Contessa, a.k.a. Baboushka, was a leader in the Russian mafia. Hardnosed, ruthless… very much her own woman. She’s a martial artist, marksman, and good with guns and gadgets as any good pulp spy should be. She’s supported by her constant companion Gyorgy Gyorgyov, an old friend of her family who was, in fact, her KGB handler and inventor.
I’d say ‘Codename Baboushka’ has been a slightly more difficult process for me, but I think that’s precisely because it’s quite different to my usual fare. And even then, being difficult doesn’t make me prefer it, or not, to anything else. I like a challenge.
So, yes, ‘Codename Baboushka’ is all-action and over-the-top, at least by my standards. But it also has a complex, multifaceted protagonist, a deep mystery at its core, and a kind of humanity that, through all the bullets and high-kicks, is really the soul of the book.
That’s right; I was watching ‘From Russia With Love’, one of my favourite Bond movies, and suddenly thought that I’d love to see a version of this from Tatiana Romanova’s point of view. Or, better yet; what if she was the hero? What if this was her story, and Bond was just a side character?
‘Modesty Blaise’ is not well known in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, she’s an institution – especially for a comic book reader of a certain age. She’s a wonderful creation, and her strip ran in newspapers for a long time. So whenever female spies come to mind for us, they think of ‘Modesty Blaise’.
‘Codename Baboushka’ is an action-packed modern pulp spy thriller, in the sort of British tradition of ‘Modesty Blaise’, New Avengers and of course James Bond. It’s a book about Contessa Annika Malikova, the last of a noble Russian line and an enigmatic, mysterious figure in New York high society.
As we were developing ‘Umbral’, and I was delving into the mythology and legends, I had a sudden realisation. ‘Wasteland’ is about people who fervently believe new myths and legends, but they turn out to be false; whereas ‘Umbral’ is about people who reject ancient myths and legends, but they turn out to be true!
Honestly, dialogue is a weird area for me. It just comes naturally; I know I’m quite good at it, but I can’t actually tell you why or how in any detail.
My process is kind of intuitive – I think about how a character will speak according to their station and personality, occasionally making notes with guidelines for their mannerisms, and then I just sort of crack on and write it.
I like high fantasy as much as the next guy, but I also like a bit of grit and grime with my faux-medieval trappings.
I’ve always loved ‘lived-in’ sci-fi. We take it for granted now, but it was a revelation in the late ’70s – ’80s, when movies like ‘Alien’, ‘Escape From New York’, and even ‘Star Wars’ introduced us to the idea that the future could, in fact, look old.
The Fuse is a solar energy station in orbit 22,000 miles above the earth. But it’s more than just a big solar panel array. The Fuse is also home to Midway City, a technically illegal settlement that grew out of a bunch of engineers who decided they’d rather make a new life in space than return home to earth.
Our main character is Klem Ristovych, the most senior detective in the MCPD. Klem’s a dinosaur, the oldest cop working the Fuse, and nobody can believe she hasn’t retired yet. Hell, she can hardly believe it herself. But what else is she going to do? Sit at home and watch soap operas all day? She’d throw herself out of an airlock first.
I like SF environments that seem used, and lived in, every day; not just rolled off a props truck. Look around you! Everything is scuffed, scratched, dinged, faded, even rusty.
The Purple Man helps Matt understand that his powers are unique, and maybe he is cut out for the hero biz after all. And Mr. Fear challenges Daredevil’s very philosophy; how does a Man Without Fear deal with a man who induces terror in everyone he meets?
Quite simply, we’re re-telling the very first adventures of ‘Daredevil’, as originally seen in DD #1-6, but in a modern style and setting – being faithful without being slavish. And I’m using those adventures as a framework to delve into Matt’s psyche a little, as he learns to become a hero.
‘Daredevil: Season One’ is kind of in-between. On the one hand, sure, it’s a graphic novel. But on the other, it’s beholden to existing continuity, and we’re still telling the story in issue-length chapters. So it’s not that different to writing a miniseries, and I’ve done plenty of those.
