Sunday, 11 December 2016

Tell Me Something - Part Two

You can read Part One here.

“Well that's... new.” I said, lost for words.

The Wonderful World of Wonka, had changed a lot since I was last in Eastbrook. Once upon a time it had been a small room full of second hand memorabilia, a replica of Roald Dahl's writing desk and a small theatre next door that played the film on loop.

What stood here now was a world apart. The entrance was a scaled down replica of the factory entrance from the film, made, apparently, out of fibreglass. On the way in, visitors would sit in a boat on a small track and go down a kaleidoscopic tunnel.

We'd had a little more than we were expecting to last night, and were both feeling a little hung over, half cut, and light-headed. I was struggling to believe what I was looking at.

“I'm struggling to believe what I'm looking at,” I said.

“How big did you say this place was supposed to be?” Trisha said, equally in awe.

“Just a couple of rooms.”

“This looks like more than a couple of rooms.”

In wonder we shuffled forwards, past a sign that said, “Pay on way out.” A bit of an odd business practice, but I didn't think much of it. We stepped into the little boat/carriage and began our journey.

What we would go on to experience was like a wonderland, especially for a small northern town like Eastbrook. Part of the exhibit was a recreation of the factory, with conveyor belts and anamatronic workers. The other part was a pretty extensive exhibition on the history and inspiration of the book, as well as prototype works in progress from both the book and the film.

We were still dizzy as we traversed a small gallery themed around the book's various covers. Despite our giddiness, I turned the conversation towards something that was bothering me.

“So what was the deal between you and Brian last night?” I suddenly paused nervously. “I mean, if you don't mind me asking. It's just he seemed pretty wound up about it.”

Trisha sighed wearily. “I forgot to thank you for cutting in when you did. It could have got ugly.”

“So... what was he going on about? Vision quest?”

Trisha rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed again. “What happened was that a group of us had met up in Salisbury. One of the group was a girl that Brian was...” she paused a moment, unsure how to continue. “He wasn't quite into her, I guess, is the best way of putting it. They were getting along well and she was interested in him. But from what I gather he felt he wanted more time to get to know her before taking the relationship further.”

“Right, okay?” I said, feeling rather foolish. I hadn't expected this story to get so personal, but at the same time, I felt a little privileged that me and Trisha had bonded so quickly that she felt comfortable telling me this.

“What happened was somebody spiked Brian's drink, and he and this girl ended up sleeping together. Nobody knows who did it, but it sort of soured their relationship before it even got started. I think Brian's never really got over it and made up this spirit journey story as some kind of coping mechanism.”

“Wow,” I said, genuinely sympathetic towards Brian. I'd known a fair share of awkward relationships myself. “So he went to America?”

She nodded, there was a sadness in her eyes now, like a measure of guilt. “He goes there every year, hangs out on a reservation and smokes peyote. It's sad really.”

I didn't know what to say.

“I shouldn't joke about it, but I just can't help myself. I suppose that might be my own comping mechanism of sorts.”

I put a hand carefully on her shoulder. “Thanks for telling me that. I really appreciate you opening up to me.”

Her smile had returned as though it had never left. “No problems. I'm not the kind of girl to keep secrets.” She started to walk further down the room, shorty getting to a sharp turn. “Oh, it's the gift shop. Looks like we've got to the end.”

“Didn't they say something about paying here?”

“I think so.”

We walked up to the till, which was designed to look like an old movie theatre box office. From behind the curtain emerged a robust looking woman in a blue blouse. She reminded me of a school dinner lady.

“Did you all enjoy the exhibits?” she asked cheerfully. I detected a slight Scottish accent.

“Yeah it was fantastic,” I answered.

“Really amazing,” Trisha agreed.

“When did they overhaul the place like this?” I asked. “I used to come here as a kid and back then it was tiny.”

“Ohh it's got to be just over a year now,” the woman said, accepting the notes we handed under the glass window. “It's grown very popular, not like the old days at all.” Handing us our change, she leaned forward. A cryptic and cheeky smile on her face. “And it's set to get even bigger.”

I leaned closer to the glass to accept the change. “Even bigger?”

“Don't spread this around,” she said, and slid two plain blue tickets along the counter. “There's a Great Glass Elevator exhibit opening soon.”

“No!” both me and Trisha said in delighted disbelief.

“They're doing a secret showing tonight. Invite only. Get here for around seven and you'll be in for a treat.”

Me and Trisha turned to each other.

“Well we have to don't we?” she said.

We were sitting in a scruffy, run down coffee shop not far from the train station. I would have liked to have taken Trisha to a nicer place, but my budget was getting close to minus figures at this point.

“What time is it?” asked Trisha.

I checked my phone. “Half three.”

“Aggh! I'm too excited.”

“Calm down,” I said, laughing. “It might turn out to be rubbish, you never know.”

She sighed, and slumped into her chair. I picked up the rather chipped teacup and took a sip of weak Earl Gray.

“Gimme your number,” she said, holding out her hand.

I spat a little of my tea back out in shock. “I'm sorry?”

“Well we can't not stay in touch after this weekend can we?”

My heart skipped a beat. “I guess not.” I ripped a piece from a nearby napkin and pulled out a promotional pen that I had acquired at some point during the con. Quickly, but carefully, I wrote my number onto the raggedy bit of paper and handed it over to her.

Trisha looked at it and smiled, before shoving it in her back pocket.

