Alien Ink

Artwork by David Bircham

Those you you who haven’t yet jumped on board Alien Ink, Channel 4’s first ground breaking on-line comic for young adults, really ought to do so right now. Particularly if you’re into programmes like Skins and Misfits.

It’s the story of a group of teenagers from trendy Camden town who hang out at tattoo parlour run by two gorgeous, but mysterious aliens called Trinity and Ryder – the rather delectable couple standing on the disembodied chunk of floor in the picture above.

It’s written by me and Esther Bircham and drawn by the amazingly talented David Bircham.

The latest two episodes are a really great place to for new readers jump on and can be seen at the Pressure Comics site

Don’t delay ! Click on that link right now. You won’t be sorry! Have I ever let you down before?


All the Right Mass Movements

I have been silent of late but now, thanks to a huge infusion of virgin’s blood I have returned and I bring gifts. A free issue of the exceptional Mass Movement Magazine. Not only does it include some excellent articles and a free Nuclear Blast EP it also contains a sordid confession from me on page 105.

I promise you cannot afford to live the rest of your life without letting it gently download onto your hard drive. Simply head on over here and the dreadful deed will be done.

Tell them I sent you and watch their mocking sneers of derision.


Dark Deeds, Dark Words, Dark Markets

I recently had the good fortune to be interviewed by silver scream queen and inveterate blogger Lorna D Keach. The resulting conversation can be found here: http://darkmarkets.com/2010/06/interview-jasper-bark

Please go and check it out, Dark Markets is an excellent site and I promise it will be worth your while.

If you have a few moments I’d also recommend Lorna’s blog ‘Sex Scenes with Monsters’ which is good for more than a few giggles. Cheap thrills to be had right here: http://sexsceneswithmonsters.wordpress.com/

Now quick, go and click through. It will make your life happier and more fulfilled, honestly. Hey, you can trust your uncle Jasp right?


Reanimated Conversation

I had the extreme pleasure of being grilled by the highly talented horror author Joseph De Lacey recently.

You can see the results of our intense mental struggle over at the Horror Reanimated website here: http://www.horrorreanimated.com/2010/06/04/interview-with-jasper-bark-by...

I had a lot of fun doing this interview. Please do go and check it out and while you’re there have a look at some of the other features. It’s one of my favourite websites on this topic and well worth a browse.


i-fad

If you are among the million or so people who can’t possibly conceive how they once coped without an i-pad. Or one of the even larger horde of proud i-phone owners then there is something I would like to bring to your attention.

It’s an app that I’ve written that may be of great use to anyone who finds themselves in charge of small children who need entertaining. Stuck on a crowded train with a hyperactive child? Has a small person just asked an embarrassing question in a very public place? About to commit infanticide if someone asks you ‘are we nearly there yet?’ just once more?

Dont worry – there’s an app for that!

And here it is – meet the Recyclies:

art by Matthew Meadows

Where the ***k have you been?

Art by the multitalented David Bircham

I must apologise to anyone who’s checked this blog out over the last few months and found an empty cyber desert devoid of any posts. Writing a regular blog for a full time writer is a bit of a busman’s holiday. So I’m afraid I’ve shied away from putting anything up here.

However I’m now feeling rather penitent about my shocking lack of updates and, as I have a lot to plug (and a little more time on my hands), I hope to rectify the situation.

The first thing I’d like to bring to your attention is ‘Alien Ink’ a new 30 part on-line weekly graphic novel which I wrote with Esther Bircham. It’s being drawn by David Bircham and is published by Pulp Theatre Entertainment on behalf of Channel 4 Education.

You can view it at http://alienink.co.uk/

It’s aimed at young adults and is in the same vein as programmes like Skins and Misfits. It’s set in Camden and features the exploits of a couple of teenage aliens called Trinity and Ryder who move into the high street and set up a tattoo parlour (a well known extraterrestrial activity as many experts will attest). The friendly and welcoming vibe around the parlour soon draws a group of teens who treat it as their base of operations. The series confronts many controversial issues including drug use, rampant teenage sex, STIs, binge drinking, homosexuality and anything else readers of the Daily Mail fulminate against.

It’s on its third episode and it’s already gotten some really positive press coverage. Like this piece at Bleeding Cool: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2010/05/13/alien-ink-and-how-brodies-law-liv...

And it’s created some controversy with local councillors desperate for a bit of positive coverage. As you can see from the extremely well balanced and non-partisan coverage here: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/news/2010/may/graphic-view-teenage-life-...


Check Me Out ...

I wrote a guest blog about Zombies, the credit crunch and my new novel on the FP blog recently. Thanks to Joe Gordon for that.

You can read it here

I would also urge you to download the latest issue of Mass Movement Magazine. Not only does it have an in depth interview with me, courtesy of the highly talented Jim Dodge Jnr, it is also a fantastic read put together by an excellent bunch of talented and dedicated people.

You can find it here

I would consider it a personal favour if you would head on over and check these out.


