“You’ve got bread on your nose…” Favourite comments from comic-cons 2015

It’s been a hell of a fun year, and one of the highlights has been attending a record number (for me) of festivals and cons to plug and pimp the ROBOT OVERLORDS film and book. If I was lucky enough to meet you, then thanks for taking the time to chat, if you bought a copy of the book, then you have my undying love, and if you torrented the film, then I hope your tiny genitals shrivel and die 😉 winky face!

The year ended with the biggest one of all, the MCM Comic Con at the Excel Centre in London. I was invited by fellow author and all round gentleman Kit Cox to join him selling and signing books for the whole weekend. Make no mistake, this is a huge event; the footfall on the Saturday alone is over a hundred thousand people, and they’re all eager genre fans, many in wonderful cosplay, and the feeling of belonging and bonhomie is infectious. I started keeping a tally of how many books I sold, but then started jotting down some of the comments made by those who visited my stall. It’s a brilliant snapshot of the kinds of people who come to cons, and I’ve broken them down into three sections: THE WONDERFUL, THE BIZARRE and THE HUMBLING…

THE WONDERFUL

Comments to make an author’s heart swell…

“Such a cool film, there’s nothing like it.”

“You had me at Robots and explosions!”

“I sell your book in Israel!” A passing Israeli bookseller.

“He’s buying this because he torrented the film after I recommended it!” A punter making his friend buy a copy of the book.

“I’d better get some cash!” A punter, after I pitched the book to them… and they actually came back and bought it!

“I’m Chris Lunt’s agent!” Chris is the show runner on the TV version of Robot Overlords!

“This is our first comic-con…” A slightly overwhelmed father and son (who bought a copy of the book).

“Can’t remember the last time I bought a book…” And he bought a copy!

“Where does the food come from? Where’s the booze? Can you imagine a completely dry country? It’ll never work!” A punter trying to pick holes in the premise. He bought a copy after I reassured him that we’d thought all this stuff through and that there was plenty of illegal hooch in a Robot-occupied UK.

“Dystopia is, like, my favourite, evah…” A wonderfully stereotypical emo teen.

“If it’s rubbish, I’m coming back.” A punter after buying a copy. He didn’t.

“I auditioned for this!” Young actor John Otteson!

“That little guy freaked me out.” Job done, Craig Garner!

“I’m downloading it right now.” Someone who bought the audiobook from Audible right in front of me!

“I love your film!” Several people. I love you, too.

THE BIZARRE

From the adorable to the baffling…

“Do you mind holding my bow while I go for a wee?” A Katniss cosplayer.

“If he finishes it, he gets fifty quid!” A father determined to get his son reading books. Who am I to argue with this carrot-on-a-stick version of parenthood?

“Everybody’s sucking Chinese dick.” A fellow writer/illustrator on the current state of Hollywood film production.

“I hate to be the person who asks where another table is…” Several people who mistook me for an information desk. I was happy to help…

“Oh my God! Monkey Magic!” A punter who was distracted mid-pitch by some fantastic Monkey Magic cosplay.

THE HUMBLING

Comments to bring the ego down to Earth with a bump.

Now, bear in mind that these comments came from folks standing right in front of a table with two showcards featuring the book, big piles of the book, and a bloody great quad poster of the film shouting ROBOT OVERLORDS in big shiny, silver letters with the release date stated plainly below…

“Is the film out yet?”

“Are they going to make this into a movie?” You never know!

“Are you the writer?”

“I think I’ve heard of this…”

“And that would make you… Mark?” A punter squinting at the showcard, then the book, then me…

“That’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it?’ A kid on the title. I somehow resisted clipping the precocious little nerk around the ear’ole… Too many witnesses.

“I can’t finish long books.” A young boy. Try writing them, mate.

“When is this in cinemas?” Sorry mate, you blinked and missed it.

“Doesn’t look anything like her…” A punter looking askance at Gillian Anderson on the poster (who clearly hasn’t seen her in anything since The X-Files).