“We definitely should do something some time...” I said, nervously. “Maybe meet up for drinks or something?”

We smiled, silently, at each other for a few moments. Those moments felt like they lasted forever, and at the same time, lasted no time at all.

“Why wait?” Trisha said, nodding to the door. “Let's go, I'll get in the first round.”

Going from hungover to mildly drunk is easier than breathing. After killing a few hours in the pub, and resoundingly killing my wallet, we wandered, confident and giddy, back towards the Wonka Museum.

The entrance to the museum was all shut down, and there was little sign of life. Carefully we made our way down a back alley. It was darker than I expected for this time of year, and the faint security lights guiding our way reminded me more of Christmas time.

An unassuming fire escape door sat open. This had to be it, since there was no indication anyone else was still around. We entered through the back, and found the lady from gift shop desk happily waiting for us.

“You made it!” she said, beaming with glee. “I recognise you from earlier, but I'll have to see those tickets all the same.”

We handed her those plain clear tickets, and she tore them in two, giving half back to us and stuffing the other in a small satchel that hung over her shoulder.

“You're the first to arrive,” she said. “It'll be a sneak peak at the exhibit first, then a few complimentary drinks with members of staff to let us know how you found it.

We nodded. “Sounds good.” Trisha said.

“Just follow this corner down till you get to the elevator entrance.” She held up her hand and pointed to a pair of very medicinal looking double doors. “You can't miss it.”

We followed her instructions. After getting through the doors, we could see across the way was a large looking staff elevator. The front had been decked out much like the rest of the museum. It was blue and tinted, just like the one from the book, but to more modern audiences, it probably looked more like The Tardis.

We pressed the button and the doors opened. Inside, the walls of the elevator were covered in flat screen TV's, projecting a rendition of what was supposed to be the factory's launch area. It was all very immersive.

We both leaned back against a cushioned part of the wall that was likely designed for that purpose. For a few moments we didn't say anything, just smiled in an early drunken haze.

It was Trisha who spoke first. “It looks great. I'm glad we decided to do this.”

“I'm glad I could do this with you.” I just sort of blurted out.

Trisha blushed.

Part of my brain tried to get me to back-peddle, but here and now, and with a little Dutch courage, I felt like I could do anything.

“Trisha...” I paused, looking her in the eyes. “I need to tell you something.”

Suddenly the doors creaked open and a bustle of new visitors streamed into the lift. I cursed my luck, as the mostly middle aged group warbled and babbled amongst each other.

To my surprise, however, as the elevator filled, Trisha squeezed up against me. As we backed into a corner, she lay her back onto my chest, her backside between my legs.

Nobody in the lift seemed to notice, or if they did they pretended not to.

My breathes shortened, and I could feel heat radiating from her blushing face. Nervously, but with care, I let her body lean into mine.

She turned and looked softly at me. “You wanted to tell me something?”

Her lips were inches away from mine now. I was blushing too. Any concern of what the others in the lift might think evaporated once I felt her breath on my skin.

I leaned in.


My mobile phone was vibrating. The harsh buzz sounded methodically between rhythmic thumps that sounded familiar.

I rubbed my eyes, and took in my surroundings.

I was slumped, uncomfortably across two train seats. My neck ached, having been lurched over a metal hand rail. I rose, and rubbed it with my hand.

I looked around. The carriage was half full, and the conductor looked over at me suspiciously.

Out of the windows was nothing but blackness. At first I thought it was night, but looking at my watch I realised that it was still morning. I must have been in a tunnel.

The phone was still vibrating.

I pulled it out of my coat pocket, and answered.

“Jack?” the voice asked.

“I'm sorry?” I mumbled, still half asleep.

I heard the voice talking with someone on the other end of the line. “Keith, sorry. Is that Keith.”

“Yeah,” I answered, confused. I didn't recognise the voice. It was sharp, and sort of rose in pitch as the end of each word. The accent wasn't quite southern, but it wasn't quite northern either.

“It's Luke. Are you okay?” He said.

“Luke?” I asked. I didn't know a Luke. It took me a few moments to realise who it was.

“Luke Bains,” he replied. “Trisha asked me to see if you were okay.”

Suddenly the memories all came flooding back. I felt a flutter in the pit of my stomach.
I struggled to pull myself up vertical. My head felt as though it was chained to the floor. “What happened?” was the only question I could muster.

“Someone must have spiked your drink. Trisha said you'd passed out last night. I was coming to pick her up to take her back to Aughton, but she didn't want to leave you on your own.”

I rubbed my eyes again. I couldn't remember any of this.

“Eventually we got you to your feet. I wanted to take you to a hospital, but Trisha said your train was a set booking, and didn't have any more money left on you for another ticket. We got you to the train on time, and asked the conductor to keep an eye on you.”

I didn't say anything. This whole thing felt off. I searched my memory for the last thing I could remember. I was in the great glass elevator, we were close. My lips were moving to hers.

Nothing, everything else was a black void.

I wondered why it was Luke telling me all this. “Is Trisha there?” I asked.

“Yeah, she's sitting right here.”

“Can you put her on?” I asked, somewhat aggressively. “I'd like to speak to her.”

“Sure,” he replied nervously. “Sure.”

There was a pause, then I heard the line pick back up again.

“Hello,” came Trisha's recognisable voice.

“Hi,” I said, calmly.

“Hi,” she repeated back to me.

“What happened?” I asked.

“What Luke told you,” she said, softly. “We were out for a few drinks, you got spiked and passed out.”

