Twelve Posts Of Christmas: Two Comics Writers Not Writing Comics

Posted by December 25, 2009 Comment

Chris Claremont and Tony Lee. One known mostly for X-Men, the other known mostly for his waistcoasts. But both are comic book writers with relatively little public exposure for their non-comics work. So how about an extract from a screenplay from Chris Claremont and from a novel by Tony Lee?

Firstly from the unnamed screenplay, labelled “xmas dragon” by Claremont, currently writing X-Men Forever, which received a small public reading the other week.

Cut — to the Barn – interior – night

Establish a raucous crowd, dancing and having a lovely time. Central to the scene is CASS. The set ends, the band departs the stage, Cass thanks her latest dance partner for his company, refuses with a smile his attempt to stay with her, and returns solo to her table. The exertion has done her good and she positively beams when she catches sight of a tall, well-built man in black silk and leather — the cut of his clothes very much a  match for her own — seated in the chair opposite hers – until he turns to face her and she sees that it’s MHARYON.

No smiles when she sits, we should be wondering if a fight’s about to start. MHARYON drains his beer and views the empty mug.

MHARYON

An adequate brew.

CASS

I suppose you can do better.

MHARYON

For beer, what’s the point? I can, however, offer some passable wine as an alternate.

CASS cocks her eyebrows as a sudden slight of hand deposits two tumblers on the table. MHARYON lifts a tooled-leather wineskin, with silver mounts, from the floor beside him and fills both.

MHARYON

Forgive my presumption but since you accept my wine, I trust you’ll do the same for my company.

CASS, still smiling, shakes her head and makes door with more beer from her pitcher.

CASS

It’s not safe to mix drinks. Or, some say, to talk with strangers.

MHARYON smiles.

MHARYON

Actually, more like cousins.

CASS snorts.

CASS

My family doesn’t take to chasing each other through the woods with swords.

He smiles wolfishly.

MHARYON

You doubt me still.

CASS

About this, you betcha — I had a run-in with one of your boys a while back, I think it was Finn. I felt the hiss of his ax as he missed me. I heard his laugh. I even smelled his damn horse. He was there, he was real — but he wasn’t. No one around me noticed a thing, not even the man almost trampled with me.

MHARYON says nothing, simply sips his wine.

CASS

I should call the cops. At the very least, the Council of Kings.

MHARYON

Would they believe you?

CASS

You have no right!

MHARYON

Quite the contrary. I — and mine — have more right than most. You were there, Cuz, we were summoned.

CASS

This is crazy. You look like an intelligent man. Take your people and go. This life you’re live is for us just a game. Everyone here will think you’re crazy!

MHARYON

This is not a game.

There’s a sudden commotion on the dance floor, a sudden squeal of voices as a woman is swept into the air by a burly barbarian and then handed off to an even bigger companion. All good fun. But then things start turning strangely serious. The woman’s dance partner protests, the mood turns ugly. Words are exchanged, then shoves, the woman — caught in the middle — looks scared. The lead barbarian scoops up a flagon of beer, the mood looks like it’s about to explode out of control and then, just like that, he shoves the beer into the grasp of the other man and wraps him in a laughing embrace. Laughter all around. Tension broken, peace restored, challenges resolved by good-natured back-thumping and bellybumping.

CASS

What just happened?

MHARYON

It cannot be helped. The spirit rubs off us like hair from a cat.

CASS

Make it stop.

(He shakes his head, he can’t, he won’t)

Please!

(he says nothing)

You said we were kin.

MHARYON

That is why you alone have safe conduct from this place.

CASS

The bot told Phillip he had a means to guarantee him not simply the throne of a domain but the High Crown as well. Is that it, Mharyon, is that why you’re here?

MHARYON

I’m here, tonight, to see you, Cassandra. The musicians have returned, will you join me?

CASS

For the dance alone — and in return for my favor, I ask one of you: the answers to my questions.

MHARYON

Fair enough.

They begin to dance. They’re poetry in motion.

MHARYON

In the oldest days, the Shadow Riders and their Lord were warriors of Faery. They rode the Wild Hunt and stood beside the Highest of the High. Some tales have them descended from the dark Germanic gods, Woden and his pack, but in truth they are much, much older.

