Jay Eales was someone I had known for a while through online Doctor Who fandom: he had already co-edited the well-respected charity anthologies Perfect Timing and Perfect Timing 2, but more importantly he turned out to be a genuinely fun person to while away the evenings arguing with. When he announced another charity anthology – Walking in Eternity – I successfully submitted a story, and he gradually became somebody I could chat with publicly and privately.
Walking in Eternity was published by Jay and Selina Lock’s small press Factor Fiction, which was more usually the home of some top quality independent comics.
When I found this out, I brought myself a stash of their back issues of the Violent! and The Girly Press anthologies and felt the warm glow of envy: comics are my other medium of choice, and I’ve long wanted to write for them. When I mentioned to Jay that I’d enjoyed them, he said that they were always on the look out for new stories, and if I had anything suitable to send it over.
When I used to work at the John Rylands Library, I met a writer and blogger called Rachel Kendal. She set up the webzine Sein und Werden, and used to blog voraciously as kissthewitch. I had the idea of a writing collaboration that she wouldn’t even know was happening: me using her words from the blog as the basis of a script for a comic, selecting and re-contextualising them with a story told through images. I had also just written a story called A Woman of Words for the first issue of Sein and Werden, and I think it’s protagonist was still on my mind when I was thinking of ideas.
There was also a smidge of the film Secretary in there too.
Getting the Story
The visuals for the story came first, the frame by frame progression of the story without any words. I took all my knowledge of how to write a comic script from the various scripts for Sandman that Neil Gaiman make public over the years, and simply worked back from my ending. Then I went through about a month’s worth of Rachel’s blogs, looking for words and phrases that would add some kind of meaning to the images. The bulk of the words came in the final panel as an explosion: the words leading up to it came from two or three posts, taken completely out of context.
I submitted final scripts for Cut and another, longer, idea for a SF comic: I’d assumed that Cut would be more Girly Comic material, and the SF comic more for Violent! When he read them, Jay said there was a spot in Violent! that Cut would be perfect for, while the SF would have to wait a little longer so he could find it a willing artist. Jay didn’t ask for any changes to the script: changing the words might have been problematic given the point was that they were found objects, and I’d already made it clear that I was happy for the artist to make changes to the imagery if they felt it best.
In the end, the images were pretty much what I had suggested, although the layout was greatly improved. Jay asked Jim Mortimore to provide the artwork, who I only knew as a fellow Doctor Who writer but who had a fantastic photo-realistic style that made the whole story much more effective than the D’Israeli The Kindly One’s era stylised cartoons I’d originally imagined for it.
What Happened Next?
The strip was published in Violent! #9, and I was really happy with it. It came out at just the right time for me to give a copy of it to Rachel as a birthday present: she was – thankfully – flattered
Before talking to Jay about this, it hadn’t even occurred to me that using Rachel’s words without her express permission was a risk. I hope that is because I knew Rachel so well as to be completely sure of her reaction, and not because I’m too stupid to realise the potential pitfalls. It could have been that Rachel wouldn’t have wanted her words used in that context, or that she would - quite reasonably - has expected the right to say yes or no to whether her words were used at all. She didn’t, but it was a risk - and one I took on Jay’s behalf without telling him, which is almost as tricky for an ongoing relationship.
As it was, I was right about how Rachel would react. But with hindsight, I possibly should have thought about it a little harder before I did it.
As for the other script, it – I think – struggled to find an artist, although Jay did get in touch almost a year after I’d submitted it to say he was going to dig it out and try again. Nothing came of it, but in truth it wasn’t as strong or as self-contained a story as Cut.
I didn’t try writing any more comics, for Jay or for anybody. I can’t really say why: possibly I just got pulled into other things as I chased more Doctor Who work. Possibly the itch was scratched, and I only ever had the one story to tell in that way.