Monday, April 30, 2012

One Page Dungeon

I have created an entry for the one page dungeon contest ( called Beloved of Set. It is a jumbled mishmash of Egyptian oddness. I hope that it is interesting at least. It was very difficult to keep to the one page limit simply because I wanted to add more art.

The egyptian hieroglyphs are a substitution. I've probably insulted some long dead pharaoh's mum.

I did not use proper names. The original idea was a convoluted homage to Alan Moore and his magical workings theatre group. The scribe was going to be Alnmur and the priestess Melgeb. In the end I decided It might make it easier to slot the various bits into existing games if there were no names.

Well, the die is cast.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Alan Moore

I came late to the works of Alan Moore. I knew of him for a long time, from the pages of the horror magazine Skeleton Crew which did many a long essay on his work. There I saw scattered panels from his comics: V for Vendetta, From Hell, Big Numbers and Swamp Thing. There was a certain reverence in the words about him that made him appear as if a god among mortals. Though this is probably a response to the reality that monthly comics scriptwriting was fairly dire. Following leads, I went to 2000AD, the flagship comic of the UK to find the illusive Moore. Instead of Alan Moore, who had finished writing for the magazine years earlier, I found Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison and John Smith, writers I noticed attached to strips I enjoyed. I followed these writers to DC and Vertigo comics and discovered Neil Gaiman and others. Still I had not read any Alan Moore. It was a strange lacuna. I knew a lot about Alan Moore and about the comics he had written from reading the reactions and perceptions of others. Still I had not actually read any of the landmark work that he had created.

When I finally read V for Vendetta and Watchmen, I was in my mid 20s and I had read so many other comics that had used techniques and surface gloss from them that it all seemed old hat. Watchmen (and Frank Miller's the Dark Knight Returns) helped create the comics style that we have suffered through since the late 80s: grim, gritty, pretentious and hyper violent without actually taking note of what Moore was actually doing: taking superheroes to their logical, illogical end (something that the recent film decided to 'correct' slightly*).

My first realisation that Alan Moore was an amazing writer was when I read From Hell, illustrated in pen and ink by Eddie Campbell (one of the guys who worked at Graphix**, Andy, had bought a page of From Hell, and it amazed me to see that Campbell had used ballpoint to create some of the scratchiness in the art). From Hell is an exhaustive exploration of the Jack the Ripper mythology using the Stephen Knight theory (Freemasons perpetrated the Ripper murders at Queen Victoria's behest to cover up a Catholic marriage and an illegitimate heir to the throne) to hang an amazing stew of ideas and imagery off of. It is incredibly rich, in it's detail and  Moore provided extensive appendices where he discusses the references that he used.

There is an entire 30 odd page chapter dedicated to a mystical tour of London, a carriage trip where Doctor Gull, the murderer, lays out a cosmology and philosophy that ties architecture to magic and imagination. Later there is a similar amount of pages dedicated (dedicated? an oddly appropriate word) to the dismemberment of the ripper's final victim. It is silent, and relies on Campbell's art to depict the clinical horror of the destruction of a human being.

The final stroke is an afterword where Moore injects himself into the history of Ripperology and talks about the imploding nature of closed theories. It is my favourite part of the book, it is funny and tragic and it lays bear the obsessive desire of people to take ownership of a story, a mythology by uncovering the inner mystery. In From Hell, this is the identity of the killer, the reason for the murders. It is brilliant.

*More about the tragic Alan Moore adaptions later.
** Graphix is the premier comics store in Wellington, NZ. It would be perfect if only it displayed books in the window instead of toys. I judge other stores against this one. It does not have the stink of a geek's basement about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sermon from the 25th March

I was invited to speak at my church, First Congregational Church, Battle Creek, which was a great privilege. It was huge because I am an atheist. This was an opportunity I felt I should take, and a trust that I should honour.

In the writing of this I must have followed more than a handful of impulses, and then gone back and killed my darlings. Some trails started but abandoned: family history discrimination, growing up, Lovecraft, Alan Moore, my belief in the human imagination, more Kurt Vonnegut, explorations of socialism, negative church experiences, the most recent time I prayef and the idea that for someone to dominate someone else must submit.

It was well received, and there was some nice feedback.

The given sermon differed slightly from the text that follows. I ad libbed a little, mainly some explanations of some stuff. I will update this text when I have had a chance to watch the video. Updates will be in [[bracketed italics]]. I also realised that I mispelt atheist through out (cursed 'i' before 'e')

Thanks, Simon

Kia ora koutou. Welcome.

In New Zealand we often start a speaking engagement with a little bit of maori.

Writing this sermon has been difficult. I realised yesterday that I have not exposed myself in quite this way since I first started talking to Carmen four years ago. I feel vulnerable, that by talking about this I am truly laying myself on the line to the extent that I know that things won't be the same, regardless of the reception of what I say. I will be the one who has changed.