There was something unusual about the way she was talking. It was nervous, soft, subdued. It was as though there was something she wanted to say, but couldn't.

“Okay,” I said, resigned. “Well I had a great weekend. Thanks for looking after me.”

“Sure,” she said, simply. “I enjoyed it too.”

I paused, expecting her to say something else. Anything. Nothing came.

“Okay, well, bye I guess.”


Suddenly Luke came back on the phone. “Well mate, I'm glad you had a good weekend anyway. I hope this didn't ruin it for you.”

I didn't know what to say. “Thanks.”

“I'm sorry I couldn't make it. Trisha said she had a really great time with you and you seem like a really fun guy. We really should organise another meet up some time. I'd really like a get together.”

“Yeah, sounds good,” I said, on autopilot.

“Well, we've got your number. So we'll let you know and stay in touch.”

My fist tightened at 'we'.

“Stay safe pal, see you soon.”

“Thanks, see ya'.”

The call ended. For a final time, I scanned my memory to try and recall anything from last night, but it was no use. I felt like I was had just been told a joke with no punchline.

I sighed, slumping back into the seat. A sharp pain hit me in the side, and I rolled over to see what it was. Slightly crumpled, I pulled out the comic that Trisha had given me the first day of the con.

I looked at the drawing of the character on the front. The likeness was still uncanny, but where previously I felt a fondness, now was a bitterness instead.

I threw the comic in the bin opposite my seat. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Tell Me Something - Part One

“This is more like a metal detector than a racket,” I said to my Dad, waving the bent and damaged badminton racket over the grass.

“I'd forgotten how mangled so many have gotten since your brother stopped playing,” he said, his deep voice sounding older and more crackly than I expected.

The sun was still high, and a cool but comfortable heat lay across us as we made our way over the sports field. It had been years since I'd been to Eastbrook. Our family used to visit a lot when I was younger, mostly for sports tournaments my brother was involved in.

I looked over at a small brick building by the train lines. It was a café when I was younger, now it appeared to be some kind of run-down grocery shop.

We walked past a group of kids. They must have been about thirteen or fourteen. One of them made some kind of cocky remark about the damaged badminton racket, but we ignored them. I was too old to care about the opinion of children anymore.

I held up the racket again. I must have been their age when I'd bought it. It had a camouflaged colour scheme with translucent strings. It looked a lot better than it played. This was probably why I bought it, and why it was now in this condition.

Eventually we made our way to the gate by the fence. It was one of those sliver steel gates with the big deadbolts that you see everywhere across the UK. From hospitals and schools, they always seem to be evergreen.

The Eastbrook train station was probably the smallest I'd ever seen, even compared to back home. There was a tiny ticket office that seemed no bigger than a wardrobe, and a small waiting room that still had a colour scheme from 1957.

As my Dad's trainers softly tapped the crinkled concrete platform, his train pulled into view.

“Well,” he said, turning. “It was good seeing you again.”

“Let Mam know I've been asking after her,” I replied, shaking his hand.

“I will,” he said, smiling. “You say hi to your brother if you see him before I do.”

“No problem,” I said, as the train came to a stop and it's doors hissed open. “You'd better get going. The trains in Eastbrook don't hang around too long.”

We hugged. I was in Eastbrook for the weekend and I hadn't seen my Dad since he'd retired. Eastbrook was only about half hour on the train, and he decided to pop over to visit. Since we used to come here to play badminton he'd decided to bring our old sports equipment, not counting on the condition of the rackets.

He waved as he climbed up the ramp. “Enjoy the convention,” he called.

Dad was referring to the Eastbrook CogCon. A comic-stroke-gaming-stroke-steampunk convention that had started up a couple years ago. In all honesty it hadn't appealed that much to me until I read a write up on the event. It genuinely intrigued me on how different it sounded compared to the usual routine.

I still had a couple days leave to use, so I took the time off work and signed up to GeekShare. An online app where people of similar interests would bunk up together at cheap hotels and split the price equally. Living on threadbare income and generally being a pinko-commie-liberal-socialist I decided that would be the route for me.

I'd been allocated a room share with some guy called Luke Bains. We corresponded a little online and he seemed like a reasonable fellow. He should have already checked in at the cheapo Road Inn, so it was just a matter of me making my way over.

It was just a short walk down by the train line.

The receptionist had confirmed that I'd been checked in, and that my co-lodger had already been given my pass card. I decided I couldn't be bothered waiting for the lift and made my way up the stairs to Room 403.

The stairs were harder going than I expected, and by the time I'd got there I was panting slightly. I knocked on the door.

There was a short pause where presumably Luke was scrambling for the peep hole, and then fiddling with the deadbolt. When I heard the click I turned the handle and pushed the door open.

“Oh, hello,” came an unexpected voice.

This wasn't Luke Bains.

The girl was shorter than me. About five foot one. She wore what appeared to be some kind of steampunk styled waist-corset and a grey shirt. Her smile was pleasant and disarming. Her nose was stubby, and her eyes betrayed an intelligence beyond her years.

She pulled her long hair into a ponytail and put a band around it, then held out her hand. “Trisha Cornerstone,” she said pleasantly.

Her polite demeanour reassured me that she was a reasonable person, but I wasn't yet fully at ease.

“Keith Lillyhall,” I replied, a little tremble in my voice. Taking her hand and shaking it, I noticed that I was being overly careful, as if she were a child. Then I finally remembered Luke was supposed to be here. “Where's Luke?” I asked.