Few, eldritch or human, could match their fury in battle; as a consequence, the Riders were treated with the utmost respect. Only Royalty could summon them, and then only in the time of greatest peril, for the honor of their service merited only the most precious of gifts in return.

The Riders are bound to a code of contact that is older than your history. In that lies both the greatest strength and the greatest peril.

They are proud, these Riders, beyond your powers of description or comprehension. The least of them stands higher than a Prince among you. They are not summoned casually. Only a fool would treat them with disrespect.

CASS

You have it all so neatly tied, by rules no one knows but you. Do those that summon you know this bargain was struck?

MHARYON

Does the blame for this fall on those who remain true to their calling or those who profane them?

The music, and their dance together, builds to a crescendo.

MHARYON

We are well met, you and I?

CASS

I …

Deep breath, desperate attempt to regain inner balance and perspective.

CASS

I don’t think so.

The music ends and they make their way back to the table.

CASS

Gifts, you say – that’s what it’ll take to buy you off?

MHARYON

Not in the way you mean. Consider them a gesture of respect, from one power to another. An acknowledgement of forces that reach beyond this waking world.

CASS

I don’t understand.

MHARYON

The gifts could be symbolic or real. It was never the offering itself, but the spirit in which it was made.

CASS

The blood of Kings, to fructify the land.

MHARYON

A sacrifice, yes.

CASS

A blood offering, you mean? A life?! Mharyon, I was talking about practices common a thousand years ago!

MHARYON

Time change, Cuz, but not the rules we live by.

CASS acts without thinking, scooping up the wine goblet from the table and hurling its contents into the man’s face. He isn’t bothered; indeed, he responds with a smile. Then, she takes a longer, closer look at the goblet itself: what she’d thought a simple ceramic vessel had become a hollow skull, bone polished so smooth that it gleams like ivory, its features decorated with an elegant filigree of entwined gold and silver, the eye sockets gleaming with inlaid mother of pearl.

She looks at Mharyon and sees that he holds an identical vessel, the two skulls a perfect match.

MHARYON

A noble foe. May that I find such here.

She hurls her mug away and turns to bold — but he catches her by the arm.

MHARYON

You asked of the Riders, Cass, would you rather I lie?

CASS

Damn you, Mharyon, let me go!

MHARYON

As you wish, cousin.

He releases her and she staggers back a step or two.

CASS

I have news for you, O Highborn Lord, Phillip is no true King. He’s just a little man with a big ego who lied to win the Champion’s Combat. And by summoning you, by violating the Society’s Covenant, he foreswore any claim to either crown! He may think he’s king of the hill but it’s a hill of bullshit! By your own rules, you’re doubly betrayed! What say that to your ancient honor?

He’s visibly angry, his rage fully under control,

MHARYON

If so, a proper price will be demanded. And paid. This War of yours, Lady — suppose it were no longer pretend?

CASS

(she still doesn’t take him seriously)

What, you have the power to make all this real?

But then looking at him, her smiles fades and she turns deathly pale. MHARYON has changed; suddenly, he seems unhuman, of a race and age sheÕs known only in her dreams.

MHARYON

When the trumpet sounds the start of the Forest Battle, and the first blow is struck, rattan will become steel. Blunt weapons will grow the sharpest edge, and warriors all the sharpest soul. They will bleed and they will die. They will be unable to stop. And those who triumph will celebrate that victory by sweeping through this camp like the hordes of ancient days. The blood fever, the lust, will touch all present; none will escape, and none will survive.

CASS

I’ll have the camp closed down, you son of a bitch and everyone sent home.

MHARYON

For what cause? Out of fear of a band of wild horsemen that only you have ever seen? And even if you’re believed — even if the Riders are all you say they are –they are but a score against thousands. No one will leave, Cass, they’ll want to fight, to prove themselves.

CASS

I’ll find a way, damn you. Mharyon, don’t do this, you can’t do this!

MHARYON

Here, Cassandra, your name betrays you. Look around, Coz, cry all the warnings you wish, none will believe.

CASS

Bastard!

MHARYON

In blood were the riders summoned. I blood must we be appeased. Consider us the proudest of a proud folk; we have never taken our role lightly. And no reason whatsoever in this age that denies our very being to forgive such a transgression.

CASS

No!