What I'm going to reveal is not strictly a secret. Some of you, maybe most of you, already know it. I am an athiest.

When Tom asked me to preach here, he said it would be a challenge. I immediately thought that he meant a challenge in terms of writing a sermon and speaking in front of people. No, Tom was referring to the idea that me, an athiest, talking here, might be a challenge for the Open and Affirming-ness of FCC.

At it's simplest definition an athiest is a person who does not believe in a god or gods. From there, it accumulates meanings like a blue whale accumulates barnacles.

I don't like the word.

I don't like it because, while accurate, it only describes what I do not believe. It tells you nothing else about me.It tells you one spare detail about how I view the world. It does not explain why I am here, now, with you all in this sanctuary. It is a non-label, a word used to define 'the other' in relation to the 'us'.

What I believe unites us is that we are capable of sharing headspace. Of creating in the space between us all, something that is more that the sum of it's parts. We all have a unique perspective, informed by the many factors that make up our lives. So unique, that although we may be on the same page, we're probably all reading different paragraphs.

I will get to our verses, I promise. First, some of my beliefs. I want to talk about space.

Carmen has seen me in the thrall of outer space. I have drifted off mid sentence, eyes glowing and mouth split in a beatific grin as some physicist or astronomer sketches some detail of the universe. Science for me is a set of beautiful ideas, ripe for use. We are all involved in delving into the mystery. But the mystery is a mandelbrot set: the further in you go, the more mystery you find.

[[The mandelbrot set: a fractal image which when you enlarge a section of it, the edge repeats the pattern into infinity. ]]

When we look at the night sky, I suspect we're all looking at the same thing. Only we each bring our own perspective to it. I see a vast, almost infinitely empty void. It is beautiful. It is scary. And we are alone. The universe does not care about us. It is not capable of caring. The earth could vanish tomorrow and the universe will carry on. Life here is fragile. Change any one thing about this planet and things get bad. For example, move Earth closer or further away from the sun and all our surface water freezes or burns off into space (Scientists call it the goldilocks zone: the planet is juuust the right distance away)

Who knows how many other planets have come close to being as lucky as ours.
And that makes life here precious, makes this planet precious. We are stewards, or we should be stewards of this planet. We don't have a spare out there, no galactic cousins willing to let us sleep on their couch.

I certainly believe that there is life out there. Not necessarily sentient, though how cool would that be? Right now, I'd settle for simple bacteria. The paradigm would change. We would not be the sole life in the universe. We would be sharing this place with another.

Of course it could be that we have simply missed signs of other life in the vast emptiness. Their civilisations could have collapsed and their broadcasts passed us by before we gained the technology to detect them. Conversely, they may be out there looking at the night sky, sitting in their tribal groups and telling tales of strange life on other stars, simply not having got to where we got to a hundred years ago.

We have been sending signals into space for nearly a hundred years. Who knows where and when and who will see them. I hope they don't judge us too harshly.


Theme: The Temptation to Dominate: Doing Enough
Text: Luke 4: 1-2, 5-8, 13
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.
7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

When reading these verses I found myself thinking of the devil as an internal voice. It suggests to me that Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness working through how to carry out his ministry. Working through the ways in which he could use his power, dragging the voice inside his head into the open and refuting it. William Burroughs called this kind of voice the Policeman inside. That insidious voice that tells you that you are wrong, that this is what you should be doing. It's the voice installed by your parents, by society, by institutions. A voice made out of all the rules, expectations, guilt trips and other nasty little tricks society uses to keep you in line.

Temptation for me is the voice telling me not to do something. "Don't swim. Don't drive. Don't talk to people. Don't go to that function" Usually, this voice is connected with fear ("Do you really think you can do this? Do this?" It's taken me a long time to recognise it and realise that if I hear it, it's a good sign that I should try and overcome it.

Jesus's temptation is to become king, and his overcoming of this temptation leads us from the wilderness to the sermon of the mount, where he gifts the kingdom to everyone.

For myself, when I read the verses, I find myself reflecting on my inexperience as a parent. I can see all the mistakes, all the pitfalls coming down the road for our kids. Some from personal experience, some from observation. We also have this grand vision of how we want life to be like for our children.

If only they would damned well listen.

We know what's best, and still it is not enough. You want to shake the sense into them. It always feels like there is one more thing you could do, one more thing you could say. And isn't that the hard part? To gain the experience to know that you have done all you can, have done enough. That ultimately you can't force your child to submit. That you've placed yourself in the devil's role.


The unanswered question from earlier: Why am I here? I came initially to support and encourage Carmen in her faith. I stayed because of the open and affirming belief of this faith and this church in particular. This is the only church where the welcome-ness I received on my first visit has been backed up by the rhetoric of the church leadership. All too often my visits to churches start like this (an open embrace) and then progress, quickly, to this (talk to the hand). Here I feel that my perspective is one of many, and not discounted because of what I do or do not believe.

