Headspace Wars: A Guest Post by Andrez Bergen
If you want to know the truth, writing my new novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? shaped up into a headspace tussle of epic proportions – so far as my wee intellect was concerned.
The book was half the length, the characters fleshed out far less, and it wore clearly on the sleeve the huge influence of a fun, bickering superhero quartet cooked up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with the Fantastic Four comic book in the 1960s.
The finale? A rousing, Three Musketeers moment in a café in which our heroes toasted one another under a veil of sham cynicism and rallied to fight the good fight.
Which was the purpose of the novel: to pay tribute to the Marvel Comics bullpen of the ’60s and the punch-drunk, ever optimistic yarns of Lee, Roy Thomas, and the artists they worked with, especially Jack Kirby. An era we now call the silver age of comic books.
This is the stuff I grew up on, thanks to an older sibling’s stash of comics, and the first draft did the homage thing relatively well. And yet – I wasn’t happy.
See, I grew up during the bronze age of four-colour ‘zines – basically the period from 1970 – and have been equally influenced by darker excursions into the comic book world, stories in which the quips flew less frequently, characters really did die, and a happy ending was not a given.
When I was a kid, storylines such as the Dark Phoenix saga (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) in X-Men from 1979-80 along with Frank Miller’s work with Daredevil in 1981/82 reconfigured my imagination and the way in which I perceived both fiction and art.
While I loved Miller’s later reinvention of the Batman in 1986, mainstream comic books then became a little too gloomy and repetitive for my liking, I found other interests, and fell into manga and indie ‘zines.
But the emotional impact of issues like X-Men #137 and Daredevil #181 still rings somewhere in my cranial coin-locker, and this was the clamour that got into fisticuffs with the sunny-side-up, quirky optimism of that first draft of Heropa.
So I rewrote the book through to February this year, injecting a somewhat darker undercurrent that related to these early ’80s genre-breakers, but also segued into the terrain of something else I love: hardboiled noir, the kind pushed through by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler more than a half century ago.
Which meant I had three prizefighters beating about my brain, each one trying to assert a dominant flavour.
I like to think I succeeded in making it an equal bout.
Funnily enough, I’m currently going through a similar internal nosebleed with the next novel in the works, Planet Goth.
You could almost call this historical fiction, since it’s based 27 years ago in 1986 – two of my novels have been based in the near future, while in the third time was relatively redundant, so this is new terrain for me.
Yet I’ve been here before.
I originally wrote the manuscript twice, in 1990 and 1993, using my old pillar-box-red Olivetti manual typewriter that I retired in 1995. Each comes under its own abandoned project moniker: Well, Actually, My Favourite Colour is Red (1990, dumped because it was too long-winded to fit on a book spine) and Subculture (1993, tossed away since it was too, um, pretentious. Not that Planet Goth is any less so).
Both versions were shelved (tossed into cardboard boxes) since I felt the piece could not be finished. I’m not sure why I brought the 1990 manuscript with me to Japan in 2001. Likely it was a mix of sentimentality and the fact it made a decent paperweight. The ’93 rewrite I lost touch with – until this year, when an old mate Kristina found it in her garden shed in outback New South Wales, collecting mold, and very nicely posted it over in a jiffy bag.
I knew I’d adapted my so-called style over the years, and there are moments of goodness in there, yet I didn’t realize it was so bleeding-heart sentimental.
Also I’d filched one of the key character names (Valeska) and used that in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, so ended up changing this to Angelika. The K’s important.
Given it’s ‘real’ – basically a dark, harrowing coming-of-age yarn in Melbourne that’s influenced by actual people and events – I’m left with far less room to move with imagination wise and struggling to insert moments of humour to lighten up the drama.
This, I guess, is a good challenge. If I can resuscitate, save and reboot the story, great. If not… Well, at least I tried. Again.