WHY NOT BE A WRITER ... HERE'S THE ANSWER

I’m currently working with Simon R Green (best selling novelist) and Stephen Volk (BAFTA winning screenwriter) on a short story writing workshop – and in case you’re wondering, yes that was a blatant attempt to lure you in from Google by name dropping. Stay with me though, I’ve got a good point to make.

Like many creative pros, when called upon give advice to new writers we find ourselves inclined to offer nothing but discouragement. I know it sounds strange, but I think we’re impelled to do this out of sincere kindness.

There are hundreds of adverts for writing courses in the press and on-line with headings like “Why Not Be A Writer” and “Make Money Writing”. The copy that goes with these headings gives the impression that the publishing world is bursting at the seams with editors squatting on large piles of money. What’s more these editors are desperate to stuff said money into the pockets of anyone who can write a legible sentence.

The truth, of course, is quite the reverse. The blizzard of rejection letters that greets most people’s first submissions is a testament to this sad (but undeniable) fact. The dejection and disillusion that many feel in the face of this is our main reason for wanting to discourage them. That and the fact that we want to thin out the potential competition.

Writing professionally isn’t for everyone. Success, and I use this term in its loosest possible sense, is as much a matter of temperament and character as it is talent. You have to want to spend the majority of your time (roughly 14 hours a day) locked away from the outside world, shunning all human contact, save for the odd visit to Facebook. You must be prepared to treat the moronic whims of editors, producers and directors as though they were profound creative insights and endlessly alter your work to accommodate them.

And it is essential that you develop the ability to go for long periods of time without eating. Not because fasting sharpens the creative instinct, simply because you will have no money to buy food or any other of life’s essentials. Never go out drinking with a group of professional writers. Not one of them can afford to buy a round of drinks. Even those that can have forgotten how to do so.

If I were to sum the professional writer’s temperament up in one word it would be: ‘Insanity’.

After a lot of careful consideration I’ve come to the conclusion that writing full time is actually a form of insanity, and as such should be added to every known text book on Psychiatry.

For a start, nothing simulates manic depression quite like a freelance creative career. Imagine logging on to the net in the morning to be greeted with a stinking review or your latest book that reads more like a personal assault than a piece of criticism. Then follow that with an e-mail from a publisher with an offer of work that pays enough for you and your family to eat for the next six months. While you’re still digesting this news consider getting a phone call that afternoon telling you that the dream project you’ve spent three years bringing to fruition has been unexpectedly cancelled and stands no chance of ever going ahead. Later that evening as you’re staring at Facebook in a semi-drunken stupour and pretending to work, imagine getting an instant message from a colleague congratulating you on being shortlisted for a prestigious award that you had no idea about.

I’m really not exaggerating here, it’s not uncommon to have a day like this around once a week. While I appreciate that many people have high pressure jobs that bring their own highs and lows, I don’t think there’s any other career that marries a feast or famine pay structure to a job assessment that swings between public censure and public acclaim in quite the same way that a creative profession does.

Then there’s the fact that the majority of any writer’s day is spent inducing hallucinations. Writing good dialogue is essentially nurturing a multiple personality disorder. Many jobs involve some form of role play at one time or another, but these are nothing like as intense as the writer’s experience.

One phenomena to which most writers will attest is that if you’re doing your job right then your characters take on a life of their own. After a while you’re not writing a thing, you’re simply taking dictation. But the characters don’t stop there, they want a say in your plotting too, often refusing to do what you want them to and sabotaging months of carefully prepared story arcs. And there’s nothing you can do about this, you just have to roll with it and do what they say. So just to reiterate, what I’m saying here is that I spend a good part of my life being told what to do by imaginary voices in my head. You see where I’m going with this don’t you …?

The level of obsession necessary not only to find work in the world of publishing, but also to deliver it, would rival any unfortunate OCD sufferer. I once spent a week exchanging countless 2,000 word e-mails with an editor debating the merits of including or discounting the word ‘easy’ from a line a of dialogue. No really, I can give you the poor woman’s contact details if you don’t believe me, and she can show your her scars.

To counter this insanity some writers inflict themselves upon long suffering spouses and children. If nothing else it gives us a reason to come out of our studies and wash occasionally, and I do mean occasionally. It also takes us away from our work for hours at a time.

This means that, due to the economics of writing for a living – namely that you have to take on far more work than you can actually do in order to earn far less than you can live on – when not working we are always worrying about work. So we will usually work till the wee hours even though we have to be up for school runs the next morning. This effectively adds sleep deprivation and a nice juicy guilt complex to the already volatile mix that used to be our mental health.

To be serious for a moment, I want to stress that I’m not trying to romanticise the writer’s life by comparing it to mental illness. Nor am I trying to make light of the day to day experiences of those who live with mental health issues. In fact, if anything, I’m genuinely trying to show my solidarity.

I’m also trying to answer the rhetorical question posed in the subject heading. I’m doing this out of kindness. And to thin out any potential competition.