“Free book?” No. Buy one or fuck off.

“I haven’t got any cash!” from a punter after I spent a good five minutes pitching the story.

“I only brought thirty pounds!”

“I don’t read and I’m broke.”

“I’ve run out of money!” Everyone after 5.30.

“You’ve got bread on your nose…” My son, who pointed out that I still had some of my lunchtime sandwich attached to me after I spent a long and futile five minutes pitching the book to a couple who, perhaps understandably, spent the whole time looking at me funny.

 

I had huge fun at these cons, and sold a ton of books. I’m surprised the major publishers don’t have a presence at these. Certainly plenty of indie authors do pretty well, and I hope to do more in the future. If we should meet, don’t hesitate to ask about the film’s release date, plot holes, the state of Hollywood’s sexual peccadilloes, or where the manga books are sold, just don’t boast about torrenting the film, because I will have to kill you with the bow and arrow that nice lady asked me to look after while she was taking a whizz.

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Because what the world really needs is another blog on Star Wars… My thoughts on The Force Awakens (MASSIVE SPOILERS!)

UPDATED – SCROLL DOWN FOR JOHN WILLIAMS’ THOUGHTS ON REY’S THEME…

Okay before we get into this, let’s try a little warm-up. Get on your feet, jog on the spot a bit, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, and just keep repeating to yourself: It’s only a film, it’s only a film, it’s only a film…

I mean, obviously, in about five hundred years’ time, after the atomic wars and the mutant uprising, Star Wars will be the basis for a worldwide religion, but until then let’s just remind ourselves that it’s a story designed to entertain and delight. I mention this only because the release of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has brought out the cray-cray in people, and not just the wonderful geeks queueing in cosplay, but the morons who tried and failed to generate a boycott of the film because John Boyega happens to be black, or the fuss over Max Landis’ assertion that Rey is a “Mary Sue” character, or my friend on Facebook who went off on a rant about how the whole series is “one huge expungement of western guilt”, which is an interesting interpretation of the films, perhaps straying from the filmmakers’ conscious intent, but it got him so much flak that he just got more ranty and it became embarrassing for all concerned (by the way, all of Hollywood is one huge expungement of western guilt… start picking at that thread and the whole system collapses!).

So, anyway, the film…

BE WARNED – FROM HERE WE’LL BE IN THE SPOILER ZONE – DO NOT PROCEED UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FILM!

 

YOU’RE STILL HERE AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM? YOU’VE ONLY GOT YOURSELF TO BLAME!

 

LAST TRAIN OUT OF SPOILERVILLE…

 

OKAY, HERE WE GO…

 

I’ve seen it twice, once in 2D, then in 3D, and I loved it both times. If anything, seeing it the second time without the weight of expectation and me being a smartarse trying to second-guess the storyline, was even more enjoyable.

It’s not perfect; essentially a greatest hits, tribute band, mash-up of the first trilogy. But with a $4.5 billion investment at stake they were always going to have to play to the gallery a bit, especially that big Chinese gallery at the back, which can make or break your membership into the billion dollar box office club, and China doesn’t have the social and historical association with the series which can guarantee a big turnout. So, the order of the day was to stick to what works and put it in a safe pair of hands… Who’s done this kind of high-risk reboot before? Hmm. That JJ guy seems to know his stuff… So let’s take all that as a given, put it to one side, and enjoy the film on its own terms. Here are my thinkings…

Things that niggled:

There is a Star Wars tradition known as the Terence Stamp Contingency, whereby they hire great actors, make a huge fuss about them in the pre-release publicity, and then not do very much with them in the finished film: here’s hoping Max Von Sydow, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, and the guys from THE RAID can console themselves with a few deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray.

The Maz Kanata sequence: so Finn suddenly realises out of the blue the First Order can’t be beaten, decides to do a runner and then five minutes later, he’s back. Did we believe any of that? An oddly muddled chunk of the film that could maybe have benefitted from a bit of a trim.

