The Reason Why – The Gilded Age

It was always supposed to be a four-issue story.

Back then, that’s where my brain went when talking about comic books. “What’s the 4-issue storyline?” You gotta be able to sell it to a publisher and since no one knows who the hell you are, well, at best you might be able to squeeze 4 issues out of them.

Well, actually that’s not true. There were many days when I would collaborate with a friend on what should end up as the 60-issue limited series for some comic storyline. Now, it should be pointed out that one should walk before they run, but where is the fun in all of that? It’s much better to create a world where you would need all that space to convey your true message to everyone who was reading.

Right?

It wasn’t until I got together with the Terminus guys and gals that more bite-sized ideas began to emerge. You know, 8-page stories. Maybe, if we were feeling a little bit crazy we could go to 10 pages.

There is truth in determining a four-issue storyline might be the key to actually getting something published by some company willing to take a risk on an unknown (this is pre-Kickstarter that we’re talking about). Egg and I began working on something that would eventually become In Our Dreams Awake (the first issue of which was just funded this year). However, in Egg’s early comic convention travels he came across an artist who he thought might be a good fit to work with me. I looked through his artwork and discovered a shot of a cowboy with a metallic arm, and I had my idea for a steampunk story.

The Guilded Age

And that original story, called Machine Heart, is literally still ready to be drawn up and become The Gilded Age Issues 5 through 8.

However, like many such things, nothing became of it, and it became another file on the computer, threatening to be lost to time.

And then, Terminus decided they wanted to do more than the occasional anthology we were putting out roughly once every year. So Robert Jeffrey, Tony Cade, Pete Mitchell, and me all came up with story ideas. I dug through my files and came across Machine Heart. That was going to be my pitch.

At the same time, I was reading Sandman for the first time. Enthralled with the series, I noticed, especially early on, Gaiman had a lot of self-contained issues. They told a story and then they were done. It also occurred to me that if it took us a year to put out each issue, it might be difficult to actually have a coherent story for someone (anyone) to actually read and follow. What if, instead, I did 4 self-contained stories which would feature different characters – yet still connect in some way.

Trying to find its own way in this world, the Branning Troupe, made up of actors and carnival folk, moves throughout Europe performing its acts night in and night out. For some, the Troupe offers a direction to their lives; others seek the adoration of the crowds.  For all, it represents a fragile, simple refuge from a world which has cast them out.  They are a new family.

And each member has their own desires and secrets…

I wrote the first story featuring the two leads from Machine Heart. The second issue would see that metal-armed cowboy come to life. The third was a bit more of a horror story. And the last trying my hand at mixing fantasy and oddities together.

Each issue would let me tell the types of stories I wanted to tell while building the world in a very organic (hopefully) way. It allowed me to learn at a slower pace. Worry about the 22 pages instead of all 88 pages. That freedom was great, and in retrospect, I think was the right approach to take as it was years (more than I would have expected) before all 4 issues were done and collected in a trade.

Probably the other big thing to come out of it was that I gained a level of confidence. So many times as writers we are not sure if the piece we’re creating is ever going to see the light of day, and my limited time in comics has only reinforced that thought process. So to have a completed piece was amazing and gave me hope to push on other projects down the road.

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John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

The Reason Why – Hollow Empire

Some of the best times I’ve had as a writer is during those initial days of an idea. Where everything is available to you and you’re not sure exactly where you are going to go with it. Most of the time, I’m bouncing ideas off my own subconscious, allowing the ideas to percolate while I’m doing other things (or many times when I’ve laid down to go to sleep… that’s a good way to miss out on a ton of zzzz). When you are working with another writer, those same ideas begin generating a momentum that is hard to even know or expect.

So it went with Hollow Empire.

You see, Hollow Empire was the result of a random comment to Jerermy. We’d been talking about projects, and I’d mentioned a podcast (Selfpublishing Podcast) where the hosts were talking about doing serialized fiction. And I wondered if I’d be up to the task of having to turn things around in a somewhat rapid fashion. The next day Jeremy sent me an email saying he was IN if I was.

Could it be that easy? Just do it, as the marketing says.

With a land (world) ravaged by a pandemic (we were looking back to the Black Plague, not trying to be prophetic), some of those who managed to survive the virus would get a power. A bit of magic, if you will, that was their “reward” for making it through the otherside. Hollow Empire was always a way to write a superhero story set in a medieval time period. But we put many other things in there.

Zombie creatures.

Dark cults.

Assassins.

Bounty Hunters.

A coup.

By co-writing the book we’d reduce the amount we’d need to write to something a little more manageable (while Jeremy is a machine, I like to go to sleep once in a while). We mapped out a little bit of the story. Against the backdrop of a coup (the Night of Knives), we’d take our pair of characters through this world and see what happened. It was a mixture of plotting and pantsing as we had a very rough idea of where we might end up, but I don’t believe either of us had our full stories at that point in our head.

The goal was really to entertain ourselves. Maybe put forth some surprises for each other. And expand this idea as best we could through these weekly episodes.

And that’s exactly what we did. We wrote our chapters and then swapped the stories for edits. I joked that my job was to curb a bit of Jeremy’s descriptions and his job was to get me to increase mine.

The nice thing about the series was that by having 2 authors, the voices were going to be different. And since we didn’t know where the other was going, some of those surprises would cause us to adjust our own writings. Plenty of emails were “hey, I really liked that thing you did with XXX, I’m going to reference that in my stuff.” In my mind, that’s when I knew things were clicking the way we wanted it to.

Eventually, we finished those 6 episodes. Eventually, we put them out into the world. And it has become an itch for me because Jeremy has written a couple of follow-ups to his characters while mine are a bit in limbo. I have one additional story written, and I have ideas for some more, so perhaps we could see more of the Hollow Empire in a Season 2?

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In the aftermath of a horrific plague, the nation of Vhur teeters on utter annihilation. Its cities lie in ruin. Its king hides in his tower. Its people rot in their graves.

Surrounded by death and suffering, four survivors struggle to live their separate lives.

But the lords of Vhur have different plans in mind for them.

For soon must come the Night of Knives.

Image by Twighlightzone from Pixabay

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John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com