Did I mention I’m doing a workshop for aspiring short story writers very soon? It’s on Monday 21st of September as part of the Bradford on Avon Festival. My two collaborators, Simon and Stephen have both been professional writers at least a decade and a half longer than me. Can you imagine how jaded they are? Why not come along and find out?

And while you’re at it, why not be a writer …?


Over-Drawn of the Dead

The Times recently crowned the zombie the new mascot of the economic global recession. With a slate of zombie movies from Zombieland to Breathers – A Zombie’s Lament poised to tear through our multiplexes and a host of books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies clawing their way up the best seller lists, it’s not hard to see why.

Research has shown that the popularity of zombies has always rocketed in economic down turns. It was in 1929, during the great depression, that the zombie was first introduced to the west in the Haitian travelogue The Magic Island by the alcoholic adventurer, and associate of Aleister Crowley, W B Seabrook. The zombie has done it’s best box office in times of recession ever since.

What’s more economist are now turning to the zombie genre to describe the carnage that is our current economy. Terms like Zombie Bank, describing a financial institution that is effectively bankrupt but kept alive by government bail outs and Voodoo Accounting, the art of hiding your expenses and inflating your income, are being bandied about with alacrity.

ALL THIS IS MUSIC to my ears, having just written a satire on the credit crunch entitled Way of the Barefoot Zombie, (that should be on the shelves as you read this). This means that I’ve spent more time than is healthy thinking about Economics, Voodoo and what they mean to the zombie.

At first glance it’s not hard to see why zombie stories seem so resonant in times of hardship. For many people losing their job doesn’t just mean losing their income, it can also mean losing their identity. It stirs up fears of becoming a redundant member of society, with nothing better to do than shamble around supermarkets all day, dressed in rags like, well like a zombie.

Those people lucky enough to keep their jobs might feel like the post apocalyptic survivors of your average zombie flick. Desperately trying to carry on with their normal lives while more and more people around them fall prey to the economic holocaust.

However, I think the appeal of the zombies during hard times lies in more than just this simple metaphor. The power of the zombie as an icon lies in its mutability.

VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES symbolise pretty much the same thing today as they’ve always done. Their costumes might have become more modern but they still represent the same primal fears and neuroses.

Zombies on the other hand have continually reinvented themselves. To begin with the zombie represented white colonialism’s fear of the rebellious native. Back in 1791 Haitian slaves, led by their Voodoo priests, had revolted against the French and established a free country. This was the first time a western empire had ever been successfully challenged and it sent shockwaves through Europe. The popular image of the evil Voodoo priest raping and torturing innocent white settlers was established.

By the time the first zombie film White Zombie came out in 1933 America was having to admit that its own twenty year occupation of Haiti had failed and these same fears were at the forefront of the American mind. Right up to I Walked with a Zombie in 1949 zombies in the movies were invariably mindless black slaves of an invariably white magician. Though they were in thrall to their oppressor they threatened at any moment to over turn his power and turn on him, like they did in Revolt of the Zombies.

THEN IN 1969 George Romero borrowed a scenario from Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend and recreated the zombie in Night of the Living Dead. Romero not only added the post apocalyptic motif to the genre, he also introduced the theme of social conformity versus the rights of the individual. The American public were bitterly divided over an un-winnable war abroad and popular dissent at home. Romero used the zombie to capture the neuroses that were bubbling to the surface as America once again struggled to come to terms with its new cultural identity.

IN VIDEO GAMES like Resident Evil the zombie reinvented itself once again, as the perfect target for a shoot ‘em up. They might look like human beings but they’re actually soulless husks. They’re the hordes of the enemy. The deadly other who is coming kill and convert us just for being the way we are.

So we don’t have to worry about their human rights. It’s okay to blow them away with abandon. It won’t even stain our consciences if we lock them up in detainment camps and torture them for intel because, like terrorists, they threaten us and we can’t identify with them. Therefore they’re not really human.

ZOMBIES AREN’T just the other though. “They are us” is a phrase that appears in several films by Romero and other directors. The zombie might be seen as a secret reflection of our western society, mindlessly consuming material goods and natural resources as a zombie consumes flesh. Like a zombie in search of prey we overwhelm other cultures and convert them into consumer societies to expand our market. All the while we fear that this endless expansion will inevitably bring about the sort of societal break down that most modern zombie films depict.

Of course there are other themes I haven’t mentioned. During the cold war zombies played on our fears of the deadening economic conformity of communism. Contagion and our fears of a pandemic disaster run through the Return of the Living Dead series and were picked up by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later.

The brilliance of the zombie as a horror icon has always been its ability to mutate to reflect the endemic fears of our society, in a way that other staples of the horror genre just aren’t able to. It’s for this reason that writers like myself keep turning to the zombie story as a vehicle for satire and blood soaked social commentary.

Oh, and let’s not forget that they eat brains. And they never wash. And they always, always win. I mean how cool is that.

Way of the Barefoot Zombie by Jasper Bark is published by Abaddon Books.


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