She shrugged, “He had to cancel at the last minute, so he gave me his CogCon ticket instead. I'd wanted to come and he was supposed to be leaving some gaming stuff with a bunch of colleagues, so he asked me to hand them over for him.”

I stared over at a bunch of boxes in the corner by the television. “Gaming stuff?” I asked.

“Did he not tell you?” she said, curiously cocking her head. “He's a self-published developer. His co-writers will be at the con to promote their stuff, and he was responsible for the prototypes.”

Suddenly I realised we were getting ahead of ourselves. As somebody who feels progressively liberal I shouldn't have been particularly bothered about sharing a room with a woman any more than sharing with a man, but centuries of bullshit chivalry are a hard thing to shake.

“So, just to check, you're okay sharing a room?” I stuck up a thumb and pointed back at the door. “I can have a word with reception, see if they've got any spare rooms going. I'm sure GeekShare can cover it.”

Trisha laughed as I jittered on. She shook her head and put her hand on my arm, lowering it. “I'm fine. Look, if Luke was happy enough to share with you then I'm sure you'll be okay for me.”

I looked over at her hand on my arm. Again, it shouldn't have bothered me, but bullshit chivalry and all that.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry, I'm just a little nervous. It's my first time doing a GeekShare so I'm kind of out of my element this weekend.”

Trisha nodded and walked into the bathroom. “It must be the forth of fifth for me. I'll show you the ropes.”

“Really?” I said, still standing by the door like a nugget.

Her head popped out of the bathroom. “Yeah, the ropes are; relax, don't worry, and just do what you'd normally do in a hotel room.”

Suddenly I realised I'd been tensed up like I was at a job interview. She was right, I was on a weekend away, events to look forward to, and a hotel room that was on the right side of reasonable.

Casually I threw my rucksack into the cupboard and wandered over to the beds. Two queen size, not bad. Like Trisha recommended, I jumped onto the mattress and slumped into the excess pillows. Looking right, I leaned over and grabbed the TV remote. The Chase was on.

Trisha came back into the room with a toothbrush in her mouth. “Do we have to watch The Chase?” she mumbled through toothpaste. “I don't like Bradley Walsh.”

“You don't like 'are Bradley?” I said, in an exaggerated tone. “Well I'm sorry but we're going to have to re-think this room-share thing now!”

She slapped me playfully on the shoulder. “Now you're getting it!”

I smiled back.

“Eastbrook looks so different these days,” I said, as we walked past black bricked buildings towards the main promenade.

“What do you mean?” Trisha asked. “What did it used to look like?”

“Well... the same,” I replied. “But that's why it looks different. Back then this stuff all looked new, in like, 1998, 2001. Now it kind of looks like garbage. Makes me think of distorted renditions of old Whitesnake songs being played in a sports centre.”

Trisha laughed. “That's a... unique analogy.”

“We used to play badminton tournaments here, me and my brother. The sports centre always used to play Whitesnake. That's what it reminds me of.”

“What made you stop playing?” she asked.

“I was never really any good at it. I was better at video games in the end.”

She chuckled, as a group of three figures in long frock coats and top hats overtook us.

“They must be here for the con too,” Trisha noted.

“Well they're not from the local rugby team, I can tell you that much.” I said jokingly.

Trisha didn't see the funny side, and frowned.

“Sorry,” I continued. “That's like something my dad would say. If It isn't obvious I was the one who was always picked last for rugby.”

Trisha sighed, deciding to change the subject. “So, what is there to do in Eastbrook?”

I looked around. We were on the main street now, heading toward the guild hall. This part of town looked a lot more prosperous. Quirky little shops selling jams and vintage clothes sat where high street stores once did. It was different. More quaint than I remember.

“Well the pubs are supposed to be good, not that I've ever been in any of them since I was too young and a good boy back then.”

“You didn't sneak a cheeky one in?” Trisha asked.

“Even if I wanted to I was terrible at pretending to be older.” I started shaking in an exaggerated manner. “C...can I have half a pint of cider please?

Trisha laughed.

“But seriously,” I said, “The pubs and restaurants here come highly recommended. It's one of the reasons I decided to check out the con.”

“Sounds good,” Trisha said, slyly suggesting that that was our plan for later. “What about during the day? Any sights to see?”

I shrugged. “If you're a fan of industrial silos then yeah, there's plenty.” I paused, suddenly remembering something. “Oh yeah, there's also the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory museum.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” Trisha said, confused. “I thought Roald Dahl was Welsh?”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “There's some really tenuous connection, like, the guy he based Willie Wonka on lived around here or something. It's a pretty shit museum to be honest, but hey, you asked.”

“Sometimes it's the shittiest things that end up being the most interesting. I'll have to check it out. I always liked Dahl's books.”

I nodded. “I still resent the fact that they've never made a film out of Great Glass Elevator. I always thought that was the better book.”

“Oh my god, me too!” Trisha said, her voice raising.

She held up her hand, open for a fist bump. I reciprocated.


The convention was fairly small, confined to the guild hall and mostly on the ground floor. Still, the guests were making the best of it. On my way in I saw several displays of miniature armies that looked more interesting than anything I'd seen in a shop window. Young men and women in brown leather and beige coats were rolling dice and trading cards.

It was all looking pretty fun.

“Hey Brian,” Trisha called over to a guy in a flannel shirt with a goatee.

