Daily Archives: March 23, 2010

The Big Idea: Tom Fowler

Here at The Big Idea, we’re used to hearing from the authors of books, but in the case of graphic novels, there are two creators: the writer and the artist (and here we tip our hats also to inkers and colorers and letterers…). So in the case of Mysterius, the graphic novel from Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler, we thought it’d be fun to get the perspective of the “silent” half of the creative team: The artist. So here’s Fowler to tell you about the artistic side of equation, and what he brings to the magical, mystical world of Mysterius.

TOM FOWLER:

On December 6, 2007, at 6:02:19 PM EST, I received a very nice email from Mark Paniccia at Marvel Comics letting me know that he was very sorry but the job he’d wanted me to do with Jeff Parker had fallen through. At 6:03:35 PM EST, I got an email from Ben Abernathy at Wildstorm Productions wondering what I had cooking schedule-wise and whether I’d like to do a book with Jeff Parker. The next day Jeff introduced me to Mysterius. If I were a dirty hippy and believed in such nonsense I’d have thought that, through whatever cosmic jiggery pokery, the universe wanted the book to happen. I pride myself on slightly better personal hygiene than that so I chalked it up to being very lucky.

Mysterius was originally Jeff’s tribute to, among other things, 1920′s stage magic, Doctor Who, and Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels (the first of which I was reading at the time. More jiggery pokery). I saw his Who and Gently and raised him some Hammer Horror, Wes Anderson, and EC Comics. Over that christmas, in a flurry of emails, the universe of Mysterius started to come into shape. A universe that includes angry hell-bound relatives, zombie hippies, hookers, covens, tattooed antiquarians, catty magicians, satanic children’s verse, and giant, feral fraggles that eat “Burning Man”.

When Jeff and I stated to developed the book it became apparent fairly quickly that, just as Doctor Who inhabits British space and Steve Zissou an ocean of animated fish, a cast as grandiose and colourful as ours needed to be grounded in a world that reflected those characters and made the unbelievable things that took place within it feel authentic.

It would start with a very simple email description of “maybe he should look a bit like Geoffrey Rush.” A quick Google image search would reveal Mr. Rush at several red carpet events wearing $5000 suits yet still managing to look as though he’d been backed through a hedge and pickled in formaldehyde. This would inform a certain haggard swagger that became an essential part of the character: Mysterius’ single-minded belief that he’s the sexiest thing in any room. Would not that gag be shown off by filling those rooms with significantly sexier things (or witches)? And what about his home? The bubble that Mysterius keeps around him at all times. It should show an anachronistic opulence that reflects his discomfort with the changing of the world over time. His “Mysterium” an endless archive of past glories that envelops him wherever he goes.

It continued in that manner as the story progressed. Our world needed to get bigger, encompass more. In those first couple of months we burned through ghosts, monsters, maps of hell, the histories and fates of past Delfis, unwanted house guests, terrible experiments performed on leprechauns, living estates, dimensional travel, transparent stand-ins, and a 200 year old troll named Kevin who hung with Keith Moon and toured with the Stooges. However much of it made it into the first book seems less important than the fact it was all there in our heads to draw from. Strange beings and places fleshed out, and all pieces of a larger whole to push around and illustrate the universe we created. The Mysterius universe itself needed to become a character.

Mostly I did that with big noses.

I think I’ve probably made a mess of this. (Keep in mind I’m the artist.) Ultimately what I love about this job is the construction. All art is just problem solving. You’re given a task, a set of tools, and a list of limitations. Your style is the sum of that equation. Your art, your book, your song, whatever is the product. Building a universe or a world out of nothing, manipulating it, making it work, making it run is the most satisfying puzzle you’ll ever wrestle with. Over the year that we brought the book into existence I think we built something that works, that feels immersive,“real” (at least in relation to its inhabitants). I’d like to think that in Mysterius‘ world there are two hippies sitting in the desert marveling at the unseen forces of cosmic jiggery pokery that shaped their lives and brought them to that spot.

Only in that world they’d be at “Blazing Man” and therefore get eaten by fraggles.

Big, angry fraggles.

Please buy the book.

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Mysterius: Amazon|Barnes & Noble| Indiebound|Powell’s

Follow Tom Fowler and Jeff Parker on Twitter.

