Glasgow, 30 years after an alien race called the Tchairabun has migrated to Earth.  It tells the story of Lenniidasz Cowan, the first Tchairabun police officer to be promoted to Detective Inspector, who is placed in charge of a new department tasked with overseeing human/Tchairabun relations in Glasgow.  But as an extremist Tchairabun terrorist group emerges, Lenniidasz is torn between this external threat and the prejudices of his human colleagues.  With its Glasgow setting and political subtext, Bad Sun has enjoyed quite a bit of press here in Scotland, getting featured in several Glasgow newspaper articles, and enjoying strong reviews.  Thought Bubble marks the first time Bad Sun #1 will be available outside of Scotland, and artist Chris Connelly will also be in attendance, taking sketch requests.

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BLACK LEAF

Long in development as a graphic novel, artist Garry McLaughlin and I decided to release a special preview edition collecting the first 24 pages of the story as a special convention exclusive for MCM Expo Scotland a couple of months back.  It went down a treat, and ended up being my biggest seller of the day.  Now I only have a limited supply left, and am bringing them down to Thought Bubble.  It’s about a boy who travels to the Scottish Highlands to care for his ailing grandfather, only to encounter ancient magical forces lurking within the local woods.  If you’re interested, get your copy from our table… while stocks last!

BlackLeaf1Cover

THE STANDARD

The comic that started it all for me, my trademark book, available in comic shops worldwide and on ComiXology.  Hailed by critics and winner of a SICBA award in 2012, The Standard is the story of a superhero mantle spanning two generations, and an examination of the way the world – and its view of what makes a hero – has changed across generations.  Can the old, optimistic ideals of The Standard still be relevant today?  Four issues of the 6-issue miniseries – written by me and drawn by Jonathan Rector – are now available, but remaining stocks are extremely limited.  If you want to get caught up on the series, you’ll have to get to Table 2 quick, as the remaining stock will go fast!

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But it’s not just my comics that will be available from Table 2…

EXIT GENERATION

Sam Read is a good friend of mine.  Some of my best memories of my 2012 England cons – Kapow and Thought Bubble – were of hanging out with Sam, and hearing all his incredible story ideas.  One such idea was for this comic, known in its current incarnation as Exit Generation.  The irresistable premise sees the world faced with a crisis of over-population, and so the vast majority of the population – the world’s best and brightest – set out in massive space armadas to discover a bright new future outwith our galaxy.  But then our story doesn’t follow them, but instead sticks with those left behind on a now nearly-empty world.  Having honed his skill in various anthology shorts, Sam brings his considerable writing talent to his first full-length published comic, and this first issue does a great job of setting up this world and introducing us to some well-realised characters.  On art duties is Caio Oliveira, who I became a fan of with his skillful work in Gordon McLean’s award-winning supehero deconstruction No More Heroes.  Here, Oliveira’s work has grown even more refined, resulting in one of the most polished, professional-looking small press titles you’ll find at Thought Bubble this year.  I told Sam a year ago that I looked forward to tabling with him in 2013, and that has come to pass!

ExitGeneration1

MASTER TAPE

Watch out for the name Harry French.  He started frequenting meetings for the Glasgow League of Writers earlier this year, and instantly started making waves amongst our little creator collective with his masterful scripts.  With an impeccable sense of pacing and an ear for slick, natural dialogue, he’s one of the standouts in a group brimming with emerging talent.  Master Tape marks his debut comic, drawn by Amaru Ortiz Martinez, and gives us a glimpse into a future-world where the music industry is dying a death, as the world’s youth heads off-world to enjoy the music of the cosmos rather than deal with humdrum Earth bands.  Desperate and on the brink of extinction – quite literally, as it happens! – fading music producer Leo O’Brien resorts to bold and desperate measures to revive his sinking label.  This is such a skillfully plotted book, and perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that I’ve read the scripts for the projects Harry has lined up for after this, and they’re even better!  Harry will be at our table selling and signing.  Get his autograph: in a couple of years, it’ll be worth something!