“Trisha,” he called over, in an accent much more northern than mine. “How the heck are ya? Get over here.”

I followed Triaha as she shoved her way trough the crowd in front of his table. He appeared to be trading hardback rulebooks of some kind.

“You got the boxes okay?” Trisha asked, a little nervously. “I told the reception that Mark would be picking them up.”

“He got them fine,” Brian said calmly. His eyes flitted over to mine, then back to hers. “We're all set, don't worry about it.”

“Luke says he's sorry he couldn't make it.”

Brian waved his arm through the air. “Ahh, Luke's a prick. This is the third con he's cancelled on us. I'm used to it by now.” He smiled, and his beard curved like some woodland creature roused from slumber. “I'd much rather have the best looking girl in the north west here.”

I swallowed nervously.

“Oh please,” she said.

“But seriously, I like the look. Is that a custom waistcoat?” Brian asked.

She took a step back so we could all get a better look at what she was wearing. “Yeah, a guy back home put it together for me. You know James? His boyfriend.”

I suddenly felt a little boring in my yellow hoodie and jeans.

“Nice,” Brian nodded, before turning to me. “I'm sorry, who's your friend here?”

Trisha slapped her hand on her head in embarrassment. “Oh! I'm sorry. This is Keith, he's my GeekShare buddy. Keith, this is Brian, he's a friend of Luke's who helps him make tabletop games.”

We shook hands. I was expecting his shake to be firmer, but his grip was slack. He reminded me of me.

“If anyone helps anyone make games it's Luke that helps me. I swear we only keep him around because he's good with the maths. If he pulls this shit again I'm seriously considering cutting him out of the game.”

Trisha was taken aback, a little shocked, but not surprised. “C'mon Brian.”

“No, I'm serious. I know you like him, but the fucker needs to learn about responsibilities.”

I was standing around like a nugget again, in what was quickly turning into a domestic dispute. I had to think of something to say.

“So, uh, what's the game about?” I asked softly.

I'd caught Brian mid, rant. He stopped abruptly, and smiled. “I'm sorry,” he said, cheerfully. “I just get a little excitable about these kind of things.” He picked up a book and handed it to me. “These are my children, you know?”

I took a look at the cover. There were a bunch a gangster types shooting at each other with tommy guns, but the gangsters appeared to be Orcs and Goblins.

“Looks interesting,” I said, flipping it over and reading the blurb.

“It's a team based skirmish game,” Brian said, leaning forwards. “Each player has a squad of miniatures, and the dungeon master sets a task for them. Like, rob a bank or break a friend out of jail.”

He handed me a piece of cardboard. It looked like it had some kind of floor plan on it.

“The really interesting part is the rewards though,” Brian continued. “You only get a cut on how many of your people make it back. So there's an incentive for players to screw each other's teams over. Really tests friendships, you know?”

I glanced up from the floorplan, “I get what you mean.” I handed it back to him. “Sounds interesting.” I turned to Trisha. “Have you played it?”

She looked as if she was daydreaming. It took her a moment to realise I was speaking to her. “Hmm?” she said, before looking past me. “Oh hi Mark!”

Coming up from behind Brian was a scruffy looking lad who was at least five years younger than me. He was gangly, lanky and had thick rimmed glasses that looked as though they were glued to his face. He was carrying the boxes I'd seen in the room earlier.

“Hi Trisha,” he said wearily, before setting the boxes down.

“You got the boxes okay then?” I asked politely.

“Yeah,” Mark said gormlessly, before turning to Trisha. “Luke didn't tell me he was sending these.” He said, throwing over a handful of comics.

“Oh yeah, I didn't know,” Trisha said picking one up. “One of Luke's friends wrote a comic where he made me the main character.”

She handed me one. It had a steampunky looking girl riding a rocket with some kind of cyborg. I could definitely see the resemblance.

“It's about a space princess who falls in love with a soldier who's been turned into a cyborg. It's quite sweet.”

I went to hand it back to her, but she held out her hand.

“Keep it. He was planning on giving out free samples anyway.”

I slung around a tote bag I had accumulated from somewhere and shoved it in. Politely I also paid for the book Brian had handed me, since it genuinely looked interesting, and shoved that in too.

“Anyway boys,” Trisha said to Brian and Mark, “I don't want to keep you from your adoring fans.” She hugged the two of them then took me by the hand. “Come on,” she said to me. “Let's see what else is going on here.

“I've got to say that the mechanical elephant that young fellow had built was sublime,”

We were in a pub now, after a day of wandering the stalls. Trisha asked me to take her to somewhere I'd recommend. As I mentioned to her earlier, I'd never really been around Eastbrook at night, but she told me to just use my intuition.

We'd ended up in a sort of worn out rock pub that was, at best, reasonable. We ordered some food, which turned out to be a lot better than expected, and then ended up chatting to the group in top hats we'd ran into earlier. They were an interesting bunch, invested in 70's era rock and old horror novels. Brian and Mark joined us later, and soon the pub wasn't looking so bad after all.

Me and Trisha chatted most of the night. She told me that she had recently graduated in journalism, but was just working in a shop for the time being. After three bottles I was finally starting to relax, and subconsciously managed to put my arm around her. She didn't seem to mind.

Brian tapped me on the shoulder ominously. Cautiously, I leaned over.

“So, you just met Trisha today?”

“Yeah,” I said enthusiastically. “I was supposed to be sharing with Luke, but, as you know, he had to drop out.”