Snoke: he’s clearly compensating for something with that enormous hologram. Maybe he’s a Jawa fed up with jokes about his height? I’m sure more will be revealed as the series goes on (a current leading fan theory is that he’s Darth Plagueis), but for the moment he seems a tad… unfinished… The CG made me think of THE MUMMY, and that’s not a good thing.

Nostalgia: I think this harks back to the “greatest hits” agenda that set the tone for the film. I love an in-joke or callback as much as the next uberfan, but I wonder if they’ll become grating with repeated viewing? New rule for the next film: no in-jokes. Not one. Make your own history.

Stuff I’m on the fence about:

The 3D: The Star Destroyer poking out of the screen was a genuinely gasp-inducing moment, and 3D conversions have come a loooong way since I last saw one, and the aerial sequences were cool in a Disney-ride way, but I’m not sure what it added to the film, and there were a number of wide shots where small buildings looked like models. Not something I noticed with the 2D screening.

R2D2 seemed to be running a Apple OSX software update throughout the story. Seems a bit of a waste of a much-loved character, but then is there room for two cute robots in the same movie?

There are GRABBERS in the film! An odd crossover, unexpected, but welcome…

What I liked:

The opening crawl: Luke Skywalker has disappeared! Wait, what?! That’s how you grab people’s attention. None of this trade embargo balls.

Rey’s theme. The score doesn’t have an immediate, bombastic theme like the The Imperial March or Duel Of The Fates, but it does have a beautifully light and subtle theme for Rey, which makes me want to gaily skip off with a knapsack on my back and have an adventure of my own.

 

UPDATE: John Williams on Rey’s Theme and the promise of adventure…

Han’s death. We all knew that they only way they were going to get Harrison Ford back was by offering him the glorious, redemptive death scene he was denied in Return of the Jedi, didn’t we? And it was pretty heavily telegraphed from the moment Han chose to go back into the lion’s den. It didn’t quite land for me the first time, but on a second viewing there’s so much going on. I love the way he touches his son’s face before he falls away. And compare the dialogue here — “I don’t know if I have the strength to do this. Will you help me?” — to Revenge of the Sith’s “The Jedi are evil from my point of view” clunk-a-thon. These are two human beings here, father and son. Kasdan does this stuff so well, and I get a bit lip-wobbly now just thinking about it.

Kylo Ren: Now this is how you do inner-torment and a young man turning to the dark side. Adam Driver is a fine actor and Kylo Ren promises to be the most conflicted and interesting villain of the series.

Skellig Michael: The first Jedi Temple is off the South West Coast of Ireland. Whoda thunk it? And which of us will be the first to swing a lightsaber there? I hear tourist trade is already booming. It’s heartwarming to see such an extraordinary location being used to great effect. And so windswept that it’s done wonders with Luke’s hair.

Rey and Daisy Ridley: Yes, the scene where she whips Luke’s lightsaber out of the snow, yes, when she flies the Falcon through the wreck of a Super Star Destroyer, but most of all for yelling “Oi, gerrof!” in a London accent in the cockpit of the Falcon… a first for the series, I think.

Finn and John Boyega: this guy is my new hero. On the press tour he’s been funny, smart and charming, and he’s the perfect mix of fanboy and actor. He’s got great drama and comedy chops in this movie, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Poe Dameron: So good they brought him back from the dead. Apparently his character was supposed to die in the Tie Fighter crash, but Oscar Isaac escaped the Terence Stamp Contingency to live again, leading to one of the lamest “I woke up and you were gone” plot hole patch-ups ever. But, who cares? I want to see him and Finn having more adventures.

BB8: the adorable bastard child of R2 and Wall-E, so expressive and done for reals as shown on this cool website.

The fun: this has more gags than most comedies, and has such a delightful tone that it could draw criticism for being too light, but man that stuff is hard to get right, and this tone is the biggest callback to the original Star Wars, and one the filmmakers should definitely keep for the remaining films.

So, yes, they played it safe with the plot, and here’s hoping they’ll take a few more risks next time, but when a film is made with so much verve, love and delight that I can forgive its minor sins and enjoy for what it is. A film. An entertainment. A delight.