MasterTape1

DUNGEON FUN

In my humble opinon, this could be THE must-buy book for the whole of Thought Bubble.  At the very least, it’s a tie with Garry Mac’s Gonzo Cosmic, available over in New Dock Hall.  Written by Colin Bell, writer of Detective SpaceCat and letterer of EVERY COMIC IN SCOTLAND, and seeing him pair up with his Jonbot VS Martha artistic collaborator Neil Slorance, Dungeon Fun is a hilarious, all-ages fantasy adventure laced with a Princess Bride style knowing wit.  It’s about a human girl who has lived in a troll pit her whole life, and who decides she’s sick and tired of dealing with the dregs from the world above getting thrown into her home.  So she’s going off on a mission to complain about it… even if she has to navigate a dungeon labyrinth and do battle with three-headed monsters along the way!  Bell’s script is packed with zingers and epic punnery, setting up a story filled with memorable characters.  And you all know I love the art of Neil Slorance.  He gets better all the time, and this could represent a new high for him.  But he manages to maintain that perfect balance of adorable cutesiness and surprising moments of heart and poignancy.  Colin will be signing at the table, and Neil Slorance has a table of his own over at New Dock Hall.  Really, I can’t recommend this book enough.  I’ve said it so many times now, but it is one of the best issue #1s of the year, from any publisher.  Pick it up!

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And that’s the rundown!  Really, you’re spoiled for choice, with a diverse range of cracking comics to choose from.  Stop by our table and grab them all!  Table 2!  Royal Armouries Hall!  Thought Bubble!  November 22nd-23rd!  BE THERE!

And Then Emily Was Gone #2 Debuts at Thought Bubble!

coverAnd Then Emily Was Gone is a dark horror-mystery that tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a man who sees monsters. A former detective driven to the brink of madness by terrifying apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Orkney Islands, where strange and terrible things are happening…

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  And upon making its US debut at this month’s New York Comic Con, And Then Emily Was Gone #1 completely sold out at the show!

The comic has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

The Off-Panel Podcast

Comics Anonymous

It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

And now, the And Then Emily Was Gone bandwagon will be rolling into Leeds in time for the Thought Bubble comic convention on Saturday 23rd-Sunday 24th November.  Not only will the acclaimed cult hit first issue be available for the first time in England, but making its worldwide debut will be And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Emily2CoverIn this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its highly eccentric locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!

Both writer John Lees (that’s me!) and artist Iain Laurie will be at Thought Bubble, selling copies of And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2.  You’ll be able to find us at Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  Iain will be signing and sketching throughout the weekend, and I’ll be relentlessly shilling And Then Emily Was Gone, along with my other comics: The Standard, Bad Sun and Black Leaf.  Letterer Colin Bell will also be in attendance at the show, I believe tabling with creator Neil Slorance at Table 69 in New Dock Hall.

If you haven’t yet been exposed to the unique visual stylings of Iain Laurie, here’s a couple of snippets of artwork from the first issue:

Page3Page7And for those who missed them last time they were posted, here are some character profiles shared previously on this blog:

HELLINGER

Once, Greg Hellinger was a rising star of the police Missing Persons Bureau.  Gifted with a brilliant analytical mind, Hellinger had the inate ability to find the thread left behind by people thought long gone, and track them down.  Solving a series of high-profile disappearances gained Hellinger some degree of fame and noteriety, and it seemed like his reputation and legacy was secure.

Then, five years ago, Hellinger started seeing monsters.

Plagued constantly by nightmarish apparitions that follow him wherever he goes, terrifying visions he is unable to fully comprehend, Greg has lost just about everything: his career, his family, his reputation, and even his sanity is barely intact.  Medical experts have no explanation for these visions, other than them being hallucinations caused by some unspecified massive nervous breakdown.  Now, Hellinger lives a life of seclusion, a haunted, broken man.

But one more case is waiting to be solved, Hellinger’s greatest challenge yet.  The disappearance of a 17-year-old girl called Emily Munro.  Can he solve this mystery, and in the process find answers to what is happening to him?  Or will Greg Hellinger discover that, as far as he has fallen, there are greater depths of horror and madness for him to plummet into?