“Well you got the better end of the deal mate. I wasn't kidding earlier, the guy's a twat. Loves the fuck out of himself. If he were out tonight he'd be covered in products and trying to get everyone to go to some shit bar. Trisha's a right laugh. I don't know what she sees in him.”

“Yeah,” I turned to see that Trisha was talking to one of the top hat crew. A short, round woman with glasses on. “She's surprisingly easy to get along with.”

I went to tap Trisha on the shoulder, since I suddenly got an urge to tell her how much I was enjoying myself. She seemed to be in the middle of a conversation about Clive Barker.

The Great and Secret Show?” the woman said.

“No, I haven't read it, but my boyfriends recommended it a few times. I should really get round to it.”

In retrospect I should have politely queried that last sentence Trisha spoke, but the truth was I'd had designs on her within two minutes of meeting her. I'd never gotten along with a girl so easily, and I'd lied to myself that sharing a room with her would have been no different than if it was with Luke.

I should have clarified. I should have established where, exactly, we stood. But I didn't. I'd convinced myself that I'd misheard, and that she'd said 'friend' or 'ex-boyfriend' or something and that for all she knew I didn't hear anything anyway.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

“Huh?” she said, turning.

The smile on her face had a gravitational pull of it's own. You could get lost in it.

“I was just telling Brian that you're surprisingly easy to get along with. I'm glad I ended up with you for my first GeekShare.”

“Aww,” she said. “Thanks Keith. You're pretty chill when you learn how to relax. We had a pretty good time today.”

“I'm glad you enjoyed it,” I said. “We really should hit up the Wonka place tomorrow. It might be shit, but it's got character.”

“So bad it's good?”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “It's less about the quality and more about experiencing the attempt.”

“You know,” interrupted Brian. “If I didn't know better I'd assume that you two were old friends.”

Trisha turned to me and smiled again.

“Yeah,” I said, scratching the back of my head. “It's strange. Like deje-vu. It's almost like I've been here before. Like we've always known each other.”

“Weird,” Trisha said, non-committally.

“It's probably just the pub,” I said, picking up my bottle of beer and taking a sip. “It reminds me of one I went to in Salisbury years ago. When I was visiting Stone Henge.”

Brian nodded. His face drifted into what appeared to be a strange melancholy. “I know what you mean. There's something about that place that resonates with you. I went there one year after visiting glasto, you'll never believe what happened.”

“Oh Brian, not again.” Trisha laughed. Suddenly she leaned forward and put her arm around me, pulling me close. “Brian got his drink spiked when he was out there and is convinced he went on some kind of vision quest.”

Brian crossed his arms, insulted. “You don't understand what I saw Trisha. I visited South Dakota after that. Went to Crazy Horse. I was taken away to dream with his people.”

Trisha started laughing again, more hysterically this time.

Brian stood, looking ready to say something he might regret. Quickly, I jumped in to diffuse the situation.

“Hey, something really funny happened to me in Salisbury!”

Brian turned. Calming down, he got back to his seat.

Trisha started at me intensely.

“Well, It was before I got to the pub that reminded me of this place...”

We'd left the pub after a couple more pints and headed to a cocktail place that was doing themed drinks based on the convention. The top hat crew left first, then Brian and Mark went because they had to be up early to see to their table. Eventually it was just me and Trisha, spending the night talking about past places and people. Our respective relationship statuses was not brought up.

Finally we wandered back to the hotel room, and in the half light, began getting ready for bed.

“So,” said Trisha, unbuttoning her top. “Early doors for the con, and after that, check out Wonka.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said.

“Hey, how long are you going to be here on Sunday?”

I shrugged. “I have to be away early. GeekShare only provide you with train tickets for specific times, so I've got to be gone by half nine Sunday morning.”

“Aw man!” Trisha said sadly. “We could have hung out a little longer.”

“Yeah, that's a shame.” I said. “Well...”

I looked at Trisha, half dressed, blue light shining on her through a crack in the curtain.

Back in my university days I had a friend who told me that you always knew there was something special when the girl gave you 'the look'. The experience of ten years had taught me that, 'the look' was bollocks. It could mean many things, and not all of them good. It could be sadness, it could be tiredness, it could be anxiety. Just because a girl looks at you a certain way doesn't mean anything special.

Trisha was giving me the look, and I was already lying to myself.

“Goodnight,” I said softly.

“Goodnight,” she said.

I got under the sheets and slept soundly.

Jack Harvey 2016

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Ours is the Glory: An Obscure Comic of the Month Special Edition

This column normally takes a look at obscure comics. For every every sixth month, instead of taking a look at a comic that nobody talks about, this special edition will take a look at a comic I feel not enough people talk about.


Glory by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell – Image 2012 – 2013

Contains Heavy Spoilers

I first heard about Glory at New York Comic Con in 2012. I was attending an Image Comics panel, mainly to see Rob Kirkman, but ultimately it was Rob Liefeld and Joe Keatinge who had more interesting things to say.

The panel coincided with the announcement that Image would be running a line of revivals from Liefeld's Extreme comics line. The first shown was a panel from the first issue of Glory. It featured a broad, beefcake of a woman punching a turret from a Nazi tank. I knew, from that panel alone, that this was a series I was going to check out.

A big deal was made out on how the Extreme characters would not reboot with #1 issues, instead continuing on the number their 90's incarnations left off on. Glory was a sort of soft-reboot, but in practical terms the new series was it's entirely it's own thing.

