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Monday, 10 January 2011

Friends of English (etc) magic

A whole other tradition of fantasy that's a hundred shires away from cursed swords and dank cobwebby tunnels and granite-toothed ogres is that particularly English kind of whimsical and often surreal collision between the magical and the commonplace. You can see it running through in a direct line of descent from Lord Dunsany to Harry Potter with a cadet branch extending off to The Goons and the Bonzo Dog Band.

(Er, did I say English? Dunsany was Anglo-Irish, Ms Rowling is Scottish, Spike Milligan was born in India and Viv Stanshall was heavily influenced by Dadaism, which is Swiss. So, let's call it "modern realism-grounded fantasy" and leave it at that.)

To my mind, fantasy is at its best when it encroaches onto our familiar world. Non-humans in taverns (whether from Middle-Earth or Aldebaran IV) are pure escapism, but magic that nudges in around the corners of everyday life has to reflect our real daily concerns. That's why, even in role-playing games with a high adventure setting, I like the conflicts and drama to arise out of believable human relationships and concerns. Sergio Leone showed that you can stage heroic, indeed mythic, adventure without having to save the damned world all the time. The greedy race for a box of old banknotes, the struggle to save one lost child, the always-doomed attempt to do the right thing - these are much more engaging than having to reunite the three lost pieces of the shield of Blah so that the evil lord Urg is sent back to the realm of So-what.

Hence the project that occupies my time these days is Mirabilis, a huge comic book epic that I'm weaving with Leo Hartas (pencils and inks), Nikos Koutsis (colors) and Martin McKenna (covers and concept art). A green comet appears in the sky, heralding a year when imagination and reality combine. The magic has come back into the world - and not only magic, but everything that traditionally belongs in fiction, legend and dreams. Mirabilis is my paean to fantasy, the type of fantasy that celebrates illogic and finds a tenuous, obscure circuit through the human unconscious to locate deeper truths than words and facts can ever hope to get at.

Richard Bruton, posting on the essential UK comics blog Forbidden Planet International, wrote:
"Mirabilis [has] a nice bit of mystery, dark fantasy and a very Bryan Talbot-esque art style. Hopefully we’ll be seeing this find its way into print at some point."
And indeed you will see it in print, in fact in two glorious large-format hardcover editions if you live in Britain or Ireland, as John Freeman reported in the other essential UK comics blog Down The Tubes just before Christmas.

Meanwhile you can get the Mirabilis graphic novel for iPad in App Store books, where it has risen this weekend to #7 in the "What's hot" chart. If you don't have an iPad, take a look at the little book-flippy widget thing at the bottom of this very page, and if you like the first episode and you live in the USA or Canada then you can buy the American trade paperbacks by clicking on the cover images in the sidebar or going to Barnes & Noble.


  1. You could probably have got away with "British" to cover the exceptions, given the nature of Milligan's birthplace and... Swiss neutrality?

    I shall keep an eye out for Mirabilis, am I likely to see it in a UK bookshop? Or am I better off going straight to Amazon? I'm not sure my father would appreciate his christmas iPad being commandeered just yet!

  2. But then there's John Collier - admittedly, he was British, though nowadays mostly associated with the States, where he lived. Okay, so maybe "British" does cover it :)

    Mirabilis will be in UK bookshops by April. But in the meantime, why not put the free opening chapter on your dad's iPad anyway? A lot of people have told me that they don't usually like comic books or fantasy, and yet they downloaded and read the whole of Mirabilis and enjoyed it. Your dad might too.

  3. Funny thing you mention Sergio Leone - I´ve always been fond of Italian "spaghetti" western movies. They have a sense of doom lacking in the American versions (though not in the highly recommended western novel Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy!). My problem is how to convert this sense into role-playing games: How do you create a game in which your players somehow know they will fail but still struggles on?

    And as the paperback version of Mirabilis is available in Sweden it will soon pop up in my mailbox! Looking forward.

  4. Hi Joakim - hope you like Mirabilis. Feel free to do us our first review in Sweden :)

    I like to get the spaghetti western feel into my games, and always have as I used to play Ennio Morricone tracks to accompany my first role-playing sessions back in the mid-1970s. Partial success has to be possible, but my players rarely know unalloyed triumph. Not because I particularly steer the game that way (in fact I abhor "authorial" GMing) but because in a complicated world 100% success is never possible.

  5. Have you ever run a game in a world which you nor the players know anything about? Just a session based on a desire to realise a specific atmosphere (for example "spaghetti western" though not necessarily a western game)?

  6. ps. I´ll be happy to write a review!

  7. Interesting question, Joakim - a setting which neither I nor the players know anything about? We once ran a completely improvised one-off game in which setting, characters and events were all created on the fly. I'm not sure how I'd go about running a regular game without being familiar with the setting, however. (Oh - and thank you in advance for your review!)