Hellinger3FIONA

17-year-old Fiona Tulloch has lived her whole life in Merksay, a small island community in Orkney.  A bright, inquisitive girl, Fiona has always felt like she never really fit in with the isolated, sheltered existence of the Merksay islanders.  Save for her best friend, Emily, Fiona has never really connected with other people, preferring to lose herself in the world of her detective novels and dream of a more exciting life.

But when Emily goes missing, Fiona begins to see Merksay in an unsettling new light.  She starts to believe that perhaps that her difficulty in fitting in wasn’t something wrong with her, but rather something deeply wrong with the island and its people.  The more she delves into Merksay’s history, the more unsafe she feels: terrible things are happening in Merksay, and have been for some time.  And so, armed with her quick wit and many years worth of learned experience from trashy crime fiction, she decides to escape, fleeing the island and heading for the Scottish mainland.

But Fiona knows she can’t run away forever.  She needs to go back to Merksay.  She needs to find Emily, or find out what happened to her.  She needs someone to help her do it.  She needs Greg Hellinger…

Fiona1VIN

Vin Eckland is what some people may charitably refer to as a “hipster douchebag.”  His favourite pastimes include ironically watching Saturday morning cartoons, knitting novelty animals and playing quirky tunes on his tiny little ukelele.  He lives a life of leisure, often accompanied by Louise: his best friend since childhood.  He’s still recovering from the bad breakup of a long-term relationship, but has recently started dating again.

Vin has an interesting job.

VinEckland2BONNIE SHAW

There’s no such thing as Bonnie Shaw…

BonnieShaw1And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2 will be on-sale at Thought Bubble in Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  For more updates and information, keep reading this blog, and follow the creator on Twitter: John Lees (@johnlees927), Iain Laurie (@IainLaurie), Colin Bell (@colinbell) and Megan Wilson (@MeganEngiNerd).

Coming Soon: And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  It has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

The Off-Panel Podcast

Comics Anonymous

It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

 

And after a sellout of our first print run, artist Iain Laurie and I are restocked and ready for our next convention: Thought Bubble in Leeds, on 23rd-24th November.  But it won’t just be more of issue #1 we’ll be bringing.  Nope, issue #2 is now finished, and ready for the show.  Here’s a sneak peek of the cover, drawn by Iain and colored by the magnificent Megan Wilson:

Emily2Cover

In this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its very strange locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!

Black Leaf Debuts at MCM Scotland Comic Con!

2013 has been a busy year!  At Glasgow Comic Con back in July, I debuted a new issue of The Standard, and also launched two new titles with the first issues of And Then Emily Was Gone and Bad Sun.  I’ll be bringing all of those books to MCM Scotland Comic Con this Saturday, 7th September, at the SECC, but I’ll also have a new addition to the lineup, making its worldwide premiere at the show.

Black Leaf is a horror graphic novel I’ve been working on with artist extraordinaire Garry McLaughlin.  It tells the story of Stuart Lockie, a 12-year-old boy from Glasgow who travels up to the Highlands with his family to care for his ailing grandfather, and while there he uncovers ancient, dark powers residing within the local woods.  The versatile talents of Garry McLaughlin are on stunning display in this book, as he uses a grayscale ink wash technique to create a dark story-book vibe that permeates through the narrative.  And Colin Bell brings the whole package together with his masterful lettering and production prowess.  The final package is going to be 76-pages of story, but to build some buzz, the creative team decided to serialise Black Leaf exclusively for the convention market.  This first installment, containing the first 22 pages of the graphic novel, is getting a very limited print run, so if you want to get a copy, you better get yourself to MCM this weekend!

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here’s a peek at the cover to Black Leaf #1.  You can get your copy, as well as copies of all my other comics, by visiting me at the Comic Village at MCM Scotland Comic Con, Saturday 7th September, at the SECC.

BlackLeaf1Cover