Now let's not beat around the bush, there wasn't anything particularly interesting about most of Liefeld's early Image characters. Most were just cribbed from Marvel or DC with the serial numbers filed off. No disrespect to Rob intended, but it's true, and Glory was no different, little more than a Wonder Woman knock off with even more fanservice.

Rob was always good at laying foundations though (see Deadpool) and that seems to be the mandate that Image approached the Extreme line with it's relaunch. Take the baseline of Liefeld's characters and turn them into something much, much more interesting.

That line of thinking is clear with what Keatinge and Campbell did with Glory. All the fanservice was thrown out, and the visualisation of an indestructible Amazon warrior was approached from a completely different direction. Glory was now a mass of hair and muscle, with a face that looked as though it had been hit by a shovel, and yet truly beautiful. She was desensitised to the point of psychopathy, and her sexuality entirely her own, and the violence she partakes in far from romanticised.

And Glory is a story about violence, no doubt. The main thrust of it's story arc is the relationship between Glory and the reporter who tracks her down, Riley. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, as we see the toll a life of violence has taken on Glory through revenge and rebellion.

In the early chapters, the story appears to be a familiar tale of a call to action when a character from their past reappears, in this case Glory's presumed-dead father. But as the story continues we learn that the civil war in which Glory fought against him was far more complex than previously thought.

Ironically, the message that Keatinge and Campbell communicate through both the writing and the art is that there is no glory in violence. Whether the cause is just or unjust, blood still splatters across panels and limbs are broken in twain. Jaws are punched out of skulls and bodies are pulped beyond recognition. As the body-count increases, it becomes ever apparent that this is the path Glory set on centuries ago, and it's far too late to turn back now.

Or is it? That's where Riley's role in the plot really begins to play it's part. Above all else Riley believes that there is more to Glory than her role in violent conflict, that there is a person under all the muscle and veins that increasingly expand as the comic goes on.

It's a comic that uses extreme violence in order to tell a story that is extremely sceptical of the violence used in more conventional superhero stories, particularly those from and inspired by the 90's era. All along the way Glory is told that her true worth relies upon her capacity for killing, be it for noble causes as suggested by her mother and human allies, or for selfish ones, as suggested by her sister. Only Riley can show Glory that there is another path.

Unfortunately, all things come with a price, and the price of Glory's salvation is Riley's life. In a particularly touching climax, Riley stands in the way of Glory's berserker rage. Campbell pulls no punches in the depiction of Riley's particularly gory death, but the emotional core of this moment serves to communicate the shock that ultimately drives Glory away from her path, averting a dark future and leading toward a brighter one.

All things considered, it's a tight, well written plot, with a point to make.

I've already praised Sophie Campbell's art, but I think it's worth saying that she is what makes Glory a comic all of it's own. There's something just so unique and alive in the way she draws the characters, each diverse and instantly recognisable. I've been a lifelong fan of Sophie's work ever since, and if I'm ever blessed enough to break into the mainstream myself, it'd be a dream to work with her.

Glory was originally supposed to be much longer than it's two volume run, but Joe Keatinge realised that he wanted to tell a shorter, tighter story. This is good, there's no plodding or filler in Glory, it's a lean, sharp story and gets right to the point. However, I still can't help but feel its a shame, because what Joe and Sophie did with the character had such heart that I really wish I had more of it.

There are also a few little points that I feel a longer run would have given more breathing space to. The first is Glory's sexuality. Glory makes no bones about casually sleeping with several men over the course of the series, but it's made abundantly clear that it's all for pleasure and nothing else. While there's a little bit of subtext between Glory and Riley, it's never suggested that Glory has any particular interest in women, until the final chapter when she travels into the afterlife and meets her one true love, Emilie.

There are multiple ways to interpret this. Glory could be seen as bisexual, or maybe she's homo-romantic. There's a whole spectrum she could fall under, but we get very little time to examine it. Now that's okay, there's no absolute necessity for the series to grace us with the specifics of Glory's sexuality beyond what was already depicted. But I thought the subject of Glory's sexuality, and the way it was written, was particularity interesting, and it's something I would have enjoyed a greater exploration of.

Likewise, the story ends on a somewhat nihilistic point, as Glory's journey to the afterlife involves a pact that prevents her from entering it again when she eventually dies, ultimately denying a reunion with Riley and Emilie both. I kind of feel this was set up as a hook for a future plot-line, left for whoever felt like picking up the character in future. However, it's been three years since, and no such return is in sight.

So really, my two complaints both boil down to the fact that there isn't more Glory, so in a sense, that's a compliment. Still, I can't deny the book's brevity is an asset, and now that you can pick up the collected edition as a single volume it gets the highest possible recommendation from me.

Glory is the finest example of a character reinvention. It's smart, it's slick, it has important things to say, and it does it all in just twelve issues. Glorious.


Jack Harvey 2016. Glory (c) 2012 Rob Liefeld and was written by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell. Images used under free use.

Monday, 14 November 2016

November Update and Plans for the Year Ahead

It's been a busy year for me, and if all goes to plan I'll probably be looking at an even busier one in 2017. To keep things simple, I'm rounding up a few important projects and events that I think my readers might find informative.

- The John Paul Jones project continues to get my main focus. You can see the work in progress on the cover above, which should give you a general idea of what I'm going for with the comic. My target for completion remains March, but the total workload is unclear at this point, so I can't work to a specific deadline just yet.