MHARYON

Leave this place, Cassandra. You bear an ancient name, you need not share their fate.

CASS

No!

And just like that, almost as though her outcry breaks a spell, he’s gone. The rest of the room seems back in focus now; everyone’s staring at her. CASS doesn’t care.

CASS

My God, oh my God!

PHILLIP

Dear me, Cass, feeling a bit unstable this evening? Perhaps I should have left you some of your Sacred Shroud’s sacred relics, you certainly look like you need them.

She turns to face the King and his traveling Court.

CASS

Your rein is done, Phillip, your heart untrue, your Kingdom lost through your liar’s tongue. Wrap the tatters of your kingship tight about you, for soon it will be but a revenant tossed on the wind. No more cheers for you, false Crown, only curses and screams.

PHILLIP

You threatening me, Dunreith. You all heard, you all bear witness!

They stand facing one another, in a confrontation.

PHILLIP

You’re done, sweetheard, you’re as good as banned — not only from this War but from the Society itself! I mean it, Cass, I’ll do it.

She simply smiles, accepting the challenge, pretty much daring him to try, and walks proudly, defiantly away.

dodge

You may know him as comic book writer Tony Lee. But we’re about to see a new side to him with the publication of his first novel. So here, in a very Christmassy mood, is a thousand-word extract from that novel, a sequel to Oliver Twist called Dodge & Twist. In which our protagonists meet again…

By now Oliver had started to walk towards Holborn and his heartbeat started to quicken once more. Just south of Saffron Hill, where Fagin had kept his lair, Holborn had been the haunt of his child thieves and even though the street sellers and many of the shops had changed, there was still a familiarity about the place, a knowledge about the back alleys and the rooftops that no well born man should have.

Who am I fooling here. Oliver thought. I was never well born. I was birthed in a workhouse, the bastard son of a bastard.

He had paused now, and was staring across the street at a bookstall south of Clerkenwell Green. The sign was green, flaking a little, but Oliver remembered it as a different colour, a deep red – for he had realised with a jolt of nostalgic surprise that it was the booksellers that he had once been given five pounds to deliver, along with a small bundle of books – a package and payment that he had never been able to fulfil, for Nancy, acting on orders from both Fagin and Bill Sikes had intercepted him, claiming him as her errant, runaway brother and had dragged him, kicking and screaming back to Fagin’s lair. He had never returned here, he had never even apologised for the inconvenience of over a decade back. Oliver had a wild impulse to actually walk through the door, to apologise for that long forgotten transaction and then walk out, but he was stopped, not by his own common sense, but by the street whore that stood beside the shop. The street whore that thought, incorrectly, that Oliver had been staring at her.

‘Ere!’ She screeched, her voice coarse and grating. ‘What the bloody ‘ell do you think that you’re gawpin’ at?’ She was old, in her forties, and the years hadn’t been kind. She was overweight, her face blotchy and gin-ravaged, and her hair greasy and unkempt. Her clothing was dirty and crumpled and she had made an attempt at makeup that was intended to make her look beautiful, yet instead gave her the appearance of a rather unruly circus clown. Oliver had been so caught up in his memories that he hadn’t even noticed her until she spoke, and he stepped back in surprise at her voice.

‘I’m – I’m so sorry.’ He stammered. ‘I wasn’t staring at you, I promise. I was observing the booksellers behind you. I was simply thinking about the past.’

The old whore coughed up a flem of spittle and spat it out across the pavement, looking back up to Oliver as she adjusted her tattered dress, glaring at him as she did so.

‘Well why don’t you bugger off and ‘think’ somewhere else.’ She snapped, looking Oliver up and down appraisingly as she did so. ‘Go on! Get lost! I don’t do freebies for gutter scum like you!’

‘I truly am sorry.’ Oliver started to walk backwards, arms up in a defensive, placating gesture, as if the gin-sodden dollymop would suddenly charge at him like an irate rhino. ‘I didn’t meant to –‘

‘Ah, Aggie – she’s no Nancy, to be sure.’ The voice was a new one, spoken from behind Oliver and he paused as the words were spoken. The voice was familiar, too familiar yet at the same time different, older – it was a voice that Oliver recognised far too well, a voice that he had hoped never to hear again. Slowly he turned around to face the new speaker, currently smiling broadly as he leaned casually against a lamppost, watching Oliver with amusement.