Reader Request Week 2010 #2: Rewriting the Constitution

Fletcher asks:

From the posts where you veer into politics, I know you’re a big fan of the US Constitution. So;

Early next year a previously unknown addendum to the Constitution is discovered, and the legal repercussions mean that the entire document must be rewritten, or the US of A will become a département of France. You, John Scalzi, have been selected as the person upon whom sole responsibility shall lie to recreate the guiding document of the nation.

Given this opportunity, how would you rewrite the Constitution?

Heh.

Well, you know. While I understand the set-up here is fanciful, it still presents issues. First, purely on practical grounds, I would like to see France try to take possession, administrative or physical, of these here United States. I think that attempt would be messy. Second, and not necessarily to the credit of the United States, I think we’re all well aware of the country’s history of not actually paying much attention to treaties or agreements it doesn’t feel comport with its best interests. So I don’t think we have to worry much about the folks in Washington feeling obliged to hand the keys over to Sarkozy.

Third, I’m not entirely convinced that even if France could somehow take receivership, that it would want to. Why would it want ten trillion dollars in debt and a country filled with yahoos so reflexively anti-French that its Congress briefly renamed “French Fries” in its cafeterias even though the “french” in that phrase in only tangentially related to the country? I think what would happen is that the French would say “You know what? You keep that. We want you to have that,” and then go off to smoke a Gauloise and sleep with one of their seven mistresses, which as we all know they are required by law to have. Everyone would walk away thinking they got the better of the deal.

That taken care of, my response to being the person solely responsible for rewriting the Constitution would be to refuse. Not because I don’t think I could do it — I’m handy with those there words — but because having a single person dictate the contents of the Constitution of the United States is kind of missing the point of the Constitution of the United States, isn’t it? It’s not just what the Constitution says that is important; how and why it was created matter too. It was created severally and through compromise to ensure US citizens the greatest amount of participation in and involvement with, their government. Philosophically I am opposed to any single person being responsible for its content, even if that person is me.

But let’s say that whatever nebulous Powers That Be which can somehow force a revision of the Constitution of the United States say “Do it, or we give the job to Glenn Beck,” with the additional admonition that there has to be some genuine revision, not just rephrasing Jim Madison’s verbiage in a kicky modern style. All right, off the top of my head, here’s some of the things I would change.

1. I’d make the presidential term of office six years, and allow presidents to serve only one term. I’d get rid of the electoral college and have the winner of the popular vote become the President.

2. I’d decouple the House of Representatives from the states and mandate one Congressional representative for every 100,000 people, with their districts drawn as compactly as mathematically possible. Yes, this means 3,000 US Representatives. Deal with it. The Senate I would keep the same to ensure states have adequate representation in the federal government.

3. For the Supreme Court I would dictate single terms of 25 years, long enough for the serving Justices do their jobs insulated from day-to-day politics, while still ensuring turnover and a judiciary at least nominally aware of the world outside its chambers.

I’d be hard pressed to improve on the Bill of Rights, so I wouldn’t try to. As for the rest of the Amendments, at least a couple of them would be superseded by the changes I noted above, so I’d probably declutter the document a bit where appropriate but otherwise let the Amendments stand. If I were required to add in an Amendment or two, these would be the two I’d probably drop in:

a) Only non-corporate citizens of the United States are allowed to donate money or in kind services to federal election campaigns, and only to their own Representative candidates, Senatorial candidates or Presidential candidates, a sum of no more than $50 (adjusted for inflation, pegged to the 2010 dollar), excepting personal volunteer service on behalf of a candidate.

b) Voting for Federal elected positions (President, Senator, US Representative) shall be done with the instant run-off ballot.

I think those would sufficiently differentiate the Scalzi version of the Constitution from what came before, without (I hope) unduly cutting away individual rights which previously existed for US citizens. There’s always the temptation to fiddle more, but again, fundamentally, the Constitution should not be the purview of a single person, even if that person is me. Thus a final Amendment:

c) If the changes instituted by John Scalzi are not approved by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, and two-thirds of the State legislatures, then the Constitution shall revert back to what it was prior to him fiddling with it.

Which, frankly, would solve my philosophical problems with being told to change the Constitution in the first place.