- I'll be posting a new two part short story some time before Christmas. This is my first real attempt at writing something emotional without genre trappings, and it's also features a first person narrator, which I haven't used in the longest time. Keep your eyes open.

- An Obscure Comic of the Month Special Edition will be arriving in November, and like last year I'll be taking a break from the column for December and January to make time for Dishonored 2 family commitments and festivities.

- I'll have a short story appearing in the Buff Babes Zine Volume three. No specifics on when it'll be out but you can find more information here. I'll be posting more details here as they arrive.

- A follow up to The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack will be coming from Less Than Three some time next year, however there's no ETA on that just yet so, again, when I've got more details I'll be posting them here.

- I'm planning on attending Toronto Comic Con in March. My original plan involved getting a table there and promoting my stuff, but I realised that doing a table at a con for the first time would probably be better reserved for a smaller, more familiar convention. That being said, I do plan to use the con to connect and speak to other writers and artists.

- Speaking of Cons, I plan on attending several in 2017 to plug my stuff. Minimum I want to make is three, maximum five. This is my main focus for 2017, so expect to see a lot of updates.

- My thoughts on the EU Referendum have been no secret, and likewise I have been deeply affected by the current Election results. Expect my writing to get more explicitly political going forward. If you're here for pure escapism, well, my writing has never been that, but it'll be even less so from now on.

- One more reminder, you can buy my Tales of The Modern Realms Anthology here, and The Reminiscence of Good King Carnack ebook here. I greatly appreciate it.

And that's about everything for now. For smaller updates and off the cuff thoughts, you can always find me on Tumblr, Twitter and Deviantart.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Obscure Comic of the Month - The Illustrated Guide to the Elements: Volume 1

Obscure Comic of the Month takes a detailed look at a little known entry from my personal comic book collection. Some will be from major publishers, others self published projects, Original Graphic Novels, issues and Manga. What they'll all have in common though, is that I've rarely, if ever, seen anybody talk about them.


The Illustrated Guide to the Elements: Volume 1 by Jenna Whyte – 2012

The Illustrated Guide to the Elements is not, technically an obscure comic. Okay, it isn't a comic full stop, but you know what? It's got words and pictures and I want to talk about it. This is my column and I can break the rules if I want to.

The conceit behind Jenna Whyte's Guide to the Elements is a fairly straightforward one, but it's also sort of brilliant. Take the periodic table, reinterpret the elements as 'emotionally dangerous' women and write the guide in the style of a psudo-Victorian/steampunk psychological study, with some beautiful, period appropriate illustrations to go along with it.

What really makes Whyte's book interesting is that it has things to say both scientifically and socially. The scientific side is fairly obvious, re-framing elemental properties as personality quirks makes reading about the elements both fun and memorable. Seriously, Whyte's book would probably come in handy if you're a high school chemistry teacher and want to get a bunch of goth kids interested in the difference between H20 and H202.

But what the book also does, through the way it looks at it's elements-as-characters, is also remind us how oppressive the nineteenth century was to those who found it difficult to fit into society, especially difficult women. The steampunk genre loves to mine the trappings of the Victorian era while often having very little to say about the period it cribs from. Whyte's book is a deconstruction of sorts, and hearing tales of Lithium being attended constantly by psychiatrists and Flourine's varied escape attempts from 'The Asylum for Electron Challenged Elements' are as sobering as they are informative.

The book tells us, in great detail, the tales of criminals and social climbers, spurned lovers and deadly killers. But it uses the elemental system to give the impression that it is society that made them that way.

There's an intense streak of black comedy that keeps Whyte's book from being truly grim however, and the book is chock full of characters straight of out the era's penny dreadfuls. Poisoners are common in Volume 1. Compulsively, like Thallium, or by trade, like Bismuth. Whyte doesn't shy away from telling us, in grizzly detail, what fates would befall us should we ever encounter the wrong end of these troubling elements.

Whyte's art, of course, is the true star of the show, having a real flair for capturing the vitality of period dress, without going too overboard on the steampunk influences. It's got a taste of Lewis Caroll without falling into Tim Burton. There are finely dressed women, and sultry dressed women, posh nobles and deranged convicts, each rendered in a grimy watercolour style that manages to be both elegant and decadent. The writing and the art goes hand in glove.

Still, there's room for improvement. Whyte's writing is very evocative, but at times certain entries can drag on a little too long filling up far too much of the page with information. At the same time some entries are woefully short, feeling a little underwritten and sparse. Whyte is clearly well versed in the science behind the book, so she probably gave serious consideration on what to include and what to pass on, but at times the book feels unbalanced, and it's hard not to notice that.

There's also handful of typos but that's part and parcel when it comes to self-publishing, so I'm not going to fault her on that.

Another issue I have is that given that the book has such a grand collection of characters, it unfortunately buys in to Victorian myth of England's whiteness. There are a couple of characters who are vaguely Asian looking, but by and large it's a collection of mostly white folks here. This feels like a missed opportunity and a disservice to Whyte's own artwork, and I feel the book could have been even more interesting with a more racially diverse cast mirroring the diversity of the elements they are based on.

Still, there's Volume 2 that I'm long overdue in checking out, so maybe these criticisms have already been resolved, and Whyte is still producing artwork that's well worth checking out, so here's looking forward to what comes in the future.


Jack Harvey 2016. The Illustrated Guide to the Elements (c) Jenna Whyte. Images used under fair use.