Gone was the child, in his place stood a man. Slightly shorter than Oliver and a couple of years older, the man against the lamppost was now in his mid twenties. He still wore the clothes of a gentleman, a burgundy waistcoat under an olive green coat, cream trousers and a burnished gold cravat under a white shirt completing the colourful ensemble, but now he had grown enough to wear them as an adult. His face was clean shaven, his dark brown hair groomed and just above his collar. The voice was harder and the eyes were colder, the eyes of someone who had seen horrors throughout his life – but the top hat upon his head was still a dead giveaway to his identity.

Jack Dawkins. The Artful Dodger.

He shifted position slightly, folding his arms as he leaned against the lamppost, watching Oliver carefully, a slight edge of caution in his eyes, the smile now flickering as if for all of his planning, he didn’t quite know the outcome of this encounter. It was an expression that Oliver recognised – for it had been the same expression that Fagin had given him when first they met, an entire lifetime ago. The Artful Dodger came to some kind of internal decision however and his smile returned, a genuine one now, the smile reaching the Artful Dodger’s eyes.

‘- But she could still teach you a trick or two if you wanted.’ He continued. ‘Hullo, Oliver. Long time no see.’

Oliver stared at the Artful Dodger in a mixture of surprise, confusion and anger. He was surprised at this face from his past arriving; he was confused as to how he had been found, but more that that he was angry that Dodger had even bothered to find him, to search him out. How had he known? Not only the location and time of Oliver’s arrival, but the fact that he was even in London? And more importantly, how was Dodger even in London? Twelve years earlier he’d been placed on a boat and sent to the other side of the world.

‘Aren’t you supposed to be in Australia?’ Oliver asked. Dodger stood up, no longer leaning against the lamppost nonchalantly; a pose that Oliver believed was purely for his own benefit and sighed.

‘A question about my incarceration? Is that any way to greet an old friend?’ He smiled, but once more there was no warmth to it. His eyes were cold and dead as he continued.

‘But you never were a friend, were you, Oliver? You were a plague upon us. A hindrance.’ He paused. ‘A murderer.’

‘That’s not fair, Dodger!’ Oliver exclaimed. ‘You used me! You took me off the street and you taught me to steal for you!’

‘I took you off the street and gave you food in your belly and a safe place to lay your head.’ Dodger snapped in reply. ‘Do you know what would have happened to you if I hadn’t come by? If I hadn’t seen you lying in that doorway, your face covered in dirt and tears, your feet bloody and blistered? Do you know what would have been your fate, the fate of a ten year old, pretty, blonde innocent boy on the streets of London?’ He looked away, staring off down the street.

‘I gave you life, Oliver.’ He whispered…

UPDATE: In the comments, Tony Lee adds;

Hi, just to clarify – firstly, the book is still being written and although I’m already 40k words into it, it won’t be out any time in the immediate future. Secondly, I’ve already had one email expressing confusion on one particular point, so I’ll quickly explain.

Dodge and Twist – Three years ago, I pitched AiT/PlanetLar this sequel to Oliver Twist and Larry Young agreed on the spot. He even had the perfect artist, Paul Peart-Smith, who had recently asked about work and was raring to go. The contract was signed in April and in July 2007 there were eight pages of finished, lettered art to show people at San Diego.

And then – it all slowed down. In the following two years we saw about thirty pages of the book, a book promised in a year – not because Paul was slow, but because with the work climate as it was, he’d had to take too much on to make ends meet. With his more important paid work, he simply didn’t have the time to continue it.

Earlier this year we discussed this and agreed to part ways, and for the next six months Larry and I looked for a replacement artist. We spoke to several people but over six months there was never anyone who made us as excited as Paul had, and there was always a feeling that even though he’d left it, it was still really ‘Paul’s book’.

And so a couple of months back I spoke to Larry about the future and, as ever the gentleman that he is, he gave the creative rights back to me to convert into a novel instead. Of course if, down the line we ever do make a comic / GN it’ll still be an AiT/PlanetLar book, but currently, it’s looking more like a prose novel for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, just wanted to clear that up for a few people. Cheers.

(Last Updated December 26, 2009 1:46 pm )