Tag Archives: copperage

Copper Age, Bronze Age

When I first met Tom, he was Copperage all by himself. I didn’t ask why, or what it signified, although every so often someone does. The Copper Age is also, historically speaking, the Bronze Age – that pre-historical time when our ancestors were moving from stone tools but had yet to discover the lethal potential of iron.

Today, we stood in the remains of a 5000 year old long barrow – whose top was destroyed a long time ago, but whose core and layout are present and exposed. People have been on this land for a long time. Those ancestors are so remote that it’s easy for us to impose any desire, fantasy or aspiration upon them. We don’t know a great deal about how they lived, the remains they have left are tantalising clues. To what degree were they like us? How different? Looking back at our ancient Pagan ancestors, under-informed and over-romantic as we so often are, they can be whatever we need them to be.

Walking an ancient hill fort and visiting the barrow today, I was conscious both of this incredible geographical closeness to the past, and also the huge distance between myself and the barrow makers. I looked out at the river. It would have been marshy down there 5000 years ago, the river occupied more of the flat land then, but people farmed there from whenever it was people started farming this part of the world. In many ways, not much has changed. I had a moment of thinking that the differences humans have created maybe aren’t as big or impressive as we think they are. If we were wiped out tomorrow, that landscape would revert to wilderness soon enough.

Looking backwards, we can dream and imagine a better time, when the aurochs and wild cranes still roamed the land, before the wolves, boar, bears and beavers were driven from the UK. A wilder time, a more heroic time when people were free. We can glaze over the messy bits. Perhaps it gives us a moment of warmth. But every time we look back, imagining it was better then, we do ourselves a disservice.

Why?

Because we ought to be looking forward. In many ways, what went before is unknowable, but we can shape what is to come. Maybe there was no golden age of peaceful matriarchy. Maybe there was. Maybe our ancestors were just as greedy, short sighted and materially hungry as we are today. Maybe very little has changed. How much does that matter? Things can change. We can go forward. The golden age should always be something that lies ahead, attainable and worth working for, not something lost to the past so that it’s bound to be all decline from now.

What is Copperage? Aside from being a team that makes a webcomic, and other things, it’s an aspiration. An idea that things could be other than they are. Knowing the past is good and worth taking as far as we can, but shaping the future is more important still.

Creative Collaboration

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of a few collaborative projects, of which working with Tom has been by far the longest and most rewarding. Usually creating is a solitary process, where you go away, make something up and return when it’s ready for sharing. Working with someone else, even if you do your bit alone, changes things.

Given what happened with today’s webcomic page, I thought it would be interesting to talk about that particular process as an illustration of how collaborating is different. (If you’ve not been following Personal Demons, a brief synopsis – a small girl called Salamandra is found in a gothic, decaying house by a witch (Annamarie Nightshade) and taken to the local orphanage, where she is unhappy. She runs away and meets another girl, and they get along. A demon is destroyed. Sal is taken back to the orphanage and fids she may have caused a death. Her new ‘friend’ becomes increasingly unpleasant. At this point she and Sal have just had a parting of the ways, and Sal has encountered something scary in the graveyard.)

When I wrote it, the point of today’s scene was just to convey that there is a bigger picture. I hadn’t entirely thought through the character implications, just suggested that someone in the graveyard scares Salamandra and she runs away. Now, this is the girl who has recently run off on her own into the night, and tackled a demon. She doesn’t scare easily. That could have created an inconsistency. Fortunately for me, Tom started from the assumption that what I’d written made sense, and went on to contemplate who, or what exactly in the graveyard would have the wherewithal to scare our young heroine. It won’t be obvious yet, I suspect, but as the plot develops, people will be able to look back and ponder. He’s made it work.

It’s not the first time one of us has thrown a random thing into the story mix, and the other has made sense of it. Usually it’s the other way round because Tom has a knack for coming up with strange and lovely things, and then passing them over to me to see if I can explain them and make them fit. When we started out, Tom had by far a wilder imagination than me, but I’ve always been good at filling in the gaps and creating plausible narratives. I’m happiest when I have his ideas to play with. Tom does write, it’s amazingly dense and full of potential, and looking at it takes me off down huge narrative arcs. We’ve argued about this (very gently) because I can see how everything I write for him stems from his original inspiration, but he finds the process more like my description of today’s comic page, with me taking his vision places he’d never thought of.

The work that emerges from collaboration is very different from anything either of us had done on our own. Not only is there the effect of someone else’s inspiration, but we feed back to each other, and that constant support changes the process too. I can see Tom’s influence in my other work now. I’ve become more confident about my writing, more able to lay down a wild thing and go ‘it’s like this folks’ and let the story unravel from there. I think the process has made him more confident, too.

Collaborating isn’t always this easy and doesn’t always work – as I’ve found on other occasions. It takes a lot of trust, but when you have two people on the same wavelength, wonderful things can be achieved. I’ve just finished editing a Jaime Samms / Sarah Masters collaboration – an excellent piece of work that both authors clearly enjoyed, which also got me thinking about this as a topic. That blending of ideas and perspectives can be so exciting, and a huge opportunity to learn. It’ll be interesting to see if it changes what either of them does independently.

If it’s a way of working you get the opportunity to explore, I do recommend it. For me, it’s been a totally life changing experience.

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