May the Force be with you. Always.

Getting a poster signed is harder than you think.

Please note: this competition is now closed!

As part of Gollancz’s wonderful advent calendar giveaway for Christmas 2015, I am delighted to be able to offer a very special prize of a Robot Overlords quad poster signed by myself, director Jon Wright, and some of our lovely cast including Craig Garner (Mediator 452), James Tarpey (Nathan), Ella Hunt (Alex) and Gillian bleedin’ blinkin’ flippin’ Anderson!

Getting these signatures was no easy task. Jon, Ella and I attended the MCM Comic Con in Birmingham in March, and we signed a few for punters then, but they were all gone before I  could grab a spare.

And this was the first I had seen of the posters, which meant that when I was in the company of living legend Sir Ben Kingsley the previous week for his publicity stint, I didn’t have one for him to sign!

I did get manage to get some for EasterCon in April, and clung on to the three I had left over with a cunning plan to get as many of the Robot Overlords stars to sign them over the coming year of cons and festivals.

Next up was the London MCM in May, and this was when I hit Robo-star paydirt. We were interviewing some of the actors for DVD extras, and I was lucky enough to nab Craig and James in between shooting and they were gracious enough to sign my posters. Next up was Gillian Anderson, but her schedule was so incredibly tight that there was no guarantee she would have the time to sign. Indeed, the very second after she arrived, she was swept away for a series of interviews, such is the nature of these high-pressure press days: everything is timed to the minute, and I would have to choose my moment carefully if I was to crash in. Next she had a panel with Jon, where she received fan-love, chocolates, and a proposal from James…

And then after that she was swept away for an interview with James for the DVD. By now, her car had its engine running (she was about to fly off to make something called The X-Files… you may have heard of it), and my window of opportunity was rapidly closing.

Luckily, our publicist Marek came to the rescue and somehow found a gap of 76.5 seconds in the schedule. We threw the posters on the floor, threw a bunch of silver Sharpies at Gillian and while I held the posters flat she kneeled down and scribbled her autograph on them. There was even time for a fanboy pic…

I haven't washed since...
I haven’t washed since…
… and then she was gone!

I carefully rolled the posters into their tube… But I wanted more!!

My other targets were Ella, Callan McAuliffe (Sean) and Milo Parker (Connor). But they were all off making other movies: Callan’s made five films since Robots, Milo was away with Gandalf making Mr. Holmes, and Ella had a big costume drama lined-up… But then it got bumped to next year! Her delay was my good fortune, and she kindly popped into the Gollancz offices where we put the world to rights over tea and brownies, and she signed the posters.

IMG_3813

So there you have it, fair reader. If you are the lucky winner of this poster, please bear in mind all the times I had to lug a poster tube on the underground, all the miles and miles of Sharpie ink, and all the nerves and tension wondering if I would get those rare signatures. Frame it, prostate yourself before it every morning, give it a dust every now and then, and then flog it when you’re old and grey and I’ve won all those Oscars.

Click here to go to the Gollancz blog to enter (UK-only, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you overseas folk have friends in the UK who can enter on your behalf, and if they win they can pop it in the post after they’ve first gazed upon its awesomeness, yes?)

Good luck!

 

Lottie and Dottie Sow Pumpkins

My good lady partner’s new book is available to pre-order now!!

Clairesallotment's Blog

I’ve just got all the pictures through for my next Lottie and Dottie book from the wonderful Marijke Van Veldhoven. They are absolutely amazing and I love each and every one of them. Marijke is so brilliant at capturing everything so brilliantly and making what I’ve written so much better. Lottie and Dottie Sow Pumpkins is out on 5th May 2016, but you can pre order it now if you like, just by clicking HERE.

Here’s a little preview picture to get your green fingers twitching!!

Lottie, Dottie and a mystery bot all growing Pumpkins in their next adventure. Lottie, Dottie and a mystery boy all growing Pumpkins in their next adventure.

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