I was wrapping up my stint on ‘Daredevil’ co-writing with Andy Diggle during the Shadowland story, when Marvel asked if I was interested in doing something else with DD but a bit different. When they explained the purpose of the ‘Season One’ books, I was intrigued – I’m a big advocate of books for people new to the medium – and said yes.
When someone says ‘comic book movies’, what they inevitably mean is a summer superhero blockbuster, with heavily-muscled and tightly-gluted men (plus the occasional token woman) in tight-fitting costumes punching the living daylights out of one another for two hours.
The general public has been conditioned to think ‘comics = superheroes’ for as long as caped crusaders have been around – by critics, mass media, and Marvel and DC themselves, who have what you might call a vested interest.
If you do approach a comics publisher, make sure it’s one that publishes the kind of book you want to make. Don’t take your literary fiction to Marvel or DC; don’t pitch your Spider-Man epic to Image.
Imagine a music business where all the music press talked about, all day long, was cover bands of old rock and pop groups. Beatles cover bands, Rolling Stones cover bands, The Who cover bands, Led Zeppelin cover bands. Cover bands, cover bands, everywhere you go.
Journalists constantly ask Metallica if the success of their new album means they’ve had ‘the call’ to record a Zeppelin cover album yet.
Every Shania Twain interview ends with someone asking, ‘Which Beatles album have you always wanted to cover, given the chance?’
Scrivener can be a tricky beast to get your head around. When you do, a bell rings, and suddenly it all seems perfectly clear. But to reach that stage you have to understand what it can do, and try it out for yourself. Which can be daunting.
I love Scrivener. I’ve been using it since early 2007, and now I can’t imagine working in anything else.
I enthuse about Scrivener to all of my friends. Some of them even listen to me and download it. This is often swiftly followed by an email complaining that it’s all very confusing, and they’ll stick to Microsoft Word, thanks.
Writers are a superstitious cowardly lot, and we loathe learning new computer applications to do something that, let’s be honest, we could accomplish equally well with pen and paper – especially when that application is as unconventional as Scrivener.
Advertising is a nebulous beast at the best of times.
The biggest problem almost all comics face is not piracy or demographics or any of that nonsense: it’s obscurity.
There are many ways to improve your writing. Here’s the bad news: 1.They all require hard work. 2.There is no magic bullet.
It is easier to rewrite anything – even the worst writing in the world – than it is to write something from scratch.
A lot of young writers ask me about my process. They know what they want to write – but they need to know how. What’s the right way? How do the professionals do it? What’s the secret?
This is absolutely the true answer, no word of a lie, 100% guaranteed: Q: What’s the best way to turn my idea into a story? A: Whatever works for you.
What works for one writer may not work for another. There are as many methods as there are writers. Were you to live to a grand old age, you would still never have enough time to try them all.
When I’m back at my computer, and/or have more time to deal with the project than when I made the initial notes, I transcribe them into a Scrivener document. I create a new Scrivener file for every project, right at the start, and make a folder for these transcribed notes; when entering them, I title each note document according to date.
A 300pp novel can easily become a 200pp novel by printing with smaller type; a 100pp screenplay can potentially become a film of between 60-140 minutes in length; a 200pp stage play could be performed in anything from 30 minutes to four hours. For all these media, the script length is agnostic to the final work.
I sometimes see People On The Internet decrying work-in-progress tweets and posts as worthless. ‘Measuring output by quantity rather than quality is dangerous,’ they say. ‘More work doesn’t mean better work!’
Anyone can sit down and write two pages of a novel, then forget about it, and a week later write five pages of a screenplay, then forget about it, and a week later start another novel… etc, etc.
Finishing something is the hardest part. You know it’s not as good as you hoped. You know there are plot problems. You know that by finishing it, you’re saying – even if only to yourself – ‘This is the best I can do.’ And because it’s not perfect, that’s really hard.