I am here because this is my community. I have never had one quite like this one. Like you all. Here I feel that I can be myself: a heathen, a father, a foreigner, a human without any of the judgment that I have experienced elsewhere. Here in this shared space something is created when we come together.

I want to end with a koha. In New Zealand, traditionally a koha is presented at a special occasion. Loosely it's a gift of appreciation and thanks.

I want to koha you all with the following words that have special place in my life.

The first is Kurt Vonnegut's evocation of enoughness. Something that he acquired from his uncle Alex and passed to us through. among other works, his book 'A Man Without a Country'.

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

The second is a karakia, a prayer, that I said for four years in my bi-lingual class. It is the Lord's Prayer in Maori.

Let us pray.

E to matou Matua i te rangi
Kia tapu tou Ingoa
Kia tae mai tou rangatira-tanga.

Kia meatia tau e pai ai
ki runga ki te whenua,
kia rite ano ki to te rangi.

Homai ki a matou aianei
he taro ma matou mo tenei ra.

Murua o matou hara

Me matou hoki e muru nei
i o te hunga e hara ana ki a matou.

Aua hoki matou e kawea kia whaka-waia;

Me matou hoki e muru nei
i o te hunga e hara ana ki a matou.

Aua hoki matou e kawea kia whaka-waia;

[[Oops, accidentally repeated the previous 3 lines]]

Engari whaka-orangia matou, i te kino:

Nou hoki te rangatira-tanga,
te kaha,
me te kororia,
Ake, ake, ake.


Thank you for letting be ramble. Peace be with you all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A brief deviation: comics. Cultural DNA.

Oh, gee this post has been so long waiting to be posted that I've lost the point. I may have to revisit this.


One of my loves is comics. They are another form of media that has been around my life since I was born, whether my dad's Peanuts books, or my mum's Superman and Batman omnibuses, or Noggin the Nod, or Asterix or Tintin or Footrot Flats round at Grandma and Grandad's. Comics have been around me, provided to me by family, as essential as books and music. Creative oxygen.

For a long time in my late teens and very early twenties I read nothing but comics. I would say
"A comic takes 20 to 30 minutes to read, and usually I'll get at least one good idea. If not, I've only lost 20 minutes. A book can take a lot longer, and the ratio isn't usually as good."
This idea isn't originally mine (I suspect I mangled Alan Moore), but I adopted it wholeheartedly as a motto when talking to people about comics.

I think about this attitude now and I cringe. Critically thinking things like that through was a couple of years away, probably the 3rd year of university. I must have been reading some utter garbage back then.  Sure, I was reading some good comics, but there are ways to find good books.

I'd started this post with the intention of talking about continuity and a comic called the Doom Patrol (a magic name that captivated me when I first read it in a short writer interview in 2000AD). The Doom Patrol had the distinction of being one of the few comics I bought regardless of the writer. I liked it because it was such a marginal comic in the DC comics universe that it didn't suffer a reboot until the 5th incarnation of the comic. This meant that the story of the characters in the comic had remained unbroken since the 60s, that the characters had aged in near real time. Which was incredibly important to me- somehow I sensed that this comic embraced the ridiculousness of a medium where Batman was eternally 30, Superman had his history restarted, and many character's war experiences shifted from WW2 to Korea to Vietnam to the Gulf. There was something attractive about a comic where changes happened and, more importantly, stuck.

The original comic that began in 1963 ended in 1968 with the Doom Patrol sacrificing themselves to protect strangers.

Here endeth the first draft work.

I'm drawing a line under the work I've done so far. I'm finding that I have increasingly been generating material that, while it follows the research, does not make for a clear story. I've hamstrung myself by not deciding what the focus of this play will be.

This first draft is nowhere near a finished work.

I will collate a PDF of the draft and post it in the next few days. This will form the raw material for the 2nd draft.


Distractions are the biggest barriers to writing. If I'm doing the crossword, or reading the funnies, or playing on facebook; I am not writing. I have an abysmal writing practice. Which, for something I have been doing for the best parts of almost 18 years, is a source of personal irritation. Have I hit my 10 000 hours to be considered whatever it is that I would be considered after 10 000 hours of writing? I hope not, if only because I'd feel like the worst writer if I had surpassed that 10 000 hour mark.

[The 10000 hours comes from the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.]


Next draft will be about story and the characters. It will be interesting to see if I can walk the tightrope to create scenes that remain true to the reality of the people involved.

I sometimes consider giving up this writing lark. There is sometimes too much fear involved in sharing my words with others. The fear is sometimes overwhelming and it makes it easy to see the flaws in my writing instead of enjoying the good stuff.

Before I even consider the next draft there will come some palate cleansers. I need to exercise other writing muscles.