Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Preview now live

Okay, we can’t keep you waiting any longer. Here’s the preview issue of FURIE’S KEY and FERAL from 412 Comics, two prologue-length stories to tee you up for the full-length issues coming soon. It’s free. You’re welcome. Enjoy.

It’sa PDF, so it’s best viewed in two-page setting, I think, but maybe you prefer single continuous page if you’re viewing on a tablet.


Cover of Furie's Key preview comic

Furie's Key preview

Just a quick heads up... the preview issue of FURIE'S KEY from 412 Comics will be out next week, and there'll be a free download available. I'll post the link when I get it. Story by me, art by the excellent Steve Kurth. We first worked together on G.I. Joe and it's been a delight to work with him again in a very different universe.

The issue also includes a preview of FERAL, written by John Barber. (My old editor from the G.I.Joe days, in fact. It's the old firm again!) Art is by Ron Joseph.

Think of these two mini-stories as prologues for the main series that start later this year. The preview also contains some behind-the-scenes interviews.

In the meantime, you can check out 412's titles here. They’re a new publisher with a great stable of new universes lined up for the coming year.

Public service announcement

It just occurred to me that I’ve never mentioned here that you can join in a discussion on my blog posts via Goodreads. I don’t have a forum on this site, but Goodreads picks up my feed and runs it on my author page with comments.

Drop in for a chat. You’ll be welcome. Rambling is permitted, and, in my case, inevitable.

Believe


I tried to watch an anime yesterday that made me give up long before the end of first episode. This is a rare event. There are few if any animes that I don’t fall into and stick with to the end, however unlikely they seem on first glance, and I think I probably watch as many as a Tokyo teen. But this one made me feel uncomfortable, and I knew I’d end up hating the thing’s guts. It didn’t seem to be what I regard as proper Japanese anime. Interestingly, a quick check after I hit the off button on my Fire TV stick showed that it was a western “homage” (the kiss of creative death) so maybe there’s a cultural issue that made it miss the target. But if anything proves that anime takes a lot more than a formalised art style, this show does.

As a writer, I try to work out why some fiction bores or repels me, because that’s useful business data, plus it stops me bitching about a wasted hour of my life. I don’t like intellectualising, though, because nothing kills entertainment like over-analysis. But there’s an important lesson in storytelling to be learned when an addict in search of a high rejects the crack that’s offered.

What struck me about this show was how self-conscious and smirking it was. I still can't put my finger on the specifics, but it seemed to be looking over its shoulder, winking at the audience, and saying how quaint this all this funny clunky cartoon stuff was. I don’t mean the normal kind of fourth wall breach, either. It felt like any other western animation but with a layer of charmless smart-arsery. And that’s everything that anime isn’t, at least in my eyes.

The problem was that the story didn’t seem to believe itself. And if your story doesn’t believe itself, your audience won’t engage with it either.

Anime’s power is that it really doesn’t seem to give a shit. It’s like a drunken karaoke night: it goes balls to the wall, and it doesn’t care if it makes a temporary fool of itself as long as it has fun. Heroes don’t always win, or even survive, and it’s often hard to identify a full-on hero in the western sense. The bad guys frequently have a serious case that makes you pause and doubt. Maybe it looks different from a Japanese perspective, but from mine, I see an approach to fiction that, despite its own archetypes, has none of the boundaries we impose in the west, be that age, subject, politics, or culture. The story goes where it wants to go. You can take it at face value and enjoy the craziness – or the total absence of crazy, like The Great Passage – but there’s always a solid underpinning of reality about the human condition and the posing of questions that we don’t really want to ask ourselves. The stories always take that extra step in the plot and ask the unasked question, way past the point where Hollywood would regard it as all neatly tied up. I’ve seen more analysis of human behaviour and more memorable quotes from demonic trees (or whatever) than I’ve seen in years of worthy Hollywood movies or TV drama. This is what storytelling is about. It’s exploration, not a lecture. Good fiction should move you enough for the characters, situations, and quotes to stay with you for a long time afterwards, and to make that impact, it has to immerse you in its own belief.

On paper, I’m an unlikely person to be drawn to anime. I’m old, prosaic, and data-rational, and my fiction is extrapolated reality, obsessively researched. As I said in a recent blog, you’re not going to find any talking cauliflowers in my books. (I really wish I could do that. ) But I can swallow anime whole and step into whatever totally mental universe opens its doors, because it’s told with complete conviction and abandon. On the rare occasions it sidebars itself, it’s done with what I can only call good-natured humility. It’s all about the story: the writers never interrupt to point out how jolly clever they are.

Anyway, back to the lesson. What was learned? Believe your story one hundred percent. Don’t think of what you can’t do or where you can’t go. Don’t try to send a message, either. Walk into your world and live fully in it.


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Writers need artists


(Note: this piece comes from my Facebook page today.)



Let's hear it for artists. I've been writing comics for a few years, and the thrill of seeing the pencils for an issue is as fresh now as it was on day one. What brings me to mention this is seeing more pages today for the new series I'm doing for 412 Comics.

I'm working with an old mate, Steve Kurth, who was also the artist on my G.I. Joe run. I've always been lucky with artists, but sometimes I'm extra-lucky. Steve is a master of characterisation: my fiction is built on characterisation. This happy convergence makes for great things.

When Steve draws a character for the first time, no matter how minutely I've described them in the script and how well I think I can visualise them, he always manages to present me with a fascinating stranger whose life is etched on their face, and the indefinable magic he brings to the interpretation sets me off on new tangents. A good artist – and I've had many, including cover artists for novels – raises your game without trying: through them, I see the world I've built differently. Sometimes it's like seeing it for the first time. An artist can add a detail or pass a remark, and bang – the story's universe shifts in front of you. When I use the phrase "thrill of discovery," I mean exactly that.

Telling people what a creative lightning strike feels like can be hard, because it's like explaining flavour or colour. All I can say is that artists open doors I've walked past and enable me to go somewhere unexpected. And exploring the unknown is why I write.

Publishing can be a pretty crappy industry. I've worked with some truly awful people, and when someone who's spent decades in news journalism says that, you can gauge how bad it can be. But I can honestly say that every artist I've worked with has been a joy and an education, and I'm a better writer for having worked alongside them. The fact that they can still make my day no matter how frustrating that day has been is a testament to their talent.

I would urge any writer who has the chance to work on comics – or games – to grab it. The experience of working closely with artists will change you, no matter how visual a writer you are to start with. And even writers need creatives to look up to and ask, "How did you ever come up with that?"