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Ideas and The Sixsmiths

J. Marc Schmidt has written an essay, over on his blog, about where ideas come from, and he talks in particular about The Sixsmiths. Here’s my take:

Ideas come from everywhere. There’s no shortage of them. For me I find stories everywhere: in the news, in history, in music; at the beach, on the train; in the dictionary, in my dreams. I feel like a bit of a tool for saying it, but I have, in fact,published a couple of stories that I ‘found’ most of in dreams. I also find a lot of inspiration while consuming other people’s stories.

I’m one of those irritating people who can usually guess the end of a movie or a book. It’s one reason that I am not particularly fond of mysteries: either they’re too easy, or they pull a twist ending out of their arses. I’m a software engineer; deductive logic is the major part of my day job and I’m quite good at it. Plots have a logic, characters have a logic. Good stories are built as much on logic as on whimsy.

Also, in my day job as a software wonk, I need to examine logic and try to extrapolate what it might do under different circumstances: how it might go wrong, or at the very least, weird.  This, I think, you can see in most of my work, which is often about how genre tropes, presented in a certain way or exposed to a particular kind of character, can lead to surprising story conclusions. This is very much the case with The Sixsmiths.

As Marc describes, we came up with the concept sitting in the coffee shop at Borders Camberwell one year when Marc was visiting Melbourne. That Borders has just closed down, part of the first wave of closings that will soon see all of Borders Australia gone, barring perhaps the (unreliable, lying and conniving) web sales department. Marc said "Let’s do a graphic novel." We’d already planned and plotted one a few years prior, but I guess Marc fell out of love with the concept and we were starting afresh. Marc drew a character in his sketchbook, and I  could immediately tell that he had stories in him. That scribble became Cain Sixsmith. I don’t think the design changed one iota. "Let’s do a thing about a family of Satanists with troubles," I  said. Marc did some more sketches and I think, by the end of the session, we had Melmoth down as well. Over the next few days we came up with the look of the other characters:  Annie was all Marc’s; I suggested that Lilith would have  the white streak.  For Ralf we returned to Borders and tried to cast him from the people who were sitting around us. In many cases it was Marc’s depictions of the characters that suggested to me how they would act and feel.

Marc and I had earlier worked together on some short stories and the webcomic, Nannah Laveaux, which is about a suburban witch who solves the sort of problems that the Sixsmiths encounter. This was very much a precursor idea, and we actually did a bit of a crossover strip on the Sixsmiths site Nannah herself does not appear in the story, but the coven that moves into the neighbourhood show up to defeat Annie and her friends in a croquet tournament. As Marc observes, Nannah was a quite flawed in execution. We had some good stories, but putting the lettering below the captions was a mistake. Still, it was the first time I saw a webcomic that was intended to run in ‘seasons’ and I still don’t know of many that are formatted explicitly for the computer screen: landscape orientation, no scrolling, fixed grids. At the time we started, all of the popular webstrips were in the format of newspaper strips, or traditional comics pages.

Marc mentions that I am a big metal fan, and the book is indeed peppered with references to the genre. More of the American classic metal variety than Scandinavian Black Metal, it must be said: I like Black Metal, but it’s pretty grim, and the Sixsmiths is a comedy book. But the Sixsmiths isn’t really ‘metal’, at the end of the day… it’s the blues. It’s not the Addams Family; its the Simpsons and South Park.

Marc’s also quite accurate when he mentions that I have a strange obsession with the Devil–not news to ay of my regular readers, I’m sure. I do think that villains are the most interesting characters: in most popular fiction they seize the initiative and trigger the action. They’re creative and proactive and usually quite competent. The Devil is the ultimate villain, and he appears frequently in my work–although he is noticeably absent from The Sixsmiths. 

So there you have it: a case study on where ideas come from and how they can develop into a full length book. Marc says that coming up with ideas is fun, and easy, and you should give it a try. I myself cannot imagine why you would need somebody like me or Marc to encourage you: if you want to write, you should be writing. If you’re not writing you don’t really want to write, you only think you do. And if you think you can just go and meet the Devil at the crossroads and he’ll teach you how, same as bluesman Robert Johnson is supposed to have? Well… think again, friends.

The Devil won’t treat with you if you don’t already play.

— JF

4 thoughts on “Ideas and The Sixsmiths”

  1. Dude, nice wrap-up. It gave me chills – for brilliance, not for anything Devil-related.

    I’d love to go off on a devil tangent, but instead I’ll underline what you said: Do do the work. As I am a freelance illustrator who is also making comics, the revelation that changed it all for me was just that. I wasn’t doing the work. Now it’s all I think about: the work and how to keep motivated to be working all the time, because I WANT IT.

    There’s been several occasions of this discussion recently in my life. (Sorry if I’m co-opting your blog here) I have a long time friend who is chock full of drawing talent and can have a good network behind him, but he doesn’t do the work. Another buddy wants to be a writer, but he’s distracted right now with his day job and another side project that takes him away from writing. Not working. Lastly, my nephew has failed English (his native tongue), because he didn’t do the work. He is making the same mistake I did at that age, being distracted by friends and fun, and not looking ahead to what the work gets you. Even if he would do a mediocre job, just hand in something, anything.

    At the end of the day, we’re all tired. We have jobs, responsibilities, and psychological issues that make us lazy or distracted. We need to ask ourselves “what do we want, and how bad do we want it?” If you’re not doing the work, apparently you don’t want anything badly enough.

  2. I really enjoyed learning about how you came up with the idea for the Sixsmiths. They are a very unique family. I have know several “Satanists” in my life but never a family. They basically live how I would expect them to also.

    Even without the Satan angle the story really talks about how hard life can be if you truly try to live as yourself and not what society wants you to be. Awesome idea for a comic. Keep up the great work.

  3. Hey Edo-san,

    Thanks, man. I guess you’d say that’s ‘received wisdom’–I didn’t make it up for myself. I think we’d had similar discussions before, in various different countries. You are like me, I think–we work hard, but we’re easily distracted with new projects. Ganbatte! I’ve seen you doing the work and your book has gotta be ready to drop now!

  4. Thanks as always, Jorje.

    I guess a part of the Sixsmiths that I didn’t speak about in that post comes from the place where we used to work. A lot of people there belong to what most people consider a whacko cult… but some of the younger guys were born into it, same as I was born into a Jewish family. For them, it’s normal, just as devil-worship is for The Sixsmiths.

    The Sixsmiths aren’t real Satanists. I’ve read Anton La Vey’s books, and a variety of others besides, and Vicar Melmoth isn’t really preaching what he teaches. The Satanism shown in The Sixsmiths’ bears quite a bit of resemblance to Judaism and Catholicism. I’m sure that was purely coincidental. 😉

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