By Nimue Brown
Hopeless Maine, for anyone who hasn’t encountered it, is the island setting of a graphic novel series. www.hopelessmaine.com It’s dark, full of strange magic and peculiar creatures. Iva asked me to blog about what inspired it.
Tom always likes to claim joint ownership, but really speaking, this is his island. I just came along and filled in a few details, worked out a few explanations, that sort of thing. Mostly it doesn’t feel like making something up, it feels like a real place that sends me postcards now and then. In the beginning, Hopeless was a peninsula, not an island. I’m not sure when it changed. The gothic gloom, the fog, the creatures, are like a dark mirror reflection of how Maine is. There are a fair few horror writers from Maine – Stephen King most notably, and Tom’s explanation is that it is a creepy sort of place, and this is just a natural reaction to it. Having flown over Casco Bay and seen the islands, and a lighthouse that looks a lot like ours, I have a keen sense of a magical, mysterious landscape, a bit alien to me, very remote.
There is another strand in the creation of Hopeless though, and that’s my landscape. Back when Tom was on one side of the Atlantic and me the other, I’d sometimes help by looking out visual references for him. He’d ask what a space might look like, and I’d make suggestions. About the worst thing you can hear as a creative person is ‘oh, do what you like!’ Some kind of focus or direction is always helpful. I used to send Tom images from the town I grew up in – Dursley. The same Dursley that inspired a certain muggle family for a certain wizarding boy, as it happens. Hopeless Maine, as a consequence, is a strange amalgam of actual Maine, the English Cotswolds and the things we found in our heads.
Much of it comes out of playing with each other. One of us does a thing, and the other picks that up and does something to it, and passes it back. By this means creatures, landscapes and stories evolve. Tom drew some ruins, I had to figure out who built them, new stories resulted. It’s a very chaotic, organic sort of process.
These days, I will confess, we do a lot of our most creative thinking work in bed. Our life is quite tough physically, some days we fall into the duvet so wiped that we can’t move. When I get that tired – and this is probably true of other people too – things happen to my brain. Tom calls it ‘being punchy’ but correlations form where no logical connections should be made, and all kinds of ideas flow. Lying in the darkness, we ask what if? And why? And could you put goggles on it? Most of what we talk up in those strange, semi-comatose conversations never sees the light of day, but every now and then an idea turns out to be strong enough to survive the light of the following day, and some have enough legs to clamber out of our heads and get themselves established in the world.
I have a fantasy about getting together a few of my favourite creative people for something a bit like a sleepover. Professor Elemental, Edrie Edrie, and Dr Geof are high on my current wish list, and then, pyjamas, and pillows and barely awake conversations. I think the consequences would be wild!
In terms of themes and ideas underpinning Hopeless (to get back on topic), those are very much shared. We wanted to explore what effect apathy and little acts of carelessness and unkindness have. Most evils are not very big, after all, and the larger ones are often made out of the little ones, slowly escalating towards a banal, complacent kind of horror. The normalising of cruelty and indifference, the rationalising of hate are all things that I want to explore and challenge. We knew from the start that we wanted a heroic tale that was not like superhero tales at all, and that hangs on the characters. Salamandra does have magical powers, but she doesn’t really have any drive, or ambition, she’s just muddling along. As the story unfolds, it’s the non-magical Owen with his overwhelming desire to make things better, who really drives the action. That’s important to me. All the magic in the world, is of no use at all if you aren’t using it. All the talent, skill and genius imaginable are of no use if you have no sense of direction, no ambition.
We also wanted to tell a good story, that would entertain people, and hopefully inspire others a bit. That’s one of the functions of it all being a bit grim. The darker the night, the brighter the stars shine, and the descent into darkness is often a quest to find light. It’s very hard to make sense of anything without seeing the contrasts, and so Hopeless, is very much a story about hope, in a roundabout sort of way.